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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Sun Chasing

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

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.

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