OUR DISASTROUS CYCLES: GREENWAYS EDITION, FRANCE
It was a cool morning and we had spent the night in a car park just outside of the old town of Sarlat la Caneda. Not the most glamorous of settings, but it was a hop skip and a jump from the pedestrianised section of the medieval town - and it was free.
Jamal had found a selection of ‘greenways’ cycles in France. They actually have them all over Europe (you can read more about them here), but basically they are just disused railway lines that have been converted into walking and biking trails. The best part is, because they have been graded for rail travel, they’re pretty flat for miles on end. They’re so much fun to cycle because it’s pretty much an easy glide through the beautiful parts of the countryside that you’d never see from the road.
It took us a while to manoeuvre ourselves from the central part of Sarlat to the beginning of the greenway as we were using a paper map which us Gen-Y kids are completely hopeless at. You know what else we’re hopeless at? Forethought. When we were packing up our house in preparation for our move overseas, we started neatly stacking and labelling boxes, but in the end we just started smooshing random boxes of crap into our storage shed with a ‘that’s 2020 Jamal and Noni’s problem’ attitude. Ha ha, we thought, 2020 Jamal and Noni were going to find unpacking this mess a total headache... Anyway, you get the idea. General adulting is not our strength.
So we reached the start of the greenway and began to glide. It was blissful. The air was cool and damp, the rainclouds were holding off, the cottages nestled in their fields of sheep and flowers - it was oh so French. The perfect way to spend a Sunday (did I mention it was a Sunday? This will be important later…).
As we rode alongside each other we thought, oh this is a 50km ride, we should have packed a snack or something.
Then Jamal laughed: ‘We should also probably get a tyre repair kit and pump to bring with us on rides like this.’
‘Oh yeah,’ I said. ‘It would suck to get a flat tyre.’
Then we laughed. We laughed and we laughed.
The best thing about the greenway being flat and straight is you can get up to a great speed without having to slow down for intersections, and without knowing it’s going to be all uphill on the way back. We flew along, legs a blur, and after about two and a half hours of riding we came to a small cluster of houses and the greenway kind of just petered out. It was a slight anticlimax but we were ready to head back, and the rain clouds were getting heavier. We knew we would be hard pressed to make it home before they broke. So we had a sip of water (we did bring that) and began hightailing it back the way we had come. We’d only gone a few hundred metres when my bike wobbled, the tyre started making a scuffing sound, and I stopped gliding along with the wind in my hair like Maria Von Trapp.
Jamal, of course, had sped ahead of me and was out of sight, so I tried calling him on my phone, which was running low on battery as it hadn’t been charged since the day before (like I said, forethought…). It took a while for him to realise I wasn’t behind him and his phone was ringing, but eventually he returned to help me lug my bike up to the road where we could see a few shops and cafes (after all, it was a Sunday). The thing about our bikes is they were electric monsters. They had fat tyres and were sturdy as hell, but they were heavy, and without pedal assist being used to negate the weight of the actual bike, they were an effort to push.
Eventually we got the bike up to the road and spotted a bus shelter. This was handy because it was starting to rain and no one really wants to wait for a bus in the rain. We reached the shelter and checked the schedule. No busses on Sundays, it said. Great.
The only solution was for Jamal to ride back to Sarlat and pick up Frankie, then come back for me and my bike. He left his backpack in the shelter with me and looked at his phone. It was dead. We dug around in the backpack until we found a power cable which you can plug into the bikes. It charges at a glacial pace, but something would be better than nothing. Off he went while I sat in the shelter looking at the rain drip through the roof. I realised I couldn’t even play on my phone as I had to preserve the tiny amount of battery it had left.
After about ten minutes I was bored and hungry.
I rummaged around in Jamal’s backpack looking for something to nibble on.
Then I found the keys to the van.
Jamal was hightailing it 20km back to Frankie on his bike, and I had just discovered that when he got there, he wouldn’t even have the bloody keys.
Madly I began trying to call him on the phone, but his battery was still dead. It was hopeless. I just had to sit, and wait. 30 mins passed. 40 mins.
Jamal returned. He’d gotten to the castle, he said (we’d found an abandoned turret on the side of the greenway), and remembered the keys. Thank god, I said.
Off he went again.
After about 20mins I received a phone call. It was Jamal. Thank goodness his battery is charged a bit, I thought, and answered the phone.
‘I’ve got a flat,’ Jamal said.
Once more, he’d only made it as far as the castle. Before his phone battery died again, he told me he was going to hide the bike in the castle and walk up to the road.
So I just sat. And waited. And waited.
2 hours passed.
At what point, I started to wonder, do I panic? Do I wander off looking for help, and risk not being here when Jamal returns? Or do I just sit here forever?
It was late afternoon. The rain was stopping but it was getting dark. I drummed my fingers on the wooden seat.
Then, I heard a beep, and I saw Frankie driving down the road.
I tell you what, that girl never looked so fine!
Jamal jumped out and I gave that man the hug of his life. What a bloody debacle. It turned out he had walked and walked and walked until he found a road that was actually being used by cars, and then manage to hitch a ride (twice) to get back to Frankie. His legs were sore as hell.
We loaded my bike up on the back of the van and I hopped into the passenger seat. The next challenge was finding where Jamal had stashed his bike. We knew the castle was just off the greenway, but because they don’t run along the roads it was a bit of trial and error. We had to pull over a few times and clamber through the woods looking for the turret, but eventually we found it, hauled it through the greenery like maniacs, and up onto the bike rack.
The minute we pulled back into our Sarlat carpark we jumped out of the van and hightailed it into the village.
We needed a drink.
* Note: We got a tyre repair kit and pump the following day...