4: Be Prepared…

I woke up early, fresh and rested and decided to go out for a short photo tour before our scheduled 8:30 breakfast. The day was beautiful and I enjoyed the early morning silence and solitude as I explored the small town.

By the time I arrived back at “Les Galantes” it was nearly time for breakfast, so I finished packing and joined Vera at the large breakfast table in the kitchen. Mmmm… baguette and pain au chocolat fresh from the boulangerie, no less than four types of homemade jam (I think the fig was my favorite), yogurt, orange juice and steaming café au lait. The perfect start to the day (in France, at least).

After breakfast the host brought our bikes out of the garage for us and after we had loaded up and bid a fond farewell to the hosts and the dogs and cat, we took off.

On our way out of town we made a brief stop to check out the church, a fairly modest structure that, like many other French churches, had been denuded of much of its grandeur during the Revolution. Nevertheless it was pleasant and peaceful interlude.

We followed the directions given to us by our hosts and headed across the Garonne and through the countryside to find our way to the canal. We joined the canal at a lock and immediately took a short pause. Vera had never seen a lock in action before so she wanted to check out how they work. As an old Seattleite, I am plenty familiar with locks – I’ve been through on boats a few times myself and on nice days used to picnic and watch the goings-on – and I never tire of them.

To our pleasure we noted that the signage was excellent – every intersection was marked with the green and white sign. Nevertheless, I was glad to have good maps and a GPS along.

This is really a lovely trail. It’s nearly all paved, great signage, picture-book beautiful, with trees lining the trail on both sides of the canal and every few kilometers a flock of picturesque boats would be tied up at the side. There must have been some strong winds over the last few days because there was a bit of twig, leaf and tree debris on the path, and occasionally a tree root tried to pop through the pavement, but on the whole it was great. Even with a fully packed bike, I could roll along pretty well.

One of the things that surprised us both was the paucity of other riders. We occasionally saw other riders but were alone for long stretches – I think we had both imagined it would be more highway-esque. Thankfully not. It was so beautifully quiet!

Le Mas d’Agenais presented itself as an appropriate spot for a lunch break, so we rode up the very steep hill into the town center. Once again, the town was so huge that there was one restaurant so we took our seats and made our choice from the menu.

I couldn’t resist the steak-frites – nothing like a little red meat to build up strength for the trail. Vera’s salad was also packed with power – lettuce, lardons, green beans, sliced tomatoes and potatoes, all topped with a fried egg. In both cases, simple but tasty.

As I made my way back to my bike after lunch I made an alarming discovery – the front tire was flat as a pancake! It must have happened just as we were coming into town, as I can’t imagine that it had escaped my notice for very long.

While I’d never changed my own flat tire before (at least not on a bicycle), I’ve been witness several times and it turns out that my friends’ instructions had remained in my ear. Naturally, though, I was just a little tense and poor Vera got snapped at. Oh well, we both recovered.

At any rate, this made a considerable dent in our time plan and it took a good 45 minutes to get the tire changed and pumped up. I have a patch kit as well as a new tube along but I decided to just go with the new tube and not worry about finding the hole. I am very, very, glad that it was the front tire and not the back. I can take off the front tire, but I’m not sure I could have handled the back tire with the chain and gears.

By the time we got back on the road it was shortly after 3pm. We rode until nearly 6 and decided it was time to search for a bed for the night. It took us a few minutes to find the one place in our guidebook that sounded interesting. As it turned out, it seemed to be an ok hotel but the location was singularly unspectacular (between an auto mechanic workshop and a busy main road), the staff fairly young and unnecessarily snooty, and the only room they had with two beds cost more than we wanted to spend.

We decided to look further and sat down to make a few more calls. We finally found a room in Agen, only 15km away, which didn’t seem like much to us at the moment. Well, let me tell you, it was a really long 15km! We were both just whipped – 85km was more than either of us had expected to ride that day, and the tension of the flat tire experience added to our exhaustion level.

One real highlight, however, was the last few minutes coming into Agen, where the canal crosses the river via a very high aqueduct. Very cool.

Our hotel was right in the middle of town and although simple, was clean and the owner was very friendly. His restaurant recommendation turned out to be a real find.

As a first course we both chose an appetizer that consisted of layers of tomato coulis alternating with a fromage frais (a curdy fresh cheese) and topped with mesclun salad. Wow, that was delicious! The cheese was light and delicately flavored and a perfect contrast to the acidy tomato flavor.

As a main course I ordered a Bar (a bass) which was roasted whole with herbs and came served on a plate of its own. The fish was perfectly cooked and flavorful but what made the meal special was the second plate which was chock full of accompaniments.

First there was some mesclun salad, to the right of that was a portion of ratatouille, in front of that was a heap of mashed potatoes (my favorite) topped by a roasted tomato half. Rounding off the combination was a scoop of fresh tomato-onion salsa. A really delicious combination of tastes and textures.

By the time we finished our two courses it was after 10:30 and we were both exhausted. It was as much as we could to find our way back to the hotel and fall into bed.

If you look carefully you can see how flat my front tire is...

Day 4

Route

Distance

Elapsed Ride Time