Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in Seattle

Flew back to Seattle on Thursday July 28. It will take me a few days to deal with jet lag.

42 pounds to take a private hire car from Epsom, and despite what's was listed on on Delta's on-line checkin website on July 27, at Heathrow I found that the airline had upped its fee by $50 for transporting "sports equipment, so it was $250 to shop my trusty steed back home. Sir Gulliver made it back safely, with a few more scratches on the frame, and a little pamphlet inside from the TSA telling me my bike box was opened and inspected.

In the foggy dawn of a Seattle morning I'm waking up and thinking I'm still somewhere in France. It feel odd not to hear the pigeons cooing and doing my morning run into town for a croissant and a cafe creme. Instead, it's time to mow the lawn and find a new job.

I've loaded my stash of digital photos on my Mac. I'm looking at my journals and will figure out how to turn those scribbles into some magazine articles and a book.

So, what's it like to ride in France?

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, June 30, 2010.

That's what it's like.

Monday, July 26, 2010

London and the launch of Barclays Cycle Hire

Yesterday, after I unloaded Sir Gulliver from the EBE bike bus at Thorrocks Services in East London, I took the train from Chafford Hundred to Fenchurch Street, walked through the City, and got National Rail from Waterloo back to Epsom, a bittersweet experience, given how Sir G and I have been partners for nearly 7 weeks. I'm sad, my trip is coming to an end, and people are staring at me again because I'm wearing my wierd cyclist clothing here among all the bespoke suits of the banking set.

Cloudy, humid, light rain is falling, cobbles are slick as heck, it's July, London is now just like Paris, infested with hordes of visitors tripping over their own feet, just the sort of "downer" day you don't need at the end of a truly fabulous adventure.

Still, I consoled myself by finally getting to see the pretty new bikes of London's version of Paris's Velo Lib. Tfl managed to get a big bank to sponsor the scheme, so the bike fenders aren't the nice pure white ones like in Paris, with a simple decal saying "Velo Lib" no, these are blue ad racks, but they aren't too bad really. The official launch of the scheme is this Friday, July 30, when Sir G and I will be back home unpacking in Seattle, but there's been a "soft" launch, as most of the racks near any Tube station are completely empty of bikes. I got lucky and found one parking lot which did have bikes still ready to roll. I checked out the list of rules on the info kiosk. This being the UK, the list was a long one, and I found it somewhat amusing, with its polite advice to "consider wearing a helmet," "don't ride on the left of a vehicle," etc. This gave me a good laugh. I haven't tried riding Sir Gulliver recently through a major city, while holding an open umbrella. Am I missing something here?

So, let's paint a picture now. I now have some experience with riding. I had just deliberately walked through the City of London (the banking district, where Fenchurch St Station is) with my completely loaded bike. I did this because, well, this is London, not Paris. It's midday, there is traffic everywhere, lots of lorry drivers from Europe who are driving on the opposite side of the road to which they are accustomed, and it's raining. As I walked over Tower Bridge, coming towards me was a woman on one of these Barclay bikes, riding, naturally, in heels, and sheltering herself from the rain with an open umbrella in her right hand. This caused me to think over my recent experience. I have ridden, and often pushed a bike that quite easily must weigh, oh, perhaps 50 kilos, been on the open road and dealt with gravillons, pavees, chaussee deformee, routes barrees, lateral ridges, potholes, soft shoulders, road kill that includes pheasants, hedgehogs, eagles, innumerable song birds, frogs, snails, several rabbits and a fox. I have ridden through double level "rond points" and learned to give hand signals as I approach the exit so that I don't get a "left hook" from a driver trying to speed past and beat me through the exit. I have learned to listen to the traffic coming from behind, and I can immediately tell when a "convoi agricole" is heading my way. This convoy involves a New Holland wheat thresher and a dumpster truck of enormous size and is a signal for "get the hell off this one lane rural road fast, because you're riding in the wheat belt and it's harvest time, kiddo." I have bent one of the arms of my back rack through the sheer weight of riding loaded, added more scratches to the bike's frame after 100s of times of leaning it against rocks, church walls and the often gorgeously tiled walls of the local bar tabac or boulangerie. My odometer is hanging from one of its wires, because I tore off the housing doing something stupid somewhere. But it still works, and it's reading 863km. It's already done a full rotation, so that means I've ridden 1,863km, give or take a few. I've been greeted warmly by teenagers, young mothers pushing baby strollers, municipal workers, delivery drivers, farmers, new retirees, old grannies in little little one street towns. Oh, yes, got the thumbs up and waves and shouts of "Salut!" from the Sunday pelotons I saw out on the roads. I've been invited by 3 sets of people to stay overnight, accepted one in Normandy and made new bike friends for life, been treated to several petit cafes, and received one marriage proposal from a Breton house builder.

Oh, yes, I've seen Mt Saint Michel and Chartres Cathedral rising up from a flat plain like phantasms, and ridden my own pilgrimage towards them. I've seen stands of menhirs and allees couverts in Brittany, and walked in the sands of Omaha Beach. In Les Andelys, I've seen the light that the Impressionists so loved to paint. All through the Loire valley area, I have seen masses of the most beautiful rose in the universe, named naturally for the rose poet, Pierre de Ronsard, followed by fields of ripened wheat full of poppies and cornflowers. In the last 2 weeks I hit my first massive stands of sunflowers. I've been through a lot of forests of linden, oak, beech and chestnut, and I'm pretty sure I identified a perfect porcini (cepes) mushroom in a ditch in the Beauce region of the Loire et Eure. All that rain over Bastille Day combined with heat means its time for 'shrooms. I know this because there are lots of wild mushrooms in Washington State.
And I've also been blessed with the opportunity to ride completely across the Paris of everyone's imagination and seen Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower shining in the cool of a 7am morning.

And been asked by countless people: "So what's it like to ride alone? Aren't you scared? Isn't it hard?"

Here's the answer.

Yesterday at Fenchurch Street Station, I took this photo of Sir G resting against one of Tfl's posters telling people to "catch up with the bicycle."

They got that SO right.

The French, old and young, had generally one farewell for me: "Bonne courage!"

So, Londoners, please, please "consider leaving the umbrella at home" and always, always: "bonne courage a vous!"

It's been a blast.

Orleans July 25

My last day of riding in France, 68km in the Loiret region, from Bonneval to Orleans, and my first chance to load a few of the photographs. These are just a few samples of the vitraux (stained glass) in the cathedral in Orleans. Most of the windows are C19th, although a church of some sort has been on this site since before the C10th. It was damaged in the religious wars, which I think is what I learned as the Reformation, then rebuilt, damaged during the French Revolution, then rebuilt, damaged in 1944 during bombing, then rebuilt. Looks like stained glass is an easy to attack target. But the cathedral rises again.

Currently the entire central part of Orleans is torn apart. They seem to be redoing the tram system, so getting to the church was an obstacle course of ditches, rock, manhole covers, heavy machinery, and mess everywhere.

Orleans is the birthplace of Joan of Arc, who's known here as Jeanne d'Arc and even Jehanne d'arc, which seems an archaic spelling variant. Makes sense, as her brief life of 19 years ended in the 1200s, yet she was really something, known as a mystic, matryr and a political leader. She's a popular saint in many of the churches I've visited. The cathedral here has a superb collection of windows featuring the life of Joan.

Orleans is the end of my tour. At 00:40 on July 26 I took the European Bike Express back to Calais. That's a picture of the bike trailer end of the bus, at the Orleans' "peage" the toll booth entrance to the autoroute back past Paris, through Picardy and into Normandy to hit the coast.

Back to London for 2 days, to disassemble Sir Gulliver, squeeze him back into the bike box, say goodbye to my good friend in Epsom, and then, la rentree ("the return").

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I left Chartres this morning about 10am. I showed up at the Cathedrale of Notre Dame at 8:30am to beat the mob scene, and see the morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. The front of the cathedral is under wraps as they are cleaning it, but I saw one of the rose windows and the blue madonna window, which is lovely. Best of all, I was heading out of town as the first tour groups were showing up.

Yesterday I skipped a visit to the Palace of Versailles because of the tourist mob. I got fed up with dodging groups of idiots walking every which way on the bike lanes in Versailles. It's not as if there is a lack of footpath folks! Sheesh! Plus I had at least one "know-it-all" make a face at me when he saw my loaded Sir Gulliver. OMG, the number of panniers I'm carrying and they're so full!? Yeah, right, so you're suddenly the expert in long distance touring, eh? Hmm, "if I just let go of Sir G's handlebars just so quickly I could take you down in a New York minute buster..."

I did recover my sense of humor later, after getting my daily dose of "bonne courage!" from a delivery guy, and a guy pushing his grandson in a babystroller. Thank god for real people.

And yesterday; I did ride alongside the Parc of the palace on the way out to Chartres. Maybe I'll come back and visit again bright and early when I can have a clear view of a fountain without some idiot taking a cellphone picture of themselves in front of it.

Bah humbug!

Riding across Paris

I didn't really think it would be so easy, but on Thursday I rode clear across Paris, from the Pré St Gervais/Porte de Pantin area to the Bois de Bologne. I did it using Paris's network of bike lanes, often separated from the traffic by a big rounded hunk of concrete. Only at Pantin did I have to deal with illegally parked trucks in the bike lane.

Where there is no bike lane, you can use the bus/taxi lane and cars keep out. The biggest challenge was getting around the Trocadero, as the bike lanes and bus lanes disappear for a while and I just clip clopped the bike up and around until I could connect with the route to the Bois de Bologne. The Bois was fine, as well, until I had to lose the bike path and take the main road to Porte de Bologne and the neighborhood called Bologne Billancourt. By now it was rush hour, and the road surface outbound here is basically dangerous potholed crap. I'd started early at 5:45am, when it was finally getting light, and that is the key. There is little to no traffic and you can ride your bike around the Place de la Republique, past the Centre Georges Pompidou, past Notre Dame, the Louvre, Concorde, and also; get a full on ride past the Eiffel tower.

I never bothered to rent any of the velo lib's while I was in Paris, but I can see why people use them. The road infrastructure is there, so it's relatively safe to ride.

A big help was the little fold-out map I got from the Office Tourisme folks in Pyramides. You have to know to ask for it, but it shows recommended routes. And they work!

I rode from Paris to Versailles. Vive le velo lib!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paris time to get back on the bike

Today is my last day being a tourist in Paris. It has been a very mixed experience. The Paris I remember from 30 years ago has, not surprisingly, changed, and not in a good way. Paris in July is a dirty, scruffy, noisy and over-touristed town. It has also been as hot as hell, which makes life really miserable. Riding the Metro is almost an exercise in fainting from the heat. Noone can help it, everyone's sweating and uncomfortable, and there is no air circulation, so it's great to get above ground. However, the sun has been blistering, so walking on all those famous boulevards, well, it ain't all it's cracked up to be, I'm afraid!

I tried to escape the heat by spending the day at the Louvre Museum on Monday (mobbed, and the a/c is also C17th!) Yesterday was a bit better, the Musée d'Orsay, with all the French Impressionist art, and an a/c that worked.

The Louvre is amazing, both the collections and the buildings itself. I queued at 8:30am to get first dibs on a ticket 9 euros at opening time, 9:00am. A very good idea, as the queue became enormous as the day heated up, and entering a museum through a glass pyramid when it must have been in the upper 30s, well, let's just say it was toasty. Mona Lisa was mobbed, as was Venus de Milo, but after I paid my respects, I headed for the Richelieu wing, with all French art and sculpture from Middle Ages and beyond, which was great as fewer people, and the collections were wonderful. I've been visiting Gothic churches all through Normandy and Brittany, and the Louvre has similar treasures, properly provenanced, so it was wonderful to get the full picture, and also know that it's possible to see this stuff, as good or better than the Louvres' collection still in place in little French towns.

The Orsay was equally wonderful. It's a terrific renovation of a train station from the 1840s that was almost demolished in the 1970s. Now superbly renewed, it has a collection of just about every famous piece of Impressionist art you could wish for: Van Gogh and Gaugin from their time together just outside Paris, Manet, Monet, Corot, Coubert, on and on and on. "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" is big and extraordinary. And "Olympia" is just as outrageous as when it scandalized the locals back in the late C19th.

Cooler today, so walked everywhere. Leave tomorrow, early to bet the traffic and head for Versailles.

I have to quit now as the Internet shop is closing for the evening.

More later if I can.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Velolib Paris's white bikes

I walked past at least 3 velolib charge in/out stations on the walk frol Gare St Lazare. First 30 minutes is free, the rest is chargeable. Some of the bikes are trashed, flat tires, vandalized seats, but I saw several people riding along on the velo lib bikes. There is also some sort of bike lane marking around here, with the panneaux (signs) featuring the green bike logo that I know from London) so I must have hit Paris's inner city bike experiment.

Another experiment I will see is "Paris Plage" which starts on July 20. Apparently some part of the city is turned into an artifical St Tropez, with trucked in sand, beach umbrellas, etc. Hmm, cue the Beach Boys. I will definitely check that out.

Whether I ride Sir Gulliver in Paris is another question mark for me. The traffic got more scary the closer I got to Paris. Vernon was a doozie: not only pavés but also manhole covers in random patterns right in the bike lane part of the arterial. Definitely "advanced cycling" terrain, and I have the numbness in my right wrist to prove it. I don't like rides that are serious "handlebar grippers" and I think Paris is full of them. Je marche à pied, je croise...

Giverny now Paris!

Today is the day for putting Sir Gulliver on the SNCF train from Vernon to Paris. I wasn't gonna let some damn storm that shut down the Paris airport for a bit, according to the Télé news stop me from seeing a bunch of waterlilies and a green Japanese bridge. So I went back to Vernon, stayed in the youth hostel, and rode out and back to Giverny. Well, it really must be quite lovely after hours, but during the day it is totally mobbed. I've not seen such a long queue for tickets for some time. Another blisteringly hot day, but this one shared with large groups of noisy American college students getting their art fix, and lots of Japanese tourists desperate to hit the gift shop (admittedly the best I've seen, in Monet's atelier no less!) I had to ride Sir Gulliver out to Giverny as it was 2pm and the hostel didn't open til 6, so I noticed a distinct drop off in bitchin' and moanin' about how hot it was and how tired they were from the college kids as I rolled by. Yes, kids, you think it's hot, then get a load of this.

Giverny is too popular for its own good. But, by spending time in Les Andelys, on the banks of the Seine, I think I experienced the light and atmospheric conditions so so beloved of the Impressionists.

Anyway, for 12 euros, I got the train. Would have been great if the SNCF had decided to unlock the bike hangar part of the train, so I spent the entire hour holding Gulliver on his back wheel and watching the buildings get grimier and the graffiti more pronounced. Got off at Gare St Lazare, which is pretty skuzzy, and of course full of flights of stairs and no access to an elevator. Luckily a guy smoking a pipe helped me haul Gulliver down the steps. For a country that I know absolutely loves its vélos, why the train/bike transportation link is still such a work in progress is anyone's guess.

Anyway, Gulliver is now locked to a bike rack in the car park under the YHA hostel in St Germain des Pres, and I have a week of riding the metro and walking to look forward to. Paris is very walkable, I'd forgotten just how much so, but I walked Gulliver from St Nazare to the hostel, and it allowed me to walk up some of the boulevards of Paris, and start seeing the city at last.

I've found an Internet shop run by some local French Arabs (a tip from the Venuzeulan guy running the desk at the hostel) so able to blog a little. Internet cafés and pay internet has been zero to none in the parts of Normandy I've been riding through.

I just had to content myself with Norman castles and Monet. Ain't so bad, really.

Bastille Day in Les Andelys

The weather in Normandy continues to be blistering, so became an effort in pushing Sir Gulliver up the hills. No matter how beautiful the surrounding countryside can be, it does get a bit old at times. When I pulled into the Camping Municipal de Bernay, I felt completely whacked: sweaty, sunburned, dehydrated, and more than a little bit ticked off by the 5+km additional road I'd just struggled over, due to the signs for "le Camping" continuing to point me away from the centre de ville. When I checked in with acceuil (welcome) the woman was totally delighted to meet what I think she said was the first American to camp there. Wel, I can certainly guarantee I was the first middle-aged female solo cycle tourist to show up on her watch. Anyway, she insisted that before I set up camp I spend time talking with about 10 other campers, all French, all talking a mile a minute, and drink a glass of champagne. Well, when you've just ridden 40+km in a broiling Normandy heatwave, of course that's exactly what you want to do, isn't it.

But she was so nice, how could I say no, so I agreed, accepted a glass and tried to remember how to speak French. Well, being exhausted, I couldn't remember the words to just about anything, and I mangled the verb tenses so awfully that one of the other campers helpfully tried to give me a grammar lesson. Well, it was about the only thing I could do was restrain myself from screaming:"listen, mate, I am totally whacked and the last thing I care about right now is the present pluperfect tense." So I smiled, and excused myself to go collapse in the shower.

After Bernay, it was évreux, chosen precisely because I notices a "voie verte" on the tourism map. This means S-H-A-D-E, so that's the route I took. I chose to skip visiting Rouen because there was no voie verte in sight. After Evreux it continued like this, until I ran out of Voies Verte and headed for the Seine, and Les Andelys, actually 2 separate towns: le petit and le grand, which are about 25km from Vernon, and the closest camping to Giverny, where Monet's house is.

This meant 2 days in Andelys, which was fine with me. The camping de l'ile de trois rois is in the loveliest location imaginable: banks of the Seine, at the foot of Chateau Galliard, built by Richard the Lionheart in C12th. Folks, we are talking seriously old here.

On Bastille Day I planned to ride, blessedly free of the full pannier load and zip out n back to Giverny, getting a good dose of Impressionism for the day. Well, I was impressed all right, impressed by a thunderstorm that involved 3 hours of non-stop rain, thunder so loud the birds flew out of the trees, and all happening about 5km out of Vernon, where, soaked and defeated, I rode back to Les Andelys, and spent about 30 mins shivering in the shower trying to warm up. Still, by 6pm, the weather turned blistering hot again, so the Bastille Day dance was held on the banks of the Seine, with the combined population of petit and grand all salsa-ing, or doing the tango, or, in one case happily doing some local version of Texas line dancing, all the while while the band played dance tunes that echoed off the walls of Richard's fortress. The other activity of the townsfolk is to set off all the firecrackers you have purchased within about, hmm 5 metres of the stage. Everyone was letting off firecrackers, dads showing their toddler sons how to light a stick of dynamite just so, groups of teenagers setting off firecrackers under the nearby bridge, to maximize the effect. The best moment was when Madame le Maire was doing the formal fireworks countdown, and we were about to witness 15 mins of feu d'artifice set off from the castle overhead. As Madame spoke, a wayward rocket, from one of her consituents, scored a direct hit on the stage. Oh-la-la! No worries, nobody hurt, not a gendarme in sight.

Sure is different here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer is here

Now that I've reached the coast, things are busy and all the beach towns are hitting high gear. The campgrounds are filling up, with people who may base themselves there for a month or more. Aparently all hell breaks loose on 14 July, as France's national holiday means the start of the exodus of Parisians to the beach. I'm counting on going against the traffic. I plan to be in Paris on July 16. Hopefully all the museums will be open, plenty of restaurants as well, and that my accomodation is air conditioned. A/C is not standard in smaller hotels and museums around here. Thank goodness for "French windows" that you can throw open to catch the breeze, and a few mosquitoes as well. Still open windows means you can hear the turtledoves, the frogs and the churchbells that ring in every town. It's a lovely sound.

I am enroute to Honfleur, which everyone tells me is gorgeous. Let's hope the circulation (traffic) isn't too crazy. My Michelin map doesn't show a lot of smaller roads as alternates, and there's a lot of RED road here. Hmm. Pushing a major road through Norman towns often means the road cuts through a feudal enclave, of church, chateau and tithe barn, all in stone, all ancient, and many still working as farms, not simply as chambre d'hotes.

This morning I chatted with a local photographer in Courseulles-s-Mer who has a show both on the beach boardwalk and at the OT, opening today:Frederic Vignolles. Fred.vignolles@orange.fr. He's on Facebook he tells me. I haven't had time to facebook myself properly. Too busy riding and figuring things out. Check out Fred's photos. They're good and all taken of the local sites.

Had rain in the AM 2 days ago which made riding easier, but today's it's gonna be a scorcher. There is a circus in town, and a small car with a big loudspeaker is driving up and down the one street outside, telling everyone to come to the show tonight. You have to go, folks, I think I understood the word "camel" as part of the pitch.

And tomorrow the Grand Guignol (French Punch and Judy) is in Courseulles for one night only, an all new 45 minute show. Unfortunately, I have to miss it. Also, likely I wouldn't understand about 95 percent of what they say anyway. But I really am in traditional seaside resort land right now.

Yesterday spent the day in Bayeux, first visiting the Cathedral; which is very rich in art and sculpture, and later at the Tapisserie de Bayeux museum. 70 meters of embroidered history, or propaganda from Wm the Conqueror's POV. It is amazing, sewn by English nuns (likely) in the C11th century, and full of vitality and gore and humor. There's Halley's Comet foretelling bad things, warriors using their shields as a table, the Norman navy storming the beaches, pillage and house burning, the horses leaping into battle, Harold being killed with an arrow in the eye, dead bodies on the battlefield being stripped of chain mail. If you really want you can buy embroidery kits for about 60 euros and sew a piece of the history yourself. Me, I settled for several 1 euro postcards. It's a terrific comic strip version of history. Wm had a rough time once he'd conquered the Anglo-Saxons in England. And it's a miracle the embroidery has survived. Napoleon took it at one point to prove that his proposed invasion of England was also God's will. The nuns used natural dyes and the colors are still beautiful.

After the tapestry, I had my normal 2 hour lunch of fish and dessert then rode into a horrible headwind all the way to Courselles. No wonder my back hurt this morning when I got up.



Riding the coast of Normandy towards the "Norman Riviera" of Deauville and Trouville and other famous seaside towns had both the good and bad things about being a bike tourist. Yesterday was the first time I've dealt with an impatient imbecile and "the left hook". He couldn't wait for me to roll through a roundabout, so he pulled out and went round me too close and too fast. Fortunately, I was heading for the same exit, so no worries. But in 4 weeks this is the first time it's happened. So, I need to pay attention and expect more imbeciles behind the wheel I suppose. It's a strange thing about beach resorts: the drivers are impatient and discourteous, always speeding, to, get this, go to the beach and relax!? Same the world over. My mother lives near a big beach resort in Australia, called The Gold Coast, and there are plenty of Australian imbeciles there as well. Ditto Miami, Southern California, Maine, you name it, there they are.

Yet, the good part of riding on the coast here is that I'm meeting more sympa folks. Met my first long distance US biking couple: Bob and Sherry (www;bsbikeadventures.blogspot.com) on their way to Spain. They have 3 weeks, quit their jobs and took off. Had some bad luck outside Paris, where Sherry had her trailer bag stolen: clothes, laptop, a real downer. One of those lovely waterproof BOB yellow bags, so bad luck. So, the closer I get to Paris, the more streetsmart I need to be.

I'm posting this blog from the Office Tourisme in Bernières-s-Mer (3 euros per hour) and a guy visiting his mother in the house across the street just came over to chat about bike touring. Maxim recently returned from Martinique and he's off in a few weeks for a tour. My matching bumblebee yellow ortleib bags always command a lot of attention. Not exactly something that fades into the scenery, but visibility is key when cycling, especially with roundabout imbeciles.

I've visited both the Normand-American cemetery outside Colleville-s-Mer and 2 of the Commonwealth cemeteries, called this because they include Canadians, NZ, Australians and South Africans, as well as fallen British military people from the D-Day battles. The cemeteries are truly moving places to see. So many young men and some women who gave their lives 66 years ago to help liberate France. The American cemetery and memorial is beautiful and possibly the best war museum you'll ever see. Excellent mutlimedia presentations that help you understand that the beautiful bucolic Normand countryside outside, all wheat, corn and beet fields once saw incredible carnage. Ditto for the beautiful towns you ride through. The cathedral in St Lo lost 2 of its turrets and is left as a memorial to the dreadful bombing that occurred. Many Norman towns were obliterated, some, like Bayeux, remained intact.

If you are an American you would be proud of the tastefulness and beauty of the Normand American cemetery. The Commonwealth cemeteries, and there are several, I went only to the one in Bayeux and another near Bazenville, are elegant in their simplicity and the touching epigraphs on the tombs. These cemeteries also include rows and rows of German soldiers, identified by name and date of birth and death.

Rest in peace.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Riding in Normandy

Normandy so far is gorgeous and total cyclist heaven: rolling patchworks of fields of corn, wheat and potatoes, herds of dairy cows, hedges of blackberries or copses of chestnuts, and roller coaster hills. For the last few days it's also been as hot as hell. Temps in the 31 degree range, where you feel the burn through the back of your bike jersey. When it's this hot, you don't like those patchworks fields and rolling roads so much. I skipped visiting anything of Avranches because I faced an uphill ride on the D43 where it seemed to turn into an interstate highway.

Fortunately, it was a downhill run into Villedieu-les-Poeles. If not, likely I'd have skipped its museums of copperware, lacemaking and Norman furniture. Today I took off from Camping Les Chevaliers in record time (for me) and was on the road at 7:55am. So a great ride on the rollercoasters to Tessy-sur-Vire. But by the time I got to St-Lo, I didn't want to deal with anymore patchwork fields, rolling hilly riding and pretty farmhouses. St-Lo doesn't have any camping, but the OT women helped me find a chambre d'hote about 3km out of town. After some wrong turns, particularly tough when they involved difficult climbs (I'm wearing out the knobs on the soles of my cleated shoes will all the pushing of the bike up hill) I finally found the place. The owner's grandson is sitting with me in the living/dining room of this C16th farmhouse, which is furnished with armoires and tables and sideboards exactly like the ones I saw in the Muséé de Meublee Normands back in Villedieu, and watching tonight's coup du monde match.

Tomorrow my goal is Grandcamp-Maisy on the coast, so I can visit some of the World War 2 beaches: called here les plages du débarquement. I've been passing more and more memorials noting some battle related to D-Day. The heat I'm experiencing must be exactly like that of the allied troops and French resistance fighters in 1944.

Tomorrow is July 4. Happy Independence Day to everyone back home in the USA. In Normandy, you feel that that you are welcomed.

Vous faites le vélo toute seule? You're a woman and riding alone?

Nearly every day I get asked this one. Sometimes it's "are't you scared?" Other times it's "aren't you lonely?" My answers are (1) of course, but not for the reasons you'd expect, and (2) never.
I'm not frightened of being robbed. I ostentatiously lash my kypto lock and super think cable extension to the tent on the back panniers, but (shush) rarely if every use them to lock the bike. I brought the krypto because I wanted to ride in London and basically a bike gets stolen there in, say 1 second. All the bikes left at the rail stations are total beaters and anyone who rides in London basically shells out for a folding Brompton and folds it up and carries it where ever they go.

When I go into a boulangerie every morning to buy 2 croissants, then go across the street to the Bar Tabac to pick up a café créme and give the local layabouts inside something to talk about, I never lock the bike. I just prop Sir Gulliver against a wall or a flower planter and go inside. Ditto at lunchtime, my main concern is to park Sir G in the shade so that my bike bags don't roast in the Norman sun.

Several guy cyclists I've talked with just can't resist lifting Sir G and they are amazed at the weight. So, that's partly the answer: the bike is way too loaded for anyone to dash off with it. Besides, I am the only cyclist so far I've seen with bright yellow matching front and back panniers. Believe me, all the little towns I've gone through must have a grapevine running hot n heavy: "Hey, Didier, tu crois, l'anglaise elle s'arrive!" and "Sophie, did you see what that americaine is carrying. I just peered at her through my pretty lace window curtains so she doesn't see me looking. She's totally mad!"

My major fears are having to change another flat, and again apparently forgetting how to do it, and skinning more of my knuckles than last time. Other fears are: "OMG! It's 12:15pm and if I don't find a restaurant serving lunch, or at least one that isn't serving only moules frites, I don't have enough time to make it to the next town, and I'll bonk because maybe that next town won't have an epicerie either! Final fear is: "where the heck is the municipal campground and now that it's July will it be totally full of camping-cars and will I have to pitch my little tent on a field of gravillons?"

As for being lonely, jamais! I seem to present such an unusual spectacle, and perhaps my smile and "bonjour!" is so disarmingly strange, that people really reach out to me. Sometimes it's some farmer cutting a hedge who gives me a big country smile, makes the pedaling motion with his arms and shouts "roulez!" Or grande-mére working in her potager or cooling her heels sitting in a chair in the open doorway of her stone house on a hot hot afternoon, who'll happily chat. Plus, now that I'm in the "anglais" belt of Normandy, I'm meeting lots of folks from the UK, and they're keen to figure out why someone would ride around France like I'm doing.

It's getting a little easier to find places with Internet, as in some of the Office Tourisme's or in the campground offices, so it's possible.

Out on the road all day, it's really pleasant to have only cows or chickens or doves for company.

No worries.