Rhone Valley and Beyond
Christine At Eaton

It was time to head south once again.

Just as we made this decision the wind turned and blew from the south making headway impossible, we were forced to change our initial plan of a direct route south to an eastern trajectory over the Massif Central. This would have been very intimidating 1 month before, but we now had the advantage of a full month of conditioning. We were fit.

Massif Central

A Blessing and a Curse: Drum Brakes

Our brakes caused problems in the mountains and we had to stop for spare parts. The drum brakes had worn out. Luckily the bike was a Peugeot, even the smallest villages carried Peugeot spares in France.

The back wheel had a drum brake, as well as the usual calliper brakes. This was a blessing and a curse. It was essential because it worked on long 20 kilometre down hills despite being red hot. Caliper breaks alone would never have coped with these long slopes.

Pedalling a pass with the brake on

The curse was that the brake mechanism reduced the length of the spokes and, by default, their strength. Our spokes were short with only 2 cross overs between rim and brake. Strength in a wheel is proportional to the number of times the spokes cross over. Most back wheels, without a drum brake, have 3 or more cross overs. As a result we shed spokes like spaghetti, and the back wheel was a weakness throughout the trip.

Modern bikes use disk brakes and the spokes have 4 crossovers.

We found a dusty bike shop in a tiny mountain village and they duly set about replacing the drum brake. We then threw verbal abuse at each other as we cycled up an 18 km climb to the top of a 1150 m pass.

At the top we collapsed, took off the panniers, turned the bicycle over and spun the back wheel, which promptly jammed immediately. The back drum brake was over tightened and the new brake had been binding the whole way up the pass.

Apparently the normal process to wear in a new brake is to over tighten it and "settle it in". We just missed the bit about letting it out after 5 km. Probably lost in translation! Anyway we daily gave thanks to leaving behind the trailer.


1085 Kilometers From Manchester

At Lyon the wind allowed us finally to turn South and we were able to coast down the Rhône Valley to the coast. We stopped in Montelimar where we splashed our last cash on some famous nougat, only to have misjudged a bank holiday. We had to make the nougat last for 4 days until the banks opened. Pretty sick of it by then! We visited the Roman ruins of Orange and the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, where our first campsite raid by thieves occurred. We were ok though. You cannot steal from those who have nothing! The magnificent mountain top town of Les Baux was well worth the climb.

The diet recorded in the driver 's journal

Food per day
2 pans 800g / 3200 calories
100g butter / 900 calories
Half pint of milk / 50 calories
150g jam / 600 calories
100g cheese / 900 calories
250g sugar / 1000 calories
2 eggs / 100 calories
250g rice/pasta / 1000 calories

Approximate calories 9150 or 4550 calories per day each. Mind you we soon found we could not afford butter AND jam and Dudley ate all the sugar!

  • Saint Benezet's Bridge
  • Les Baux
  • Marseille
  • Palace of the Popes
  • Monte Carlo Habour 1984
  • Rhone Valley

Break Down

In Arles the back wheel finally gave up, so we had to take a train to Marseille in search of a new rim. They made us put the bike in the baggage area and carry all the panniers and, predictably, when we arrived in Marseille there was no bike. They told us it would arrive next day, maybe, but when we started making tea in the baggage office they produced it in 40 minutes! Threatening to make camp where we stood turned into a useful tool to leverage cooperation.


Marseille was an interesting city and a very busy port. Lots of dubious types sloped around so we felt quite at home. The original home of gypsies, tramps and thieves. We camped next to 2 blond, well built, and definitely sighted German boys who got up every morning, put on dark glasses and white sticks and begged in the subway.

They closed the camp for the winter while we were there and told us we must move. We packed and left looking for alternate accommodation, pushing the still disabled bike, only to be directed back to the original campsite to find that by ‘move’ they meant the next field 5 m away because they were repairing the showers. Just a little joke on the English!! You have to love the French sense of humour.

French Riviera

We raced through the French Riviera, expense, expense, expense. A quick detour to check out the nudist beaches in St Tropez was disappointing, but it was getting a little chilly even for the exhibitionists.

We finished our Tour de France with family friends in Antibes, Jane and Robert. They hosted us a night in a real bed with real food, even meat. The first for weeks. They entertained us with the stories of French vagaries and bureaucracy which made us happy to be nomadic. On the down side we left our money pouch in the pay phone that we used to contact them. We only found our we were destitute the next day!

Big Spenders in Monte Carlo

We arrived at the Monte Carlo casino as the daylight was fading. Dressed in our best attire, (Our normal cycling clothes without the gaiters and waterproofs!). We locked our bicycle to the hand rails in the car park, in case somebody stole it instead of one of the Ferraris next door, and strode confidentially into the casino. At this time of the evening it was still empty. We picked our table. The lowest value chips were $10 and we splashed out on 5. It would not do to look cheap.

Our tiny stake lasted 10 minutes at the tables, and that's only because the croupier took pity on us and told how not to loose it in 1 minute. We were actually a little surprised they let us in at all, but apparently they are less fussy than the Dorchester when it comes to eccentric Brits. Who knows, we could have been millionaires in disguise.

And, with that, we were at the border, with Italy ahead and the weather closing in!

We had travelled over 1700 km, and climbed over 10000 m. We felt quite smug! My memories of France are a kaleidoscope of incredible rural beauty, forests, fields and mountains, elegant boulevards, sweeping architecture, art and living history and, maybe even more intense, the smell and taste of crusty fresh bread and unique pastries from every village.

“Dessert is like a feel-good song and the best ones make you dance” Chef Edward Lee