North of Le Mans, Central France

Thouars to Le Mans – about 110 miles

A full day’s riding down and a beer in my belly, and I’m feeling pretty good as we head out of Le Mans. Trip-wise it was a good day anyway. I’d been looking at the map and doing some calculations the night before, and it seemed that because of our mad dash north over the past few days we were getting to Calais quicker than we needed to. All well and good, but we didn’t want to get too complacent since we still wanted some contingency time to deal with any bike issues that might arise. So the plan we came up with was to carry on riding full days, but to treat ourselves to a long lunch in a cafe somewhere. By lunch, we meant beer. Cold beer in a glass. We’d both been craving it for ages, but we couldn’t really stop at a bar in the evening, where one beer would turn into twelve, and usually when we found camp it was miles away from anyone willing to get us drunk. Lunch would put a nice one-hour cap on proceedings.

We shot off to Saumer without issues, got diverted to Bauge via Noyant, but all good since it was well signposted and all the slow-ass lorries opted for the toll free motorways instead. We rolled into Le Mans at about lunch time with Maria’s front brake squealing horribly. We had a quick look and her pads seemed to be bare. She was sure she’d changed them just before we left, but they were definitely gone. We speculated for a bit on how it could have happened. Maybe the intense heat messed with her brake fluid? If it expanded a bit it might be enough to hold the brakes on, without causing much resistance, but enough to wear out the pads? Maybe the disk warped a bit? Of course it was always possible that she put the old pads back in the bike and threw the new ones away – happens to everyone now and then. Either way we needed to find a shop that sold parts for a bimmer, and we were both up for practicing something that we’d doubtless have to do plenty of times on the world trip.

Luckily we’d arrived in Le Mans through the industrial quarter so we just rode around ’till we spotted a car parts shop. Maria actually speaks very decent French – a fact she’d kept hidden from me ’till now – and she managed to hold a conversation with the shop owner while I looked on uselessly (my brain’s a sieve for foreign languages). We were given directions to a bike shop that sold parts, and as it turns out it was only a mile down the road. We found the place easily enough, and arrived just as the shutters were going back up after a lunch break. Nothing like a lucky streak, is there. The guy at the desk spoke some English and had a catalogue of parts so we pointed out what we needed and ten minutes later we were out in the car park stripping down the caliper. We checked the pistons – which were fine, and the disk – which was fucked, and put the new pads in.

After a quick test ride to make sure the bike wouldn’t fall apart after our efforts we headed into the centre of Le Mans for our ‘lunch’.

As per usual we stuck the bikes on a bit of pedestrian square, grabbed the tank bags and wandered off for a bit of exploring. All I knew of Le Mans was that it’s been hosting a 24hour endurance race annually for 90 the last years. It’s a cool town though. A big cathedral dominates the hill, with so many flying buttresses the architect must have been compensating for something, and a big change in ground level across the city means you often find yourself riding over or under cool brick arches holding up the roads.

We sat down at a pizzeria in the main square and ordered our beers. We were then told by the aloof (even by French standards) waiter that they weren’t serving food. Apparently unless it’s precisely lunch time or dinner time, the French just aren’t having it. Fine by us, we can just drop the pretense that we came here for anything other than beer. We finished our half pint of cold leffe and wandered back to the bikes where, to the amusement of the kids milling around, we dug some bread and smoked pork out of the panniers and made ourselves some sandwiches.

As luck would have it we’d parked next to the road we needed to take out of the city so after a bit of maneuvering around pedestrians we got off the square and back on the road. While we were stopped for petrol a French guy who spoke no English took an interest in my bike, and we struck up a conversation-by-mime. I’d managed to convey that it was 650cc, and was trying to explain ‘single cylinder’, when he started to look a bit worried, and made his excuses to leave. I was a bit confused, till I realised that I’d been performing a fairly convincing mime for fisting. Never mind – onwards and out of town and since we were only about 300 miles away from Calais we decided to call it an early night.

Our first few forays down dirt roads yielded nothing but gates and private property signs. Eventually I started following a track that, while getting narrower by the second, was heading towards a nice cluster of trees that I was sure would be a good spot. As the track shrank to just the width of the bike I stopped short and realised that we’d circled around and were sitting right by the main road, and about six feet above it. No way to get down there, we climbed off the bikes and slowly backed each one into the ditch, revved it forward and repeated, eventually squirming our way round till we were facing more or less back the way we came. Then back on the bikes, a last bit of welly to get ’round and over the ditch, and back on the search. Just a day in the life of a nomad biker.

Not long after that I spotted a small track leading between two fields and heading towards a quiet looking copse, so off we went. Busy dodging rocks and tree roots, I happened to look in my mirror just in time to see Maria career off into the field and over on her side in spectacular fashion. While we were picking the bike up she explained that she’d tried to switch from one side of the track to the other not realising how big the rut in the middle was. When she hit it and swerved, she overcompensated and shot off into the freshly ploughed field!

The track eventually opened into a field a nice distance from the road.

While we usually like to camp on unused ground and this field had plastic bales waiting to be collected, we decided to just park the bikes in a little nook out of the way and pitch the tent in such a way that we wouldn’t block the entrance to the field. Anyway, we hoped that we’d be packed up and gone before anyone came by. A horse and rider did stop by to check us out, but then just carried on to a nearby farm and since no-one came back to follow up, we looked to be ok. Two days to go, then it’s all over….

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