Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 27 - Etalans – Pontarliers - 58km (10 getting lost)

Climbing to 800 metres is going to be tough whichever you look at it, but in fact it could have been a great deal worse. Unbroken sunshine and persistently beautiful countryside takes a great deal of ignoring (however big the hills) and in spite of some frustrating route finding – involving going up and down one vertical mountainside twice – I feel that we have had a good day and done a good job.

Meanwhile Paul has been going through various phases of bucolia, culminating in complete bucophoria, which prompts me to comment on some of the more bizarre aspects of his behaviour, observed mainly as his follower from behind.

In common with many men, and I know he will not object to me saying this, being engaged in more than one thing at a time can be problematical. This is particularly obvious when he is way-finding; his legendary nose radar excellently reading the position of the sun and every clue on the horizon, but his bike weaving wildly across centre lanes, into ditches and headfirst into oncoming traffic – a terrifying process to watch from behind. The worst is when he brakes suddenly, usually muttering something about a missed sign, with the inevitable result that I career top-speed into the back of him. More fun to observe, though probably even more hair-raisingly dangerous, are those moments of bucophoria when Paul launches into both an imaginary slalom race and song … well songs … extracts of ... at various pitches … caught as snippets in the wind … um something like this. Oh what a beautiful MORNING, Oh what a beautiful DAY … tum tee la la … If you need a friend, I’LL BE THERE …Brothers in ARMS … cause I’m feeling good and HEY here comes the sun little darlin’ …. What a wonderful WOORRRLLDD … OOOOOH … hmmmm hmmmm tum tee la LA. And if we are going particularly fast down a particularly good hill, there will be a YEE HAH thrown in for good measure – a sentiment I can absolutely share. Nothing beats the feeling of rushing down the other side of a hill you have just spent the last half hour slogging up.

At this point I suppose it is only fair that I point out some of my own idiosyncrasies, most of which are related to my various cycloped survival tactics. The first, and probably most annoying for Paul, is that if we are going up hill I plod snail-slow (either pedalling or on foot, it’s all the same speed), head down (looking up to see the hill ahead causes immediate failure), seeing absolutely nothing beyond my own feet. A position that can have two key, adverse outcomes: I am completely oblivious to any signs or indications of our direction - landscape, wildlife, historical buildings, in fact anything vaguely noteworthy, passing me by without even registering a glimpse on my part. If Paul stops to wait for me, which he invariably needs to do every hundred metres or so, I trudge blindly into the back of him without noticing until it is far too late. His panniers bear the scars.

All that aside, tonight we are in Pontarliers, a pretty town, but not to my view anything like as appealing or interesting as Besançon, though this may be a symptom of my tiredness – boy am I tired – and I am willing to be persuaded otherwise if anyone can provide sufficient evidence.

Today the weather was great and the going tremendous, with huge vistas of dairy farms against a backdrop of forest and the Jura. We even came across a good section of track on which AIVF stickers had been frequently and sensibly placed. You would think after all these hundreds of kilometres, I would by now know better. You see the snag with the VF signing is that it stops with the same spontaneity with which it started and not necessarily keeping to any route map that I own.

So, having put too much faith into these things we end in the middle of a forest (it is usually a forest) with no idea where we are and not a hint of a sticker or other sign to be seen. So, you search the sky for the sun or take a look at the compass, listen for some traffic to give you an idea of where the nearest road ease, sniff the ground for pilgrim droppings and make a guess. Sometimes, you get lucky and sometimes not! Today was a not. Do you have that thing happen to you when you are in a strange town, trying to find your way to somewhere or other when a car pulls up and asks for directions? It is always in a place where I haven’t a clue. Well you guessed, at our most lost a Dutchman on a flash road bike pulls up and asks the way. We do our best, but I hope he has escaped the clutches of the forest by now.

In spite of these trials and tribulations, after a reviving beer and sandwich we manage to come up with a pretty good solution and we cruise into Pontarlier as planned. Now, finding a wifi link is giving us problems and we had thought staying at one of the plastic hotels that offer this as an inducement, but in the end we find the Hotel de France in the heart of the town that offered us a room for 32 euros and as a result we give wifi a miss for another day.

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