Andrew and I previewed eighty-five miles of The Tour's sixth stage between Epernay and Metz yesterday. Only the largest town we passed through, St. Mihel, had a supermarket. That was valuable information to know when we return in three weeks. We also learned that there was only one cemetery along that stretch for water. Surprisingly, none of the smaller villages the route wound through had even a little grocery store.
We were in St. Mihel at lunch time. I took the opportunity to stock up on food for the day, a wise choice. Andrew with a much smaller carrying capacity than I, riding super-light with no panniers, just two bags lashed to his rear rack and a handlebar bag, put off buying food for dinner until later in the day. I know supermarkets can't always be found, but I wasn't concerned enough to advise Andrew to stock up when he could. Plus I knew that if by chance we couldn't find food later in the day I had enough reserves to take care of the both of us.
Though Andrew biked in France six years ago with his girl friend he didn't intersect with me or The Tour then, as it was beyond his girl friend's capabilities. He was riding with panniers on that tour and not trying to do the mileage that we will be doing. Stocking up on food isn't the first lesson he's learned in our first two days together. He also learned not to leave his shoes outside his tent at night. The other morning when he put his foot into his shoe he crushed a slimy slug. He's a tough lad though and didn't let out a peep, nor even show me the mess he had made.
It's been ten years since we met in Laos and though we only spent a day-and-a-half cycling together then, and that distracted somewhat as we were both accompanied by a friend, me Laurie and he Ilias, we fully bonded and recognized we had similar temperaments and would make ideal traveling companions. We have stayed in touch all these years, hoping to join up for some genuine riding together. When we met at the Nancy train station two days ago, we immediately picked up as if we were life-long friends. We have communicated enough over the years, we only had the small details to fill in.
I was eager to hear more about his further travels in Thailand and Japan and how it went with his job as the head of a computer programming department for Sydney's Snowy Hydro. This is his first lengthy vacation since we met. He accrued enough time off to have seven weeks. Next year though he hits the jackpot with a three-month paid vacation, something every Aussie earns after serving ten years for a government agency--a "Long Service Leave." He's still trying to decide how to spend it. Biking South America is a good possibility, unless he becomes so enamored by The Tour to want to return.
Andrew is riding a custom built Japanese frame of a classic French touring bike with all sorts of unique features, including a generator that recharges his I-phone and his Garmin GPS device. The bike is so exceptional Andrew wrote about its builder for Vintage Bike Quarterly, now Bicycle Quarterly, for a special issue devoted entirely to Japanese frame builders in 2008. Andrew is a true master of bicycle technology. I am continually learning useful information from him. He put the utmost consideration into every aspect of his bike and every item he has brought along.
His I-phone allows him to update his blog every evening with commentary and photos. It is http://fatseas.com/ He has no need of sharing any of the books I brought along, as he has plenty stocked up on his Kindle. There has been no time for reading though with all we have to talk about.
Andrew will be an extra happy camper tonight after finally finding some alcohol for his stove. He's had to eat cold canned food our first two nights. It was more of a challenge to find fuel than he anticipated. The first half dozen stores we tried had none. At last this morning we came upon a hardware store that had exactly what he needed. If we had needed to saw something we could have used a saw or a handful of other tools, including a vise, at the entry to the store that were on cords for anyone to use--another of those thoughtful, useful French amenities.
We're now headed north to Reims, less than twenty miles away, to visit the only Carnegie library in France. It was built after WWI when its original library was destroyed. We confirmed with the tourist office in Epernay that it was still standing. The woman there did not have to check. She knew it well and said it was magnificent. It is near the cathedral of Reims, a World Heritage site.
All through Epernay banners advertised it would be a Tour Ville Etape, and also that it was under consideration for being a World Heritage site. The Tour will depart from the town center at a grand round-about right next to the Tourist Office and the stately Hotel de Ville and its fine gardens where Andrew and I had lunch waiting for the tourist office to reopen after its lunch break.
The peloton has only one categorized climb awaiting it on this stage, a benign category four about half-way through. But it has a surprise category one descent down a steep, narrow, twisting road to just before its finish in Metz. It could cause havoc and could make it hard for Sky to chase down any breakaway to set up Cavendish for the sprint.
It was a brutal climb for Andrew and I.