Tues 18th June.
The root of the canal and Montpellier.
Weary I’ve losing the respect of fellow canal users, I got up sharp and left. This part of the canal took me to the Greek city of Agde (that’s right Greek), but before going there I realised I could visit the root of the Canal du Midi that went up to Toulouse and then to Bordeaux as the Canal du Gironne, where I began. Although it wasn’t highlighted in the book, I thought I’d have a look.
The path out to where it begins is completely exposed to the elements and the winds that came last night, had stayed and were much stronger here. I had a quick snack, a new invention, the Mars sandwich. A Mars bar and bread, very clever.
I got to the end where I found a lighthouse looking out over the Étang du Thau (the bay where the canal started). I took in the fact that this was the geographical seed of a canal and studied the area for a while.
The wind chilled me quickly, so I moved on. Before leaving I met an Irish couple that frequently rented a house near the canal for a few weeks at a time and went out on bike rides exploring nearby areas. This time they had decided to cycle the canal. We shared tales of woe and said that as a cycling experience it was pretty awful as it was rarely relaxing and very mentally taxing. I recommended that they try the Canal du Gironne.
When I arrived in Agde, I crossed bridge over the main river of the city and got into the heart of the place. I stopped at a cafe and ordered coffee, with the last Euros I had. I’d planned to acquire money in Montpellier from a HSBC branch.
I did some writing and fixed a bolt that had become loose on a pannier with a spanner I borrowed from the bar.
I headed east along an unusual stretch of road that had the Mediterranean on the right and the huge base of the canal on the left. I’d never noticed it on a map before and it was a curious part of France. I enjoyed cruising up this novelty stretch towards Séte.
Once I got to Séte, I was met by a long beach to my right. I looked around wanted to run into the sea, but given the logistics of having a loaded bike, a beach of people and no place to change, I opted to keep moving and see the city, famed by Gilles Peterson’s WorldWide festival.
It was cloudy as I passed through the seaside city the reminded me of my youth growing up in Torquay, full of boats, nik-nak shops and tourists. I stopped at another McDonald’s to check where I was going and get the address, where I noticed another touring bike out the front, fully loaded with all sorts of contraptions to assist its rider.
The guy came out while I was there, took something off the bike, ignoring me and my bike and went back in. I left Séte and soon found myself on a large highway type road, which was the only option. I didn’t panic, but I needed to get off this road as soon as possible as you can’t expect traffic to slow down or keep changing lanes to avoid you. While this was going on the rider I’d seen, had caught me up, over taken me and plodded along. We ended up going the same way for a while and then started communicating from a distance that we should get off the road together.
I found a way out and opted for me to follow.
Once I caught up with him, we got talking, about where we were going, where we had been and all the other stuff. This was the first tourer I had met while riding and started talking too. He was Vietnamese, but had moved to Germany with his family when he was four where he lived and worked as an architect. His name was Vong (like a motorbike he said “Vrrmmmm Vrrmmmm”).
He was on a two-week trip. He took a train down from Germany to a part of France and cycled back along the coast. We rode together on another unusual stretch, similar to the one before Séte, but even thinner. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to ride it, if it hadn’t been for him as it was so thin on a map you could easily miss it.
As we were riding, he was greeting all the people we past, mostly fishermen and people out walking their dogs, but he always waved said hello in French, and said more if he could, to everyone.
I had reserved my greetings mostly to other cyclists and a lot of the time you get nothing back, so I had started to give up. But he was adamant and gave it out to passers-by without fail. He said that he was giving out energy and when he got it back, it gave him energy to keep riding. Which made sense given the size of him, in contrast to the bike he was riding.
He also had a long stick of Bamboo that he said was for defending himself while camping should he get attacked, but he hadn’t used it. This made me think twice.
The stretch ended at the entry point to Montpellier for me, he was carrying on. We said our goodbyes, didn’t exchange details and wished each other well. He was amazing man and I was better off for having met him.