Cycle Touring with a Non Cyclist Part 2

In my last post I extolled the merits of getting your nearest and dearest onto 2 wheels, albeit with an engine, to enjoy cycle touring together. This post unfortunately describes a major pitfall – in both the literal and metaphorical sense!

We set off from Santander on May 28 intending to ride back to St Malo with me on a bicycle and Dennis accompanying me on a 49cc scooter. The journey so far had been most enjoyable with warm sunny weather, quiet roads and beautiful scenery. We had taken an inland route from Spain to the French border, climbing several passes over 600m in height. I'd enjoyed the climbing but I found the steep tight hairpin descents pretty scary – in fact I'd almost worn out my front brake blocks! I couldn't stop thinking about how much it would hurt if I came off on the tight bends. Dennis didn't seem to share these fears. He turned off his engine at the start of the descent and went swooping down. The thought that he might come off was even more disturbing than the thought that I might. However after 6 days we emerged from the Pyrenean foothills onto the flat lands of France and I stopped worrying.

Monday June 7 was a beautiful sunny day. The roads were flat, straight and lined with trees. Cruising at 15mph was effortless and a pleasant change from the hills of Spain. Dennis, however, didn't share my enthusiasm. The flat road felt dull and one tree looked much like another. He was hot in his helmet and the monotony of the landscape was sending him to sleep. He kept stopping and jumping up and down to wake himself up. We were less than 5 minutes from our planned lunch stop in Vendays Montalivet when I heard a strange shout from behind. I looked round just in time to see Dennis disappearing into a ditch on the opposite side of the road. I can't describe how I felt as I dropped my bike and ran across the road. He was upside down in the ditch with the scooter on top of him but, to my great relief, there was no blood, no limbs sticking out at horrible angles and he was claiming to be OK. He said he had just nodded off. Two men from a nearby house came to our aid and lifted the scooter off. One, to my great relief, spoke excellent English and immediately took charge of the situation phoning for an ambulance. Sitting up on the side of the road Dennis seemed to be OK but then realised that he couldn't move his left arm. A fire brigade ambulance arrived very quickly and, with our new friend interpreting as they spoke no English and our French was now even shakier than usual, he was fitted with an inflatable splint and neck brace. I left my bike and the scooter in the man's garage, grabbed a few things I thought we might need and climbed into the ambulance.

At the hospital things went from bad to worse! We'd assumed that a broken arm would be put in plaster and we'd be sent on our way. The X-ray unfortunately revealed that his upper arm was broken in 3 places and needed surgery. We were taken to a small 2 bedded ward and left to ponder our plight. We were both in a state of shock and disbelief. A few hours previously we had been cycling along without a care in the world. Now we were in a hospital in a strange town that we didn't even know the name of and where we could barely speak the language. (Yes Miss Steventon, you were right! I do regret not paying more attention in class!) Just about everything we possessed was in a garage belonging to a man we'd never set eyes on before and whose address we weren't sure of. We did at least have his phone number.

Dennis was fortunately (almost miraculously!) not in pain and was attached to a drip. The situation was serious but we were well aware that it could have been much, much worse. We began to try and work out what to do next. We had been camping but all our gear was on our bikes 11 miles away. I couldn't face finding a hotel and claimed squatters' rights on the empty bed next to him! The staff warned me that I would have to leave if it was needed but otherwise turned a blind eye.

The surgery was scheduled for the next day. He was prepared for the operation and given a pill to make him drowsy. We waited for him to be taken to theatre. We waited and waited. 2 hours passed very slowly. Eventually a bevy of nurses (one carrying an English/French dictionary) arrived to explain that the doctor was needed elsewhwere and the operation was postponed for 2 days. This threw us into despair. We wanted to go home. Home, where we could speak English, where I had a house to sleep in. We debated how we could do this but eventually accepted that we would have to stay put. It made no sense to try and return home by train and ferry while he was needing surgery. Once we accepted this things began to improve. We came up with a rational plan. I would take a taxi back to the scene of the accident and load everything that I could onto my bike. I would then find a campsite and set up home for the next few days, cycling back every day to visit. Transporting the scooter back to England would cost more than it was worth. Besides, Dennis' scootering days were over. We'd left one in France last year after mechanical problems. To misquote Oscar Wilde, 'To lose one is a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness'! We presented it to the guy who had helped us and after much 'Non, non, non' 'Mais oui,oui, oui, he was happy with the deal.

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We remained in France for a further 5 days. Dennis had the operation which went very well. He now has 3 long pins running the length of his upper arm. The French nurses were all extremely friendly and helpful and French hospital food is certainly better than we'd get in England. Lack of tea was a serious problem – black coffee was the only drink available. The E111 European Health Insurance card covered 80% of the costs with the remaining 140 euros going on our credit card to be claimed back from our travel insurance. I found a very pleasant quiet campsite where after 5 days I became quite a fixture. Especially as there was no one else there for 3 of the 5 days! Eventually on Sunday 13 June Dennis was declared fit to leave. Sunday is not ideal for train travel but we were determined to give it a go. We had ditched all non essential items but my bike was still very heavy with 2 lots of camping gear. I didn't think this would be a problem until I tried to board the first of many trains. It had 3 high steps and a narrow door! I managed to remove the panniers and manhandle the rest on board. We were on our way home!

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We caught the first train at 10.45. It was 23.15 when we arrived in Rennes after a journey involving 3 changes of station and a ferry. It was far from ideal for someone just out of hospital but we made it. We took the first hotel we found in Rennes then the 7.30 train the next day to catch the 10.30 ferry from St Malo. I have never been so pleased to see the Isle of Wight as it came into view from that Brittany Ferry!

7 comments on “Cycle Touring with a Non Cyclist Part 2”

  1. Mike Smith wrote:

    Wow, Hilary – more of an adventure than anyone should have to endure on holiday; and how ironic that you survive the mountains and come a cropper on a flat road!
    Glad to hear it all came right in the end and that Dennis is making a full recovery.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, good effort! But you're right that it could have been much worse, and I hope Dennis recovers quickly. It's a pity his scootering days are over though. I reckon anyone would get mighty bored putt-putting along all day at 15 mph behind a cyclist. You need to be moving at a decent speed even on a scooter – 30 mph maybe. Is there no other arrangement you could try for third time lucky? Perhaps if Dennis went his own way and did his own thing, and you met up for lunch and at evenings, you could make it work. I'd much prefer to cycle but I think I'd still enjoy scootering round France.

  3. Mary wrote:

    Crikey Hilary, I didnt expect this!

    YOu poor souls, it really was a baptism by fire. I am so glad it all turned out ok and you both got home. I did think your way of holidaying was unique and I was a trifle green as my other half wouldn't dream of coming with me let alone pooting along like Dennis did.

    Maybe try a tandem? Some things are best left alone perhaps, but I speak as someone who if I didn't sort out a trip for myself doing something I enjoyed, I would simply spend my entire life out of work in the kitchen! Don't let this happen to you.

    Hoping Dennis repairs nice and fast. My parents lived for 20 years in Brittany during their retirement years. My mum getting her first cancer operation there, and they both said the service received was second to none.

    Looking forward to your next adventure, but hopefully with a bit less of the 'adventure' bit if you know what I mean... :)

  4. Chris wrote:

    Ouch. Best wishes to Dennis for continuing with his recovery. I’ve just re-read part one of this story. Does Dennis drive? Do you? I’m sure you will have already thought of – and presumably dismissed – many alternative ideas. Anyway, if you haven’t already done it, or considered it, in my unofficial capacity of Yorkshire Dales cycling officer I feel I’ve got to pitch the idea of renting a cottage in the northern Dales. You could do so many loops from, say, Muker, Askrigg or Gunnerside. You like hills, right? Just a thought.

  5. Garry wrote:

    Gosh, a bit of a bad end to a tour. John Lennon is attributed with the saying.. Life is what happens when you're making other plans. So true.
    BUT, all's well that ends well. The French medical system is regarded, rightly or wrongly, as the best in the world. It costs a fortune to run, though.
    A lesson to learn from this is that if you're inclined to nod off, you MUST have a nap. I was in that position driving back from a funeral of a cousin in Dublin and eventually I found a side-road. Twenty minutes after lying back I woke up totally refreshed and finished my journey with no sleeplessness. That's all it takes to cure it, usually.
    It's funny about holidays, but the ones with problems are the ones you never forget!! :)

  6. Hilary wrote:

    Many thanks for all the good wishes. Dennis seems to be recovering nicely and is still getting almost no pain from his arm which seems too good to be true!
    We have certainly no intention of giving up our joint travels but they may involve a car in future. I rather fancy LEJOG by bike and bus pass but I haven't talked him into that yet! 😀

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