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Crossing France on Croissants and Cheese - like real Superheroes do

The end of my 6th week of cycling marks me touching the Mediterranean (and another flat tire to keep to the truth) - I have come far, 2372km to be precise, away from my home in Portugal. A lot happened in the last few days - I have seen both coasts now, had a mini holiday near Bordeaux, cycled the flat and long canals of France, ate a lot of cheese, baguette and croissants, experienced a tropical thunderstorm and got attacked by ants.



I entered France in Hendaye once again pretty low-key on a 2-Euro-ferry across the river. I started my day with a petit-dejouner overlooking the French Atlantic coast, celebrating having the mountains in my back and some flat cycling ahead of me, as well as setting the tone for many Croissants to come (they really are better in France!). The weather was beautiful and so was the ride along the rugged coastline of the Pays-Bas. Must be a thing with borders and beautiful coastlines. I felt delighted by the cute little towns with their particular style of architecture. At the next opportunity, I stopped for Baguette and Cheese, and o la la - there was also a fruit and veggie stand shortly after. When the universe gives you fresh figs and grapes, you eat! And so I did. Another pit stop in Biarritz for an ice cream that was dear yet delicious, and I slowly entered the long stretch of pinewoods behind long, white sand dunes.


I was told the south of France is really one long beach, and it felt like it too. Surprisingly (or not), places were crowded, and facemasks not obligatory (or maybe just not accepted?) and so I kept out on the streets and to myself yet again.


I was headed towards Hostens, where my ex colleague and friend; Vince, had returned back to live in his grandparents cottage on his mum's land with his partner Vince after spending several years in Melbourne and travelling the world. I had been on the fence whether I should cut out some distance and go straight to Toulouse rather than visiting them, but when I looked at the elevation chart, Vince had it easy to convince me to come up for an overdue reunion. We even cheated a bit and he picked me up 40km away from his house (given that I backtracked to see Matze, I figured it was OK). Upon my arrival, I remembered that the other Vince (who I had not met before) is a chef; he asked me (in a very endearing French accent) - 'Which cake do you like'? He decided to make two. And I decided to stay for more than one night. The next morning, after Vince 1 had made me coffee, accompanied with fresh Croissant and Chocolatine, Vince Chef went into the kitchen, shrugged his shoulder French-style and said - 'so I cook again'. And so he did. It was lovely. They have the coolest veggie garden with a little forest of Kiwi trees, pumpkins literally spread all over the property, and tomatoes sprouting everywhere. They have a little lake and a hammock. We did not only cook a lot, we also spoke about food and gardening, tasted and discussed our tastes and the looks of our dishes in very small detail. We played board games, which I have not done in so long (we got stuck in the game 'pandemic' and played it hour after hour). We went for a short ride and swim around the local lakes, and visited Europe's biggest dune 'Le Pilat'. We also laughed a lot. It was like a real mini holiday, both Vince's spoiled me a lot, and it would have been easy to stay, be Vince's kitchen hand and learn from him and help out in the garden (maybe the mosquitoes were the deciding factor to get back on the bike though). I was sent on my way with some funky tomato seeds for the garden in Portugal, and veggies, tea leaves and leftover tomato tarte that kept me going for another couple of days.

The ride along the Canal du Garonne was lovely, but also very flat, very hot and very straight. I decided that this was so I could come down from the high of the last days again. Everything has to be balanced, so it was fine to have a couple of days without many highlights to speak of, cruising from one Ecluse ('lock') to the other. I saw a lot of dried up sunflower fields (1000s of sunflowers bowing their heads down felt like they were trying to send me a message - 'you are too late'.. I know, it's my imagination again, but makes the ride more fun). I saw a lot of sunflower factories, and fruit orchards. Every day I would stop at little local supermarkets ('Epicerie') and try the local produce.


In Toulouse, I visited the local Kona dealer to check my brake pads again, before heading back into the hills. Despite them being booked out for services until mid October, he made an exception and looked after my Rove, which I dearly appreciated, especially as the pads were out of stock here too, and he took a set out of one of the model bikes. What kind of a great service is that! I love Kona.



I cruised around the citadel of Carcassone imagining rolling on the same stones where probably millions of people have walked throughout the many years they have been there, battles have taken place, explorers have set off on journeys, couples have confessed their loves or children have run around to play. Old monuments always remind me that I am just a small piece of a big puzzle in history.

Joining the Canal du Midi coincided with Wind Day. Wind Day turned into tropical thunderstorm warnings. I was staying at a campsite that was more so someone's big backyard on a hill overlooking lovely vineyards about 40km east of Carcassonne. Cooking my dinner, I watched lightning and dark storm clouds playing in the distance. It was a cool spectacle, until the clouds of course reached my little refuge around midnight - this journey keeps on giving out of its mixed bag of experiences. At some point, thunder and lightning were only another 5 or so seconds apart from each other, a sign that the tent may not be the safest place to be. So I ran for the toilet block, where I noticed quick enough that it had a tin roof, which I doubted had been lightning-proofed. I considered my options, which were underwhelmingly limited, when my tent neighbor returned home from his night out in town. After I gave him a brief explanation on why cars are safer than tents during a thunderstorm, we waited out the thunderstorm together.

The next day was my favorite riding day in France yet. The air was calm and relaxed after the stressful night. I got up early and cycled through the vineyards that were still touched by the rising sun rays and back onto the muddy paths along the canal. The smell of ripe grapes had been following me - they definitely were not telling me I was too late. They were ready, to be picked and crushed and fermented into the tasty reds the Languedoc area has to offer.




I left the Canal du Midi around lunchtime to pass through Narbonne, which reminded me a little bit of Valencia with its old market hall next to the cathedral, and followed the Canal de la Reunion to the Mediterranean seaside town of Gruissan. While setting up camp and fixing a flat tire, an ant had made it up all the way to my eye and decided it was a good place to have a little taste of me. I truly look like I fought hard to reach the other coast. It will be interesting to cycle with only one eye...



What else happened? ... Oh yea - I found out that I am a superhero. And guess what, I realized that we all are, we just don't always know it yet. The recent events have supported me in working out that my superpower is resilience. Before, I always thought I would like to maybe read people's minds (how stressful), flying (why would I - being scared of heights), or travel through time (SO stressful, although I could flick that ant off my face before it would bite me!).

My first memory where my power was tested was being on holidays when I was around 6 years old. I got stung by horseflies and a wasp 3 times near my eyes, so I could not see anymore. I insisted regardless to try out my new rollerskates in the town nearby (this happened just after my birthday), which only had cobblestone streets. So I hobbled along on my dad's hand making the best of what I had. I have been practicing my resilience throughout the years with running all the trailruns, bikerides, monsterhikes, or a 4000km bikeride to visit friends and family in Germany. It gives me optimism to pursue things despite the resistance, obstacles or inconveniences they could be accompanied with. It motivates me to keep in touch with people I like so I can visit them on my travels, or create some long lasting friendships, and to follow through and drive causes I am passionate about. I know it can of course also have its other side of the coin, and be pretty annoying to some. Just like any superhero, I am still learning on how to always direct my powers to the right thing at the right time. So far, I am glad that I only had to practice on considerably minor events. Imagine how powerful it can be if we all knew and used our powers the right way? I would like to know now, what is your superpower and why?



With that said, I will embark on my last leg into the Camargue before I rest at my friend Eniko's house (I hope she will recognize my face and let me in!). 1200km to go - I can do it!


#Resilience #WeAreMonsterBikers #Komoot #EriceiraBikes #Bikeadventure #France

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