We stopped at a huge bicycle shop, "Mondovelo" on our way out of town today, continuing our hunt for replacement skewers. No luck. I did find the cone wrenches I need to rebuild our hubs when the time comes though; I'd forgotten to buy them before we left the states. The techs at the shop did their best to warn me that rebuilding hubs should be left to professionals, leering at me like I was a fool to even consider it.
Tara tried to explain the nature of our trip to them, hoping they'd understand why we couldn't defer to their "expertise" but they only seemed more annoyed. On the way out I also picked up some spare tubes and a bottle of chain lube that wasn't too outrageously priced.
After exploring the cycle shop and the adjoining sports & camping outlet, we wheeled our bikes over to the Super-U grocery store next door. I stayed outside to watch the bikes as it was a pretty busy area, and Tara went in on a mission to find breakfast and load us up with supplies for the next few days. While she was busy, a really nice middle-aged couple excitedly came over to chat and we had a patchy French conversation about bicycle touring.
Tara soon emerged with two full grocery bags, and set them down, smiling at our new friends. The couple got even more excited when they realized she spoke French and began to tell her about the trip they were about to depart on: cycling to the coast of France and back. They said someday they'd like to ride all the way to the Black Sea and told us all about the European cycle routes leading there.
By the end of the conversation we all felt very chummy and they kissed us on both cheeks when they left. As soon as they were gone, Tara and I shared a simultaneous "AWWWW they were SO NICE!" and then we realized that we had neglected to catch their names. Hopefully our mystery friends will contact us!
With our new friends gone we began the process of stowing two HUGE bags of groceries in our bikes. This is one of the less glamorous parts of cycle touring. With our food strewn about on the pavement and our tupperwares laying haphazardly in, on and around the bikes, we received the usual odd looks while we laughed and tried to figure out how to fit everything into our panniers.
We started with the sweets Tara bought for "breakfast". Hungrily wolfing them down rather than packing them away we finished all twelve powdered-sugar coated apple-filled fritters, and two huge pretzel-shaped doughnuts. Somehow we managed to fit all of that in our stomachs, and everything else in our panniers. Feeling buzzed from all the sugar, we cycled off.
As soon as we left town, we regretted our unhealthy breakfast as we faced a looming, brutal, 13% grade hill. Even in our easiest gear (we have some seriously easy gears) it was incredibly difficult to pedal. We quickly switched into "climbing mode," giving up any notion of making time or traveling with any sort of speed.
As we alternated between pushing, riding, and resting breathlessly on the shoulder many cars honked and cheered us along. Assuming the altimeter on our GPS can be trusted, we ascended nearly 200m in less than a kilometer.
At the top, we took a much-needed rest and continued on to tackle some tamer hills and mountains in the French countryside. It felt great to be off of the main roads as we wove in and out of little villages, pine forests, and rolling pastures dotted with cows. Tara was excited to see that all of the blackberry hedges were full of ripening fruit, and she picked several handfuls along the way.
Tired and grumpy, probably from too many sweets, Tara wanted to quit for the day after less than 40km. I, on the other hand, wanted to get closer to the border. We had just filled our water bottles and were passing what appeared to be a good free-camp when I decided to put Tara's desires before my own. I asked her if a pasture off the main road would do for the night (hoping she might agree to ride more instead) and she enthusiastically said yes. It made me happy to see she was so relieved to call it a day. It has taken nearly four months but I'm finally starting to learn when the extra distance matters enough to push on and when it doesn't.
We settled into a private, spacious and buggy clearing and Tara made us delicious chicken and rice soup with a salad for dinner. It was a restful free-camp, and not a single car passed along the ruddy, gravelly drive. We did witness a huge badger bound across the field though! Tomorrow we head to Switzerland, for real this time.