Updated by Nina from the 'Cybercafe 3000' in Geneva, Switzerland.
A sunny day bought us to Montelimar, a town whose only claim to fame was its production of nougat (and its sister Cracknell). There were giant plastic models of nougat bars, signs advertising expert nougat craftsmen, and all the fast-food shops had signs such as Steak, Chips, Nougat- what a fantastic culinary combination. It was a strange place, with a nuclear power station in its suburbs.
We got lost on the way out of Valence, just as my dad had done interestingly. Two girls with green bubble gum stains on their teeth did their grown up best to help us, but told us only that we had to go back the way we had come. Never! We ploughed on and up to the hills of the Bourne.
I was struck by a sense of finally seeing colour and 3D. It was sad to realise that the two weeks of flat, dusty roads of southern France were now behind us forever. Ahead were mountains, and fields of green, a river of chalky blue, and when the sun set on the trees, orange. We saw the idyllic village of St Nazaire which was stunning- what a lovely route we were following. The silvery rocks surrounding us felt both threatening but at the same time, comforting.
We made good use of the sunlight up in the beautiful hills, and ate snail pizza in a small village cafe. We slept in a secluded footpath on the outskirts of the village, and were disturbed only by the rain. Although I kept dry, it was hard to sleep with the numb vibration of the rain on my skin. The snails had their revenge though during the night- trails were found on Simons bivvy bag in the morning!
My dads diary recorded the next day pushing his bike up some very steep hills, through tunnels and treacherous rocky overhangs. They were still every bit as dramatic as in 1953- and were some of the most impressive rocks I have ever seen. Whether it was our improved fitness, or the use of our 15 or 21 gears, we cycled the whole way zigzagging up to the summit. I was very pleased to have achieved something that my dad might have liked to have done. Although it was with sadness that I realised just how much I would have liked to talk to him about it too.
Like life sometimes, our efforts to climb meant a long coast for a while. We had 32 kilometers downhill to the sprawling city of Geneva to enjoy and we relished every saddle sore moment. Our place to sleep was found by accident, after asking for the way to the aerodrome, by a lady who for once could understand my French and NOT Simons, who told us it was very dangerous to sleep there, so why not try the farm up on the hill? That we did, and slept on hay in a barn overlooking the twinkling city and the mountains. Perfect.
Further on, sensible Chambery offered us a cycle path through the centre of the city out to the lakeside. The path was at the cost of all other road users. Cars naturally were pushed to one side, but even the pedestrians were bollarded aside and told to navigate the small bit of leafy pavement please. It was not until reading the diary, did I realise that even in 1953 the Chambery cycle path was of note. It dawned on me that even though this trip was a journey to find out more about my dad, what I was finding was simply commonality. Like the headwind into La Rochelle, the southern French accent in Bordeaux, the greeney blue colour of the Bourne, the large ants at Agde- all natural phenomena of sorts that have not changed one jot in fifty years.
We cooked tinned paella and plastic tiramasu on the lake front, and I swam in the warm (ish) waters and then slept in a field of hay next to a road. As usual I woke to a bike part jammed to my body- this time the pedal. Onward, and three weeks of cycling and camping were taking their toll. I was keen to get on but could not pedal any harder or faster. We even jumped the barracades to avoid just a three kilometer extra detour around some road works (well it was a Saturday and they had only started their eight months of resurfacing work three days previously).
Soon Maisonneuve 3.5 said the sign, that meant that the site of the minor accident that Gordon and Roy had had with a car driver was coming up. I coasted alone down the road, as they would have done, observing the impressive Jet d'Eau in Geneva, twenty miles away in the distance. I stopped at the crossroads and got out the diary- the same post office could be recognised! I thought the occupants might like to see an old photo of their house, but their rusty gate would not open. I crossed over the road, and recognised the building that had been the welcoming Le Bon Coin (The Good Corner) Hotel and Restaurant. I rang on the bell but the one man on the top floor chose to ignore me; I must have looked like a very down trodden and unsuccessful salesperson.
This was not going well, the place was quiet, and in addition we had hoped for a nights rest in a bed at the same hotel that was now ugly flats. Then a tall man drove up and started unpacking shopping from his car. Did he want to see a photo of his house, that was then a farm, I wondered? Ah- Monsieur Cudet he said recognising the man in a photo who had been so kind and helpful to the two in 1953. His nephew lives in the house over there!
He took me over through a conifered hedge, and to a door where a modern middle aged couple lived. They had been watching the final of the Tour de France which an English man had won this year. Monsieur Edmond Cudet had died ten years ago unfortunately, although he had played football in his garden into his nineties. They offered us a beer each and the nephew extolled his uncles virtues as having been such a wonderful man. Monsiuer Cudet had let the couple live in this, his own house with him (the garden of which we were now in) and which they then went on to inherit I should think.
The nephew was touched that we had dropped by, told us to drop in if we were ever in the area again, and we promised to send a photo of Monsiuer Cudet to him when we got back. Monsieur Cudet had helped arrange a very agreeable accident settlement for the two boys- two pounds each- which meant an extra four days holiday abroad for them! How nice to leave behind memories of being such a kind and good person, with both strangers and family alike. We moved on, now under a cloudy sky, to a pleasant hotel in the next town, where we slept for eleven hours.