Semaine Federale by Paul Coan
After giving up our semi-regular visits to this event since Quimper three years ago, Roger, Mike, Mo and myself decided to award the contract for one week of our holiday this year to the year’s gathering at Chateauroux. This is located in the L’Indre region fairly central in France adjacent to the Loire valley area.
Roger offered to drive us there in his van maintaining that four people and bikes could all fit inside. Mike registered us all with the event organisers early in the year via their new online service with the request that we stay "chez l’habilant", an arrsngement which had worked successfully for previous visits. We were duly put in touch with a local family who had a large house where we would have a floor to ourselves with separate facilities and which was located a ten minute walk from the "permanence", the event HQ, a large local camp site and conference centre. Via email this was all quickly agreed and confirmed, with our hosts providing breakfast and we would arrange evening meals separately.
Meanwhile Mike and Mo had received an invitation to a family wedding which they were obliged to attend and would have to make their own separate travel arrangements. The two spare seats were taken by Keith Wawman, who was attending anyway, and Mike S. who was now encouraged to.
After consulting the atlas our crossing was to be Dover/Calais and, as we estimated the distance on French soil to be around 500 km, the outgoing ferry was booked for 04:30 Saturday to return the following Sunday on the 19:00 ferry, to allow plenty of travelling time, considering that the Saturday was the start of the main French holidays. Roger suggested that we leave late Friday evening and try for an earlier ferry. After collecting the other two it was evident that with Mike and Keith seated in the back with three bikes and baggage some shoe horning was to be needed for my additional bike plus luggage. With some rearrangement everything and everybody was squeezed in although Mike and Keith probably did not need seat belts.
On arrival at Dover shortly before midnight we were informed that a supplementary charge of £60 could be paid to join the midnight sailing, or we could wait for the 02:30 crossing instead. So we said we'd wait. On arrival at the front of our lane we were then waved on to the midnight ferry! At 03:00 we were on French soil and apart from a small faux pas navigating around Rouen, which does not yet have its own by pass, several sleep, comfort, refreshment and re fuelling stops, we arrived at Chateauroux around 16:00 to collect our "dossiers" full of the week's info, with it seems most of the other 12,000 participants of this event, at an unused part of an airfield adjacent to a larger area where aircraft are refurbished and occasionally dismantled.
With local map at the ready we found Keith's camp site (last time for this he says) where he is pitched adjacent to the several acres on which the Butler dynasty are already established along with Bernard and Ann in their motor home. A drive through town took us to our host's house, a large extended building with an equally large garden including a wood-working workshop doubling as our bike garage plus a vegetable plot and room for the cars. After a drink to introduce ourselves, Mike S. was driven to his "habitant" by Roger with our host as guide while I unpacked.
Alviset is early retired and occupies himself gardening and woodworking while Mme still works. Both are very welcoming and hospitable and from previous marriages have grown up children who although no longer live there often wander in and out for meals, as children do. Most of the female members of the family seem to be carrying future additions to the French population in various stages of completion. To save Roger and myself wandering into town to eat, M et Mme invited us to dine with them that evening and enjoy some of the well prepared produce from the garden.
The plan for Sunday was to walk into town to the permanence followed by a wander around the town itself which is clean, pleasant and a nice mixture of old and new. At the opening ceremony mid aftemoon we met Mike and Mo and Diane and Dave Cullinane, British ex pats now domiciled in Quimper, Brittany. As the ceremony seemed to be conducted in some strange foreign language we returned back to base to enjoy another meal there.
Monday's circuits were to the north of town, and owing to very few miles this year, I decided that any distance around 100 km. would be the circuit of choice. As this region is close to the Loire it is fairly flat but still with a few climbs to test the legs, and boasts the occasional chateau and medieval building. In fact many of the controls were located in the grounds of these establishments rather than just in a local field. Also, being flat, most of the land is turned over to dairy farming and agriculture. At the first control, quelle horreur, there was no bread left, but luckily cake and fruit were still available so we adopted Marie Antoinette's suggestion to keep going. The second control of the day was suffering from the same problem but fortunately the beer tent bailed us out this time. Following our agreed daily rendezvous at 16:00 in the bar at the permanence and a return to base for a cup of tea courtesy of our hosts, and a chat we returned to the permanance for our evening meal an excellent example of well organised, good value, tasty mass catering with most of the Croydon Section plus friends dining together.
Tuesday, and we were heading south towards Meziers en Brenne, an area populated with many lakes. Again good weather, and the controls had mountains of bread on display and some hot snacks as well for those at the half way distance. We were going quite well and I found myself in a steady group riding the 160km circuit.
Wednesday's ride was definitely to be one of relaxation so it was 100 km again, heading south to Argentan-sur Creuse, and I tucked in with a steady group to make the most of it before our daily afternoon meeting in the bar. Mike B had reserved places in a restaurant in town for the evening, a twenty minute walk from our house, and to cheer us on our way the heavens opened and stayed that way for the whole evening. The meal wss excellent, the restaurant, recommended by the Alvisets, being run by a friendly gentleman with an interest in old cars and with a selection of 30-year-old sporting magazines to keep one occupied between courses. On our return a meal for a new section of the extended family was just finishing, but after drying off we were invited to join in for aperitifs and conversation.
Thursday as always was the organised picnic day and although Roger and I had not booked our official meals, we arrived to find plenty of hot alternatives on offer. As the weather was now changing and becoming overcast we returned and the rain started. A couple at the side of the road with bicycles asked for help and Roger duly obliged to remove a jammed chain from madame's velo.
On Friday we were off to the west towards the Val de l’Indre, in the returning good weather, which according to the route sheet should have been fairly flat, but the organisers had cunningly included some climbs, the worst of which always seemed to be after the controls.
Saturday was our final cycling day and we were off in a southerly direction towards George Sand country. George Sand was the pen name of a 19th century French female author, well known for her literary work concerning women's rights.
All our week's riding had been on quiet roads, mainly flat and undulating with very few large towns once out of Chateauroux. One feature which was noticeable was that following the Quimper meeting which had unlimited entries with the organisation stretched to the limit, and each morning's ride out of town being sometimes a scary affair, there was now a limit on numbers. As a result there was less pressure on space at the permanence and increased comfort and safety on the roads.
On Sunday we thanked our hosts for their hospitality and had an uneventful journey back to return home late afternoon. My next Semaine Federale will be in 2009 at St. Omer almost on our doorstep.
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