Sticking to our early rising plan we set the alarm for six o'clock. By seven we were up and moving, albeit very slowly. We sometimes joke that we feel like Wall-E in the morning, stumbling out of bed, bumping things, not quite able to operate our appendages properly. I eventually woke up and spearheaded the morning camp break while Tyler groggily poked along slow as a snail. Thus began a day of role reversals.
Thrilled with yesterday's early arrival in camp (allowing us hours and hours of leisure time), I was eager to get going so as to produce the same result today. After some prodding, I got Tyler moving and together we finished breaking camp. Bikes loaded, we wheeled up to the reception office at exactly 8:30 when our morning bread would be ready for pickup. Sitting at a picnic table we cracked open our long crusty baguette, smearing it with butter and strawberry jam. Both of us oohed and ahhed and Tyler declared that this was possibly the best bread he had ever eaten. He loves the soft squishy insides, and our loaf had the perfect amount of it, complemented but not overwhelmed by the crackly crust.
Bidding another wonderful municipal campsite farewell we rode out through Saintes, notable for its Roman past complete with amphitheater and thermal bath house. Leaving the small city, we biked through the last bit of the Charentes-Maritimes area and into the department of Charentes. Just outside of the town of Cognac (ringing any bells?), we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase ripe strawberries and cherries to have with our lunch later. Biking onwards, corn fields turned into grapevines, and our relatively flat terrain rose into rolling hills of vineyards. It was exquisitely beautiful and we would often holler over to one another "LOOK AT THIS!!!" Signs began appearing for Cognac and Pineau tastings at private farm distilleries, and we turned off the main road to explore.
In a small building just across the road from large farm buildings and a vineyard, we had our first taste of Cognac (distilled wine) and Pineau (distilled wine and grape juice) poured into tiny glasses by the vigneron's wife. Surprisingly, Tyler enjoyed the Cognac; he doesn't normally like the taste of alcohol much. I preferred the sweeter Pineau. We didn't buy anything, but thanked the woman profusely and continued on our way.
Unfortunately we hadn't gotten a tour of the distillery because the woman's husband was out working in the vines so we stopped at the next with high hopes. Sadly, the vigneron informed us that he didn't work on the weekends. He welcomed us to have a look though and we saw the huge vats used to distill the wine as well as a multitude of grape-picking shears he had collected for fun.
The town of Cognac was the last real city we saw for the better part of the day. It was wonderful to be out in the countryside, biking kilometer after kilometer, far away from the hustle and bustle of traffic. We exchanged another few reality checks ("we are biking in the middle of NOWHERE in France!", "This RULES!", etc) as we were surrounded by hills of grapevines dotted with large, terracotta-topped estates. If you had a dream of "moving to France to restore a crumbling farm/mansion and live on a vinyard," this would be the perfect place to do it.
Around midday we stopped for lunch under some shady trees by a vinyard and enjoyed our very French meal of bread, cheese, "rillettes de poulet roti" (roast chicken spread), and our fresh fruit. Very peacefully munching away we talked about the ants scurrying about on the ground and were glad not to be in such a hurry. After a relaxing lunch break, with stomachs full and the sun high in the sky we took to the road.
Forty kilometers in and it was barely 1 PM! Our plan was to bike 60 kilometers or so and then search for a campsite. Suddenly, I began to feel strange sensations in my legs. I was… tired! For the first time in a week or two, I shifted into the middle gear up front to ease the hill-climbing. The sun came out at full force, and pretty soon we were very hot and moving very slowly. We hit the 70-kilometer mark at 2:30 in the afternoon. Plenty of time to find camp! Tyler suggested we free-camp, but I didn't think we had enough water and I was looking forward to a long shower. We would continue on, sure to find a town with a campsite.
Several very hot and hilly kilometers later, there were no towns to be found. We really were out in the middle of nowhere. Our pristine French countryside was starting to look a little less appealing as the novelty of being "off the beaten path" had long disappeared. When we finally entered what could only pass as a medium-sized village they had no campsite. Thankfully, they did have a map of the area. As we looked at the sign, four French teenagers (no doubt as nonplussed about their beautiful surroundings as we had started to be) sat smoking by the church. Sure enough there was a town about 15 kilometers south of us with a campsite.
At this point (actually about an hour ago) we were ready to be done for the day. Tyler voted again for free-camping, but I thought all the wide open spaces were a bit too exposed. Besides, the campsite was only 15 kilometers away. That's nothing! Off we went again, in the direction of Montmoreau St Cybard.
It was very slow going and we were tired, but we finally arrived in town and asked around until we found the campsite. We rolled up only to find a sign taped to the gate that said "closed for renovations." Ugh. It was now an 85 kilometer day and we were homeless and exhausted. I took charge and said everything would be okay. Tyler pointed us in a southeasterly direction (we are headed towards Marseilles) and we set off, irritable and very tired.
We had no idea how far it would be, but Tyler was on auto-pilot to find us a campsite. When I spotted some woods off the highway, I said to hell with our water situation. We would more than survive on a bottle of water and we could surely find more nearby in the morning. I shouted to Tyler to stop pedaling and we quickly made our way inside the woods and very happily called it a night having set a new distance record.
Tyler took my normal job of "pumper", the one who pumps up our thick air mattresses, while I took out our big knife and began clearing away brush and brambles from our new home. I set up the tent and Tyler began to make dinner. Though our biking day was much longer than we would have liked, we were home safe yet again. We decided that whether it is Tyler or I who is spurring us on, we definitely still need to work on quitting while we're ahead!
Everyone says we need to take more pictures of each other so here are a two from the day that we liked. Here I am taking a break and Tyler is investigating some wheat: