Monday, 31 August 2015

FInal Thoughts and Reflections

Here is the final route we took:
The Whole Route
Total Distance 1,164 km
Total Height Climbed 16,412 m 

It was interesting to note that we had ascended 16,000 m - as the feeling we had was that we had needed to climb much less that on the LEJOG, but this indicates that we had nearly done two Everests (Everest is 8,848m) - which is much the same as we did on LEJOG. I know GPS can be poor at estimating vertical height, and wonder if this large reading is an error?  The maximum height we ever got to was 210m - which is correct.

Comparison with Land End to John O'Groats (LEJOG)

On this journey we averaged about 80km/50 miles a day.  LEJOG was 65 miles a day, which is an extra 1.5 hours riding each day.  This extra time meant that we could leave a bit later and arrive easily on time at each of our stops, while having a proper French lunch on the way.

Nearly all of this route was on designated cycle routes. (The EV1 and the V43).  Our estimate was that something like 65% of this was on zero or very low traffic routes (access for residents only - no through road), and of this about half was dedicated cycle paths such as the one through Les Landes. The enjoyment of cycling in these conditions was fantastic - we could cycle beside each other and chat, and there was very little issue with traffic. In fact the only issues we had with traffic were on the roads around Biarritz, where the coast road is steep and narrow and busy with traffic, and then again when I took us off the V43 to divert through Arromanches and we had to spend a little time on the D6.

The Food was excellent!  When we did the LEJOG we ate at pubs every lunchtime and at hotel restaurants or pubs nearly every supper.  After you have seen the same  Brake Brothers menu (or equivalent) for five lunches and five suppers in a row you despair!  By time you have had the Fish and Chips, the Beef and Ale Pie, the Steak, the Lamb Chops, the Venison Haunch (if you are lucky), you ahve to start through them again. All the same and no imagination at all.  In France we got brilliant  three course lunches washed down with a carafe of wine for  €20 e head (In the UK thats usually the cost of the main course without the drink).  And the evening meals, often served in hotels we were staying in, were excellent.  We dined like royalty almost every night, with enormous variation and imaginative menus - nearly always choosing a set menu, and always for less euros than we would pay pounds in the UK for an inferior three course meal.  Looking back through the blog you can see how much we were enjoying our food!

The weather was better! There is no surprise here.  Actually the first week in the South the weather was poor for the time of year, but this made cycling less hot. By the time we got to the Loire it was full summer, but manageable that much further North. On the LEJOG I remember arriving at hotels and B&Bs in Scotland hoping that they would have their central heating on - in early August - and invariably they did.

Other Reflections

Packing:  We were very happy with our packing.  The use of Pack-Lite bags means everything has a place and can easily be found, and the bags store very well.  I don't think there was anything we took that we did not need.  We were particularly please with our tea and coffee making kit (we had titanium mugs and an electric heating element which boil a mug of water in a couple of minutes).  We soon got into a routine of making tea and having a nap when we got into our hotel late afternoon, and we also enjoyed a morning drink before breakfast.  A litte weight might have been saved by rationalising my toolkit and reducing duplication of electronics and chargers.  One thing I wish I had packed was my Kindle -  I had decided to use my iPad mini for reading, but it was really difficult on our rest days to read in the sun.  In the end, our panniers were not too full and the weight we took was fine.

Navigation:  I used iPhiGenie for navigating. It allows access to all the French maps (at all scales) and also to Open CycleMaps, You can superimpose the two. It caches maps once visited so that you are not without maps when you have no 3G.  It allows you to create and edit routes and all on an iPhone. It allows you to import and export GPX routes, It is an incredibly complex and sophisticated application for an iPhone, and I confess I needed a manual. Luckily someone through the French manual through Google Translate and has put the result online.  Having learned to use this application I am now using it all the time even in the UK - where the only map you can see is Open Cycle Map - but it works really well with this.

Cost: This is not a cheap holiday.  We budgeted €100 a day for Hotel and Breakfast, €50 a day for lunch and €100 a day for dinner.  We under-spent this budget, but only by a small margin. In addition the cost of getting to Irun was large.  Brittany ferries charged £528 for the tickets to Plymouth to Santander and from Ouistreham to Portsmouth.  (The cost of the coach from Santander to Irun was negligible at €24 each). In addition we had to get to Plymouth - which was annoying as we live next door to Portsmouth - but Brittany Ferries give first preference to car passengers - and at this time of year we were actually lucky to find any ticket for cyclists on any ferry to Spain. We looked at going to Plymouth by train, but there was a risk that we would not be able to get the bikes on, so instead we hired a one way van, which worked fine and only cost a little more than the train. 

 What Next?

We found that this was one of the most enjoyable holidays we have ever had, combining seeing a lot of France at a leisurely pace, enjoying fantastic food and wine, and still getting lots of exercise.  We have decided to do something like this again. However, one thing we noticed as we traveled was the number of pleasant coastal and rural campsites that we cycled past, and often we thought it was a shame not to be camping.  Given the cost of this year's holiday we are now wondering whether next year we could manage a basic camping kit so that we could do a trip that was not so predetermined as it needs to be if you are using hotels in popular places in summer.


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