Day Eight, July 28: Over The Hills, Towards the Beaches. - Forest, Beach, and River: A Solo Tour of Normandy - CycleBlaze

Day Eight, July 28: Over The Hills, Towards the Beaches.

The next morning, as I was striking my tent and packing my things, the campground receptionist came and pounded on the door of the party trailer. She spoke too quickly for me to catch every word, but apparently Party Boy was supposed to be somewhere. It sounded like he was supposed to do some task for the campground, but it was unclear what. Muffled sounds of grumpy, sleepy acknowledgement came from within.

“There was quite a party there last night,” I told her, in a voice that I again hoped would carry into the trailer. I really need nine hours of sleep, and I have a vindictive streak.

“A party?” she repeated back with an incredulous look.

“Yeah, from three until five thirty. He had several friends over. Loud music and talking like it was noon. I couldn’t sleep the whole time, or for a while afterward.”

“Sorry,” she said. Her look was of deep, genuine dejection that made me think that this was possibly a relative or someone she was otherwise responsible for. She walked away.

Laurent came out of his tent a few minutes later. We also discussed the party, Laurent speaking in hush tones, me still speaking of my outrage in my clearest theater-projection voice, facing the trailer.

A few minutes after that, Party Boy emerged. Maybe about eighteen or twenty, he was eighteen inches shorter than me and just as thin. If I had seen him in daylight first, I would not have hesitated to pound on his door. A significantly older woman in fishnets and high heels followed him out.  They both walked between Laurent and me.

“Bonjour,” he said.

“Bonjour,” said Laurent.

I glared with silent hostility as they walked past.

Party Boy helped Fishnets over the wall of the campground, which was concrete and about five feet high. This was an awkward procedure. At first he tried to boost her by making a step with his hands. It wasn’t good enough for someone in a miniskirt and high heels. He walked and fetched a lawn chair, which got her over.

After another coffee from Laurent (“don’t worry, they come in big packages, I brought way too many,” he said), I was off towards the north, heading towards the beaches where American GIs landed in 1944. Laurent was continuing west into Bretagne, so that was the end of the free campground coffee.

So pretty much the same, just without the doping and a whole lot slower.
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Despite the topography and the fogginess of lack of sleep, I was determined to make as much distance as possible. Rain was predicted to start around four or five pm, and possibly continue throughout the whole next day, and I wanted to try to stay approximately on schedule, to complete the route I had planned.

After two days of signposted route that was mostly greenway, this was a more difficult day. The land had been flat throughout the forests, but today it shifted into shallow rolling hills. It occurred to me halfway through the morning since Mont Saint-Michel was at sea level, there really was nowhere to go but up. The scenery was now typical French farmland. There were seas of wheat and corn like the American Midwest, but broken up with more patches of trees, pastures with cows or horses, or dotted with haybales.

In early evening, about 6 pm, I came to a small village called Gouvets with a farm-style restaurant. This is actually fairly rare: most small villages, if they have a restaurant at all, will only have a kebab shop. Typically I felt best knowing where I was going to sleep, and then finding something to eat, because biking around in the dark looking for somewhere to sleep is risky and unpleasant. I could see a green field with a public bathroom adjacent to it, a hundred meters away.  It seemed like it might be a passable place to pitch a tent if it got dark while I was dining.

There were two men inside the restaurant: one at the bar, one seated at a table by the entrance. I introduced myself, asked if they were serving dinner (yes indeed), and then explained the situation. If, after eating, I thought I just couldn’t bike anymore, would it be possible to camp in that field by the bathroom? They conferred and decided that it seemed unlikely that anyone would have a problem with that, so long as I left in the morning. The seated man was named Claude and was super friendly; he said the restaurant was popular with “cow workers” who would all be coming in around seven or eight when they were done with work. Sadly, Claude was only there for takeout, and left shortly thereafter.

The bar-restaurant at Gouvets.
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The bartender, who was also part of a husband-and-wife ownership team, took my order for the prix-fixe menu and a glass of cider. How did I want the steak? I remembered that “à point” was supposed to mean moderately cooked, and I wanted medium-rare, so I ordered “a little less than à point”. After taking my order, he plopped a partly-consumed liter bottle of cider on the table with a glass: a serve-yourself system apparently.

This was the meal where I learned that “à point” does not mean “medium”. It means perhaps “medium rare” but it’s really rarer than that. So “a little less than medium rare” is really rare. Like we just singed it for a minute and here you go. The owner, perhaps aware of this, mentioned as he was placing it, that if I wanted it cooked a bit more I could let him know. After a few bites, I let him know. For the rest of the trip I went with à point and was not disappointed; it’s called “the point” for a reason.

Other guests trickled in; several tables of four, and one of about eight older citizens of Gouvets. I began to realize that I was in what was essentially the bar or “waiting-for-food-to-go” section, so unfortunately they were too far away to talk to. The service was surprisingly quick for a French sit-down meal, and even with dessert I was finished within an hour. With daylight until 10pm, there was plenty of time to continue on to a proper campground with a shower. That morning when I had last checked the weather, there was a prediction for heavy thundershowers the next day, so it would be better to be in an actual campground.

As I was outside with my bike, getting ready to leave, a well-dressed man came out to talk to me. After the usual questions (“Are you on a bike tour?” “Where are you going?”), he asked me where I was headed that night. I told him the name of a nearby town that showed as having a campground on the map. “You can go there, but I want to let you know my town, Tessy-sur-Vire, has a very small, quiet campground. Very calm, right next to the river. We drove by coming here and there was only one tent there.”

I thanked him, thought about it, looked at the map, and decided to follow his advice. Tessy-sur-Vire was more on my way, also.

The Tessy-sur-Vire campground: the quietest, simplest little place next to a creek to pitch a tent. Also, free.
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And it was the most perfect little campground: a field of grass with a few trees next to a river, with one shower, one sink, and two toilets. A sign said that it was free as a courtesy of the town, there was a one-week limit, and a docent stopped by every day to check on it. There was only one other couple staying there, who were in the process of building a fire. The man was bald and shirtless, in a Yul Brynner “The King and I” kind of way. I said hello, which they reciprocated. Then I explained my gratitude to be in such a quiet place, especially after I slept so poorly last night in a touristy Mont Saint-Michel campground. They nodded and looked at me like, “good for you.” I pitched a tent on the other side of the campground from them, took a hot shower, and slept like a rock.

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