We have been studying the weather forecast constantly for the last couple of days and each time we checked it, the news was grim…rain and strong winds for the rest of the week! When we checked it last night though, there appeared to be a window this morning when it would be fine, before raining again this afternoon. Rightee-o!…Let’s make the most of that and ride on before the rain hits us. So we were on the bikes and pedalling at 8:30 this morning, heading for Saint-Quentin. The other research we’d been doing was about how best to see the other WWI battlefields. Should we ride them all, despite the weather? Should we do an organised tour? Should we get a car for a day and do a self-guided day tour? The results of the research were…yes, we could take a few days to ride them, but would we really get the most out of visiting these places that we really want to see, if we were battling the elements and not really feeling A1? All the organised tours we could find started in Amiens, where we had just ridden from and we didn’t really want to have to completely backtrack. So…the decision was made to get a car for a day and drive around the Somme and the Western Front. The closest place that had hire cars and accommodation options if the weather was lousy, was Saint-Quentin. So, the decision was made, the route was planned, a window in the weather was found and we were off!
The route we had planned for the ride to Saint-Quentin took us back along a canal path, which we hoped would give us a nice flat and speedy start, so we could power ahead of the pending precipitation! We got to the canal path and while it wasn’t sealed, it wasn’t the worst path we’d ridden on and we were still making pretty good time along the bumps and gravel. Then the path changed…
The path became a track, complete with holes and bigger bumps, which ordinarily would have been uncomfortable and would have slowed us down, but we’d have ridden no problem. With all the recent rain though, the surface of the track, it soon became clear, was clay. Now I’m sure you know what wet clay is like. Yep, this track became a slick and slippery rotter of a path, it was a bit like trying to ride on a pane of glass that had been liberally spread with butter, oil and liquid soap! The wheels of the bike spun, the bikes swerved and slued and skidded around constantly. The result of this was…it was Steve’s turn to take a tumble today! His bike’s wheels got into a rut, the bike skidded on the already slick surface and the bike toppled over, causing Steve to make an unplanned dismount with a thunk on his rear-end in the grass and blackberries. “Ooh, ooh, ooh, are you OK?” I asked. “Yep,” he said quickly, scrambling to his feet. Up he jumped, nothing hurt except perhaps a little bit of pride and we set about putting the sagging and hanging panniers back in place. I’m just really glad there was the buffer zone of the grass and blackberries between the path and the canal or poor Steve would have been in the drink! Many of the paths we’ve ridden on have been right beside the water and I always ride on the opposite side of the path to the canal, even if it means having to do last minute dodges of oncoming path-users, because I fear an unexpected wobble into the water. Thankfully today, we had the grass that gave Steve his buffer zone to save him from a Sunday swim!
We continued on and decided to get off the disaster zone of a canal path as soon as access to the road became available. Finally, after slipping and sliding a little longer and perfecting my technique of riding with one foot on the pedal and one foot dangling, ready to plant it on the ground if I felt a mega-skid, we saw a road. We detoured and were on solid ground again. As we rode along, all I could hear was… thud…fut…thkk…cthkk…as the clods of mud and remnants of clay and canal path fell off the wheels of the bike and the chunks that were well and truly stuck under the mud guards, kept up their scraping and thunking as I pedalled along the road.
The ride from here on was, in a word, put quite simply, no other way to describe it…PERFECT! It was about as good as it gets for riding and I enjoyed it completely and utterly and totally. There wasn’t a breath of wind, it was mild and even a bit muggy after the rain, the sun was just poking its nose out of the clouds every now and again, just enough to keep it mild, without riding in direct sun, the roads were quiet, the hills were small… just perfect conditions. The upside to riding along the road, as opposed to the canal path, is that we also get to ride through the little villages and have some scenery, which is always lovely. We stopped in one of these little villages and sat on a bench beside the road for a quick elevenses, while glancing back at the approaching dark sky. We were making pretty good time and were confident that we would win the battle with the rain.
On we went and rode along some beautiful quiet country roads. A man riding a bike came towards us and he had the most happy, jolly face and he gave us a mighty grin, a hearty “Bonjour” and a thumbs up. I know we have seen some amazing places on this trip and have experienced some wonderful things, but I think for me, hands-down, one of THE highlights of this trip so far has been the people. This man was another example of the beautiful, friendly, encouraging and lovely people we have been so lucky to cross paths with. Once again, here was a person who put an enormous smile on my dial and I rode on past him grinning like a cheshire cat, just because he was so nice and gave us such warm gestures. Wonderful people!
We passed some other riders out on their road bikes or mountain bikes and we passed a couple of runners too. One thing I’ve noticed here, as different to home, is the number of runners who are in the 50+ age bracket. The cyclists, for the most part, seem to be younger, but I’ve seen so many runners out on the roads, who are clearly in the “over fifties” category and it’s just brilliant. I’m sure they have outnumbered the “under thirties”. At home there are, of course, runners of all ages that I pass on my runs, but there a far fewer “older runners”, hardly any actually where I run, but here they are everywhere. It’s great! One of the runners we passed today was out along a country road, far from a town and he would easily have been in the “over sixty” bracket and he was running along in all the gear and I thought he must have been out for his Sunday long run. I got a bit wistful, because I love my Sunday long runs along the country roads at home and would love to have been pattering along beside him. Oh well, not today, pedalling to be done instead.
We continued on and decided to risk ignoring the suggested route on the GPS and follow the signs to Saint-Quentin instead. Well, would you believe it, it actually worked this time and we didn’t get lost and we didn’t hit a motorway with pesky “go away cyclist” signs and we soon arrived in Saint-Quentin after a mere 45km, nice and early and we had beaten the rain! We found our cheap and cheerful hotel, but sat in a square nearby while we tried to brush, scrape and wipe as much mud and dirt as we could off the bikes, before presenting ourselves to reception. We had hoped to find a service station or somewhere with a hose, but to no avail. We managed to make the bikes reasonably presentable and the hotel was nice enough to let us check in early, and they had a special storage room for the bikes, so we didn’t have to wheel them inside in their less than pristine state, so all was well.
We checked in, settled in, had our showers and both declared it was a “great shower” and we commented on how the simple things like a hot shower, that has water that falls straight down and not off at all angles, that stays hot, that keeps running for more than 8 seconds at a time, that doesn’t take a layer of skin off with the pingy stingy nozzle, can make us so blissfully happy! We sat and had lunch and looked out the window at…what do you think…yep, the rain falling down! It had arrived, a little later than forecast, but it arrived and we had won the race!
So today was a perfect ride! After some slipping and sliding and a little tumble from Steve, it turned into a beautiful, scenic and friendly ride through the villages and countryside, on a grey, but calm, still and mild Sunday morning. Just beaut! I declare the score card for today to be:
Rain vs Cyclists – rain 0 / cyclists 1
Canal Path vs Cyclists – draw (it threw in some rough play but we prevailed!)
And the report card:
Scenery – A
Villages – A
People – A+++