How I loved cycling through France like a grown-up with monkey minds and elements and all
If my cycling adventure was taking baby steps in Portugal, running wild like a child climbing mountains in Spain, it became a grown up in France. Pretty, flat, long winded cycle paths. Greeting my bonjours to groups playing the 'petanque' or 'boule', elderly couples gallivanting along this and that veloroute for a late summer getaway on their e-bikes and dads taking their sons fishing along the canals - I think it's called 'laissex-faire' in French. Stopping for coffees and croissants at friendly patisseries, snacking on cheese from the local épicerie (goat my preferred choice) and wines from Languedoc, Bordeaux, Cote du Rhone, Savoie, and all the other regions I pedaled through.
I left Gruissan where I met the Mediterranean coast and cycled along long and empty beaches. Deserted summer villages, amusement parks and beachfront promenades that were nothing but empty ghost towns after a probably rather short season. I challenged the headwind going inland through the wetlands, past the white horses of the region and vines after vines and their impressive chateaux. My destination was the small village of Villeveyrac, where my ex colleague and dear friend Eniko resides. We had the most indulging few days together and I got very spoilt again. We cheered with Champagne, savored on Scallops, prawns, varieties of cheeses and local olives. I slept in a soft bed with ornamental bed posts, between walls that had many a story to tell. We visited one of the chateaux for a degustation – like I said, the grown-up stuff.
Had I mentioned that I was slightly battered when I arrived at Eniko’s refuge? An ant had climbed all the way up to my left eye the evening before and decided it was a got spot to take a little taste off me. Some may know that I am quite susceptible to any kind of animal bite, and despite being prepared and taking a dose of anti-histamine, my eye (let’s not kid myself – my entire left face), swell to quite an impressive size. When I went to the pharmacy in the morning, the lady looked at me with a concerned wink on her face and asked, ‘are you sure this was an ‘ant’ bite?’. – Yes, lady, I did not get punched in the face by an angry partner (after all, I practiced self-defence for a couple of months during lockdown and would hope I could somehow defend myself if need be). Long story short, I was glad that I could enjoy the bike ride to Villeveyrac – see (even if only with one and a quarter eyes), and Eniko still recognized and let me in. Staying with her was therefore also the perfect timing to rest, and let my looks get back to normal again.
I was ready to head along the Via Rhona, and then follow the Isere to Grenoble and then into Switzerland. My Rove, or the bike chain had another idea. It was screaming and skipping and doing all sorts of things. None of my very rudimentary skills in twisting cables and tightening screws worked, and so I looked up the nearest bike shop before my next days’ journey. Jean looked at it once, and the verdict was clear – ‘la chaine e mort’. It was no problem though, because the same Jean (bike mechanic), had time, and just the right one to replace (or almost, as he said – it was not perfect, but <shouldershrug>…). He did an excellent job, with a lot of shoulder-shrugging and eyebrow-raising. Jean was great though and took great care of the Rove (I think he also liked it). He gave me a bit of spare chain, so I could practice repairing it during my evenings in the tent... Riding was awesome after this experience, and so was the croissant and coffee I had in the cute village of Uzes. The chain purred like a cat, and we rolled up and down the vineyards and along the river Rhone as if we were dancing on the clouds. It is such a pleasure to ride a good bike that’s in tip top shape!
During my lunch break under a big oak tree, summer ended. It came abrupt – wind, rain, cold, boom. Summer over. What can you do – change outfits (ie. layer yourself in leggings, long sleeves, and jackets), and pedal on. As the Germans say – there is no wrong weather, just the wrong clothing. Let’s hope I was German enough when I packed my bags.
Meeting the Isere river started by cycling along some busy roads through rain and strong headwinds. I was happy to get back into the countryside and could wonder at the cool clouds that came along with those headwinds. The landscape had clearly changed and I was riding through orchards of rows and rows of (what I found out later) walnut trees (never seen them before). Always towards the mountains, that were all disappearing behind a big foggy grey cover. So then it really started pouring down. Oh boy, did I get drenched like a dog, and stung by hail corns. The worst is when cycling through puddles and all the water seeps into the shoe-click openings on the bottom.
Eventually, the rain stopped, I looked up under my drenched rain jacket and saw it - the perfect double rainbow! I was ecstatic! (And glad that no one saw me there screaming and laughing out loud!)
Filled with all this positive energy it was easy to finish the ride, and sobering to arrive at the campsite where the advertised Epicerie (which I have gotten used to as some fancy mini markets with craft beers and roasted bio nuts, or several local cheeses to choose from) was really just a campsite store that had some leftovers as it was the last day of the season. So whatever, I bought everything that halfway suited me, dissolved myself under the hot shower and tried to sleep while the girl tending the reception desk had invited all her friends for the end of season Saturday-night bash.
I got up very early to a a crisp-2 degree-morning, so I could avoid packing up in the wet. I remembered then that Grenoble, where I was headed towards, hosted the winter Olympics before. No wonder it was that cold, but hey, that is where the resilience is always a bonus. During the ride, my feet and hands took turns in being numb from the cold. At my lunchbreak in Grenoble I took the corporate decision to take a train for a few stops to reach a place where I knew was a campsite that was still open (most of them had closed early over the weekend, probably due to the weather). I felt a little defeated, but also warm, and my heart warmed up even more when a man walked past me at the train station and remarked ‘what a beautiful bike you have’ (in French). Ok, that was already a decision well made.
My last day cycling through France was again accompanied by rain, another stop at a bakery, a really cool climb through the Massif du Vuache, and more apple orchards before crossing the border into Switzerland. Of that, I will tell you next time.
My superpowers kept getting challenged during the remainder of my ride through France. The rain, the cold, the ant bite, were all part of practicing resilience. I noticed that when I got stressed, I started planning and making to-do lists. Have you ever heard of the monkey mind? A million thoughts popping into your head at the same time that keep you away from focusing on one specific thought (or of thinking nothing). Despite my morning and evening chores being very repetitive (set up camp, blow up mattress, cook food, wash dishes; air out sleeping bag, check bike, pack everything away etc, etc), I started making to-do lists of the the next thing while I was brushing my teeth, drinking my coffee or rolling up my clothes. This overthinking and planning started to stress me even more, and I was lying in my sleeping bag, making lists for when I had to get up early in the morning to avoid the rain. I also noticed that the same happened when I planned my cycling routes more than a few days ahead. I think we do this planning, as we need some sense of security and something we know we can hold on to. In my case it kept me from falling asleep, which would have meant I would be either tired or oversleep in the morning. It also meant I would not fully focus on the other task I was doing, be it something little as brushing your teeth. I mentioned this before when I talked about listening to ourselves. At the time of writing this I have already cracked the 3000km mark. I have experienced and seen and achieved a lot. I can trust once again, that I act right in challenging situations, and that while planning the big stuff is definitely something I support, the little things can often just happen - we have done them so many times before anyway, that we don't need to make endless lists to hold on to them. Whenever I started doing this, I stopped, took a breath, and went back to brushing my teeth, drinking the coffee, rolling up the clothes, etc. I know it is just a matter of exercising this often enough until the brain understands, and then it will happen less and less. Being truly in the moment can give us so much calmness and joy, it is worth more busying the mind with writing to-do-lists. I don't want to imagine having missed this incredible rainbow had I been thinking of what to buy for dinner (which is the same almost every day anyway) and not looked up instead. Do you experience the monkey mind? What do you do to not have it take over your mind?
Some more stats and 'facts':
50 days travelled
41 days cycled
9 rest days
50km travelled in car
50km travelled on train
66137 kcal burnt on rides
57.8km daily average
11.8km/h average speed
3 flat tires
39 nights in tent
8 nights in bed
1 night in car
34 Euro average daily spent
What I loved most about France:
Stopping for croissants and baguettes at the boulangerie
Eating lemon meringue pie - my favorite of all pastries
Great cheese in every smallest shop
Everyone says 'bonjour' to each other (people greeted me in Spain as well, but I noticed it more here!)
Experiencing kindness and feeling of belonging during my mini-holidays with the Vince's and Eniko
My hack to speaking with people: When asking a French person if they speak English, 95% would say 'no' (in Decathlon, one of the guys even said to me 'no, why?' - I mean come on, it was not as if I wanted to flirt with him, I was clearly looking for something!). I started speaking in French, and people immediately felt sorry for me, and switched to almost impeccable English, if not German (in the case of Jean, the bike mechanic) - best way to start a conversation with anyone I met!
Smelling the pine forests along the Atlantic coast, the ripe grapes on the vineyards along the Languedoc and the fallen leaves of autumn along the Canal du Midi
Feeling the change of season with all it brought with it
I feel like I am getting stronger and fitter every day
What challenged me:
So many mosquitoes - and they loved having me in France!
More bugs: Snails LOVE my stuff, and always want to be taken with me for a ride. A spider was sleeping in my shoe one night, and one was sticking onto the tent and walking up behind me while I was already riding. I made the acquaintance of a 'stink bug' - a flat looking brown bug that farts at you when you touch it. This one was in my bag and yes, it farted on all my clothes, yuck. And then there was the ant-moment...
Rain, thunderstorms, hail and the cold!
Au Revoir France - I still love every minute of my adventure! Now come hail, sunshine, snow or whatever still may be in store for me - I am going to Switzerland!