I changed my mind on the proposed route. It was a choice of either 4,000 feet or 236 feet of climbing. I opted for the latter. I’m coming to realise that a degree of self preservation makes the adventure more enjoyable.
It involved the Canal du Garonne. I had a feeling it went all the way to Bordeaux, via Agen, but found this hard to believe. In fact, it runs from Atlantic to Med.
I left my budget accommodation and bl crossed the road, joining the path straightaway. It ran out of Toulouse alongside a huge motorway, with industrial and commercial zones on the other side. It was a corridor of noise on both sides, one the steady zoom and murmur of traffic, the other the syncopated sounds of work. In the middle, the crunch of asphalt was barely discernible.
Gradually the noise diminished, the road veered away and the warehouses became gaps, and then countryside. There was a glorious tailwind and the surface was glassy, none of this compacted gravel mullarkey, a shiny sheen of dark matter and a zip in the tyres. It meant quick ridings. I felt elated, not a car in sight, barely another person, just tiered rows of plane trees.
I stopped at Dieupentale for a coffee, averaging around 16mph. It was a constant effort, big ring, steady pace, on and on and on. And it went on. More tarmac, more canal, more plane trees, the occasional train in the near or not so near distance.
I stopped at Moissac to buy lunch. I had been there in a past life, 18 years ago on my first ever trip to France (I was a late developer). They have repaved the square and there are more men lurking about with nothing to do than I remember. I bought some quiche and high tailed it out of there, onwards for a canalside picnic. After a couple of days of really stringing it out I was suddenly way ahead of schedule.
I find it hard to comprehend that I rode from city centre to city centre for seventy miles on a bike path with no contact with cars. It’s quite an experience. It’s also really quite dull after a while, and I guess in the absence of anything different to alleviate the monotony i felt for the first time the absence of a touring partner. I mentioned to Belle that it would make an ideal family tour. She wholeheartedly agreed that I should take both of the rotters away for a full tour on the canal and she would stay at home and mind the fort.
There were moments of utter joy. I saw several Black Kites, but also a kingfisher. It was a super fast flash of luminescent blue, a dart of lightning. It was only the second one I’ve ever seen, the last one was a glimpse a lifetime ago, this was a prolonged and awe inspiring sighting.
I got to Agen early with time to wait. I found a salon de thé. I had one of those hot chocolates like they give old people when they’re dying and refuse to eat. A full three course meal in a jug, dense and layered. It set me up nicely for a multi layered evening meal and wine, all good prep for tomorrow and the longest day, 84 miles with a job lot of climbing through the Dordogne.