Day Ten, July 30: Utah Beach. - Forest, Beach, and River: A Solo Tour of Normandy - CycleBlaze

July 30, 2018

Day Ten, July 30: Utah Beach.

This was a fairly uneventful day: I went and looked at Utah Beach, like an ordinary tourist. This was one of the two occasions that perhaps justified bringing a U-lock on the trip. I locked up my bike outside the Utah Beach Museum, and carried all of my bags into the museum to look around. As a bike tourist, with the most interesting items was a German military bicycle, complete with a gun rack along the top two to carry a standard bolt-action rifle. Later in the year, I read about how the Allies had been quite successful in shutting down Germany’s access to oil, so with that perspective a military bicycle made more sense. Outside the museum, there was an actual Higgins Boat, the tiny boats that you always see American soldiers getting off of on the shore in the movies. They are terrifyingly small in a way that film did not convey: 36 feet long (the size of a medium-sailboat) and intended to carry 36 men.

One unexpected thing about Utah Beach, and later at Omaha Beach, is that they are just beaches. There are some tourists walking around on them, but many of them seem there to enjoy the waves or to fly a kite is much as they are there for the history.
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I talked to one man on the beach from Lithuania; after he took a picture of me cycling on the beach, I asked him what brought him there. He said he came almost every year, because he was drawn by all the history.

From Utah Beach, I headed through some rather unremarkable cycling until I reached Isigny-sur-Mer. I made a stop in Isigny because there is a brand of butter, and a type of cheese, that I taught at my local grocery store in California that is from there. Unfortunately, the town itself is rather unremarkable except for a café on the main street that had a sign saying “Welcome And Thank You To Our Liberators” with Canadian, American, and British flags underneath. I thought that was a bit much, especially since it’s almost 80 years later. But now at least I know where that butter and cheese come from when I buy it.

I was expecting Eurovelo 4 to have some more, I dunno, pavement.
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After Isigny I got back on Eurovelo 4, which ran along the shore of the English Channel (“la Manche” in French), scrub grass on my right, a short beach and open ocean on the left. It was a lot more effort to pedal off-road, but I also appreciated the solitude and natural beauty. I was surprised that something that was designated as a route to bike across Europe was so rough, but I guess the Eurovelo system is comprised of whatever routes are available, and sometimes they’re not very developed. After about 25 km of offroading, a frontage road started along the shore. I reached it just as the clouds coming in over the Channel started to produce a spitting: more than a drizzle, less than a proper rain. Because I was close to where I was planning to camp, and because putting on (and possibly taking off) rain gear was just another delay, I kept going.

My campsite for the evening was at “Camping du Fort Sampson”. Like almost all of the campsites, I found them using OSMAnd, the OpenStreetMap mobile application. Sometimes I would Google them in advance – if it was the only campground for kilometers around, and I didn’t want to get stranded if it wasn’t actually a campsite – but often, like this day, I just showed up to see what was there. It was simple: a big open field, a bathroom building in the middle surrounded by trees, and a trailer near the entrance that served as a welcome building.

French campgrounds are rated on a system of stars: for example, the one that I had stayed at the previous night was €22 because it had a swimming pool, restaurant, and cabins that you could rent. This one had no stars. However, I found the couple who ran it to be extremely friendly and accommodating. They still took orders for a local bakery for pastries I wanted in the morning, and the price was only five euros. I asked the wife more about the star-rating system, and whether they would try to get more stars eventually. She explained that it was about amenities like whether there was a pool and a restaurant, but also about how much of the year the campground is open. The requirements for a campground to have more stars involved in being open more and more of the year. With an “aire du camping” like they operated, they could be open whenever they wanted. So they closed it down between November and February, which they just spent hanging out at their primary residence in Paris. I agree that that sounded like a pretty sweet deal, and I wouldn’t try for more stars either.

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