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.

Drawing Lines

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Monday 03 July 2017: Bielsko-Biała to Cieszyn

It’s 6:45am. A hoarse cockerel is a-cock-a-hackle-a-phlegming. The Sun is shining. We’re super well fed – Teresa and Andrzej’s hospitality, once again, outstanding: home from home – and it’s time to hit the road again. Hooray!

But first, to decide in which direction to leave Poland and enter Czechia. Our original plan was, and maybe still is, to head for Wisła – the source of Poland’s great river – via Szczyrk, at around the 50km-mark, which makes for a pleasant day’s distance and will take us through some beautiful places, but – there is a ‘but’.

From our location South-East of Bielsko-Biała we have a 16km ride to Szczyrk. However, the entire way is a constant climb, and while none of it looks particularly steep, over an hour’s riding, carrying 30-35kg, in Poland’s Summer heat, non-stop, uphill, could be pretty demoralising, depending on how our green bodies and minds react. From there, the climbing continues until about 10km from Wisła – making 26-odd kilometres. So about three hours of constant climbing, ascending about 700 metres from our current position. We would then be rewarded by a rapid and constant descent into Wisła, which would be gratefully received for the last part of our journey, so … Option A.

Option B is the more typical route – similarly beautiful and scenic: we are already in the mountains and this is a beautiful region. This way to Cieszyn is much more undulating, so respite from the climbing, but there are some fierce gradients, which could make for some hairy and harsh riding; being the more popular route to the border may mean we’ll be trying to share the road with many more of the petrol-driven monsters that rule our lives, and fearing the intention of every vehicle that approaches. Coaches in particular seem to resent the bicycle and do their darnedest to squeeze them and fear them from the tarmac veins they must feel is their birthright.

Have just received a reply from some potential Warmshowers’ hosts, who are gracefully able to offer us accommodation; only for Tuesday evening, as they will be away for their own tour Wednesday morning, so, in order to realistically be able to reach there at a reasonable time for us and for them, Option B wins the day.

At 10:29am, with 101.27km and 7 hours 50 minutes riding on the clock, and a temperature of 21.3º on the thermometer, away we go! making our way towards Cieszyn, with a final destination of Vojkovice – in Czechia!!! At some point today, we’ll be crossing the border. To have cycled into another country: exciting 😃

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It’s now 12:09, and we stopped in Skoczów about 30 minutes ago, after just over an hour of beautiful riding; maybe the most enjoyable section of riding so far. Clear sunny skies, with a cooling breeze, and much undulation (trending generally downwards). We’ve encountered courteous car-drivers – on a Monday! – and a group of cyclists coming in the opposite direction as we entered Skoczów, where we exchanged friendly greetings that really warmed my heart and raised spirits even higher; though I must remember to be careful about exchanging greetings approaching a roundabout on a fully-laden bike, as the brief but significant front-wheel wobble urgently warned me 🤭

After doing my stretching in the charming Rynek in Skoczów while Agnieszka does a coffee and food run, I realise again how quickly things can change. I’m here in a strange town, alone (for the moment), in a Rynek, going through my stretching routine as if at home, without giving a shit about what the numbers of people passing by may think 😊

Skoczów: really lovely. Really.

And on we go, with 18 extra kilometres on the clock, so 119.47km, and almost nine hours of bike moving. We’ve, for sure, got more up than down into and through Cieszyn, but hey – whatever, whatever 😁

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At exactly 2pm, after practically ten hours of riding, three and a half days, and 134km, we stand half-way across a short bridge spanning the River Osle on the edge of Cieszyn … and at the beginning of a new country – Czechia!!! Despite the fact that it’s just another human-made boundary – actually, it’s a river, so quite a natural one, but you know what I mean – it’s a great feeling nonetheless. Wow!!! We remain Poland-side as we have paused for the obligatory – are they obligatory? – photos and selfies.

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Then, with a simple little push, we symbolically and politically 😱 enter a new world.

Great stuff. So excited!