Your Own Voices

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Tuesday 15 August 2017: La Paulière Field to Le Riot du Plessis (Le Plessis Bergeret)

1125. Outside a supermarket on the edge of La Verrie. Have already decamped, rode to a boulangerie, breakfasted, aired, stretched in a park – and are ready to make our (hopefully) chilled way to a forest some ten kilometres shy of the city in which our rest-day hotel dwells.

Despite the overnight light rain and the upon-waking-up shower accompanied by a symphony of ominous clouds which got us up and decamped in 50 minutes yesterday, it was our first day in prolonged proper heat since we left Vienna and began our English odyssey – and I guess I was a little rusty at hydrating properly. I’ve got one of those thirsts today that can never quite be quenched, like when you’ve had one-too-many the previous evening. So, with midday and our serious riding of the day on the horizon, the clouds all broken up and wispy, 25º on the thermometer, the Sun beaming on me, and a sheen of sweat cooling the torso, I’ll have to keep an eye on that today.

1535. La Ferrier: not our destination, but pretty damn close and, personally speaking, also about the limit my body’d like to  go today – particularly my bum.

It’s been, I forget now, thirteen consecutive days on the saddle – and that hotel and that rest-day are looking pretty damn attractive right now.

Don’t get me wrong: loving the ride today, and much prefer camping to the alternatives, but sometimes your body, or something else, has got different priorities and, after only 190 minutes riding and about 47km covered, my body and bum are telling me: “Rest!”

Tonight is another night under canvas. Hope we are able to find a place in that forest we marked as our target for today. Hard to tell exactly what ‘forest’, ‘landuse’ or ‘meadow’ mean on maps.me, but we’ll see, and at some point needs just tell you: “Stop being fussy – and stop! Here’s perfect.”

So we will end up somewhere …
… and it will be just right 😀

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1710. A lake. Human-made or made for human? Don’t care: chilling. On our way to where we are going, passed it. “Shall we stop there and chill out by the water?” Yes. 40-ish minutes of horizontal immobility and eye-shuttage later, and I’m doodling.

We’ve been chilling.

Because all of what we’re doing is so pleasurable and so fulfilling, it may be seen as one long holiday; it isn’t; it’s work; and we also sometimes forget that, lost in our reveries or our silly conversations as move from here to here.

Enforced getting up and out there so early this morning has allowed us this time to just stop; we’ve done the bulk of our riding for the day (hopefully), and just have to get from here to tent-pitch time. That’s a time to chill, too, but it’s more a drifting towards total switch-off and sleep than just doing nothing, which is a significant, and only just now appreciated, difference.

Would be nice to camp here and though, with our experience of France’s nonchalance, tolerance and indulgence so far, I guess it’d be possible, we may feel just a little bit too exposed to foot-traffic at random times to be able to switch off completely for the big sleep … and, er, satisfy certain more solid bodily functions in the morning, though it’d be great to just wake up and be in our breakfast spot already, even though we’ve barely got enough food to see us through to sleep this evening. We only carry just enough to see us through until the next time we are able to restock on fuel and it must be holiday fortnight or whatever in this region at the moment, as most towns are like ghost ones: the roads are pleasantly devoid of serious traffic and an open shop or boulangerie or café is a bonus rather than a taken-for-granted.

It’s nice, again, to see that the French still respect the weekend, still respect general time off rather than selling it all out to the needs of that ‘all important economy’ thing that everyone talks about with such significance, but very few, if any, could actually define. And it doesn’t seem to be doing France any harm – at all! The standard of living is clearly high – and clearly higher than those countries with which I’m familiar that are slave to this economy thing. The quality of life is, well, incomparably higher again; from what I’ve seen, anyway. And they’re trying much more effectively to not let economic progress or development savage too much of their natural surroundings. That’s not to say some isn’t savaged, but not on the don’t-give-a-shit-scale as England or Poland.

And, returning to a theme which I’m feeling and noticing – France is just France: how it is. England always seems to be trying to be something, trying to define itself – why can’t it just be? It’d be happier if it did, and feel so much better, too, than when it’s trying to put on airs and graces, and be like something it’s seen elsewhere. It’s there elsewhere because it evolved elsewhere. You don’t become chic and cool by pretending to be someone else, you do it by throwing away your complexes; by being yourself, but not at the expense of others, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people being themselves, and I love them for that, but when I see areas, villages, or towns clearly trying to dress themselves up in a way French towns, villages or areas instinctively do, I now know why it always comes across as feeling contrived and somewhat oppressive within my home shores – because it was trying to impose something.

If you want to be influenced by something positive, please do – there can never be too much positivity, but be influenced by the spirit that brought it to be; don’t just copy, in the hope that imitation will bring the same results. It may appear to do so, but it’s heart will be missing – and that is from where life flows.

Of course, I am spending all or most of my time in the best of France, or what France can be – why would I spend my days following roads I found distasteful? – but the fact that such a spirit exists and lives and thrives means there is no reason why this positive should not be ubiquitous, at the expense of the negative; rather than vice versa as so much of our mediated worlds lead us to believe.

Live life. Celebrate life. That is all. It’s easy, it really is, but for some reason we think it’s complicated – and that others enjoying life is to be envied, to maybe fear, and therefore to be curtailed. It isn’t. Just join in, or follow your own heart and passion, and you’ll soon find that other’s lives will bother you less and less as, simultaneously, you become part of a greater world of lives lived. And it’s a beautiful thing, it really is. You only have to do it and not heed those doubting voices with their vested interests – because those voices are not your own.

Electrohoppers

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Monday 14 August 2017: Le Val Langlais Wood to La Paulière Field

10:40am. Was awake at the usual time of 6:20. No journal this morning as I decided getting the route for the day down off maps.me on my iPad took priority. Was pleasantly surprised to see the E-Werk cache battery had been able to add 30% charge to the battery while we slept (well). But the app’s a right battery-drainer, so, by the time I’d taken me notes for today’s 54-or-so k, 10% had already been used; and that’s with the bez nadziejny GPS locator switched off. Don’t know why it’s so crap on the iPad. Maybe because it’s only using wi-fi and is not SIM-card enabled? Yup, that sounds feasible. But that leaves me with just under 40%, which should serve to survive till at least Tuesday evening with no economising, when, all being well, we check into a hotel for two nights, to enable us to have a proper rest-day.

Despite having had three easy riding days since setting off from Melton, Thursday 03 August, some eleven days ago, we have ridden every day since then, making today the twelfth consecutive day in the saddle; with tomorrow, too, and prospectively a tiny skip to the hotel check-in Thursday, that’ll be fifteen days in a row with some kind of pedal action; and, while we’re feeling good – great, in fact – and I’m feeling stronger each day and enjoying the spontaneity of camping ever ever more, it doesn’t hurt to rest before you’re proper tired, eat before you’re proper hungry, and drink before you’re proper thirsty; and Agnieszka has expressed that she’s feeling a little tired and wants or needs a proper rest day; so two nights in a hotel it is 😄

Still, it may give me an opportunity to have my front derailleur looked at, which is an issue that’s been bugging me for some time, and now it does seem to be becoming an issue on its own now: kicking my chain off a cog on two sensitive occasions. So, better to get it seen to as something minor before it turns into, or causes, something major.

‘Just’ a question of finding someone who knows what they’re doing, and is able to understand that minor little thing I’d like them to look at and adjust – and no more, because, apart from that, the bike is a dream, which is why little niggles maybe speak a little louder than they did on my previous bike.

I find certain bicycle maintenance things frustrating, not because things need maintaining or issues need to be resolved, but because I cannot do them on my own. I’m an independent sort, always have been, and when the power to resolve something is taken away out of my hands, I’m not completely at peace.

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As we rolled into an industrial shopping park today to stock up on supplies, I scuffed a front pannier on a cement bollard. An edge was caught, so the surface has been taken off that part of the pannier. Not a hole, but a weak point that I’ve hopefully reinforced sufficiently with some duct tape. We’ll see, but I’m happy enough.

Slowly but surely our equipment is betraying the signs of use, of knocks and scrapes, and wear and tear, which is fine: every mark tells a story. No-one expects, or wants, nothing to go wrong – as long as there’s a means to attempt to rectify the problem within our grasp … which returns me to my front derailleur – grrrr!

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Anyway, we definitely feel like we’re in a different climate now. The sky is a slightly different shade of blue, the earth is a little lighter to the touch, the trees reach a little more up than out, the bugs are more elaborately assorted, the buildings are less dense, and Monday in a business park seems a little less hectic than on a Sunday further North, which is nice to see at a time when, sadly, shopping has become a leisure and pleasure activity for far too many in this consumerist world.

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Today, we head generally South. From here we’re stopping in some attractive-looking park in Chemille-en-Anjou. Great to have the choice of the World for your eating and sleeping locales – and to always be a part of it as we make our way between them. Then to Toutlemonde – I love saying that word 😃 – some 22 kilometres from the park. From there, West, South-West, to a tiny village just South of a river – about 23 kilometres further on. So, about 55 kilometres for the day, though we’ll stop somewhere before the final village at some suitable-looking place to lay our heads.

But where? we know not yet – and life is great (don’t bug me further chain/derailleur) 😀

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2225. Crickets, grasshoppers and electrohoppers – in fine fine chirrup. It’s so nice that you only register it as a song, but, knackered as I am, after almost five hours of upwardly undulating riding, in a Sunny 30º-plus heat, that song will not allow sleep to claim me. What the fuck are they playing at? Can they hear it? Or do they feel it? Do they have ears? Do we have ears? What we hear are only words formed from vibrations, after all, so I guess they do feel and, therefore, hear it.

So can I.

That magical evening song of Southern Europe. That beautiful harmony. The insect chorus.

They rule the world, don’t they – insects. Oh, they’re not so large, individually, not so visible, but they are everywhere, inconspicuously going about their business. Meaning no harm to anything except their next meal. Almost oblivious to you and to me. Unless an odour you emit suggests lunch to them, then you are the meaning of their world – the lightbulb to the moth. Then they barely give a fuck that you’re a huge lumbering Goliath who can swat them with the nonchalant swing of a drunken limb. Or they nip you in the place they know – yes, know – they’re not going to get disturbed. Whatever they are, they’re different and they’re everywhere – whether they’re coming for you or not.

We share the world with them, but not them alone – they have their predators. We’re not really one. We may commit mass genocide on them with our sprays, our modified plants and our habitat theft, but we’re not a bird, a larger insect, a spider or a small mammal, who we’re also killing through sprays and plants and theft. And all for whose sake?

Ha-ha, not who you think.

For our insect lords to come.

And not the nice ones,
but the ones who can deal with the toxins we’ve developed,
who’ve mutated to fight all wiles.

They’re mutant insect superbeasts – and they’re coming for you and for me 😃😗

Favourable Conditions

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Sunday 13 August 2017: Forest-before-Feneu to Le Val Langlais Wood

9:30.

Still decamping. Good sleep.

The importance of good hygiene; of good ‘downstairs-business’ hygiene; of good hygiene in all those cracks and crevices.

We’re on that. Inspecting each other for bugs and bites, like regular chimpanzees.

So, while aesthetically we may not be admitted to the Ritz, we are as clean and go to go as a surgeon’s operating tools (pre-operation); and a damn sight cleaner than many of the gelled, soaped and perfumed purveyors are underneath all those contrived smells.

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Midday.

By the River La Mayenne. Thirty-minute ride to be here, but it was worth it – well worth it. Peaceful river. Fisherman. Family on a little cruise boat. Hikers. Bikepackers. All rested within a little village. And benches – beauuuutiful benches 😃

Draped on Finkel is the fly-sheet, on Einhorn the tent, spread out on the ground are the, ahem, groundsheets, the bike covers are open and hanging on posts, and other things are scattered. I’m optimistic that conditions will dry out our things sufficiently before we continue making our merry way towards Chemille-en-Anjou, some 50km of very-pleasant-looking bike-ride away, passing through the city of Angers, as we make our way South-Westerly tracing the river.

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21:35. Crickets chirrup. A distant dog barks at the rising moon. It’s 21.5º. The sodden evening of yesterday feels so far away. The whole temperate Northern-European-Thing seems to have surrendered to a more Southern vibe, without much in the way of warning. We were told by numerous people that France is a country made up of very distinct countries: you travel x-amount of kilometres in any direction and you enter a different world. “Yeah,” we thought, “we are all sensitive to things like that within our own countries.”

However, Normandy clearly gave way to Pays-de-la-Loire, which, aside from some great looking apples and pears, wasn’t the most endearing part of the pleasure-fest that has been the majority of France so far since re-entering at Dieppe just over a week ago. A ‘week’: not much, in terms of time, but an age in terms of memories and experiences.

Then today, as we entered Avrillé, we felt all Souther European. Followed by exiting the lazily, beautifully situated city of Angers, along the River Loire, to be greeted by vineyards and grapes, and fields and vineyards, and rolling hills and beautiful views, and picturesque towns where families do picturesque things, savouring the pleasures of life, just for the pleasure and nothing more, in a way certain slightly more uptight or self-conscious Northern European countries struggle vainly to imitate. But yes, another country. This is not the grandeur that is Normandy, this is not the drizzly Midlands on a Tuesday afternoon of Pays-de-la-Loire, this is not the new seaside development of Avrillé, this is not the island coastal vibe of Angers. This is the vineyard cliché of France.

Now I see that France does indeed have many distinct aspects to it. Each could be said to be a cliché, but they’re just one part, one fragment of the fascinating, charming patchwork that makes up this country. It offers so much, but in an unfussy way, in its own way, in its own time, in its own place; trying to be nothing other than as it is. Of course, this is the unforced joie de vivre that gives it its grace and charm. It’s not a show, or maybe it is, but it’s all so practised, so rehearsed by now, that it’s second nature, which is nature to the unschooled observer.

I often felt that the problem many people seem to have with the French is that they are not French – and I’m not seeing anything to disprove that. We’re only 430km in, it’s a big country and there’s a whole load that can happen between now and next time to colour my view another shade, but on top of the view I had held previously, of a people prepared to be who they are as a people, rather than bend too far to the voracious caprice of neoliberal globalisation, I now see the France that many have spoken of – so, sorry for being trite, but I’m just being honest – of a nation of people that know how to enjoy life. Well, I hope they do enjoy life, because they sure know how to do pleasure, and their country and well-tended surroundings and environment play their role majorly majorly majorly, too, so it’d be a shame if they didn’t. I know I am – and I know we are.

Just hope I can find someone to have a look at my front derailleur on our rest day in La Roche-sur-Yon cos’ me chain coming off a couple of times soured the joyful flavours somewhat; but again, mainly it’s because of my own limitations at not knowing what to do about it. So, as with certain attitudes towards the French, they and it are based upon an awareness of our own shortcomings rather than anything inherent in the people or, on this occasion, Finkel.

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Buildings

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Saturday 12 August 2017: Les Cassieres to Forest-before-Feneu [Part 1]

0643. Tent. In some managed forest in Pays-de-la-Loire, some 30km or so to the West of Le Mans. We thought that would be our destination for the day, and that, it being a large, well-known, glamorous city an’ all, we would stay with a Warmshowers’ host there. We contacted four from the contrived comfort of our hotel room yesterday and the day before, but to no avail thus far. To be honest,  I wasn’t that keen on jutting East just to see a city. Actually, it wasn’t the city so much as the jutting. Now, in the absence of any replies, we’ve decided to continue more directly Southwards, which excites me infinitely more.

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From the maps, the terrain looks more varied and interesting – and just heading to a city? why? for the sake of it? just because it’s there? As destinations, cities just don’t hold any appeal right now. Yes, some may have beauty, some may have charm, some may have another aspect that makes them memorable, but most all are just conurbations built to serve a function; they don’t exist just to exist and lack that naïve quality that is maybe so beguiling about other more community-evolved settlements.

But where does, really? Either human or non-human, all developments and evolutions do so interdependently, and serve some function. And some develop this way; and some develop that way. And for some arbitrary subjectivity, this makes that one beautiful; that makes this one charming; the other makes it something else. Like with everything else, everything is what we make it to be: nothing has these qualities inherent in them. Qualities are perceived and invested with meaning by the beholder.

For me, a city’s just a city: bricks, cement, traffic, shops, people. They all have their own atmosphere, sure, and cannot be tarred with the same brush, but most exist to serve function rather than romance – and very few have developed with the bicycle in mind. They have veins of streets to pull the traffic in, out and through. Some do this more effectively than others; and some have managed to do this in a manner that allows a cyclist to meander and enjoy the city in the way that a pedestrian might, but many paths and roads exist just to get you from A to B as efficiently as existing infrastructure allows.

Many can be enjoyed, once you’re there and have planned an optimal route or followed a reliable instinct, but these, to me, for now, on this trip, are incidences of making the best, and taking the positives of everywhere, wherever we go:

    • if they’re pretty much on the way – do we have a way? – we meander through and have a feel.
    • if we need a sizeable enough town a day in order to be able to stock up on supplies for the day.
    • if we are in need of bricked accommodation.

But now we’re touring for real again, with no real aim except to enjoy the present and follow our hearts to who-knows-where-that-may-lead? And as we ride on the wave of beauty and pleasure that carried us through Normandy, Le Mans just seems to jut out that way: not part of the natural rhythm we’re on.

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So, for all this pointless philosophising, conjecturing or whatever, we’re just going with the flow – our flow! I like that, and we like that. And, as the days progress, the pure simplicity of just riding, eating and riding, then finding a place to pitch our tent, is a joy built more and more on our own requirements.

From time to time, it’s nice to kick back, relax and refresh in a concrete shelter, but mainly we are bicycle tourers, where the most that comes between the winds and us are a couple of layers of nylon canvas, and we lay our heads amidst the sounds of the worlds we inhabit calling to and fro. That’s how we like it, and that’s how we love it. I guess it’s still a gilded cage, but it feels so much larger, with so much unexplored, with so much unknown, that the occasional comfort of familiarity that four walls may provide holds little temptation – at least, for the moment.

So Le Mans seems a pointless diversion 😄

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Perfectly Plotted

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Friday 11 August 2017: Alençon to Les Cassieres

12:31. Alençon. 21ºC. Temperature’s shot up, the Sun’s out, and the clouds are scattered. Hopefully a nice day in prospect. Pissed it down during the night. Hopefully it pissed itself out and we’re not racing the same cloud that’s been around over the last three days.

We’ll see.

As long as we get to keep most things dry by the time we camp and decamp, it’s not much of an issue. Nice to be able to strip off the extra top and bottom layer upon exiting a finely functional Ibis hotel: nice spacious room, great shower, great breakfast selection, very friendly and helpful staff. A toilet-brush would’ve been nice – Ew! – and we could’ve done without one guest persistently trying to toast the inappropriately shaped baguette in the toaster, and subsequently failing on a number of occasions, allowing us and fellow guests to breakfast in the fine atmosphere of burnt toast. He got there in the end, by maybe the fourth attempt. By which time I think he had a point to prove, both to himself and us fellow guests.

And now our journey South continues. Very shortly we’ll be leaving Normandy, which has captured all our senses so very much – the attack of pleasure upon them all that it is. Will all of France continue to cast such a spell? People say, “no,” but experience will tell – and we are looking forward to it, so…

Today we head for Sillé-le-Guillaume – 36k, and toward the tiny tiny village of Les Cassieres, which is less a destination than a direction, as it lies just beyond a forest or wood in which we’ll hopefully make camp.

Away!

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“These are not unspoilt, unmanaged forests, but they are being managed very well, so the bits that are being, let’s say ‘unmanaged’ for the time being, or left to regrow, are left to their own devices, and look unspoilt, so, yeah, I’d say: ‘Very well managed.’ They seem to rip out carefully selected parts and use them for whatever, but then just leave the others to develop pretty much as maybe they have since time immemorial. Of course, there are the more familiar pine-tree forests, which, I would say, are not that native to these parts to be so ubiquitous, but there are still these really old-school looking forests, which are still pretty hostile and wild. So managed, yes, of course, but a balance appears to be being kept. It would seem France knows how to do these things.”

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15:40. Plop! The fish are feeding. The dragonfly are acrobaticking. The island spinney rests before us. France, you are yet to cease throwing up splendid surprises as we make our continuously merry way through you.

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A little bit more ascending than descending today, but none has felt at all unpleasant. The extended downhills have been great, and the vistas at almost every turn of the head are the love of life. After descending out of Mont-Saint-Jean – yes, we had to ascend to get into it first – and pausing for a wee drink and an apple, before making our way to and through Sillé de Guillaume, to stop somewhere for dinner, before, again, making our way towards Les Cassieres and bed, we climbed amongst some beautiful unspoilt-looking forest.

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“Giver of life”

As Agnieszka put it to herself (she thought)
as we rounded a corner.

A lake. Beautiful.

Benches, too!

“Dinner?”

Dinner!

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What a spot! I’d say: “What a find!’ but I now think that France has plotted all these things for us, on a special mission to leave us with a magical impression and destroy any negative preconceptions an indoctrinated English person may care to have. If it has done so to such cynical ends, I thank you, anyway. If it hasn’t, which, of course, I truly believe to be the case, then, “thank you, again.” It really is a pleasure getting to know you.

And, as we have exited Normandy and entered Pays-de-la-Loire, what else does this country have in store?

The nature and everything: nothing feels off limits. It’s like: it’s here, it’s there – enjoy it! Great, just great. That shouldn’t be the exception, as it is in many other places we have visited – and it isn’t here. Another reason to just be; and just be happy 😁

Sun Chasing

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Wednesday 09 August 2017: Saint-Pierre-des-Loges to the Char Sherman Memorial

10:35. Park-Bench, Saint-Pierre-des-Loges.

Water’s on the stove. Tent and fly are draped over the bikes; bike covers are similarly draped over a fence; Agnieszka’s poncho, too. The ground sheet is spread out on the floor to catch some distant Sun. My gears and chain sound a bit crunchier today. I’m a bit damp.

It pissed it down early yesterday evening.

Pissed.

It.

Down.

We’re practised now, though, so nothing got wet that shouldn’t get wet and we had a great night’s sleep cocooned in our nylon shell.

We do like our tent.

Decamped efficiently, and, yes, we now sit on a bench, with the feeble Sunlight gallantly making an effort to warm us. The coffee now brewing will help, and the avocado kanapki are going down well, too.

A similar ride, in terms of distance and goal, in prospect today. Another night under canvas and, I’ve got to say, the weather looks like it may have similar conditions in store; but if we’re able to get the wet things mostly dry and packed away before we set off again, it’ll be OK; well, it’ll have to be, whatever.

Tomorrow will be our eighth day with some riding involved; a couple of those days have been really easy though. However, you should always eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty, rest before you’re tired, blahdy blahdy blahdy, so we had thought that a rest day on Friday would be nice. However, in the absence of a Warmshowers’ host, friends in the area, or the desire to spend our diminishing funds on a two-night stay in a hotel, we’ve opted for a short ride to a hotel tomorrow morning for an early afternoon check-in, followed by some cleaning, some wifi-ing, and resting – possibly with a few beers in the evening – before continuing our way Southward Friday morning.

Chasing that Sun.

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Seems like we’re slipping into a kind of morning routine now, where, upon waking, we decamp and move off until the nearest suitable breakfast spot is come across. This serves two, maybe three, purposes: we get packed up and keep dry things dry; we get packed up and move on until a time when things can dry out and we can fuel; and maybe number three: we inch a little further along our merry way. So, we’re nice and chilled in the mornings, and ready to focus on and enjoy the riding through the afternoons.

Today we’ve got a fair old way to cover before our main stop – about 32k. The temperature’s up to 21º now from 12º; layers are off and that damp cold feeling’s gone – so here’s to some more of that good ol’ bicycle touring 😃

Wouldn’t be surprised at more rain or showers later, though.

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Normandy is, without doubt, within my world of experience so far, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Even the exhilarating downhills reward you with beautiful vistas. The vast majority of buildings sit unobtrusively, as one with, and complementary to, the natural surroundings, due in no small part to the building materials being sourced from the area. The towns and cities are charm-fests, and the natural surroundings, well, non-exotic as they are, in the sense that they are non-mountainous, non-coastal and Northern European, similar to where I myself come, are just breathtakingly wonderful and amazing – reminding us all of what the countryside is and can be. Simply marvellous.

I keep saying this at least once a day on our little way through France so far, but it is wonderful to be alive, and all our preparations would be worth it if it was for this and this alone.

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“Norman rain: famous actor in er 1917.

“We’ve stopped near a sherman tank. Every boy of ten has maybe dreamed about driving one or played with a toy version of them, at least when I was a kid. We stand near the Char Sherman Memorial.

“A family’s just dashing back to their car.

“We find shelter in the middle of Normandy. When we’re going downhill, we’re rewarded with views. When we’re going uphill, the uphills are slightly less than the downhills. When it starts pissing it down, a shelter is presented to us…

…on every occasion, I kid you not. Ja pierdolę! Yeah.”

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“What do you think, Aga?”

“I’m really happy we’re here; and I really want us to stay here for the night, and I think we will.”

“I think we will, yeah, it looks like er…”

“Wow!”

“Y’see, the bad thing with this weather is: it’s bad weather. The good thing with the bad weather is: not many people are going to be wandering around.”

“Exactly. I think it’s perfect. No-one. I think it’s perfect, because we’re in the middle of this big, beautiful, old forest. It’s like Beskidy of Normandy.”

“It’s fucking…”

“Listen to that – that’s the roof!”

“Ja pierdolę.”

“Seriously. We were riding. We got to Le Bouillon. The rain did start to get a little heavier. We thought: ‘OK, we’ll stop at a bus shelter until it eases up.’ We rode a bit – and the rain just came on – and we saw this shelter. We stopped and thought: ‘OK, looks kind of nice.’

And the heavens have fucking opened.

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And, er, this is not only a shelter for now, but possibly the evening. Normandy keeps providing us with the answers to all of the problems we may be presented with. Whatever happens, whenever we leave Normandy, it will have a place in our hearts forever, I believe.”

“No, babe, it hasn’t been all good. I mean, we got absolutely drenched yesterday. We were basically just standing, because we got so stupidly wet. Our dry-bags and panniers got wet – inside! Everything was wet.”

“Can I just stop you there, Aga? because I believe only someone’s panniers were wet inside, because, I don’t know, maybe they weren’t closed properly – what do you reckon?”

“There, there were too many things…”

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

“We both made mistakes. My pannier…my dry-bag was wet inside because I thought it’d be a good idea to open it while it was raining. Hmmm.”

Epilogue

2130. In the tent. Under the shelter. Perfectly blending the human and the natural. Camping within a human-made bricks-and-mortar structure, yet open to the world and still exposed. No sign of a let up in the rain. As Agnieszka remarked earlier: “This is a definition of being in the right place at the right time.”

And it is.

We’ve been kind of lucky, or have we made our own luck? or have we just made the best of whatever’s put in our way so that it’s felt like luck?

Doesn’t matter, really.

For many other people, having to bed down under a shelter to avoid getting piss wet through on the way to no-specific-destination may not be a definition of ‘fun’ or ‘luck’.

For us, we’re made up.

Maybe we’re getting better at reacting and proacting, so that we’re getting less likely to put ourselves in unfortunate situations. Since entering France it does seem like the downhills have been longer than the ups; the ups have had more tailwinds than not; and every corner has presented us with a solution to a potential problem.

Yesterday, as the heavens opened in Anceins, where we figured we’d have a wee stop and a check of our route: a shelter available to do all of that and wait for a dry moment to get back on our way. Yes, it did piss it down as we stopped to make camp in the evening, but it gave us a long enough break in order to do so – keeping saturation to a minimum (there was still a lot, though).

This morning, our breakfast stop allowed us to, yes, breakfast, and air our things well. Later on this evening, as we chased the blue skies, entering Le Bouillon, we lost the chase and the heavens opened again – just as we turned a corner to see a bus shelter, where we stopped, had a yummy yoghurt made from Normandy milk, and amused a cheeky gang of sisters and a brother.

Then, as the downpour ceased, we got on our way – till it threatened again, where we are now: this very place we thought we’d hole up in until it ceased again. Then thought: “Fuck it, let’s eat and pitch here!”

Which we did.

Indulging in more fabulous French food. Wow! It is so surprisingly fabulous to a degree I hadn’t imagined. Every food and flavour sings in your mouth and demands your undivided attention. It’s a truly Zen thing. When you eat, you eat; and you enjoy it and live it for all that it is.

And wow!

The food here just makes you happy. Enough to make a grey moment light. In fact, vanquish it forever. We passed what I guess would be the equivalent of a Polish milk-bar earlier and thought: “That would probably be a four-star restaurant in terms of food quality in England.” And it’s not done for any other reason than it makes eating a pleasure, an event, an unpretentious event that just puts a smile on your face.

And the environment as well.

And the riding – has it been designed for cyclists? or is there a bit of France for everyone? or Normandy at least?

One thing I do know is: Normandy, we love you, and, by extension, France, so far we love you, too. Your tastes, your smells, your sights, your sounds – and your riding and camping. You’re a dream I don’t want to wake up from.

The Bare Essentials

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Tuesday 08 August 2017: La Chapelle-Hareng to Touquettes

10:50am. Bernay. We’ve backtracked a little – 8km – before we really begin our day, to ensure we’re able to shop and stock up on supplies. I guess I can now understand that when Napoleon is supposed to have said ‘the English are a nation of shopkeepers’, this may have been used pejoratively: outside of the towns your chances of finding or passing a shop on the off-chance are limited. That’s not to say they’re not there, but stand out they don’t.

Was OK yesterday as we had a grand breakfast by the peace-tree in the forest, a decadent crêpe in the ridiculously picturesque village of Le Bec-Hellouin, and had the comfort of knowing we had some Warmshowers’ hosts awaiting us within a reasonable enough distance if we didn’t find a shop along our way.

Today, and for the next few days, wild camping’s on the cards, so each shop takes on an extra significance. Little things you take for granted at home, but don’t consider until you can’t.

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Like water.

You need it for coffee, you need it to cook, and you need it to drink.

Oh,

and you need it to clean.

The pots.

Yourself.

“But that’s different water.”

Er, no, it isn’t, and if you haven’t got it or you’re not carrying enough, you’ll have to sacrifice one or more of those things.

And they are all non-sacrificeable; to the same degree.

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Maybe you don’t have to clean as much as you need to eat, but, really, don’t you? that’s also pretty much non-negotiable; at least, from where I’m sitting, anyway.

So, for now, we shop. Well, Agnieszka shops. I stand with the bikes doodling words whilst she shops. It works better for our diet, I’m sure, but it would be nice if I could do it more often; or we could do it together; but, Finkel and Einhorn!

Grey and drizzly at the moment. Could be a damp camp. We’re both glad our meander is Southward. We’re not afraid of a bit of rain or cold, but the absence of them does make life a little simpler; a little easier.

From here, we plan to head South, following a river about as far as it goes to Anceins, about 30k away. Looks like it could be a nice route. From there, as we should still be good for another 20, we’re heading towards Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, via Touquettes. Sandwiched between those two is a huge patch of green, likely to be a forest, where we hope to pitch our tent.

Looks like another nice day’s riding in prospect, and about 57km covered towards the South.

For now, breakfast 😀

French food – you b*st*rd!

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Normandy, we ❤️ you.