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Heart of France - Preparation Day

Prior preparation and planning...

“Opportunity is a haughty goddess who wastes no time with those who are unprepared.”
 George S. Clason

It’s now or never as the song says. All the training and preparation mean nothing anymore. It’s all down to simply stepping across the bike and turning the cranks. It’s exciting and scary all at once. Only 4 weeks ago, I was lying on the ground in Nice street, having been sent skywards by a speeding Corsican driver; lying there being grateful that I could feel my legs and that my arms could move still, and wanting to get up, but being stopped and calmed down by a group of caring French pedestrians who’d seen the accident.

Yes, it’s scary, because I’m still in fear of cars, and my back and neck hurt like hell. Walking is actually more painful than cycling at the moment; the big issue riding is on the hills, and also when trying to turn my head, as I still have some whiplash in my neck. I guess I’d better just look straight ahead and ride full gas then!

As I contemplate all of these issues, and having arrived at Mont st Michel, I’m sitting in a hotel room with two young and very charming Venezuelan ladies. I know it sounds like a ‘people trafficking’ issue, or that I’m having a sinful good time in a house of ill repute, but no! My cycling friends are Yury and Franchelina, one of whom writes for our cycling website , and the other, Yury, Is a very good friend and experienced cycling tourist, with experience of the Santiago de Compestella last year, and many more Bikecation adventures.

Right, that gets this issue out of the way; so now you know that I’m not on a cycling orgy in France, but am simply taking friends on a great trip. When I initially planned it, I gave one of those open invitations that lots of people say ‘yeah, I’ll be there’ too, but that few actually follow up on.

Yury is a brilliant young cyclist, and being from a trekking and climbing background, and like me, appreciates that one good hotel room provides better beds and showers than two or three bad rooms. I’ll try learn Spanish and they’ll improve their English, and along our journey, we will all learn some French too - and drink lots of wine. Back in the day, growing up I had three sisters, and of course I still do. So I guess my only fear, which is a known fear, is how on earth I’ll get time in the bathroom in the morning, with two stylish South American ladies, who like to look good.

Franchelina is Latin for ‘we’re going to have a hell of a good time’. Collecting them earlier from Rennes train station, I was delighted to see two dancing and leaping and excitable ladies livening up this quiet corner of a French town. As we headed back to our hotel, looking for a late night restaurant, we stopped at Pontorson. When the Italian restaurant saw Franchelina heading towards them, I think fear of too much excitement and a possible heart attack forced them to close. I’m simply not convinced that they turned off the lights as she approached as a matter of coincidence!

Anyway, here we are on day one, our planning day. The bikes are due to be delivered from France Bike Rentals for the ladies, and iconic French brand LOOK Bikes have kindly sponsored me, providing a bike since last year, for me to ride and get used to. All we need to do now is to finalise our kit, our route and head off into the French countryside.

First things first though; the iconic Isle of Mont st Michel is just down the road, so we leap into the car and head off for some sight seeing and wanderlust exploration. I was born giddy and excitable, albeit that I try to keep it hidden. Inside I’m just a big kid, and love visiting places like Mont st Michel, taking photos, eating ice cream and just chilling out I guess. My two travelling companions are as I’ve said, two Venezuelan ladies, so it goes without saying that they’re excitable and fun loving, and as we approach Mont st Michel, having stopped several hundred times on impromptu photo shoots, this quiet corner of France has been lit up, and shock and surprise radiates across the faces of hundreds of locals and tourists alike.

If life is for living, then make sure that you spend some time either in South America or with some South American friends, because no moment will ever be dull.

We wander around the tiny lanes of the island, in and out of the gift shops, and up narrow steps to amazing views, taking pictures at every opportunity. And, then it’s time for crepes and chocolate. One thing I was later to learn, is that Venezuelan ladies like to eat. No, believe me... really eat, like there’s a famine heading our way and we need to stock up. Our trip to the Crepiere was just the start of what was to become a national crisis for France, as food shortages followed on behind our cycling journey, like locusts on heat.

The two Trek allow road bikes from France Bike Rentals have arrived at the hotel as we return from Mont st Michel, and the girls have an excited spin around the hotel car park on them, much t9 the excitement of the hotel staff and the other guests. I finally prise the Trek bikes from the girls and convince them that we need to pack panniers, and they rush excitedly to the room, where a wealth of new kit awaits us. As we are riding to raise awareness of ‘Cardiac Risks in the Young’, several international brands have helped us out, and to be truthful, we couldn’t have even contemporary ride without them and their generosity.

I guess the only way to describe our mood is that we’re like kids on a school outing. Lots of nice new packages for me from French cycling brand, Ekoi, and from Danish accessories brand, GripGrab. And Franchelina has a wardrobe full of gear sent through too, both for photos - of course - and for reviews, from brands like Cycology in Australia, and Canary Hill in Belgium. Also, California based brand ZBikewear have made several kits for both ladies, and the atmosphere is like Christmas as we spread it all out in our room, swap socks, head scarves, gloves and overshoes.

Finally, we get the kit into order and into the pannier bags and frame bags. I’ve been lucky to have been given a full set of frame bags from Italian brand BRN, and they look superb, having tested them briefly at home in the Yorkshire Dales. They’re totally robust and waterproof and will stand anything that our journey throws at us. The panniers themselves are a totally unique and new concept from a clever company in Bristol, Tailfin.

These guys have designed and produced a totally stylish and lightweight carbon pannier for carbon bikes. It’s small and sleek and cool, and fits t9 the set post and to some lugs on a special rear wheel skewer, without ever needing to touch the frame. The two bags then simply clip and lock on and carry up to 18 kg, which is ample when partnered with the BRN bags. I feel like the luckiest touring cyclist alive with these great bags all packed. Tailfin in particular have totally changed the concept of cycle touring with their carbon bike pannier. As our ride progresses, it’ll really come into it’s own. For now though, I simply know that I’ll be riding a lightweight carbon bike instead of a heavy steel or allow frame, so the rest is up to me.

Time to slip down for dinner and wine I guess and contemplate the next day, and our adventure to the heart of France ...