Welcome back once again, and thanks for reading about my bike touring adventures. I hope you find them entertaining or inspirational; and if not either of those, you can laugh at how haphazardly I go about my travel!
That morning was … awkward as hell. I was still confused; she was still irritated. I was still polite and thankful, you never know whats going on in someone’s life, and I was going to try not to irritate her any more.
I decided that morning to wait at the bike shop, just incase they had some kind of front rack. I also decided that I was just going to have a kind of chill day, and see where things led me. So as I waited, and waited some more, I kept myself busy by making sure everything was tightened up on the bike, and I repacked my bags to center the weight. The bike shop owner had begun to set up. I went into the shop, and had no luck again. I picked up a cheap pair of cycling gloves because Jack was worried about my hands and walked out. As I was walking out, I saw the Pizza shop owner setting up shop. I waved; he waved back, and then walked over and invited me in for coffee. I happily accepted, as I had enjoyed my conversation with the man the previous evening. He prepared coffee, and then he offered me some food. I politely declined, but he insisted. He told me it was Ramadan, and that he felt an obligation to help a traveler such as myself. I was taken aback, no one so far had ever been so kind to me on my trip, and the last person I expected it from was a Muslim. He told me that I reminded him of his son, who was living in the USA. I asked what his son did for a living, only to find out the he was a U.S. Marine. I told him that I was a Marine as well. I asked how he felt about his son being in the military. He was very mixed in his feelings. On one hand, he was extremely proud; but on the other, he was frustrated that his son felt such anger at his fellow Muslims. He asked me how I felt about the Muslim people. I responded by saying that there are good and bad people in every religion, that I knew that Muslims were responsible for great feats in the sciences and arts. A whole group of people shouldn’t be judge by the mistakes of a few men. This took him by surprise as well, that a former Marine would respond with this. It saddens me that he was so ready for a damning statement. I asked him what Ramadan was, he educated me about how it was a month of prayer and fasting through the day, a time to help those in need, or the poor. Sadly, I needed to get going to the sports store. Before I left he wanted to make me some food for lunch, as he wasn’t going to eat the food for himself in the fridge. He gave me two chicken sandwiches, and as I departed he said “Salam”. I returned the phrase. To those not familiar the full version, “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” means “peace be upon you”. That day, it meant the world to me; I walked around the corner and broke down crying. I know it was partially because of how exhausted I was, but this man who I had never met had treated me like family, with his only request to me before leaving being to help a Muslim in need when I could. He decided, during all the tension around immigration into France, to be kind, and not to be hateful or resentful. The reason I have taken the time to write all of this in its entirety is in the hope that we can take a moment,when encountering someone new or different, and give them a chance before judging them.
Getting back on track, I cycled my happy ass to the Marathon store and found what I was looking for. A sleeping mat, hallelujah! Also at this point, I decided to get a basket holder to hold some of my other luggage. The mechanic at the store helped me get it attached, and I was back on my way. I soon discovered, though, that any weight on that rack would cause my front wheel to get very shaky. The rack didn’t move left to right with the wheel. It also created a high center of gravity. I decided to give it a try for the day, just to see if it was a issue with me. Nope. Throughout the day, I was on and off the bike, readjusting and trying new things. When I realized the issues could not be fixed, it was too late, I was already 30 miles away from the shop. My new purchase had essentially become a rack to carry snacks and other light items that I would need to access quickly. I ate my late lunch of chicken sandwiches, enjoying the beautiful weather and watching the clouds pass me by. The day’s cycling was fantastic–rolling hills and winding rivers.
I thought about my host, and wondered if I had actually been in the wrong. I put myself in her shoes, though, and thought if I had a guest that was paying, who asked to do the things and I had, there’s no way I could be even a little frustrated. Even regarding the incident with the lamp; I didn’t break it, just knocked it over. The day stretched on longer and longer. The sun was getting low on the horizon. I got a little worried that I wouldn’t make it to the camp before sundown. I picked up the pace, and before long, I made it with a few hours of light to spare. I ended up cycling 61 mi to Chatellerault. The camp was lovely; they would even had fresh bread in the morning if I ordered it in advance. Yes please, i’ll have a croissant with nutella, and a baguette in the morning! I set up my home for the evening, washed up, and then searched for a place to charge my phone and eat my dinner. The camp had a lovely little restaurant area, that wasn’t fully open yet, due to the off season. But it was open to campers who wanted a place to relax. They even had free Wi-Fi! I took the opportunity to call home and watch some Netflix on my iPad.
I slept like a baby on my new sleeping mat, but woke up aching sore. I needed a rest day, so I took one. I started the morning off by retrieving the baguette and croissant I requested, and payed for another night. On my walk back, the neighboring elderly couple invited me for coffee. I happily accepted, and we chatted for a long while about religion and ourselves. It turns out that they have a daughter who is doing missions work in Brazil. I told them that my parents had done a lot of work with missionaries when we lived in Brazil. We lived in much different areas, but it’s a small world! I spent the rest of the day lounging, walking around the camp and stretching. I killed the afternoon by taking a nap and watching Netflix. It was a perfect day.
I packed up before the office opened, made my way to the office, and ate my bread breakfast in the restaurant area, whilst topping up my phone battery. This day was hot as hell; once I got outside of the river area, it dried out as well. Besides all of this, the elevation was increasing, and it felt like I was climbing hills most of the day. On the flip side, it was nice to start to see vineyards, as well as well as cork trees, and the occasional olive tree (I think). There were a couple points where I ran out of water, and became desperate for some. I remembered reading somewhere that graveyard always have water. Luckily I found one, parked my bike, and within a minute had found a tap. No one was there, either. If there would have been, I wouldn’t have entered. I tried to be as respectful as I could. This graveyard had a memorial to the fallen soldiers during WWI. It humbled me to my core that so many people from each town gave their lives during those wars.
Once I hit the 40 mile marker, I started looking for campgrounds, but there were none within a 10-20 mile radius, unless I wanted to go East or West that same distance out of the direction I was heading (SSW). I had no luck on Airbnb, so I found a budget hotel in Couhe that was just a few more Euro than an Airbnb. Another 55 miles down! I was getting good at this bike touring stuff, I thought to myself! The hotel wasn’t anything special, more like a hostel with individual rooms, but I had a bed and water and Wi-Fi, holy Wi-Fi. To me the hotel was luxury. I crashed out early, but woke up late. I didn’t miss the free breakfast though! I was the only person eating, because I had woken up late. So I chowed down on all the cereal and stale bread I could hold. I pocketed a few Nutella and jelly packs for my own piece of bread later, and went on my way.
This was to be one of my longest days. I was in wine and cognac country, which meant heat and hills. It was beautiful, though, for the same reasons. It didn’t take me long to get out of Couhe and back to my empty country roads. I honestly don’t remember much of this day, besides the fields; and I lack the words to best describe them, aside from the fact that I was just grinding out hills in the heat all day. Eventually, I started getting closer and closer to Cognac. The vineyards started showing fancy labels of the various Cognac companies, that produce incredibly refined grapes into, well, cognac. Offers for tours where stapled to every telephone pole and billboard. Medieval ruins where scattered throughout the city. Somehow my GPS navigated me to a supermarket, which was fine by me. I used it as a break point, to stock up on food, and to figure out my next step. I picked up staples: bread, canned pasta, as well as a new jar of Nutella. The cherry on top, as it were, was strawberries. I sat out by my my bike, dipping my strawberries into the Nutella looking for a campground. I saw that there was one in Archaic, about 20 miles away, and thought, why not. I was at 50 miles, and was still feeling great. I set off, after eating all of my strawberries. It started to sprinkle, but after a couple of miles, I got out of the rain. The way out of Cognac was sketchy; there were only main roads that were being repaired, and were thus narrower. After 10 miles, I was given the opportunity to get back onto country roads, but missed my exit and proceeded to cycle another quarter mile. Thankfully, there was a hill that lead right up to the proper path. I unloaded the bags, and walked them up. Then, while I was carrying my bike up, I rolled my ankle again. Fuck. It was the same one I had rolled earlier in England. The last 10 miles, I was essentially pedaling with one foot.
I made it to camp as the sun was setting. I went 71 miles that day, and that is a personal record. Even though I agitated my injury, I was pretty proud of myself. I My home for the night was a small municipal camp that had another tent set up. I went and set up a few spots over. The campground had a little hut, and I decided to head down and relax there while I ate. There was a small TV, and I turned it on and found myself a soccer game. I kept waiting for the other campers to return. After an hour, I was thinking, “No worries.” After two hours, I thought it was a little weird. I lay down and began to relax; but after my neighboring campers had not returned for three hours, I was officially a little freaked out. I had a hard time falling asleep, a new bird’s call sounding like someone scraping their nails over a chalkboard. This compounded the creepiness of the whole situation. Eventually I fell asleep. I woke up a couple times; my ankle throbbed through the night.
Thank you again so much for reading I know this one was kind of long but with these travel posts i’m sort of going with the flow! I’m working on getting more travel and reference photos up on my imgur for you artistic types. Cheers!