A lightweight fixed-gear bike tour of France and Spain

Le Mont Dore to Figeac to Castelnau Montratier

On the 19th we climbed Puy du Sancy, the highest mountain in the Massif Central.

The next day we took the train from Le Mont Dore to Figeac, in the Lot region. On the train we met an Australian named Phil who was also planning to bike for a while in this region. After comparing maps, we realized we were planning on doing the exact same ride. When we arrived in Figeac, Phil treated us to a beer, and we agreed we would meet up the following morning, and ride together for the following day or two.

We left town and found a field to camp in. For dinner we heated up a tin of beans in tomato sauce, which turned out to be incredibly bland, and not at all like the delicious english baked beans we were expecting! The farmer was in his tractor moving hay bales, and at one point came within 20 feet of us. We lay flat in the long grass and he didnt see us.

The next day we biked along a lovely road (defined as smooth, flat, free of cars, and with beautiful scenery, a rare combination!) following the river Cele. That evening we reached the confluence of the Cele and the Lot, and found a campsite. The ground was so hard we had to use a block of wood (and a sturdy tent peg borrowed from Phil) to pound pilot holes in the concrete-like earth for our delicate pegs. That evening a huge number of flies hatched out of the river, and swarmed around the lights of the campsite. To get to the toilets, one had to walk through a huge cloud of them! The next morning, the floor around the lights was carpeted with dead flies. Lovely!

The next morning we followed the Lot into Cahors, where we said goodbye to Phil. From there, we had to get to Castelnau Montratier, a small town about 25km from Cahors. There we would be staying with the family of Rob’s mother’s high school friend. Early on we took a turn off the rather busy main road, thinking it would lead us straight to the town. A few hills later, one of which was steep enough that we had to get off and push the bikes, the road devolved into a very rocky dirt track. We retraced our steps and after a very hilly couple of hours of riding, reached the town of Castelnau Montratier.

While in the main square of the town, a car pulled over and from the back seat someone called out “Are you looking for the Hartmans?” We replyed that we were, and after rattling off a stream of instructions, none of which we understood, the car drove away. We knew that the house was accross the valley from town, so we headed off down the valley. It was a long and winding descent from town. half way up the other side of the valley, we ran out of ideas as to where the house could be. Just then the same car that we had seen in town drove past, but headed back the way we came. It turns out that the town was surrounded on three sides by valleys, and we had picked the wrong valley. In fact, we had gone in the opposite direction from the house. We eventually got to the house by car, putting the bikes on a bike rack (and saving us climbing back up the hill we had just come down).

We have been at the house since then, relaxing that evening and all of the next day.

Today we took a day trip to the town of Moissac, 30km to the Southwest. We had lunch and looked around the church.

We noticed a lot of people in town who were pilgrims, walking or biking the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route we plan to follow in Spain. One branch of the route goes through this town. So we went to the tourist office, and for six Euros, bought “pilgrim passports.” The passport gives you discounts at various tourist attractions along the Camino, as well as at hostels and restaurants along the way. At each town along the route, you get your passport stamped at the local church or tourist office, to prove that you have really done the Camino. We got our first stamp in Moissac, which was exciting!

After the life of luxury we have had here (everyone has been very generous), it is hard to leave, but tomorrow morning we will start biking to Toulouse. Although we mostly avoid cities, we have heard good things about Toulouse.

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