Accidents have a nasty habit of happening when you least expect them to. It’s true of life in general, but even more of a risk when you’re travelling by bicycle.
I wouldn’t wish a cycling accident on anyone, and especially not on anyone who has just begun an adventure like a long-distance cycle tour. But in the case of Catherine Pringle and Nick Farne, the plot of Peloton of Two requires them to have an accident. Nothing too serious, just enough to change their known world. So I set about finding a suitable place for it to happen.
Catherine and Nick are in Brittany at the time of the cycling accident, about twenty kilometres south of Morlaix. Having travelled through this area myself a few years ago, I had a reasonably clear idea of the likely spot. I knew from Michelin maps, and from my own memory, what the D-769A outside Huelgoat was like. But I needed to find a blind corner on the road, and I wanted to make sure that there was roadside ditch to the right, with a steep embankment rising beyond that.
Google Street View provided the missing detail. The embedded image below shows the stretch of road where the accident occurs:
Imagine this scene but with the addition of heavy rain and a mist hanging over the hillside. Spray is being thrown into your face by passing traffic as you struggle up the hill on the tandem. You’re being passed by a large agricultural vehicle when a delivery van rounds the corner at the top of the hill. To avoid a head-on collision with the van, the tractor pulls sharply back in on you. The tractor’s rear wheel is still level with you, and the massive studded tyre veers toward your face. There’s only one place to go to avoid the tyre.
With Google Street View, I was able to examine this spot from every angle. I could see the inevitable outcome and, having fallen from bicycles more than once myself, feel the painful result.
So next time you need to plan a cycling accident for someone else – let’s hope you don’t have to do this too often – remember that Google Street View makes the whole thing so much easier.
Extract from Peloton of Two:
On a dry, sunny day the short uphill ride around the edge of the forest to Huelgoat would have been a pleasure. But with mist swirling across the road and rain driving into their faces, Catherine was content to tuck herself close to Nick’s back. She kept her eyes down, half-focused on the bitumen below, and watched the steady rise and fall of her feet as they slowly turned the cranks. Even with the rain, perhaps because of it, she felt absurdly positive. The compromise they had just made over the day’s ride seemed proof that they might conceivably put their troubles behind them.
She was dragged out of this reverie by the arrival of a tractor which swept through the rain onto their tail. For a hundred metres it sat just behind Catherine, its engine howling as the driver held it in low gear ready to pass. He tried on the first stretch of straight, clear road, swinging out and coming level with the tandem. But a string of cars loomed out of the mist, forcing him to brake and tuck close behind her again.
He tried again just before the blind, right-hand sweep at the top of the incline. This time the high, studded rear tyres drew level and inched ahead, spewing a cocktail of mud and spray into their faces. Catherine began to turn her head away but froze when a flash of white further up the road caught her eye. Another vehicle, a van, was on the apex of the corner and gathering speed towards them.
Swerving out of the van’s way, the tractor cut sharply into the tandem’s path. Seeing this, Nick flicked the handlebars sideways and hauled the cycle onto the verge. On the thick wet grass the wheels slid uncontrollably and the whole machine toppled into the steep-walled roadside ditch.
Catherine glanced off the embankment and rolled into the ditch where she sat winded in a few inches of murky water. Adrenalin drove her up after a few seconds and she climbed onto the road, shouting after the tractor as it disappeared around the corner. Deprived of this outlet for her anger, she turned and saw that Nick was still lying beside the tandem …