We awoke to the standard drumming of rain against our tent this morning. Yesterday Tyler steeled himself against the downpour, getting soaked to pack the bikes, while I stayed dry getting things organized from inside the tent. This morning, I was going to do him the same favor. I pulled on my baselayers, shirt, and fleece hoodie, slipped on a pair of sandals that squished a bit of water when I stepped in them, and ran outside to get our rain jackets from Tyler's bike. Back inside the tent, I put on my raincoat and was about to put on my dry, water-resistant, lace-up shoes. As I picked one up I realized to my dismay that though they had spent all night in the vestibule, the toe was sticking out about a quarter of an inch. Somehow both shoes were now water-logged, half full of rain. I dumped them out, completely bummed, while Tyler laughed at the absurdity of the situation and said that he would wear sandals in the cold rain with me today.
In grim silence we packed up camp, everything completely soaked yet again. We wheeled our bikes under the shelter of the toilet block, and ate some bread for breakfast while watching the downpour. There was a microwave at our campground so I made a quick mug of hot water and honey and wrapped my fingers around it to warm them. There was also a free hand dryer which we managed to dry my shoes with!
We'd already waited for the rain to stop for some time in our tent. Now, under the toilet block, we continued to wait while trying to decide what we wanted to do with the day. The maintenance man said it was supposed to rain for three days straight. Ugh. Finally, frustrated with ourselves for wasting so much time hemming about the non-stop rain, we (mostly Tyler) decided we should leave and get a decent biking day under our belts, rain or no.
When we left, it was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon. Normally we start wrapping up around four! The moment we set out, the rain cleared up and we had decent cycling weather as we rode along a flat, disused railbed to the next town where we picked up the canal. As we sploshed through puddles, we made a pact to never again complain about rain for the rest of the trip.
When we arrived in the next town, we stopped to pick up groceries and found the canal. Unlike yesterday's ride, this portion of the route was not well maintained at all. Along the way we stopped and asked a fisherman if we were going the right way, so faint was the path, and so clogged and swampy-looking was the canal. Where are Richard and Rowena with their canal clean-up crews when you need them? The fisherman said we were indeed going the right way, and that the nearest city was Pontivy, about 18 kilometers south. We decided we would bike there, find a campsite, and call it quits, managing to squeeze nearly 50 kilometers into our short ride.
As we cycled through puddles and over loosely-packed gravel paths rife with potholes we both noticed that the the woods on our left had a forboding feel and the murky, overgrown canal on the right didn't help it any. I had fun making up creepy stories about why all the canal's lock houses in this section were crumbling to bits with broken windows and being eaten alive by the surrounding plants. We likened the woods to Jurassic Park, Fangorn Forest, or a horror movie, and I felt slightly that at any moment some lurking creature would jump out to surprise us.
Things started to clear up as we approached Pontivy. While looking for a campsite we saw a sign for McDonalds and decided to get some ice cream and use their free internet access to post a few completed journal entries. We ended up buying dinner instead as it was almost seven o'clock in the evening. We sat outside with our bikes, posting journals while stuffing our faces with deliciously greasy burgers and fries.
Not long after we arrived, a very friendly and extremely talkative couple warmed up to us while drinking their coffee. The wife was from Marseille (and called herself "La Marseillaise") and her husband was from Algeria. He gave us all sorts of recommendations for traveling there, and they gave us their phone numbers and email so that we could contact them if we needed anything! They even kindly invited us to stay at their house for the night, but we weren't finished with our journals, and we wanted to get a little further down the road before finding a campsite. Yet again it was nice to be witness to generous hospitality.
An hour or so later as we were wrapping up I saw a man and his son sitting outside amicably eating their dinner. I smiled and said "bonjour" and he immediately began asking about our bikes and our trip. When he came over I gave him a card and asked about nearby campsites. He laughed and said, "oh, you guys can just come to my house! I don't live far at all!" He immediately asked us what we liked for breakfast, making sure he could provide us with something hearty to fuel another long day of cycling! I warned him that we might not be very interesting, as we go to bed really early. He said it was no problem, and that he had to leave at five o'clock in the morning to attend a farming conference in Reims. If we wanted to stay later, he would leave us the key, and we could just put it in the mailbox when we left. Overwhelmed by his kindness and feeling a bit tired, we happily accepted.
Pierre and his son Julien drove off in their light blue van while Tyler and I followed behind, pedalling as quickly as we could. Pierre stopped at each turn until we'd caught up before heading down the road again. Each time he stopped, he would get out and talk to us, pointing out landmarks and signs so we would be sure to remember the best way to get back to the canal. He even took us out of town along a route that avoided steep hills! The ride to their house was beautiful—the evening sun came out and we were treated with magnificent views of the French countryside. It occurred to us that we are missing a lot of scenery riding along the canals—we're looking forward to heading back out on the roads after we arrive in Nantes. After much ado, we made it to their beautiful old farmhouse about 8 kilometers from the McDonalds where we met.
After a brief tour of the farm, Julien (who reminds us both of Tyler's brother, Gabe) quickly ushered Tyler off to play ping pong! Neither of them understood each other, but I could hear the two of them laughing and smacking the ball back and forth as they played in the barn. While they were amusing themselves, I chatted with Pierre and he helped me hang our wet tent up to dry over some hay bales. Then he told me a really neat story about a group of Belgian boyscouts who had stopped by his farm asking to fill up their water bottles—Pierre obliged of course, and when they asked about a campsite, he offered them a place to sleep for the night too. He had fifteen teenage scouts sleeping on hay bales piled up in his barn! In the morning, they all came inside for a breakfast of hot chocolate made with milk fresh from the cow :)
We met their black lab, Olen, and one of their many horses, Swan. Swan was a champion jumping horse, but was now twenty years old and content to live a quiet peaceful life on the farm. A bit later Pierre called us over excitedly to show us a baby rat that had fallen into a huge basin full of grain and was unable to get out. Olen hopped in the basin, and the dog and the rat eyed each other warily. It was adorable!! Olen was afraid of the rat, who would run towards him and chase his tail! After much laughter, Pierre called us all over to the other side of the house where we saw a mole come out of his hole and stumble around blindly before making his way back underground. Pierre told us fondly of a French saying: "Ceux qui aiment les bêtes aiment les gens" which means, more or less, "those that love animals love people."
Done outside for the night, we were encouraged to have showers, do our laundry, and generally make ourselves at home. We felt completely at ease with our new friends, and though Julien had to go to bed early (school tomorrow) we ended up staying up past midnight talking with Pierre. He told us about traveling in Wales and England as a teeanger, and how he met a sixty year old musician (William) who was playing piano on a train. They got to talking and William told Pierre to call him when he arrived in London so they could tour the city together. When Pierre reached London he did and William sent out a taxi every day to fetch him so they could ride around the city exploring the sites. Pierre was able to repay this very memorable experience by having William visit France a few years later. He took William all around Brittany and Normandie; they continued their friendship via post until William passed away, an old man who lead a long, fulfilling life.
We were exhausted after our late night chat and happily headed to bed, safe and dry from the rain. Thank you Pierre and Julien for welcoming us into your home and your lives!