Chasse Réservé (kinda…)

I left for my ride a little late today, as I needed to prepare some lesson plans for Monday. So as I stepped outside and hopped on my bike, it was fitting that the fog rolled in as well. Beads of water formed on my glasses as I picked my way through cars, but I made it to the path along the river and was amazed at how high the Loire was. Just a little bit of rain further up the river and it seemed that the surging muddy soup would soon be flowing in the streets. With the roiling water flowing with me to the left and the mighty Loire valley wind in my face, I set off towards Chambord.

Before I left I looked at a map to see how long it would take me to get to Chambord and what the best way to get there would be. It would be about 100km roundtrip, and there were a few decent roads I could take. It wouldn’t be so bad with a group of people, but with the wind around Orléans, a flat road can feel like riding through a foot of mud with two flat tires.

After looking at the map, I realized that most of the Loire à Vélo path follows a road called Levée de la Loire. So that’s why the road is elevated above all the fields; it’s actually a levy.

It looked like you can pretty much follow the levy, or the road that goes on top of the levy all the way to Chambord. I had taken the road to Meung-sur-Loire already, so I knew the way there at least. At times the Loire à Vélo path dipped away from the levy onto dirt roads below through fields and small villages, but for the most part it stayed on top. In any case, this would be the farthest ride I had done here by myself so far.

So I made to over the Pont de L’Europe and through all the back roads that I’ve become familiar with here. Past the horse farms and corn fields. Past the tractors and churches.

All was fine until I had to cross a highway, Route de Meung, near Cléry Saint-André. The road seemed to stop at the highway; it didn’t continue across. I decided to check it out anyway.

I waited for a gap in the traffic and crossed the smooth pavement. On the other side I found a grassy elevated levy with two firm tractor trails that ran perfectly straight through a wide open recently tilled field.

I decided to go for it, even though there was a sign to my right that had been cut in half; the remaining half reading something like, “..nterdit, …onnement.” If anyone gave me trouble I would just use the, “Sorry, I’m not from here,” plea.

The tractor path along the top of the levy was surprisingly firm. I was rolling along just like normal, although I had to pay extra attention to large dips, holes and loose sand. I’ve found that in general I’ve ridden on more grass, dirt and sand than I ever have before with my road bike. In the US, I would have avoided riding on anything other than fresh asphalt at all costs. Obviously it’s been a bit different here.

So I continued on the grassy hilltop through the fields using the plumes of vapor from the nuclear power plant on the way to Chambord as my reference for direction. I passed a few sleepy farm houses and neat rows of young trees; the Loire was rarely out of sight as it would bend close and then sweep away in broad turns.

But there was one thing that I had seen repeatedly on each of my rides, and I began to see even more of as I got further into farm country:

It was nice to see these signs: I didn’t really want to get shot. I was, however, somewhat interested in seeing some people actually hunting. I had an image what hunting in France would be like; something along the lines of some guys dressed in heavy wool and thick khaki clothes with leather hats and gloves carrying large shotguns with dark wooden stocks, some on horseback some walking through high grass, with a pack of sniffing hounds trotting alongside. Maybe something like this:

The elevated path turned from dirt tracks to imprints in grass and back. Sometimes it was only stones and sometimes there were patches of mud.

The only constants were the wind and the completely flat terrain along the Loire.

However, as I rounded a turn on the levy and looked down at my computer to see how long I had been gone, I almost fell off my bike at the sound of three massive gunshots from the left side of the road.

Wide-eyed, I looked up to see a horse the size of a tank galloping towards me, and two men with shotguns ready at their shoulders down near the edge of the woods. The horse continued beating the ground towards me with its rider staring me down, and the two men with guns looked up at the sound of my chain bouncing over the rocks.

Something here was out of place…me.

So I put on my Don’t Mind Me I’m Just Passing Through Smile, and tried to roll by quietly.

I got the full stare-down from all three men while the mutant horse, with veins like rivers on a map, made an intimidating leap and whinny in my direction as I passed by. I finally got to see La Chasse, and I felt a little more unwelcome than in my original thoughts about the sport.

In any case, at least I didn’t get shot. So it was on to Beaugency.

By the time I arrived in Beaugency, more clouds had rolled in and it was getting very dark. I had to give up my plans for Chambord for the day, but I would definitely be back. I took some time to see the city before heading back to Orléans.

Beaugency is more quaint than Orléans with small streets winding around and up small inclines, bakeries and cozy shops scattered among the small intersections and places. I’ll definitely be back to explore. As I was leaving, I spotted some people who were enjoying the raging water in the river:

(Note the kayakers hanging out behind the cutwater of the bridge)

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