Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 15 - Chalons-en-Champagne – le Meix-Tiercelin – 51km

On occasion, it is difficult not to believe in divine retribution and even more difficult not to take it very personally. Why is it that on the very day/night we decide to camp, (and discover that in spite of being more expensive our new tent still does not have a fly sheet) the worst storm (probably since records began) in the region launches itself directly over Chalons-en-Champagne where we are staying? Could all this be connected to our decision to avoid the religious refuge in favour of a somewhere/anywhere we could drink more beer than we really should?

All this aside, the rain seems takes a break by early morning and we wave a jaunty farewell to an English couple we had met the night before and stop off to buy some breakfast – then the celestial sluice gates open and the sky closes over to darker than midnight. We battle on for all of five minutes then give up and retreat to a café, where we spend the best part of an hour dripping and waiting for some change.
By 10.00am, the deluge has reduced to a heavy shower and we launch ourselves back out onto the streets again. By 10.30 we are well away from the town and into a completely different landscape to that of the previous day. From vineyards to vast open prairies – cereal land - with minimal tree cover and for us a single track running across the middle of it – the Voie Romane. Impressive, but also depressive in terms of what is being done to the landscape.
Undulating and rolling are such ambiguous words, used only by poets and painters who describe hills, but never get off their butts to actually cycle up and down them. Up and down and up and up again and always with either a head wind or cross wind. Still, the good news is that the excess midriffs Paul and I have acquired over the winter are rapidly disappearing, and my previously chicken-like legs (the part below the feathers) are turning into drumsticks from the thigh up.
Tonight, just when we thought we were doomed to camping "au sauvage", we find Aliette, an 80-year old dynamo, who feeds us more than we have ever eaten in one sitting before and tells us that her last guests were the two girls on horses we had met two days previously.
Then to bed, and for me a night of waking up with cramps that send me hopping round the room, whereas Paul, the fit one, has already got over this particularly unpleasant by-product of taking too much exercise all at once.
Aliette is at 7 Grand Rue. Watch out there are no signs and this whole stretch is bereft of accommodation. Had we not ventured to ask, it would be another 20 km before the next possibility. Note also that these plains, much like the Spanish "meseta", leave pilgrims exposed to all the extremes of weather and so plan for the worst and you may be lucky.

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