8 - 22 July 2017

This section covers the 1,400k from the French border at Bagnères-de-Luchon along the Atlantic coast to Saint Malo in northern France from where I will take the ferry to visit Channel Islands Guernsey and Jersey.

Itinerary and weather

From the Spanish/French border, I continued north down the mountains to Montréjeau, where I turned west through Tarbes and Pau to Castets on the Atlantic coast. I expected an easy flattish ride, so I was surprised having to navigate endless rolling hills and only a few flat stretches – most of the way through open countryside. Except for one hot and humid afternoon, it was overcast and/or raining the whole way and even more discouraging I faced a strong headwind.

From Castets. I rode north to Arcachon where I took a tourist boat to the Cap Ferret peninsula and then continued further north to Le Verdon-sur-Mer. The area is referred to as the lake district and was very touristic especially with lots of campers. It was a mix of rolling hills and flat - partly coastal with sand and pine trees and partly a little inland through fresh-smelling forests and countryside regularly interrupted by cosy villages and small towns. Most of the time it was overcast and/or rainy with strong headwinds, so I skipped several lake detours – why bother? It was only sunny (and hot) one afternoon so I appreciated the lovely views of a lake with white sandy beaches and small harbours.

From Royan, I followed the west coast north through La Rochelle, Saint-Nazaire and Lorient past Brest to the north coast, where I rode east past Morlaix and Saint-Brieuc to Saint Malo. Travelling much along the coast meant riding many small roads and taking several ferries/boats, along the way passing dunes, rugged cliff shores and countless beaches. However, most of the way I had to ride inland through irrigated farmland and rolling countryside with surprisingly much climbing (most days +1,000m) and many steep hills (up to 15%). The rainy weather continued until Saint-Nazaire, but afterwards I got a couple of beautiful sunny (but also hot and humid) days until Bénodet. It then became constantly changing weather with predominantly overcast/rainy mornings and sunny/hot afternoons – one day it rained all the time with few short stops and even ended with one and a half hour torrential rain. Almost all the way, I faced a strong headwind even when turning east towards Saint Malo, but it was never cold. Many evenings, nights and mornings were rainy, so I often had a late start of the day. The last 550k through Brittany (Bretagne) was my favourite stretch passing many small medieval towns/villages with beautiful old stone houses and churches, though riding the cobblestones was a hassle.

Roads, drivers and people

The road quality was unchanged a mix of good and poor, seemingly unrelated to road type, size or location. Charante-Maritime (around La Rochelle) must be either the poorest French province or not prioritising traffic, because they “offered” the (by far) most horrendous roads/bike path in France (and there’s much competition). I always rode the bike paths when mandatory, but when optional it depended on the quality – being mostly bad (cracked, poorly patched, bumpy from roots, etc. damaging the bike), I often biked the roads making many drivers angry honking and shouting at me. The same happened on the smaller roads without shoulders where many drivers stressed having to wait 5-10 seconds to overtake me despite the road being “holiday cramped” so they couldn’t progress anyway. Some places, vehicles queued for kilometres to get in/out of towns and inside towns were countless traffic jams. At least, I could still progress navigating between vehicles. Why do people go these places and expose themselves to these experiences - especially considering how stressful it is for most of them? Stressing on a holiday contradicts the purpose so why not relax, take the time and enjoy the ride - or if you have to be somewhere at a certain time, start earlier. I guess one explanation is that most French drivers love speeding whether highways, busy main roads or narrow, curvy streets without overview.

While people in southern France also drove fast at least they were cautions when overtaking me, but during this leg to Saint Malo, I had several close calls as cars squeezed by without room. And while people in southern France were indifferent, people on the Atlantic coast seemed unfriendly and uptight – almost nobody greeted me (back) and besides the shouting and honking one passenger spit at me and another flicked a cigarette butt at me - both missed. Once I had lunch sitting next to the small side street in a village when several vehicles passed 20-25 cm from my feet going 50-60 k/h - why go so fast (a kid could run out of a driveway) and why come so close when there was lots of room? Another example was biking the mandatory path through a busy town (despite the poor quality, high curbs and no right-of-way) – it was a shared two-way bike/pedestrian path and while waiting at a light, a woman yelled at me because my pannier was a few inches across the line on her meter-wide path.

The exception to this aggressive and unfriendly behaviour was the bicyclists, many greeting me and two even talking to me (the rare English speakers).

Camping

Camping in the mountains had been challenging and coming down from them, didn’t make it easier. Camping in the open farmland was impossible and forests were often far between, private and inaccessible because of steep slopes or deep ditches preventing me from pulling off the road. And when I did get into a forest, it was almost always overgrown with thorn bushes making me carry my stuff hundreds of metres getting scratched and bleeding all over.

Equipment

With the bad and sometimes horrendous roads, it was no surprise I had two broken spokes – actually surprising it wasn’t more. I also had a couple of flat tires – too many with a good wheel but with the fragile rear wheel quite normal.

The considerable rain entailed several challenges. My wet phone screen didn't work well with wet fingers (despite being waterproof to 5m?), so it was difficult navigating. I never found a shop to solder my broken dynamo charging cord, so I had to use tape, which was a constant hassle with everything being wet (tape, cords, fingers, paper, etc.). Finally, I had camera problems – being my last camera, I was cautious not to take pictures in the rain but apparently, the high humidity was enough to get zoom problems. I fixed it by the usual hitting making it work for a while. I finally stopped working in Guernsey after only 1,500 pictures - embarrassing.

The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode much of the way...
The atlantic coast to saint malo
All night and early mo...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I left t 10.30 for 30k...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Clouds were hanging ve...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Reaching Montréjeau, I...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
All shops are closed S...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It rained until 1pm wh...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The Tour de France is ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was a very busy lat...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Early evening, I final...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was overcast but ot...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I continued on rolling...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
.. and 25k flattish to...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Heavy rain so i took c...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The French love rounda...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The afternoon weather ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Cosy town Orthez with ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I turned north out of ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Lovely views on this h...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Down into the valley a...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I got water hoping to ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
After 15k I turned dow...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was an overcast and...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From Castets, I rode n...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A pleasure riding a lo...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... before it again be...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
All forest only interr...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I continued north past...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I passed several lakes...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... with its big sandy...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
.. and cosy small harb...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Now close to the ocean...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... where I took a sma...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From the boat, there w...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
On the other side earl...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode the bike path w...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I turned north off the...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It rained from 6.30-8....
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It seems ridiculous to...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
As always in France, t...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The last 30k to the fe...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
8k before the ferry, I...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I pushed for the ferry...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Approaching big town R...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode northwest along...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
After another 10k, I r...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
This was the only view...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
At 8pm 30k after the f...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was very windy and ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Grim morning skies but...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Just after the bridge,...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I turned north down a ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Shortly after, I reach...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Continuing towards Roc...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
In Soubise, I took a s...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
.. and then a bike pat...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
.. and along the river...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
To my great surprise, ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Charante-Maritime is e...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
About 10k after La Roc...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The weather also impro...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
An unfriendly region -...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I got water at a fire ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The forests were not a...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I planned a shortish d...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Another tough day push...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
In most towns streets ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode north for 15k -...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was a lovely 10k ri...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I had planned another ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was a very hot ride...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
At La Barre-de-Monts, ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Another beautiful morn...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Until I went down a se...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Some places, vehicles ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
As I rode NE for the f...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
On my map, it looked l...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding over the big br...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... the highest point ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I might have been able...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode 25k through Bri...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I saw several big mamm...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I wanted to camp befor...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A beautiful morning. H...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... which turned out t...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A backlog of about 100...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I rode 8k uphill to ma...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From Muzillac it was a...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I arrived at the port ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The ferry was this old...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From the ferry, I cont...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... famous for the Car...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... then northwest tow...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Strange writing here i...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A very hot afternoon a...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
With the often terribl...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
During WWII, Lorient h...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Big town Lorient was c...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Somehow I lost the cap...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I had read, it might b...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
15k along the ocean wi...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
At Guidel-Plages, the ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Crossing Laita River.....
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Heading west towards C...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding around Concarne...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I felt good but the ro...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was a rainy night a...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding west to Brénanv...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The roads were as alwa...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Constant rolling hills...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... passing many town/...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Passing Douarnenez - g...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A long uphill to Kerla...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
All over Brittany, the...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
More rolling hills thr...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Everywhere farmers wer...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From Ploéven it was a ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The beautiful church i...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
After a day with aroun...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Last climb of the day ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Annoying cobblestones ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Looking for camping, I...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was an overcast but...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding along the water...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding through cosy sm...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Low tide....
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
All day rolling hills ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I got water and planne...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Riding east, I suddenl...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
40k later, I was appro...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Big Lannigou forest ha...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
It was a sunny morning...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
From Morlaix, I rode n...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
All day climbing aggre...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
My initial idea was ri...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
After getting water, I...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
A few early morning su...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The bad roads continue...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
Despite 40k to the fer...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
... and Port a la Duc....
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
.. and Le Guildo now i...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
The last push towards ...
The  French Atlantic coast to St. Malo
I camped in a big open...
 
 
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