Bicycled 36.11 miles today
It was windy and rainy in the night, and the air was chilly when we got up around 7 am in the town of La Chaussèe. We had breakfast at the Hôtel Clos de Mutigny and made sandwiches for our lunch from the provisions in the breakfast room. The rain stopped around 9 am, but the day's forecast of high temperatures in the low 60's and strong winds prompted us to put on our long tights, base layers, jerseys and rain jackets. Even so, I was still concerned about getting too cold on the day's ride, but I need not have worried about that. After the first turn at the edge of town, we started a long climb out of the valley, and I was huffing and puffing to get to the top of the climb about mile later. The clothing choice turned out to be just right.
The winds were not as strong (yet?) as the forecast had warned, but we noticed with some chagrin the many wind farms around us. After a few miles on a quiet backroad with relatively little car traffic, we found the Canal latèral à la Marne and cycled along for another five or six miles. We saw a stork catch a fish in the canal.
Our route took us on a strand between the canal and the River Marne, and though most of the trail was paved with rough asphalt, in places it became more narrow and was not paved. At one point, we were riding on the very edge of the canal (with no wall or fence between us and the drink) on a narrow wooded path which appeared to me as a place which probably had gnomes living there.
On the outskirts of Vitry-les-François, the trail dwindled to again to a narrow footpath in tall grass, and we could see that it faded into a barely discernable path on beaten grass just a few yards ahead of us. According to our map, we were only about 50 yards from the point where we would be on a city street, but mindful of Monday's fiasco of ignoring all the opportunities to get off a bad trail, we opted to cut through the grass and get on a side street. This took us in a winding route past a high school, which was just dismissing its students for the day.
We joined a line of cars heading out of that area. We got separated briefly on a roundabout when I turned off too soon and Steve kept going around the roundabout. Realizing at the last second that Steve was continuing to the next exit, I didn't have time to check my rearview mirror for the position of the car behind me and thought it would be safer to turn around at the next opportunity to pull over. By the time I did that, Steve was nowhere to be found. After about 5 minutes, we found each other again, and I was quite relieved.
On the south side of Vitry-les-François, we got on the path along the Canal Entre Champagne-et-Bourgogne, a smooth asphalt surface about ten feet wide. We stayed on this for the rest of the day and hardly saw another soul except for a handful of hikers and four guys on bicycles heading into Saint-Dizier.
We paused at one of the locks near Matignicourt-Goncourt to eat our sandwiches and take a "natural break." The high winds (gusts of 40 mph) forecast for the day never materialized, though the small branches and leaves strewn across the trail were evidence of the storm which had moved through area the day before. In at least a couple places, we had to dodge rather sizable branches. At times, the winds were probably around 15 to 20 mph, but we were happy to note that they were at our back, giving us a nice push down the canal path.
Somewhere between Orconte and Perthes, we crossed out of the Champagne region and into the Haute-Marne region. We were gradually climbing the whole time, thus the region's name (roughly translated as the "upper Marne") is because we were now on higher ground than the Marne regions in Champagne.
About this time, too, we heard four low-flying military jets and realized that we were in the flight path of the planes from the air base at Saint-Dizier. Base Aerienne 113, also known as Robinson Air Base, at Saint-Dizier is an historic French military base. It was established in 1910 and has been used continually as a military base since 1913. It was seized by the Germans in 1940 and used by them during their occupation of France. In September 1944, Allied forces retook the base, and for about a year, the Americans operated the base with the Ninth Air Force stationed there. The Americans withdrew from the base the following year, returning the base to the French military.
We paused in Saint-Dizier to read the signs explaining the various bicycle routes in the city and to verify our route. There were several places where we departed briefly from the trail onto city streets, and it took us a few tries to find the correct route out of town. This time we stayed together, and I kept my eye on the back of Steve's bike, following him wherever he went.
While we were standing at one of the big signs with the city bicycle routes, we heard the military planes again and looked up to see four of them in close formation. Shortly after that, we saw two of the military planes escorting a larger plane, all heading for a landing at the airbase. We assumed this was a practice maneuver, but we wondered if it might be something more, such as an escort for an important official.
We arrived in Chamouilley around 4 pm and easily found our hotel, the Auberge du Cheval Blanc, in the center of the village. It is a pleasant place with a restaurant where we'll have dinner. Our room is located in a newly constructed annex behind the building which serves as the reception, restaurant and bar.
Before we unpacked our bags, we asked for two "grande cafe au lait" and enjoyed the coffee in the bar. It is very quiet in the village except for an occasional military plane (only during the afternoon, so far) and the sound of the church bells, which seem to be ringing every 30 minutes.