Two weeks into her tandem journey around France, Catherine Pringle has survived the initial shock of travelling long-distances by bicycle. She is already physically stronger, and had begun to change mentally too. Catherine has, in her own words, ‘stopped being a tourist on a bicycle and begun my transformation into a cycle tourist’.
The next step is to wonder what kind of cycle tourist she will become. A light-touring speed-junkie? An epic adventurer? More likely, she decides, it will be something in-between. She also realises that ‘it’s not something you get to choose. You have to wait and see what the journey turns you into.’
The change happens slowly, and there are regular opportunities for comparison with cyclists she meets on the road. In the scene below, now deleted from Peloton of Two, she records two meetings that occur on the same day in the Lot Valley. It shows just two examples of cycle touring types, and leaves her no clearer about what she is turning into.
The cyclist’s Lot is a decidedly eccentric one.
Day 34, Thursday 21 July
Two encounters today along the valley of the Lot demonstrate the diversity of cycle tourists and the completely different ways they go about their task.
Our first meeting was at the beginning of our ride down the Lot just after descending from Faycelles on the D662. Shortly after the road joined the North bank of the river Lot we encountered Rod, a cycle tourist on an epic global journey. He loomed around a bend in heavy rain on an over-loaded expedition bike that made our tandem look positively Spartan. It was loaded with front and rear panniers, had a large tent bag strapped to a rack over the front wheel, and had a massive saddle bag resting across the rear pannier. A pair of spare tyres, twisted and folded like pretzels, were bungeed to the top of the saddle bag. An assortment of gadgets dangled from his top tube, ready for immediate use.
Spotting us, Rod waved and lumbered across the road, coming to rest a few metres ahead of us. He was dressed in oilskin bib-and-brace trousers and was wearing an irish-knit woollen jumper. With his heavy beard and wide-brimmed hat, he looked like a cross between a trawlerman and a bushranger. ‘Where ya from?’ he greeted us in the thickest of Aussie accents.
Steve, who was with me at the time, shot back, ‘Northern New South Wales.’
‘Well, bugger me,’ Rod replied. ‘So am I.’
In one of those weird travel coincidences, they were actually from neighbouring towns. It turned out they knew no one in common, lived kilometres apart, had gone to different schools. None of which mattered. We all stood in the rain for half an hour while Rod gave us a potted history of his life on the road. So far, he’s travelled through Asia and spent a year in Africa before crossing the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain a few months ago. He was now heading up the valley of the Lot, but without much of a plan for what would come next. ‘After Figeac, I thought I might go up north to Burgundy, then head into Germany in time for the grape harvest along the Moselle. I met a guy in Lagos who lives in Cologne – thought I might catch up with him.’
Our ride seemed like a half-hearted picnic by comparison. He’s an electrician and has been financing his travels by doing stints of handyman work whenever and wherever he needs to. At the rate he’s going, and allowing for stints of work to pay for the next stage, he doesn’t know if he’ll get back home for another couple of years. We could have spent the whole day listening to him but he needed to get going, so we exchanged email addresses and waved goodbye.
By contrast, in the mid-afternoon near Calvignac we met Barry who hails from a village just outside Whitby in Yorkshire. The polar opposite to Rod, Barry is on a ten-day holiday, staying in hotels and travelling ultra-light. So light, in fact, that I couldn’t help wondering how he does it. Was there even a change of underwear in that skinny saddlebag? He was riding a traditional tourer, and wearing a cagoule over a buttoned-up shirt and v-neck pullover. I put him down as what I’ve heard of as a credit card tourer. Except that Barry is so traditional he’s likely to settle up by cheque.
Barry doesn’t believe in spoiling a ride with unnecessary weight, and he wasn’t short of an opinion about this. ‘I won’t tell you what you’re doing wrong,’ he said, prodding at one of our rear panniers with contempt. Then he proceeded to tell us anyway. ‘You’ll never make it around France, not with that lot holding you back. Dead weight, that’s what it is. Take my advice and ditch it first chance you get.’
Barry’s been cycle touring for 38 years, and knows plenty about it – I know this because he told us so during a fifteen-minute monologue in the drizzle. For some reason I can’t imagine Barry in sunshine, only in the rain. Checking our watches after a while, we made our apologies and told him that we had to press on. His parting words were an encouraging, ‘Don’t forget what I told you. You’ll never make it unless you lighten some of that load.’
Steve and I rode on in silence to St-Cirq-Lapopie. I’m no closer to knowing what type of cycle tourist I’ll turn out to be. But since everyone I’ve encountered so far ranges from oddball to eccentric, I’m beginning to think I’m headed that way too.