Day Seven, July 27: Mont Saint-Michel, Finally. - Forest, Beach, and River: A Solo Tour of Normandy - CycleBlaze

Day Seven, July 27: Mont Saint-Michel, Finally.

The next morning I met another person named Laurent, this one a solo bicyclist with the tiniest tent I had ever seen, who had also stayed at the Mortain campground. Like many French bike tourists, he did not look like he had spent too much money on gear; he was riding an ordinary mountain bike with a rear set of panniers and a backpack. He had brought a stove to make coffee, though, from freeze-dried crystals. I hadn’t brought a stove or even a cup, on the theory that this was France: food and coffee were not that hard to come by. While we were packing up his things, he made us both coffee, which I drank out of a very tiny glass that he had brought: a shotglass, essentially, although Laurent did not seem like a drinker.  At first his manner seemed odd and perhaps almost overly-friendly: the offer for coffee came about thirty seconds after the initial “bonjour”. After a few minutes, though, I realized he was just dorky, earnest, and (like me) had probably spent a little too much time alone in the saddle recently and was eager to talk to another bike tourist.

A public-art knitting project by two villages on the span of the Véloscénie that goes between them.
Heart 0 Comment 0

After the coffee and a farewell to Laurent, I kept following the trailway-greenway, and the distance went by quickly. The villages here no longer looked like they were struggling; they frequently had a sign coming into town indicating “village fleuri” status, a national contest for flowery-ness and greenspace planning. Several villages had pavilions with picnic tables, apparently constructed specifically for bicyclists. One pair of villages had decorated a section of greenway with various public-art knitting projects: large knitted insects in the trees, like characters from an entomological children’s book; then large knit-covered spheres suspended from the trees, Christmas ornaments in July. I started to run into more bicycle tourists: a family of four, with a two-year-old and a seven-year-old; a pair of middle-aged women from Lyon who were cycling London-to-Paris, and who extolled to me the virtues of youth hostels and Warmshowers, which they pronounced with maximal Frenchness, “WahmShow-aihres”, as if it had been coined by Voltaire centuries ago.

The bay came into view, along with a trailside sign entitled “The bay, finally!” (“La Baie, enfin!”). It was an appropriate sentiment. The forest phase of this tour had ended the previous day; the waterside phase had officially begun.

The first views of Mont St Michel are very remarkable because it's so flat all around, and it stands out in stark contrast.
Heart 4 Comment 0

The way into Mont Saint-Michel is pretty bad. There is no safe and direct path for bicycles. I came across a signpost with two signs: a typical car directional sign which pointed one way and said “Mont Saint-Michel 9km,” and a Véloscénie sign pointing the other way and saying  “Mont Saint-Michel 17km.”

The approach to Mont St Michel is a little bit shorter for cars than bikes, unless you want to be on a very busy road.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Breaking with my earlier choice to defer to the Véloscénie, I forged my own route again. This was more of a wash than last time: it was shorter, but there were certainly more cars. Perhaps ten kilometers from my destination, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel appeared on the horizon. Because the surrounding land is so flat, it really stands out from a distance. But then it disappears behind buildings and slopes, reappearing again slightly larger after another kilometer, haunting the road like an ever-enlarging ghost.

In the town of Beauvoir, a few kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel, I stopped in early afternoon and pitched a tent at the campground there. Five years ago I stayed at this same campground, but coming the other direction from Bretagne when my wife and I were on our honeymoon.  It was an odd mental sensation: to re-arrive at somewhere familiar, but far away from home, and years after the last visit. This was a fancier campground than any others I had visited, a private one that was more expensive at sixteen euros. It had a bar, and a pool, and a playground for children. I was the only person in the tent-only area. There was a camping trailer at one end of it that seemed incongruously dingy as compared to the rest of the campsite, which included many pre-fab cabins that tourists rented out.

Mont Saint Michel and me.
Heart 1 Comment 0

The famous monastery is on an island and surrounded by a village, which is now connected by a causeway. Bikes are only allowed on the path after six in the evening. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, I biked out to Mont Saint-Michel. There were still many tourists, but mostly streaming outward. I could see some professional photographers walking out into the mud flats to get the best possible angle for sunset. I walked past the outer walls with my bicycle, but pretty soon it was apparent that there was nothing to lock a bicycle to, and walking with a bike against a stream of tourists was going to be difficult. Having seen the upper battlements and interior on the last visit, I turned back and settled for taking pictures from the exterior.

Returning to the campground, I found the world’s tiniest tent set up near mine: Laurent had found the same campground. We compared notes on our day riding to Mont Saint-Michel before retiring. With the help of an eyemask, I finally fell asleep before dusk.

I woke up to the thud of someone jumping a fence to enter the camping area, and then talking in a loud voice.

“Yeah, man, come over. No, she’s coming. She’s definitely coming. She doesn’t have a car so it will be fifteen minutes but she will be here. It will be fun. Ok, great. Bye.”

It was three in the morning. Relative silence ensued, with the occasional bang or thump. I dozed back off, only to be awakened again in ten minutes by a flurry of voices. Unzipping my tent, I could see that the dingy trailer was opened up and lit up. I counted the voices: the phone speaker, a woman, and one other man. Music was blaring. It was a party.

“That is way too much noise, this is a campground for sleeping please stop,” I called, in my clearest projected theater voice. There was no chance they did not hear it. Often people are just in another place and unaware that they are disturbing others. Not these guys.

I waited five minutes, cogitating. It was hard to think while halfway asleep. Through past nights of bad sleep I had learned that it was best to deal with the situation quickly, because it’s not going to resolve itself. I got up out of my tent and essentially said the same thing again, directly through the open window of the trailer. Nothing. There was a momentary pause and then they kept talking to each other about something else as if nothing had happened. Was I crazy? The music was loud, but I was not speaking quietly either. I considered rapping on the opened window, but retreated to my tent instead. In the past when I had confronted obnoxious campers it was in my own country, and someone else was with me who would back me up (or run for backup) if it turned ugly. Confronting three shamelessly obnoxious people alone in the middle of the night was beyond my abilities. The party eventually disbanded around quarter after five.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 4
Comment on this entry Comment 0