“Auray or Bust” – An Exercise in Combative Cycling for 80-Year Olds!

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The port of St Goustin, Auray. We got there eventually. But could we get back…?!

A 14 mile cycle ride. We set off at 10am and arrived back just before 6pm!

8 hours, for much of which we were either lost or missing someone. We did the most technical bit of single track that I have ever ridden, which was interesting since at least half of the party were on electric shopping bikes. And we nearly got into a fight!

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We set off and tried to follow Joe… You can see him in the distance. We couldn’t keep up!

“Of course, the mistake they made was to follow Joe. He was the one who led them 40 miles round the Isle of Sheppey. He’s 80 years old!” So said Keith last year when the Seavets had all been off on some lengthy marine mission of questionable directionality.

Today, I had the Joe experience all to myself – a true ‘Count Arthur Strong‘ meets ‘Last of the Summer Wine‘ trip. All that was missing was a bathtub sliding down a hillside with three pensioners in it. If Mark had come along, it would have been perfect. Like Compo in Last of the Summer Wine, he has taken to holding up his shorts with a bungee.

“We got horribly lost last year trying to cycle back from Auray, so we’ll cycle there, have lunch then get the train back.”  Joe set off and there was no stopping him. By the time we had reached Plouharnel, we had already lost Keith! I cycled right back as far as the war museum, where I found Keith waiting patiently for Joe. “He stopped to take photos!” Keith said. Joe had sped on again so fast that Keith had missed it!

The route we took to Auray bore little resemblance to the route I remember taking with Steve in previous years, which had meandered along the river, passed dolmens (standing stones) in fragrant country lanes and wound through oyster beds along the coastline – and involved the all-important ice-cream stop at La Trinitée sur Mer. I explained it to Mark when I got back. “You know that huge roundabout that you come round on the main road from Vannes? We cycled round that!” It is all but a motorway! It was every man for himself as we ran the gauntlet like newly-fledged ducklings to take our chances amid the traffic. Or lemmings.

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We took off like newly-fledged ducklings to take our chances with the traffic…

We went through a few industrial estates before we hit a dual carriageway where Joe told us “Follow the signs to the port of St Goustin if we get separated.” We got separated. Somehow, the group managed to arrive at our lunch stop from 3 different directions – Joe and I from the direction of Vannes after taking a wrong turn , which I wouldn’t have minded except that it was UP A HILL!

It was over lunch that we discovered that we had been looking at the wrong day on the train timetable. It was 12.30 and the next train that would take bikes back to the campsite was not until 4pm. “We’ll cycle back!” went up the rallying cry from the table; I don’t know if it was bravado or just the fact that most of us had by now put away at least one boule de cidre. I was all for getting the train, but as the most junior member of the group by a couple of decades, I felt honour bound not to wimp out…!

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“Let’s cycle back!” By now, most of us had put away at least one boule de cidre…

Powered by pancakes, cidre and caffeine, we set off. In entirely the wrong direction.  “We should have the sun on our right shoulder” said Barry. His bike was not going to let us get away with it, however and raised its own directional objection in puncture form.

Puncture duly repaired, we set off back, the sun now scorching satisfyingly on our right shoulders. I looked over mine and could see no sign of Barry and Jan. I rode back and they were struggling with Barry’s wheel, which was not on properly following the puncture repair. We fixed it, caught up the others and continued.

We took a turn to follow a cycle track. This took us along the most technical piece of single track that I have ever ridden – a steep, narrow downhill, through trees, with protruding stones and roots and a sharp left hander at the bottom. Those of us on mountain bikes managed OK, but after struggling with the first part, the electric shopping bikes split off and said that they would return home via the road.

The real beauty of our cycle track, however, was that it took us in a perfect circle and we ended up right where we had started. The splinter group looked rather surprised when they rejoined us!

“Never mind. We can go and see the ‘A-lee-na-ments‘ Joe said. “The what?” “The Alignments’”. I have to say I never tire of seeing the amazing standing stones at Carnac. I also saw a silvery-gold Breton foal with a beautiful star in the centre of his forehead, but the camera wasn’t playing ball and Joe was off before I could take a photo of the foal.

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A rare Breton horse, photographed when I was not cycling with Joe!

A map check on a narrow road, near a sharp bend, in some welcome shade did nothing for Anglo-French relations. A Frenchman stopped his car behind us, switched off his engine and started gesticulating. “I think he is saying he can’t get past.” We moved even further off the road and he moved his car right up to us and switched off his engine again, still gesticulating furiously. By this time Maurice was on the corner indicating that it was clear for him to pass. Joe strolled over for a chat with the Frenchman in his perfect French. “I can’t pass, you need to get to the side!” “We are at the side!”

At this point, a young lady in a Land Rover sailed past, overtaking the Frenchman and rounding the corner in a rather carefree, laissez-faire manner. Being overtaken by a girl in a large vehicle rather weakened his “I can’t get past” position. “I’ll go and have a word with him…” Barry said, his jaw set. Jan called him back. “If my brother was here, he’d have had him out of the car and in the bushes by now!” Undetterred, the Frenchman crawled past us, millimetres from our handlebars, just to make a point. The point being that he was a grumpy, old git.

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We concluded that Joe must have hidden a battery pack in that saddlebag!

Joe shot ahead at Plouharnel. “They all know the way back from here!” We arrived back at the campsite in dribs and drabs between 6 and 6.30, having cycled about 40 miles in 27 degree heat.

Not quite the 3pm return we had planned, but then, there was no wind anyway!

However, I did have one large regret. Another large MISS on the appropriate song lyric front. You might remember my chagrin at the missed opportunity for deployment of “Donald Wheer’s Your Troosers?!” when I took my Uncle Don a cup of tea one morning and he came to the bedroom door wearing a string vest and a pair of long, white underpants. I was too taken aback to burst into song – AND we were on the Isle of Skye (which is mentioned in the song.)

This MISS was almost as bad. Barbara had come on the train to join us for lunch. Joe had organised a taxi to take her back to the station at Auray.

Why oh why did I not think of Vanessa Paradis, the former Mrs Johnny Depp and ask “Joe – le Taxi?”

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It wasn’t all Industrial Estates and Motorways – although it was, mostly!

Join us next time as we cross France and head to Germany in our Break for the Border!

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