The Reluctant Butterfly

The Coast around L’Houmeau to Les Pierriéres Field: Monday 21 August 2017

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“The place is alive with butterflies.”

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And snails.

The Reluctant Butterfly

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Living jewels dancing in the morning sun
Looking for love
An extension of themselves
Open up your wings
Claim your energies
Lively up a scene blanched with broken shells

Embroider life on dust,
where man made none.
Oblivious to all your nature brings

More precious felt within
Allowed to bear witness
You kissed us on the shin,
on the thigh, and on the cheek
Blushed aside by embarrassment,
Inwardly, a cry
Giggling

Tarred with a little shame
as we recoiled at your stroke
You seemed a little hurt and rolled your wings like in a wilt
Then

as I glanced away,
unfurled your flame and flew away.

Leaving me amongst the shells that stealthily assume
a life I hadn’t seen
behind the veil I’d placed between
Ubiquitous
Themselves performing their merry dance.
Texturing the scene the light danced up

And me
Within its heart
Welcomed back
The orphan child

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11:30. E’Leclerc. A guy who has quite clearly had quite a serious stroke going out of his way to communicate with me, which he did – which we did. A beautiful moment of humanity shared.

You see – we can do it 😃

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“Feels like we’ve changed climate, doesn’t it?”

16:00. Break. “Yipes!” Brushes grassho… no, cri… , no, er… praying mantis! Standing there, proud as punch – maybe shook out of its exoskeleton by this blundering giant that had just destroyed its slumber.

I was a bit taken aback, too 😱

“Well, stop looking like a blade of grass if you don’t wanna get run over!”

“And you eat men.”

Unless it was a man.

We were both on shaky ground.

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On and Off

Île de Ré and Back [Part 3]: Sunday 20 August 2017

23:09

Camping
On the coast
Sky is beautiful
Sounds are beautiful

Moods are tetchy.

We’ve noticed, accurately or not, that the wind on this coast veers between two extremes: complete calm and gusty-muthafuck. Tranquility in the morning. Gusty-muthafuck from about sundown (until we-don’t-know-when).

We’ve decided to camp here.

The tent’s swelling in and out like it’s on an overamped ventilator. The noises from outside are impudent thieves belligerently flicking off Finkel and Einhorn’s covers, secure in the knowledge they’re more than enough for our flagging wills.

And we’re tetchy.

Not being able to get a good night’s sleep should help.

In this game, you have to be understanding at all times – and we are fine – but sometimes: one of you will want to go on; one of you may want to stop; one of you will have overlooked something; one of you will absent-mindedly break something.

Sometimes, shit happens.

Which is great for sensitising yourself to the foibles of others while synergetically becoming sensitive to your own – and accepting them all as part and parcel of it all.

We had a couple of incidences today. We rolled over the first, as you do, as just a symptom of two souls who had not had coffee yet. And we were more than ready to acknowledge and apologise when we were the ones at fault at further incidences along the way.

Which is great.

And this evening’s sourness while putting up the tent was probably nothing, too, but coming on top of the further adjusting to the realities of keeping these wheels rolling, could we be approaching times when the shine starts coming off and the negatives speak more loudly?

Now we are doing this
and discovering how we feel within it.
We still speak, act, move in the same way.
We both speak, act, move in our own ways.
How long will they remain?

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Oh, I don’t know. It’s just been an on-and-off day today. Sadly, it seems like much of the off is going to continue through the night, powered by this coastal wind.

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Italy 2018

via Italy 2018

We are in a process of uploading our 2018 Touring Gallery. The journey took us from  Ferrara in Italy through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia to Bulgaria. An incredible experience it was.

Follow the link Italy 2018 if you wish to see the images from our brief yet beautiful Italian journey from Ferrara to Gorizia, before entering Slovenia. Enjoy ✌🏼🚵🏽‍♂️🚵🏽‍♀️

 

Down to the Molecule

Corn Field 12k beyond La Tranche-sur-Mer to Coast around L’Houmeau [Part 3]: Saturday 19 August 2017

2150. In the tent. On the coast. You automatically feel like exclaiming: “We’ve made it!” And I’m sure that will be the tag accompanying a photo or two relating to today. It does, however, have a sounding of finality to it: a sense of destination reached – and we don’t really have a destination. Is there such a thing as a destination, anyway? There are landmarks and achievements, but nothing really stops – ever. Even when we reach a stage where we’re not conscious of moving, we will be – on some level. Even when others see us as no more than atoms and cells and molecules, we will still be journeying on: our voices and actions reverberating somewhere, spreading ever further. We may not be conscious, in the traditionally accepted sense, of this continuous dispersal, but a bundle of experiences that became conveniently labelled ‘we’ will be out there, living their own conscious lives, experiencing their own experiences, being experienced, and becoming further experiences; only detached from this frame, so they can no longer be acknowledged and claimed by this thing called ‘I’.

But, we’ve made it to the sea; well, the ocean – as Agnieszka keeps reminding us both. And like meeting and crossing the Czech border, it does feel like some kind of landmark. Smiles beamed broader, spirits rose higher, and that selfie-stick came out for maybe only the second time – the other time being at that Czech border. And it felt spontaneously, unforcedly joyous, so who cares what it meant? or whether it should mean any particular thing? It meant what it did as it happened, for no other reason than it did; and if that was a cliché, then there’s a reason that clichés exist.

And it did crown a wonderful day. A chilled get up in a place you’d never sell as an idyllic overnight stop in a holiday brochure, but which turned out to be a beautiful peaceful place to wake up in, take it easy, breakfast, chat, stretch, and ease into the day while the heavily condensated camping gear dried out. Then a fabulous ride through the flat marshlands of sand reclaimed from the sea, which make up this part of France. Distant distant horizons, lovely weather, the synchronised surfacing fish posse: a natural wonder I will never forget, a man named Geoff, a dog named beautiful, a beaver beavering, some nature reserves of storks, the falcons, the buzzards, the dinner by the road – then we meet the coast as our day’s riding draws to an close.

Lovely.

Using that word a lot this Summer. Lazy writing? Limited vocabulary? Perhaps, but it seems the aptest in my book, so what’s the point of using others? That’d be like using socks as gloves because you felt you were overusing the gloves. Oh, the socks may serve some glovely function, but the fit wouldn’t quite be right, and there’d be a sense of discomfort whenever you wore them.

So, ‘lovely’ it is.

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Your Own Voices

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

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.

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Electrohoppers

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

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 😃😗

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Favourable Conditions

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

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

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

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

Alençon to Les Cassieres: Friday 11 August 2017

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 😁

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