The briefing was important because we would be riding to the marker system, which allows everyone to ride at their own pace without the need to keep other group members in sight. On a road with few junctions it's possible to keep going for half an hour or more without seeing anyone, until a roundabout or turning brings a familiar bike.
After booking the trip, I had been asked whether I would take on the job of back marker for the tour: the rider who is always last, and for whom the markers must always wait.
Tail-End Charlie is my favourite position on group rides, as you can observe without being observed, and so I accepted with alacrity. This morning, the awesome responsibility was weighing on me as I was given an XXL orange hi-viz (whose pockets turned out to contain a cache of pine-flavoured throat sweets, score).
(Before we left, I bought a Douglas Dakota keyring from the hotel's display of D-Day merchandise. We were, after all, in Normandy.)
Once on the road my fears were allayed somewhat: everyone behaved themselves, and my job was a breeze. We left the complicated system around the port for country roads which went on and on through village after village, with only local turnings branching off to houses or farms. Sights I saw included a red squirrel bounding across the road, and a gigantic stuffed polar bear on display outside a taxidermy business.
When we stopped for coffee, I doubled back to take a photo of an old advertisement for Martini I'd seen as we entered the town, and as I chose my angle a woman leaned out of her window to ask if I was lost.
We passed Le Mans and headed through the Loire valley, land of castles, to lunch in a pretty town with cobbled streets which may have been Laval.
I joined a group outside a bar offering a choice of four sandwich fillings: ham, cheese, ham and cheese, or rillettes. The landlady approved my choice of rillettes and a diabolo citron with a 'Bravo', then came out brandishing a baguette to show us how fresh and warm the bread was.
The heat of the day increased as we travelled south, until the afternoon petrol stop found me handing out berry-scented Paw Patrol wet wipes from my underseat cache of emergency items. From here it was a short leg to the Relais de la Mothe in Yzeures-sur-Creuse.
This was a beautiful, old-fashioned hotel, with dark wood beams, white camellias growing over the door, and a shelf of French children's books. Dinner was included, and we sat at long tables getting to know each other and eating fish in a mushroom sauce followed by a chocolate soufflé with ice cream.
Afterwards, I sat in the garden with my book and a raspberry eau de vie. I was properly on holiday.
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