Spirits were high this morning. With another budget-boosting free evening under our belts we cheerfully broke camp excited about the prospect of finding a nice place to rest for few nights. It is incredible how the possibilities of a new day on the road can erase the memory of struggles encountered in the one before. We set our heading southeast in the direction of a large city, Périgueux, where we were sure to find a nice campsite.
Our meager water supply was now gone after our free-camp but I quickly located a spigot on a farm beside the road. As I replenished our water bottles with the garden hose attached to it, Tara looked around furtively, seemingly waiting for someone to appear from the empty surroundings with a shotgun aimed at us for absconding with a few liters of water. Nobody came to kill us and we cycled away safely a few pounds heavier and relieved to have something to drink.
As we rode slowly towards Périgueux we were overtaken by a very odd man on a recumbent bicycle who honked his clown horn at us until we removed our earphones. Upon discovering that I do not speak French, he struck up a conversation with Tara. Apparently he introduced himself by raving about his bicycle and telling her how we should have gotten recumbents just like his. When Tara told him a bit about our trip he instantly started in:
"How many kilometers a day do you ride? I ride 200 kilometers, sometimes even 400 on my bike!"
"I could ride my bike all the way to Spain today if I wanted!"
"I love my bike, you should get a bike just like it!"
"*gasp* You've never heard of the company that makes my bike? They are from the USA, you should have gotten one!"
Thankfully, just as he was spooling up for another round of self-congratulatory accolades, our paths diverged.
We arrived in Périgueux early in the afternoon and took a now customary stop at the local McDonalds to upload photos, post journal entries and have ice cream. While there we coordinated our first Warm Showers stay with Ingrid and Yves! They are friends of our friends, Andrew and Friedel and we're very excited to meet them! We were also elated to communicate with Exped and arrange for our replacement mats to arrive there ahead of us. It was a very productive stop.
Leaving McDonalds much later in the day, we followed horribly-marked signs leading to several campgrounds. We lost the trail for the main municipal one, but carried on out of the city, hopeful that one of the others would be a more rural offering. Slowly we followed the trail, further and further from Périgueux only to discover what has recently has become our worst nightmare, a sign reading "CAMPING FERMÉ". Though I do not speak French, "ferme" or "closed" was quickly committed to my long-term memory after our encounter with it and the extra kilometers on the road it afforded us yesterday.
For the next hour or so we talked about free-camping, wasted time backtracking, and followed several signs that led to nowhere or pointed in confusing, opposing directions. It was about 5PM when we'd unintentionally covered 80+ kilometers again in search of a suitable place to take our rest days. The only site we were 100% sure of was behind us in Périgueux and neither of us was willing to backtrack what felt like a considerable distance to arrive there. Besides, it might be FERMÉ and we would be stuck in the city without a good place to free-camp.
When things go wrong with accommodations my instinct is to continue forward until an opportunity presents itself. I hate the idea of backtracking. Riding like this has never failed me when motorcycle touring but this mentality does not work on a bicycle. Cycling onwards just becomes more and more difficult and the further you go the further your morale deteriorates. I rely heavily on Tara to draw the line for us because when I am upset, my problem-solving skills can go out the window and I have a tendency to doggedly turn into a pedaling machine instead of a thinking, calculating one.
Around 6PM after a bit of hunting for a free-camp I realized that in expecting a short day we'd missed lunch. Neither of us was thinking clearly and we needed to eat, regardless of the time. Stopping for food and making a plan was probably the first thing we should have done when things went wrong. We enjoyed a dinner of various leftovers while talking about how we felt and what we needed to do in the future to avoid situations like this.
For the most part we're a well-oiled touring machine but there are still things we need to work on. Soon we will be in countries where we don't have the luxury of asking for directions to the nearest campsite or turning to the laptop to find accommodations. It would be nice to plan a place to stay every night but that isn't an option the way we are traveling. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we see (water, electricity, food, camping etc) instead of expecting there to be another one just down the road.
In slightly better spirits after our dinner, we struck out with the intent to ride another 10 kilometers in search of a good campsite or free-camp. Our persistence paid off, and we finally found a sign for a site just a few kilometers down the road. It read CAMPING A LA FERME. I was about to scream when Tara explained that this usage meant "Camping on the Farm", not "camping on the CLOSED". Phew.
The site is a bit dingy and dilapidated, but we don't care. Time for a hot shower and some rest. Let's hope that tomorrow won't be a repeat of today!