Saturday, September 8, 2012

Day 12 - Gy to Chevigney les Vercel (Friday 7th September)

79 kms
Distance from Canterbury: 813  Distance to Rome: 1262
Garmin Record: Gy to Etalans -
Garmin Record: Etalans to Chevigney-les-Vercel

It was an uphill day
But that was expected. The day plan for my ride was conservative.  While completing the final day ride plan, I was watching the Tour de France on the section through Besancon. I got scared at the mountains so I planned a 33km day, just Gy to Besancon.

That route was steadily uphill all the way but nothing I could not handle, the occasional downhill kept my spirits up. It was also mostly on small tarred backroads so I made good, if slow, progress. I arrived in Besancon relatively early and feeling strong. Also to my surprise no major mountains to climb. So after a vist to the Office du Turisme to get my pilgrim passport stamped and a Brasserie for an Orangina and refill the water bottles I set off for Etalans. 30 kms, should be a doddle.
By the way Besancon is a city nestled in the horseshoe bend of the Daub river. The location is lovely and it is overlooked by a citadel high on the mountain. Imposing and attractive but after all the time I have spent in the forests and farmlands the city was too noisy and busy so I was glad to leave.

(Stopped for an Orangina (or two) in Champlitte)

Some call it the Chemin des Vignes
The way out of Besancon is along the riverside below the citadel. Beautiful, peaceful, serene, gentle cycling, dodging the occasional runner. What  a lovely route.
Then the guide book says, "at the weir, turn right and climb the steep hill".
Mothers hide their children's heads in their skirts at the thought of the Chemin des Vignes.  Grown men look both ways and whisper its name. No one dares venture there without the protection of a 3 litre Renault.

2200 metres of unrelenting, unforgiving, no holds barred, steep uphill to a point higher than the citadel itself. I managed the first 200 metres and the last 150 metres (and that only because I did not want the good people of the village at the top to see me walking!). I pushed my bike all the way, sweating and swearing. Some call it the Chemin des Vignes, I call it the Walk of Shame.

From then on the steady uphill seemed easier, Ms Via had a few last cards up her sleeve today. A long ride through a forest on bumpy limestone track but it was cool and not too difficult. Then a 3600 metre ride through farmland on grass and mud, and you all know how much I love that :-)  Ending with a confrontation with a herd of cows, who won, and I had to navigate another route around the farm to get to the road.

Finally, Etalans came into view. This was intended to be my first stage for tomorrow and I must say I am so glad I tackled it today. To have started it early in the morning would have made the day very long. Etalans is a very small village with the only accommodation being a single hotel. "Non" Says the owner at my request to stay the night, "complet" we're full. This at 17:00 in the afternoon and I've been on the road since 08:00 this morning. So where? Is my question. After a quick round table conference with the customers at the bar, they draw me a map, call a hotel, and send me on my way another 9 kms - not on my route for tomorrow - to Chevigney les Vercel.
So here I am. Nice place, friendly people. Start tomorrow with a ride back to Etalan.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to be in Pontarlier but if the going is good I will push on to Sainte Croix which means I will leave France and enter Switzerland sometime late in the afternoon. That's a strange thought, so on the assumption that it is true let me give a perspective of my ride so far.

Consider that on reaching Etalan today, I had completed 813 kms of the Via Francigena Way. More kms than that in reality.

Leaving Canterbury and the ride to Guines. A difficult day. Everything new, getting used to the navigation, battling a lot, being rescued by Maeve barely 3 miles into the journey, falling in Calais, losing the guide book. Severe cramp. Not an auspicious start.

However as the journey proceeded.. what a glorious experience. Yes I've had tough times but mostly I have been overjoyed to be here, to ride through woodlands, forests, farmlands, tracks, back roads, tow paths. I've seen areas of countryside so beautiful it takes the breath away. I've ridden (and walked) past and through thousands of hectares of wheat fields, corn fields, other crops, vineyards as far as the eye can see. I've ridden on an ancient Roman road, highways and byways.. and yes for 6 kms on the forbidden D1044.

I've been through small hamlets, villages, towns and cities. I've spoken to many people and made a friend in Reims. I've eaten good food, average food and some I really will not eat again. I've drunk Champagne and wonderful red wine, the beer is delicious and thirst quenching. Orangina has kept me going when water just doesn't do it anymore.

There are no words to describe the joy that every minute has brought. Indulge me for a moment while I bust a few myths.

Myth 1
The French people are unfriendly, do not like the English and if you want to get along with them begin in Afrikaans: BUSTED
Every single person I have engaged with has been friendly, kind, helpful, courteous and pleasant. If you ask for assistance they go out of their way to help. Everyone greets you, saying bon jour, bon soir and au revoir - even strangers on the street and customers in Brasseries, Cafe's, shops, restaurants. I've been greeted on the way by so many people smiling and waving and shouting "bonne courage". In my experience the French are warm-hearted and welcoming.

Myth 2
French drivers are crazy. BUSTED
I've cycled so many kms now on so many roads and at all times the drivers have been more than patient are very courteous and cyclist aware. They give you a wide berth when overtaking, they slow down long before reaching you if the road is not clear to overtake. You can hear the big trucks gearing down and braking as they come up behind you. At times when I was at an intersection for minutes trying to figure out which way to go, I'd  find a queue of cars waiting behind me, never a hoot or a cross word. I have not experienced a close encounter of the truck and taxi kind at all. French drivers are great.

Well with luck my next blog will come from Switzerland. Please keep the comments coming, it's so good to see them all. Also do tell your friends and ask them to tell their friends about the donations for FTH:K. Details on this blog. Also there is a Pick 'n Pay sponsored competition. Donate R20 or more (as many times as you like) to be entered in a draw for a R1000 gift voucher plus 50000 Smart Shopper points. Watch for details.


  1. Good riding tomorrow, look forward to your daily updates.

  2. Well done Elred and such an interesting account of your journey
    Take care from Geoffrey

  3. Hey El, your writing is improving as you go too! I think a couple of tour guide books are coming out of this.. Travel well my friend, much love, G & B

  4. Fabulous post today. Thanks :-)
    And I am SO thrilled about your busted Myth #1. I have been to France 8 times, and we 'lived' there for about 3 months (well, less for me but 3 months for Andre). And that was in Paris! (Mythically the rudest place of all). The French have always been friendly and helpful.