The Jam Lady and the Long-Distance Cyclist - Jimmy Carter thinks I'm a sinner - CycleBlaze

April 2, 2007

The Jam Lady and the Long-Distance Cyclist

Woodland's first law of groceries says that things never take as much space as they do in the original packing. Tip into something else, something that doesn't have to look as glamorous as it must on a supermarket shelf, and it takes half the space. Then there is room in the world for everything else. That is what I do with jam and marmalade and chocolate spread and all the other things that, combined with coffee and a baguette fresh from the baker, make getting out of a tent tolerable on a cold morning.

That was why I bought the jam by the side of the canal.

"Are we having fun yet?"
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The estuary of the Loire isn't all that appealing. It's odd how estuaries so often aren't. It's as if they're just a transit zone between the last big town, where the merchants and ship-owners could act swanky, and the cold, grey reality of the sea. Even the towns at the mouth of a river, which try so hard to pretend they're second only to the Riviera, have a glum, stare-at-your-feet air to them. It's as if in their hearts they know that nobody's fooled by beaches of silt.

But I had to ride from Nantes to the coast to say that I was riding from one side of Europe to the other. And under the cold, concrete base of the bridge to St-Nazaire, I went through the ritual of dipping my back wheel in the ocean and scooping up a few centimetres of Atlantic which in time I will pour into the Black Sea.

That's better, smile for the camera even if the Loire estuary isn't very inspiring.
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It was on the way back to Nantes that I rode the quiet road that runs beside the Massereau, an old canal that worked as a short cut to avoid the collision of tidal water rushing upstream and the normal river water coming downstream. Where the two meet at a bend and a narrowing of the banks, keeping a grip of a light barge could have been tricky in the days of sail.

And there, outside one of the few houses facing the water, there was a stand, a table with a cage of metal netting built on top. Inside the netting were pots of home-made jam and, above it, an invitation to "Servez-vous".

Well, that was a bonus in itself, but still better was an invitation to buy a book about cycling. I can never get enough of them and each winter I return with handfuls from the Cyclo-Camping International weekend in Paris.

"My son wrote it," Madame Chéreau said as she brought me a copy. "He rode round the world with a friend." She was a pleasant, smiling woman, just the sort you'd expect to find beside a canal, growing vegetables, keeping a dog and making too much jam.

"You must be very proud of him," I said, hoping to hear more. But there was a slight shyness that said that, no, I wasn't going to hear any more. So I paid for the book, answered a question about my own route, then sat by the water to look what I'd bought.

I haven't read it yet but I can tell you it's about two lads from Nantes, Jean-Roch Chéreau and Ollivier Tessier, who rode round the world in two years from July 2002 and met the Dalaii Lama among others. They were 27 and 23 when they set off, I learned from the notes at the back, and they slept in supermarkets, under bridges, in a troglodyte cave, in schools and on football pitches.

My own record is that I have stayed at a camp site that said it was open but gave every sign that it wasn't, in a meadow of long grass and dandelions, beside the river in a stand of trees that hummed in the wind, and last night, because it was bitterly cold, in a four-room hotel overlooking the Loire.

I have been fighting a powerful headwind ever since leaving the coast. It has also been cold in the mornings and mild in the afternoon, only to turn cold again. I am near Tours, after which I'll cut off away from ther Loire and go due east towards Bourges and Dijon. I'll keep you up to date when I get a chance.

() Jean-Roch's website:

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