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Enjoying the Last Moments in France

Posted by on Nov 22, 11:40 AM
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First half of November, 2009:

Sylvie and JacquesFour delicious days we spent in Porte des Barques with the Dousellin family, comprised of Jacques, a retired officer of the French Navy; the primary school teacher, Sylvie, his charming and energetic wife; and José, their 11-year-old adopted son from Columbia. I say they were delicious not only from the viewpoint of the pleasures of the palate, which, I langoustinesmight add, were without parallel due to the fact that Jacques is also a former professor of the culinary arts, but also because the days were just packed with goodness. Jacques took us out to tour the local historical points of interest, including the fortified town of Brouage and the exact replica of the ship that sailed Lafayette to the United States from Jose, Jacques, RandallRochefort (the ship is being meticulously crafted there as we speak). Sylvie took us for a bicycle ride around the island of Île Madam accompanied by José, where there is a monument to a large number of priests that were forced to starve to death in that place by the French Revolution. And sanguine José kept our spirits high with his contagious grin! The only low point to the stay was brought on by a slightly ill oyster, this in its own Brouageturn passed the evil on to my stomach for twenty-four hours.

On our last day with the Dousellins we did a presentation to Sylvie’s students with her acting as interpreter when necessary. A reporter from the regional newspaper was on board for an interview and as of last week the Orphan Ride has had its first exposure in a foreign language publication!

Needless to say, I navigated this trail and enjoyed every inch of it!

My shedThe air had cooled considerably as compared to that of a few days previous in the area of La Rochelle, the rainy and stormy nights of which I had spent in the grandstands of a horse track and also on the rocks above the ocean in the coastal town of Pornichet, underneath the carport of the l’Hôtel de Ville in Saint-Gervais and in the shed with a leaky roof Inside the shedbehind the church in Saint-Denis-Du-Payré in the company of forgotten communion rails and plenty of large brown spiders, still and watchful in the angry night. It ha grown so cold that I became chattering-hypothermic on the short ferry ride from Royan to Port du Verdun and was obliged to wear much more clothing than usual. From this point there exists a fantastic collection of bicycle trails, paved, all over the region, and one that traverses down the coast for over 300 kilometers to Bayonne in the Basque, through sand dunes, national pine forests and some minute resort towns. Almost the entire path is paved smooth and narrow, and a good portion of it lies far from any used roads, a cyclist’s roller coaster, lonely and secluded in the sandy pine forests. Needless to say, I navigated this trail and enjoyed every inch of it!

ChurchThat day’s ride was long: 160 clicks. It had been dark for three hours when I finally arrived in Audenge. Phil and Fabien, our hosts there, graciously invited me to stay an extra day to relieve the fatigue of my legs. I retain good memories of this refuge from the bitter cold and I hope that these two and their children are blessed many times over for their kindness. I gleaned some useful wisdom from Phil about some of the locals we will be touring in the future since he has traveled just about everywhere we will be going.

Bike pathIt took me three comfortable days on the fabulous coastal bicycle path to reach Bayonne. One of these evenings I arrived at dusk in a surfing-resort-ghost-town christened Saint-Girons-Plage. Of the 100 or more resort properties two had light in the windows and in like manner the businesses were all boarded up for the off season. It was eery pedaling through the streets, piled with sugar-sand on either side, and I came to rest underneath the balcony of one of a front-row house to slumber to the roar of the Atlantic.

It was so steep that more than once I had to get off and push when the pavement went vertical.

A short but hilly ride through the Basque Country and I arrived at St. John Pied de Porte, the entry point for the Camino Frances Santiago de Compostela, the French pilgrims’ route to Santiago, a UESCO World Heritage. Most people walk it and it takes a month to cover the 900+ kilometers, but by bicycle, we will see…

Cat in the trailerMy camping place was one of the best I’ve had. I pitched in a little patch of grass high up on the citadel with nothing but a panorama of the foothills of the Pyrenees to wake to on a summer-like sunny and warm day. A cat had made a nest in my trailer in the night! Instead of taking the road over the pass, as any sane touring cyclist would, I had made the decision to climb over the Pyrenees on the pilgrims’ path, this ascending a full 1000 feet higher than the road and passing through some more wild country over the Col de Leupeder (sp?). The climb was grueling. It was so steep that more than once I Pyreneeshad to get off and push when the pavement went vertical. The single track road wound its way through the grazing ground of the basque sheep, and horses roamed free among the closely-cropped alpine grasses and the landscape was studded with jagged boulders. To follow the route to Roncesvalles it is necessary to leave the pavement at the highest point and take a well-trodden yet rugged trail for 6 kms to the pass. There was not a soul to be seen on the trail as it worked its way heavenward through forests barren of leaves as a result of the winds that gust with a supernatural strength amidst the crags. I lost an arm warmer at the pass when I reached into my trailer to pull something out. It was blown into the abyss before I could rescue it. Then, down the steep and treacherous trail to Roncesvalles with piles of leaves at times reaching my hubs as my bike swished through them. It being late afternoon, I covered the last 50k to Pamplona, Spain, home of the Running of the Bulls, by the road and arrived to rendezvous with Randall in the main square of the old city.


  1. So envious of you both on the Camino! If you get the chance you should visit Samos, it’s a Benedictine Monastery, I think it’s in/near Sarria in Galicia, really beautiful and pilgrims can stay there, a slight detour from the official route but very much worth it.
    Best wishes,

    — Monica · Nov 23, 03:35 AM · #

  2. Thanks for the tip, Monica! Definitely enjoying almost every moment of the Camino so far. ‘Twas a bit cold today….Burrrrrgos!

    Andrew Leese · Nov 23, 10:57 AM · #

  3. Wonderful to read more of your travels and see all of the great photos.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Rachel W. · Nov 26, 07:05 AM · #

  4. Hi guys. Regards from Pamplona from Sergio, Leire and aldo Shiva… How are you¿ Have you see the snow? I hope you are in a safe and comfortable house, not in the road, jejeje.
    Kisses and hugs.

    sergio · Dec 1, 12:23 PM · #

  5. Gracias for the complements, Rachel, and a Merry Thanksgiving to you as well!

    Hey Sergio, we did get into a little snow on one of the passes but live to tell about it. The albergues have made the pilgrimage so much more enjoyable…it’s been great to have a place to thaw the bones after a brutally cold ride in the Castile. I have just arrived in Santiago. Miss you guys! Thanks for the awesome hospitality in Pamplona!

    Andrew Leese · Dec 4, 01:08 PM · #

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