Distance: 88 miles
Total Distance: 785 miles
I left Ychoux early, covered in insect bites and itching like mad. I soon joined a track leading off-road, which is always risky. It was impossible to know until it was too late whether it was a nice, easy, scenic track or an impossible slog through thick mud and sand. Unfortunately this turned out to be the latter. For about three miles I ploughed my way through deep rutted fields, the mud up to my ankles and getting caught up in my bike mudguards. I had no option but to drag my bike through, stopping every few metres to catch my breath.
I was tossing up my options in my head. Should I push on and hope this would end soon? Or should I cut my losses and go back, and try to find another route around? Stubbornly I continued forwards and eventually reached firmer ground.
Here I suddenly found myself riding on an abandoned four lane road, resembling something out of a post-apocalyptic science fiction world. It seemed like it had once been in use but was now rutted and overgrown with no sign that any traffic had driven down it recently. A railway ran alongside the road and every now and then, in stark contrast to the ruined road, a pristine white train would shoot by, passengers staring out the window at this strange, muddy, dishevelled looking cyclist in the middle of nowhere.
I rejoined civilisation after a few miles and, faced with another off-road slog, decided to change my route slightly to stay on the roads. It added a few miles on but inevitably saved myself a lot of unnecessary time and exertion. The roads were busier now; I hadn’t see this much traffic since I passed by Madrid several days ago. The drivers were a lot less cautious here too, shooting straight past me with only inches to spare. A beautiful morning was somewhat spoiled by a lingering fear of death.
Lamarque was my destination this afternoon, where a ferry would take me across the Gironde Estuary (which is not cheating by the way, as there was no road option even vaguely nearby).
Milling about the ferry terminal were several other bikepackers on trips of their own – a few solo, one husband and wife and another family with two small kids who seemed happy to be pulled along in two trailers behind the parents’ bikes.
I climbed aboard, paying just a few Euros for just the 20-minute ride across the water. It felt strange to be moving on a boat after a week and a half of nothing but cycling. It was a nice sunny day with a cool breeze blowing over the water and I enjoyed the feeling of making progress northwards without having to exert any energy. I could sit back and relax, letting the boat gently propel me towards my destination.
Once the boat docked in Blaye I set off straight away and the rest of the bikepackers branched off to continue their own separate journeys.
It was a fairly uneventful couple of hours until I passed through the town of Braud-et-Saint-Louis. On the outskirts of town I spotted a campervan coming towards me on the opposite side of the road, closely followed by a red car. As the distance closed between us, without warning the red car suddenly pulled into my side of the road, trying to overtake the campervan. This wasn’t the first time this had happened on this journey, and I would have normally moved to the side of the road to let him past. However, the road was far too narrow for him to overtake in my lane without also ploughing straight into me.
As he raced towards me he beeped his horn as if it was my fault for getting in the way, and had I no choice but to swerve to the right, up onto the pavement. My wheel hit the kerb and I was thrown forward over the handlebars, landing on the concrete and followed soon after by my bike and 20 kilos of baggage crashing down on top of me. The psychopath driver sped off without even slowing down while I lay sprawled in a heap of tangled metal and limbs.
Taking stock of myself, I was a little bruised, bloody and battered but overall more or less unscathed. My bike however, had taken a bit more of a beating. My front wheel was lying 100 metres down the road and the right handlebar was bent at a complete right angle. I felt like crying. It was over. My bike was fucked. I had only seven days left to ride another 500 miles and even if I managed to get it fixed the very next day (unlikely) it would be almost impossible for me to make it all the way to London in that short space of time.
I picked up my front wheel and tried to reattach it as best I could. To my surprise it fit back on perfectly – not broken or bent at all. I still have no idea how the wheel managed to be wrenched off without damaging it at all but I didn’t care at this point. All I cared about was that I might still have a chance of continuing. I looked at my mangled handlebars and although it was bent at 90 degrees, the gears and brakes still miraculously seemed to be functioning as they should.
Dusting myself off, I picked my bike up and tentatively set off at a slow, wobbling pace. The bike was taking my weight and moving forwards – the minimum requirements for a bike, in my opinion. There was a campsite in 10 miles or so and I decided to stop there for the night. I was in a bit of pain, particularly my knees which had slammed into the pavement, and I did not feel like going any further today.
Once I’d pitched my tent and eaten some food, I investigated my bike and decided there was a good chance it might still support me all the way to London. It had been a terrifying moment when I thought it was all over but I was still going. I could still make it! It had been a close call but I was alive and moving forward, albeit slowly. I will definitely be hurting in the morning.