A Coke-fuelled Sleigh Ride into La Rochelle!

Friday 26th May

Day fourteen

St Michel en L’Herm to Chatelaillon:            70km,

166m climbed,   4hr 37’

Total Distance     682km

Every Grand Tour has its doping scandal and so has mine!

The day started innocuously enough; we even managed a new best depart time of 0916 to try and beat the worst of the heat (me) and the public holiday traffic (Wendy). Five minutes after waving goodbye to each other as we went our separate ways I realised something was missing! Water! I had forgotten both bidons (sports bottles – keep up) in a senior moment. I remembered it clearly. I had finished packing my bike went into the van to collect the bidons and couldn’t remember whether I was going in or coming out. No point in going back as Wendy would be ten minutes away and gaining at the stately 60kph she drives. Never mind, I will get some water at the next village.

Unfortunately I was riding through one of the least populated parts of the west coast. Kilometre after kilometre of wheat and maize prairies dotted with the occasional barn. Of course as soon as I knew I had no water I started feeling thirsty. The muddy water in the ditches and slow moving rivers began to look appealing, I am sure the sun is hotter than yesterday, were there any smooth pebbles I could suck?

An hour and twenty minutes later I rolled into Marans. Marans is a lovely little inland port of a town on the confluence of some of the many arms of the Sevre Niortaise River. Its got a 18th Century vibe going and today it was really rocking it as there was some sort of festival taking place. I couldn’t find any shops open that looked as if they would sell me some water, but there were plenty of bars and restaurants setting up for what was clearly going to be a busy day. I popped into one and asked if I could buy a bottle of water. The bar man must have been related to the old dear in the car yesterday and heard about my cheery wave because his retort was a curt; “Non!”. Thinking there must have been a misunderstanding with my limited French I tried again and again; “Non!” was the reply this time accompanied by; “Super U, Super U!” I asked him where Super U was and he just kept repeating “Super U, Super U, Super U!” as if it was obvious. A little chastened, both by the result and the manner, I tried again at the next bar. Here there was a similar reply but the guy did give me directions to the Super U. There is clearly an old, 18th C law that hasn’t been repealed that states that only mega supermarkets are allowed to sell water on Fridays. I wove my way to the outskirts of town to find Super U and then had to weave through the entire population of the surrounding area intent on doing their public holiday ‘big shop’.

I grabbed a couple of bottle and then it happened. Strategically placed by the water was a fridge of Coca Cola and there was this can, glistening at me. For the first time in many years I bought a can of ‘full fat’ Coke. I have got to say that when I drunk it in the shade of a tree in the car park, it tasted great.

I resolved not take any photos of Marans to teach its citizens a lesson and encourage better hospitality in future and rode back to the trail. The 25k from Marans into La Rochelle was one of the best sections since leaving Brittany. Whether that was the effect of the caffeine or due to the dedicated, well-surfaced, tree-lined, downhill tracks along canals and greenways that took me right into the centre of La Rochelle and dropped me off at the ‘Old Harbour’. La Rochelle looked magnificent, busy with holidaymakers, the marinas full of yachts, a market selling high priced tat and the sun hot enough to make the tarmac tacky. For the first time I managed to beat my virtual training partner that Semper D keeps a check on for me over this section. I now have an anxious wait while my sample is tested to see if the result will stand.

I celebrated with a handful of trail mix and drained my bidon with a flourish and a liberal application of SPF 50.


Today’s lunch spot

Leaving La Rochelle was a little ignominious compared with my grand arrival. I got a little lost and while rectifying it, I managed to fall over a kerb. I jumped up quickly, in what I hoped was a way persuade those who saw it, that it was in fact just a clever way of quickly dismounting.

Once out of the city the route followed the coast and led me from bay to bay until I arrived at Chatelaillon Plage. The sea front is 1300m long and the beach was packed with people. This is the first really busy beach I have seen. The campsite looks a good one and has some of the first British number plates I have seen since driving along the north coast two weeks ago.

This morning I crossed from the Vendee into the Charente Maritime and at around about the same time completed 630k; the halfway stage of my journey south. Only 578k to go!

Apart from the water incident, today has been a ‘good day at the office’. At the moment my office is under the awning, Alf is dozing at my feet and Wendy should be back from the pool soon for pre-dinner drinks. When she arrived earlier she had a ride along the front to choose a place for us to eat tonight and swears she has found ‘the best sea food restaurant ever!’

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