Wild boar sightings deep in the forests of France
Total distance 87km
See below for map, elevation profile and GPX file.
We woke up to a second straight day of rain. Happy to have had a good night’s sleep in our cute hotel we were still reluctant to pull on the wet clothes and hit the road. Our room had become a maze of MacGyver style clotheslines complete with the desktop AC unit blowing on the GPS in hopes of reviving our lost friend. No luck.
We enjoyed our fancy hotel breakfast and being dry, but we were destined to face our beers, uh I mean fears, so we suited up for the rain. Luckily it wasn’t too cold and we stayed warm from pedaling but on the whole our progress was pretty slow. The Chimay Abbey was about 10k from Lompret, and we really wanted to swing by for a few photos. We especially wanted to check out the huge bottling facility just outside of town. But given the poor weather we were more eager to make some progress so we skipped it. On the Michelin map I saw a French Voie Verte that covered a good portion of our route so we made a beeline (or as much of a beeline as possible) on some pretty busy highways before we found it.
The Voie Verte started in the town of Trelon and was hardly marked. In fact we sailed right by the entrance but quickly realized our mistake and turned around to find the trail. This time the bike path was all packed gravel. It was almost like pavement but loose enough to slow us down and dirty enough to leave us pretty filthy by the time we finished. The very beginning of the route went through a beautiful French national nature reserve. After so many days in agricultural land it was quite a feeling to be in the dense forest for a while.
I was captaining and we were moving pretty fast on a descent when all of a sudden I saw three huge shapes up ahead. Wild Boar! I literally shouted out of excitement/intimidation. Fortunately, the boars also heard me call them out and they booked it into the forest. I’d like to tell you that we hunted them down with knifey spoony and had a Trangia-made boar feast but we had some mileage still to go and they were a little faster than us through the forest.
Besides the boar, some bunnies and a whole slew of slugs, we hardly saw anyone on the bike path. On the whole route we encountered maybe 5 cyclists. Given the beauty I am sure this was more a testament to the weather than the path, though they did have horrible gates at every road intersection. The gates had a narrow sideways opening and with our tandem and trailer there was no way we could have passed through them without dismounting. It felt like there was a gate every 100 meters, though that is surely an exaggeration. Making the most of it I took to exclaiming “yay!” every time I saw one on the horizon. While it didn’t make the dismounts any less annoying it did give us something to laugh about and on the second day of rain that’s exactly what we needed.
The Voie Verte ended in Ferrière-la-Grande but our map showed a continuation to Maubeuge. We made our way through town looking for bike signs like treasure hunt clues and found ourselves at a dead end in front of the Relais du Velo. Still pouring rain, we were soaked and muddy and hadn’t really stopped all day. Here in front of us was a big building for cyclicts to relax in. We were a little dumbfounded.
The helpful woman inside gave us some literature on the French bike routes and even called a colleague to see if they knew of any bike routes to our final destination. The answer was no, but the thought was appreciated. She pointed us in the direction of the bike path to Maubeuge and we went on our way.
Having no map of the city, no gps, and no real idea where to go we tried to reach the other side of the city in the hopes of finding signs when we got there. Maubeuge is a pretty large city and the roads were really bad, both with potholes and traffic. It was pretty terrible getting out of town. Part of this experience was probably because we had no clue how to get where we were going and therefore had to stick to the main roads following signs. Most other cities we had been in always had signs pointing to cities in nearly every direction at all intersections but Maubeuge was signless. Once we reached the other side of town we asked at a gas station where the minor road was that we wanted to take out of town and back over the Belgian border. The guy at the station was helpful and we were happy to find out we had only missed the turn by a kilometer or so. Weaving our way towards the border we still didn’t see any signs toward Belgium. But we learned to expect that when entering countries at rural border areas. One of our couchsurfing hosts explained that even if the border is only 10 km away it is another world to most people. Folks work in their own country, shop in their own country, and socialize in their own country. Signs are unnecessary because nobody uses the roads.
Now under a light rain and after 87km (our longest day so far) we found our way to our WarmShowers host’s house. This was our first time using the website and it was a great success. The site is very similar to couchsurfing but tailored to touring cyclists and some people offer only a shower or a place to pitch a tent. It was the perfect day for us to have a host because we arrived soaking wet and in urgent need of… a warm shower. Our gracious host delivered, throwing in a bed and a delicious meal to boot. It was a lovely experience with a wonderful family.
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