The Big Trip, Day 14: Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ – back to Orleans

Distance covered today: 321 miles

Total distance covered: 1622 miles

Now that is the longest distance I have EVER driven in one go. More than 6 hours on the road, with one brief stop for fuel (and didn’t I panic when I thought I’d lost the fuel cap key). But like I said, I need to get a shift on – my Eurotunnel booking is for 09:20 on Sunday, meaning I need to be there about an hour before. Meaning, ideally, I need to park up somewhere near Calais by the end of tomorrow so I don’t have too far to drive on Sunday morning.

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So today, I push on from Millau to Orleans. Yes, I know, I’ve been to Orleans before, on day 2 in fact. But when you’re headed back to the same place, the options for places to stop narrow. Besides, it’s a known quantity, and after 6 hours on the road I don’t want to have to think too much. I spend probably longer than I should mooching around Millau, taking pictures of the views.

I dilly rather too long over leaving Millau, writing this morning’s blog post then doing van chores. Emptying the toilet cassette is easy enough; filling the water tank isn’t, because I am awesomely unprepared. Yes, I thought to bring a hose; no, I didn’t think about how to connect it. The campsite tap has a standard screw on end, and if i’d thought to bring the male hose connector from home I’d have been fine. But I didn’t.

So, I spend a presumably comic-looking quarter hour trying to jam the bare hose end into the tap while holding down the valve that lets the water out, and getting rather soaked in the process. Well, I suppose I did need a shower.

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After a while though, I’m not sure if that’s even doing anything, so I ask a fellow camper if he has a hose I can borrow. Without knowing the French for “hose” this too is a comical dumb show, with my occasional interspersion of “pour l’eau”, at which point his wife offers me a bottle of cleaning fluid.

Eventually we both work out what we mean, and he’s kind enough to offer me a decent hose with the right fitments. I gratefully fill up, return the hose, and head off. To the supermarket to buy some booze.

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Well all right, I’m actually there to fill the fuel tank, but I think that if I’m not actually going out later, a beer or two in the van would be cool. So off I head to the local Carrefour, where (of course) there’s a “buy two, get one free” on Leffe. Naturally I buy three. And some wine. And a bottle opener, as no wine I’ve encountered here has a screw top. These are civilised people.

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Thus fortified, I program Google Maps for the same parking spot in Orleans I used the last time, and head off. Four and a half hours, it reckons. I raise an eyebrow. No sodding way, not through those mountains.

And I’m right of course, as the road climbs and climbs and I find myself switching between fourth and third gears, mostly at speeds of 50-60kmh (see, I’m even thinking about speed in European now).

The views are, as usual, amazing. I, as usual, can’t take any pictures because I’m driving. I do, on one straight stretch, risk taking the phone out of its cradle and snapping a pic.

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That’s all I can manage though. The road, a 500km stretch of the A71, is busier than I’m used to. And it starts to rain, mirroring my funereal mood about the tail end of my trip. It rains, in fact, for over 200 km, almost obscuring my views of the repeated roadside altitude markers. Today’s high point is 1060 metres, rather higher than yesterday’s 825.

After what seems like forever, but with many great views, I’m out of the mountains, past the Loire and Auvergne valleys, and cruising at 110 kmh along a VERY boring stretch of dual carriageway. It doesn’t get any easier when it gets dark, and I start to have a bit of tunnel vision. Maybe all those signs saying “Pensez – Reposez” had a point.

The only brief moment of interest comes when I realise I’m running out of fuel, but even that isn’t very interesting because I know there’ll be an Aire du Service along before I do. Of course there is, though my befuddled brain decides to interject a bit of drama by forgetting what pocket I put the fuel cap key in after filling up, and convincing myself I’d lost it. I hadn’t, of course, but my hazard light-illuminated reverse up the exit slip road was probably quite amusing to watch.

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And now here I am, in Orleans again. In the same pub I blogged from last week in fact, L’Hendrix. Being Friday night, it’s a bit livelier than last time, but not much. Oh well, a couple here, then back to the tram, then up early for the slightly shorter drive to Calais on the morrow. Getting back to real life is going to be difficult.

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