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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The Bare Essentials

La Chapelle-Hareng to Touquettes: Tuesday 08 August 2017

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.

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Two Approaches

Mailberg to Vienna: Thursday 13 July 2017

11:45am. Kleinweikersdorf.

Breakfast is ordered. Eggs and mushrooms, and a glass of orange juice. Won’t be the from-the-garden fare of Lisa and Joey, who are admirably living self-sufficiently, according to permaculture principles, with a chilled, open outlook to life and people.

Lovely friendly welcome from all, including their Workaway volunteer, Natalia, and their wonderful dogs – Laika and Nino.

The wine we took as a thank-you gift was soon open and Joey began waxing lyrically about permaculture, forest-gardening, and the like. A topic and approach similarly close to our own hearts, and something we wish to learn more about on the way, and put into practice when we darken Poland’s doorstep once more.

And dinner was served: a lovely personally grown and sourced meal of millet, apricots, cranberries, nuts, honey (they also keep bees) and other yummy stuff my unskilled palate enjoyed but was unable to identify, with side-dishes of melon, watermelon and apple. Accompanied and followed by more wine, and a chill evening of relaxed chatter and banter until shortly after the midnight hour, when my day’s ride – geographically and emotionally – told me it was time to sleep.

Finally, as I lay down, with a tired body and weary mind, my thoughts refused to let me go: thoughts of home and family, and the remains of my mum clinging to her present form…

…till sleep finally claimed me and took me to where I know not.

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Waking to the sounds of a family starting to go about their day, and the dogs, Laika and Nino, wishing to give and receive a little love. A beautiful way to ease into the morning 😄

Then a smoothy made with ingredients all plucked fresh from the garden, then coffee, and honey straight from the hive. Fantastic!

Then we pack and are unfortunately unable to say a proper ‘thank you’ and ‘farewell’ to our fantastic hosts. Sorry for that, but good luck to you guys, and keep the faith.

Peace and love.

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A non-remarkable Northern European breakfast of mushroom omelette, juice and coffee. A functional eatery, where you eat. Some are here getting busy on the beer and wine, and chatting. Doesn’t feel like that kind of place to me: more like a motorway services, with a more personal service, but each to their own; and we’re functionally serviced and ready to roll.

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Paused for a hopeful ice-cream in Uglynomagicplace, aka Großmugl (ahem), but find it’s half-day here.

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We climbed out of Kleinweikersdorf pretty much non-stop, but not too steeply for about 150 metres, which rewarded us with a stunning vista and view of the Alps, seemingly nurturing all beneath their benevolent gaze. Yes, stunning, breathtaking and other apparently trite and clichéd adjectives apply here – this is just what they were designed for, and I almost regret using them in other situations that now cheapen their meaning (if I have). Then a good, solid, exhilarating descent to return to the plateau upon which we began. Lovely place and riding.

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Lovely.

Now, where is A?

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Anew Relations

Vojkovice to Valašské Meziřící: Tuesday 04 July 2017

6:20am. The roar of reinforced rubber accompanied by combustion engines propelling is thrown into sharp relief by the untold variety of birds tweeting and cawing. I think we were asleep by 10:30pm, when the noise from the nearby road subsided. Strange, you didn’t notice it until you were in the tent. The same goes for other noises, too, once you’re denied the sense us humans rely on so – or too? – heavily: sight. Once we are cocooned within the tent, other senses seem to heighten and become more attuned and sensitive to the objects that move them.

That must be the case regarding the road and the traffic. We both remarked yesterday, during what you would assume to be the peak-traffic period, that, despite being such a quality road surface, and well kept, the road was light on mechanised traffic, and therefore quiet, which made for another element in our super-nice day. Czechia, despite having its charming quirks, can’t have its rush-hour in this region between 9:30 and 10:15pm, so I hope we can look forward to another pleasant day’s riding.

Today’s destination is Valašské Meziřící, which, again, is an undulating ride in the mountains, though looking at the profile, it seems like we end up at a similar level to where we set out, so the extra 5km or so we may have to cover shouldn’t be felt too much, provided the weather doesn’t turn too nasty or Czechia drivers simultaneously decide en masse to take to all the roads.

We’re off to meet and stay with our first Warmshowers’ hosts, Michal and Zuza, who have offered dinner and a place to sleep for the night. From researching their profile it seems they are experienced tourers, so it’ll be interesting to meet them, not just as people, but to get some insight from others who have presumably ascended much of the steep learning curve we cling to now.

Gave the chains on both bikes a wipe and a lube yesterday, as both were beginning to give off mouse-like squeaks around the pulley-area of the rear derailleurs; though that can’t be it – he says, not really knowing if it can or not – as I only lubed them on Saturday. I’m hoping the bikes, just now fully laden and pulling us up hills at least 50% of the way, simply require more frequent lubing than regular bikes, and that there isn’t something annoying that will need removing from a bearing, for example, as that’s beyond my pay-grade at the moment. However, we’re experiencing similar squeaks in similar areas, so I hope it’s too much of a coincidence for it to be a symptom of anything more than regular use that requires regular maintenance. That said, I did only rub the chains down with a cloth before applying fresh lube, which I know isn’t the proper way to clean the chain, but I’m experimenting with short-cuts whilst on the road. If this doesn’t solve it, I’ll give the chains a blast of WD-40, then, once it’s dried, apply some proper, decent lube, which is supposed to be an on-the-road hack. Learning learning learning.

Glad the woman whose land we’re on offered us a sheltered place to leave our bikes for the night, as, presumably, given the fact logs are also stored there, they are in a much drier place than completely outside on this considerably dewy patch of exposed lawn.

The bikes: as an extension of us, we care about them, in ways and on levels maybe not right for material objects, but interacting with them constantly as part of our lives makes them, ahem, part of our lives, and so a relationship does develop.

I hope they’re OK.

Time to answer the call of nature and see – gonna wake that German Shepherd up when I do, though…

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12:35, and we’re sitting in Frydek Mistek, waiting for ‘brunch’ in a greasy Tex-Mex-style restaurant in the corner of the quaint, cobbled town-square. First impressions indicate a non-remarkable town, but, yes, with a well looked after centre.

Maybe, probably, there is more, but we were following our stomachs: having left our lovely overnight spot, and another gracious host, about 90 minutes later than planned.

‘Plans!?’ I’ll tell you about plans.”

“What? What will you tell me about plans?”

“Rain, surprise-rain, that’s what. How’s that do ya?”

Ah yes, the wet spanner in the works. “It’s just a bit of water: don’t panic.” And while we may not have panicked, it did cause a lot of hurried assessing and re-assessing of priorities.

But we got there, and here – and living like this is never boring or predictable 😃

The skies bode well now, but we all know what that means in this part of the world, don’t we 🙃

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With 160.28km and 12 hours 02 minutes on the clock – so 10.4k and 50 minutes done so far today – we still have 47km to go and, again, many undulations to undulate before Valašské Meziřící and hopefully meeting our potential hosts, Michal and Zuza.

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Arrive: 7:30ish.

The personal escort to the door turned out to be Zuza’s dad.

Great welcome.

Familiar chat.

Beer. Shower. Food. Beer. Wine. Bed.

An invitation to join them to Valašské Klobouky, 56km away, for some traditional harvesting in a mountain forest. Sounds like a beautiful ride through the mountains and a destination that’s right up our street 😃

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