Catherine Pringle, the protagonist in Peloton of Two, has been commissioned to write a series of confessional journalism articles and blog posts about her journey around France. In the extract below, she explores the pressing problem of finding the right place for a toilet break when you’re on a tandem tour, and why she is listing it as her ninth law of cycle touring.
On a cycle tour be very careful where you take your toilet breaks!
by Catherine Pringle
Day 46, Tuesday 02 August.
The first casualty of a tandem tour is your privacy. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days of the week, you are hardly ever alone. On the tandem a whole day passes just inches from the person in front of you. And at night, squeezed into a tiny two-person tent, you’re practically breathing the same air.
Which is why every moment you can snatch to yourself matters. And no moment is more crucial than the roadside comfort break. I thought after six weeks of travelling that I’d be used to it by now, that I could happily go anywhere and with anyone watching. But somehow I worry more than ever about being interrupted in full flow. So much so that I’m listing it as my ninth law of cycle touring.
I could blame it all on coffee. Or on the occasional glass of wine I might unwisely consume with lunch. It’s just a fact that on the mornings when we linger in a town – as we did in Arles this morning – it’s certain that there will be toilet break drama not much later in the day. After the heat of the last two days, it was a pleasure this morning to stroll through the shady streets around the Roman amphitheatre. And, after that, the obvious next step was to sit in the shade of a plane tree with a grande crème in front of me and watch the rest of the world go by. One of the best things about cycle touring is sometimes pretending that you really don’t have 75 kilometres to ride before the end of the day.
I paid for all of this about an hour later between Les Baux and St Remy. On the face of it, this looked like a stretch of road with plenty of opportunities for a toilet break – plenty of trees, side roads, fields. But today, the fates were against me. First there was heavier than expected traffic. And worse, there was an uninterrupted stretch of deep, thorny ditch between me and the trees.
When I finally came across a track leading into the forest there was no stopping me. I hurried 30 metres along it and squatted behind a tree. Even then, the last six weeks have taught me to be on guard at all times, so I kept my eyes firmly locked on the track leading down to the road.
Unfortunately I’d failed to notice a narrow overgrown path that entered the clearing from deeper in the trees. I was no more than half-way through, when an ancient rambler stumbled out of the bushes behind me. ‘Bonjour madame,’ he called cheerily, as I struggled to finish what I’d started. He was just the first in a long line of elderly walkers to emerge from the undergrowth. Each of them nodded and said their bonjours, then laughed and chattered at my expense as they passed.
I stayed where I was until I thought they might have gone, then walked slowly back to the roadside. But moments of exquisite embarrassment have a way of lingering, and I found that the whole group had settled beside the tandem for a snack. I had to suffer the indignity of walking past them all again. Queue more nods and bonjours and laughter.
Ironically, about a kilometre further on there was an ideal location. This time I used it to change into my spare pair of cycling shorts, as I no longer felt I could arrive anywhere in the ones I’d been wearing.
Tonight, as luck would have it, we’re sleeping indoors again after weeks of camping. Which means I can look forward to the luxury of peeing behind closed doors again. I’ll be making sure that the door is locked first, of course.