Leaving early enough for what was going to be a hot (if slightly cooler) day required almost military precision and planning. What was supposed to be an early night was scuppered by the fact that the temperature didn't really drop until about 2.30am, making for a fitful kip. Panniers were, however, almost packed, washing (done by hand the night before) folded and ready if dry, and all technology was fully charged. Seven in the morning we sprang into action with John making a dash to the nearest patisserie - and the only one that was open - to get bread and pastries to bolster our meagre supplies of two apples and some cheese that had been melted once and formed itself into a nameless lump in the bag (the shops were all closed when we had arrived the day before).
By 7.30, stomachs making noises like wood pigeons, we set off...up the first hill of the day...an approx 5 km climb. Puffing a tad by the time we reached the top we pulled over for a bite to eat in the shade of some trees. Melted and re-solidified cheese and 2-day old apples never tasted so good!!
We rolled on through large fields of corn, barley, wheat and cows (all in separate paddocks mind). It was telling to see the corn, which was blue/green and unripe when we started out taking on the golden tones that mean it will soon be ready to harvest.
Once we popped onto the first D road of the day (try to avoid A roads where possible when cycling) we hardly saw any traffic, and bowled along with what turned out to be...a following breeze...our first for days. Bliss. After a couple of 10% and 20% climbs we dropped down to a river valley and fair hurtled along - a lovely route with absolutely stunning weather.
Passing one farm I was suddenly transported back to childhood by the pungent smell of cow dung, fresh hay and straw bales, flowers, and summer dust. For the next couple of hours the feeling was powerful with memories of the joy of six days of summer holiday, usually spent with aunties, grannies or other whanau, which meant being outside. The days seemed endless. Much of the time was spent on horseback, as well as helping with chores about the various farms / gardens, or wandering with a dog in the nearest woods clutching a book in one hand and a box with a marmite sandwich in the other. One of my favourite things was helping bring in the hay (when bales were small enough for one small person to lift by themselves at the end of a summer of chores). Everyone who was around helped from the oldest to the youngest. At the end of a long day, covered in hay rash, I would luxuriate in the shared sense of achievement and a big feed well-earned.
My reminiscing was interrupted by lunch in a sublime spot by an old weir. We were also joined by a local chap having his lunch. We made as much conversation you can when both parties only speak a little of each other's language, and he offered to share his bread and water. Lovely guy.
Feeling pleasantly drowsy after lunch, we set off again, for one of the biggest climbs of the day. Whoa - lactic acid. A patch of cool dappled oak and beech forest was a welcome relief, and absolutely gorgeous too.
More climbing, and descending, and climbing - you get the picture - and we grind into Chaumont following signs for the campsite. Then out of Chaumont (down the hill we had just climbed, still following signs for the campsite), then back up into Chaumont (20% climb), only to then lose signs for the campsite. Not on the happy side we headed for the town centre (another climb). You may have guessed by now that we went up and down the same hill on different sides, three times :-) Ah well.
The campsite is grand and we managed to grab the shadiest tent site with 5 of our own trees. Chaumont is gorgeous and we have decided to spend tomorrow exploring it. More tomorrow.