St Etienne – Neulise

By | September 21, 2006

Construction work started outside at 6am. I woke in the night as Lou’s phone was ringing. We had a weird conversation about building nests and living in caves, which I’d thought was a dream, but it wasn’t.

We were up and ready at 7:30, I asked the hotel receptionist if there was a bike shop around as my wheels were badly buckled in transit. She said yes, probably, somewhere in town, probably. She gave us a map to the Hotel du Ville and Lou went down to the basement to get her bike. I saw a hotel handyman, wandering about looking handy. I thought he was certain to know a bike shop so I said “Escuse moi – c’est une boutique de velos en St Etienne?”. He looked around, desperate for help, before saying “Probably, I dunno mate” in a broad Yorkshire accent. Ho-hum.

We found the tourist office and waited until it opened. I explained my wheel predicament. The person was friendly, charming and useless. She told me the nearest one was closed Mondays, and throughout the whole of August. No use to me. No, I didn’t need furniture for my bike. The best I could do was “c’est kaput”, and so she rang some more places. No-one was answering, but there was one on the way out of town, so we tried that. It was closed Mondays. They’re all closed Monday – it’s the (bike) law.

They were digging up the road to put in new tram lines so we had to walk out past a munitions factory. Then we were on our way out of the city on a 6 lane road. I spotted a bike shop and swerved dangerously to cross the road, but the Monday law applied. I headed slowly on, worried that a spoke would pop out at any moment.

We cycled on searching for the N82 and avoiding the motorway. I stopped at a motorbike shop, but they couldn’t help either. A nice middle aged lady gave me long and involved directions in French. We didn’t understand her, she didn’t understand us, she just kept touching my arm and pointing. We all laughed, and we headed off.

Once we found the right road it was lovely, single carriageway with a good wide hard shoulder that worked as cycle track.

Shortly after we passed St Etienne airport we stopped at a bakers. I had a wonderful piece of bread – a baton which had been folded around dried tomatoes and herbs with olive oil and brie before being baked. Perfect. It was a popular bakers, people drove in and out with goodies.

We rode into a small town. I spotted a lawn mower repair shop that also fixed bikes. Hurrah! It was open – double hurrah!! The guy couldn’t understand me until I took him outside and showed him the problem. He shoo’d me towards a garage door which he opened from the inside. He had a lawnmower graveyard with at least 100 mowers in varying states of decay. He was working on a ride on mower. He fixed the wheels on a home made set of forks, whilst Lou headed down the road for cigarettes. He flat refused to take any money and wished us ‘bon courage’.

We cycled on against strong head and side winds until we reached an industrial area at Feurs. We stopped at the Crescendo café, an odd chain that seemed to be part of Carrefour. We had ice cream and I pee’d for the first time today – Tango!

More cycling along long straight roads with harsh headwinds. My bum hurts and it’s sweaty and bruised on the bone. I kept standing up, slowly and gingerly to get a breeze up.

We got to Balbigny – a nondescript place with no open shops. Only 10km to Neulise and our day would be done. Each one of those 10km was uphill, long, twisting hills past small industrial units and farmland. There was a giant John Deere place and yet more car washes. What is it with the automatic car washes?

Making regular stops for water and potion we made it into town.

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