“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain,
The beauty of a country cannot be fully appreciated in a car, a bus, or a train. I wanted to experience my first journey in a more personal way. To feel the wind and rain on my face; to challenge the hills and weather. This is why I chose to tour France and northern Spain by bicycle. In 12 days I covered 635 miles, which is just over 1000 km.
My journey began as it would end, on a cool rainy day. Natalie helped carry down a couple of my bags, and I hefted my bike onto my shoulder to make the climb down the narrow stairs easier. I got everything hooked up to the bike, and then departed, to the repeated sounds of “Au revoir” and “Bon voyage”. My first goal was simply escaping the city and suburbs of the Paris Metropolitan area. My satnav was not kind enough to route me entirely around the city, so I had to move through the Parisian traffic once again. It’s a bit more hectic when you have the panniers (bike bags) on the back of your bike. Eventually the big city broke, and I was moving through French suburbia. This took a while, because I was constantly having to take different directions. After I made my way through a state park of some sort, the city broke, and there was a sharp transition from city to country .
Thankfully, now, the directions were very easy and I had nice long routes to travel. There were fields of wheat and green beans, broken up with forest. I was occasionally greeted with a château and a small vineyard. These were some of my favorite things. After few hours of cycling, I started to go through another city, when I was confronted with an immense palace!
I had no Idea what it was, but I soon discovered that it was the Palace of Versailles. There were droves of people coming in from Paris. I made my way around the palace, and continued on my journey. The rest of the day I went on and on. The air was misty and cool, and made my first day of cycling a little more enjoyable.
I pulled into the campground late in the afternoon. I setup my little tent and enjoyed my little home comforts. I had cycled 58 miles that day, though my original plan was to stay in the 40-50 range. I could feel the cool air setting in and dressed myself for a cool night.
I woke up the next morning frigid. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a sleeping mat in Paris, so I was essentially sleeping in my tent and sleeping bag. Needless to say, there wasn’t much between myself and the ground. Thankfully, the campground had hot water. I filled my water bottle with steaming hot water, and begun to search for a power outlet. Fortunately, the closed restaurant’s patio had one. I sat there, looking out over the little river L’Eure streaming by, eating my small breakfast of cereal and hobnobs, preparing for the day, and letting my phone charge.
It took a lot of effort to get back on the saddle; I was sore as hell. Happily, the weather was still very cool and cloudy. This was also to be the downfall of the day, because after a couple of hours of cycling, it began to rain. It came in waves, alternately heavy and light, all day until the evening. This day was just fields upon fields of wheat and oddly green beans. I cycled around several estates that were so well hidden, I couldn’t really see the houses.
I found my next camp ground in Cloyes Sur le Loir, 57 miles later. I went in to pay for my plot and the first thing to greet me was a big old Saint Bernard! The dog was followed, shortly, by the camp attendant, who was a really sweet French girl–the St Bernard’s keeper. I picked up a can of ravioli, paid, and went on my way to the plot. I set up, and not a moment too soon, as it began raining shortly thereafter. It was a fairly mild rain, and it allowed me to move around the camp without too much trouble. I headed over to the showers, and took a nice, warm shower. There were also outlets in the general kitchen and washroom, so I sat there and ate my delicious can of pasta, followed by my all-time favorite dessert: hobnobs.While sitting there relaxing, I realized that this would be my new routine for the next few months. This night I tried to pad the bottom of my tent with my extra clothes, which softened the ground a little bit. Sleep found me quickly again that night, the rain pitter-pattering over my tent and the low rumblings of thunder in the distance.
I woke up the next morning stiff and sore. I needed to find something better to sleep on. I took a look at my map, and discovered that a Marathon (big sports store) was in Tours. I decided to put my fate in the hands of google maps that day. If CycleStreets is the careful parent of cycling GPS apps, google is the crazy uncle. It gets you there in the most direct, fast–not necessarily safe–route. I really can’t recall much about this day besides cycling my heart out, and swearing at any driver that came too close.
Around lunchtime I sat down, and picked up an Airbnb that was in Tours. I found an affordable one with ease. The host was quick to let me know that she would be arriving late. I told her I had a bike and it was no problem at all. With that small difficulty out of the way, I felt incredibly relieved, and went on my way. I got to Tours before I knew it, and waited for my host in the little nearby park, recovering. I took a little cycle around, and discovered a bike shop, as well as a pizza place. I looked at my GPS and discovered I covered 67 miles!
My host seemed very nice. She showed me where I could put my bike indoors, and she was kind enough to make me a cup of tea. We chit-chatted. I asked if I could do a load of laundry; she told me it was no problem, and she even showed me where the drier rack was. I checked if I could take a shower-go ahead, she said, but after the 5 minute mark, I heard a knock on the door, and a request to hurry. No problem; I rinsed off, and hopped out. Then she began to complain that her flat was not hotel, and that I should know how airbnb works … That was only the beginning of the troubles. I figured it was no big deal, and excused myself to get some pizza. I made my order in the tiny pizza store, and made some small talk with the owner, who, miraculously, had perfect english. I soon discovered that he had lived in the USA. He told me how he met a French woman there, and that they had moved back to France after their kids were born. I thanked him and took off with my pizzas. I came back in, and offered my host some pizza. She politely declined, so I made my way to my room, when I accidentally bumped a lamp into the wall with the pizza box. For some reason, my host went nuts, calling me stupid and clumsy and disrespectful. She complained that I took too long a shower, and that I did a load of laundry, and did I think this was a hotel. Shocked, I just apologized. As I really wanted a place to sleep that night, I didn’t put up much of a fight. I was dazed and confused; these were all things I had asked to do, she could have told me no at any turn. I retreated to my room and ate my pizza while watching some Netflix, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened.