Day 14 (a.k.a. Équipe Downhill’s Ultimate Day of cycling together) dawns with blue skies, and predictions for warm temperatures; a perfect day for cycling. We do a bit of desultory foraging at La Madeleine‘s breakfast buffet: an extra yoghurt for later; an orange; a couple of bits of baguette; but our hearts aren’t really in it. There’s some sadness in the air—as you’d expect when friends part after 14 days of living in close quarters, cycling together along shaded canals and rivers, exploring village squares and churches, picnicking, dodging rain showers, and discussing life. Sharing pastries for two weeks straight is just a sweeter version of breaking bread together, and we seem to take a few more group selfies throughout the morning, perhaps to help hold on to all the wonderful memories we’ve made.
It’s been an amazing trip: all the way from Switzerland under our own power (we describe it thus to distinguish ourselves from those who ride electric bicycles—for whom we have a lot of respect, too, I hasten to add). Even having skipped a short bit by train on Day 2, we will have pedaled more than 700 km by the end of Day 14 (743 km for those who prefer precision). As A phrases it while we’re trying to put this into perspective: that’s like cycling from Vancouver to Prince George, or Stratford to Montreal, or Nice to Rome.
From Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire we continue west along the Loire towards Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, where we plan to have our final Équipe Downhill Official Pastry Tasting. As with much of Day 13, the cycle path is along the top of the levees, which guard against seasons of heavy rain. We’ve occasionally seen high-water marks engraved on the sides of buildings located near the river, so we know the risk is real, even though the Loire seems quite tranquil now.
Just before Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, J announces that we’ve cracked the 700 km barrier, which seems a good excuse for another group selfie.
In Châteauneuf-sur-Loire we find an excellent patisserie (excellent patisseries seem to be the rule rather than the exception in France), one which claims to make all of their pastries in-house. We join the queue, and salivate while considering: Pavé Castelneuvien or Charlotte Framboise? Sabatier, or another Paris Brest? One pastry? Or might two be better?
By the time we reach the register we’ve decided: two pastries seem appropriate for this special occasion; our selections: a Millefeuille Nature (with the optional green glazing) and a Trois Fruits Rouges. These are documented, divided, and eaten with our coffees at a nearby café, A sporting a rose in his bicycle helmet for the occasion. Meanwhile, across the street, bells sound a melancholy funeral toll, and mourners watch as a flag-draped coffin is carried solemnly from the local church. Memento mori.
Friday happens to be market day in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, and the merchants have set up their stands around, and beneath, the town’s old (circa 1903) roofed market shelter. We walk our velos carefully through the aisles, admiring the things we don’t have space to carry (though J does make one purchase from a crazed—or is he merely leering?—day-vendor: an extensible magnetic device for picking up boules: a birthday gift for M).
Châteauneuf-sur-Loire is the first bridge over the Loire west of Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, so it’s the first opportunity for J & I to veer off the Eurovelo 6 route to head towards La Ferté-Saint-Aubin. After crossing the bridge (which is undergoing maintenance work) we finally reach the point of parting: another group selfie, a round of hugs, and before you know it we’re each pedaling off on our respective ways.
A’s route will take him into Orléans (hopefully via a proper cycle path); J & I will pick our way cross-country, using a combination of GPS, maps.me, and a photographed section of Michelin map. The terrain is mostly flat, and forested; we picnic at a crossroads in the forest, about 12 km from our destination.
In La Ferté we select some bio wine, and (why not!) some pastries for our hosts: D, and the lovely L (who introduces us to her menagerie of escargots). Later, we are joined by E, who is returning from a conference on Ursula Le Guin and the Anthropocene, held in Paris (“Héritages d’Ursula Le Guin : Science, fiction et éthique pour l’Anthropocène”).
And this is where we’ll end Day 14—and our adventures on the Eurovelo 6; all’s well that ends well.
The members of Équipe Downhill thank you for your kind attention; we hope that you’ve enjoyed the ride.
Next stop for us is Paris. A bientôt!