Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Perpignan, France to Valence, France: Goodbye, Sea; Hello, Rhone!

"Age is just a number... unless you're a bottle of wine."

I was sad to leave two of the most gracious hosts I had had for my entire tour, Genevieve and Bruno, the parents of Antoine, who was a friend of Francois's. They fed me every meal and when I left gave me enough food to make two very generous sandwiches (when they asked what kind of meat and cheese I liked I thought they were just making conversation). Despite my multiple offers to help them with whatever they might need, they insisted I relax and enjoy myself. It's kindness like that almost seems too much because I'm not sure how to repay it, but I think one way is to actually relax and enjoy myself. Remember, I did not come across them via Warmshowers – they are the parents of a friend of a friend (Francois), and said friend stayed only one night while I stayed two.

Hello, Eurovelo 8!

I gave them a dime (US currency) because it means they'll have to visit the US to spend it: maybe I can repay their kindness then. And you can bet they'll be getting a postcard in the mail sometime soon!

(as do all my hosts – side note, I should be caught up at this point. If you hosted me more than three weeks ago and haven't gotten a postcard or an e-mail saying I don't have your address, pester me! For donors, I am holding off on sending August postcards until I get to Switzerland since I already sent a round from France)

They were also my first host that didn't speak any English – or no more English than the average American speaks French, anyways (think “voila,” “bonjour,” “bon appetite,” etc). I mentioned in my last post there were times of confusion, but for the most part we were able to talk about almost everything. We did keep a dictionary nearby.

My favorite moment, oddly enough, was actually the night before I left: they'd suggested a great way to learn French might be to watch TV, so we watched a show called (roughly translated) “Some trains are not like others” about a guy who takes trains to random places and talks to people on the train and at the destination – kind of like what I do! They enjoyed it, I enjoyed it, and we had that in common, which, for an hour anyways, relieved me of any nervousness otherwise caused by the language barrier (just for posterity's sake, I do want to say that the nervousness and the language barrier were all my fault: they were gracious and kind and patient and did nothing wrong).

When I left Perpignan, I had about 9 days to do a five-day ride – I have a friend in Lyon I'd very much like to visit, but she's on vacation until August 5th. So, I've been indulging myself in every fancy, which basically means naps, picnic tables, views, etc. To be honest, it's been really tough. I thrive on a sense of progress, so forcing myself to only go 30 miles a day has been incredibly difficult (depending on the terrain and wind I usually do 60-70; 100 is not unheard of). The heat helps because it means naps are useful and possible, but there isn't a heck of a lot to do or see in this part of France – little that doesn't involve leaving my bike (AKA everything I own) in the middle of a busy city, anyways. And yes, I love going for walks and being outdoors, but to kill 4 days doing it amidst a bicycle tour? – a movie night, video game, or a book starts to sound really appealing (I have been unable to find many books in English, and I am already copiously strained during the day trying to learn French – I'm uncertain that I'd enjoy, just now, looking up every other word in a novel! But maybe I'll try it...). I've tried, once again, to find a host on Couchsurfing, as there are many in Lyon: either nobody wants to host a touring cyclist, I didn't give enough notice, or I'm doing something else wrong. Even manual labor for hours on end is starting to sound appealing: at least I'd be engaged!

Goodbye, Pyrenees!
Kick-ass aqueduct
Hello, foothills of the Alps!

I will say I've done a fine job not managing to sink back into depression, even when I find myself thinking about the big questions like purpose and meaning. Why am I doing this tour? What am I getting out of it? Is it worth being away from my friends? Asking those questions has, if anything, improved my mood. And I'm sure I'll get around to expounding my answers in this blog sooner or later.

For stealth camping, I can now add to the count the back of two vineyards, a(nother) forest, and a nice picnic place along the Rhone. Just outside the forest was a Monster Truck rally until 2 AM, so I didn't get much sleep that night; along the Rhone, there was a barge with extremely bright lights also kind enough to wake me up at 2 AM (I guess seeing where you're going is important when you're a giant boat on a river – lots of obstacles and it takes a while to stop with all that momentum).

Sunset over the Rhone: almost as bright as the lights of that boat.

After a few incidents on bumpy roads with my gear almost falling off the back, I also decided to reconfigure it a bit and haven't had any issues since. Granted, I hadn't had any issues in the 4 months since I'd left, but now I have a little more peace of mind as things don't move around nearly as much (I would periodically reach back to check on my uke, only to find it was hanging off the back. It never fell, but it made me nervous).

I also stayed with another Warmshowers host, Anne and Pierre. They are also fans of outdoor adventure, and would have had me another day except they had a hiking trip in the Alps to attend to! They offered to let me pitch my tent in their garden anyways. In the name of taking my time, I wish I'd said “yes,” but of course when they asked, my urge to progress came over me and I continued on my way.

Anne and Pierre are winning the "how many flavors of ice cream" competition started by my sister in DC. 12. All homemade.

Cheese: the course.

The evening before the night in the forest, I was taking lunch just outside said forest when a group of people walked by and inquired about my trip. One of them ended up inviting me over for a Coke, which became a beer, and when we got talking about his hobbies, it turned out he made jam! We lamented the amount of sugar in commercially available jam, and the result was him giving me one of his homemade jars – apricot, my favorite. We didn't communicate super well, but it was nice to have someone to talk to, and kind of him to offer me a beer and some jam. I asked if I could put my tent in his yard, but he declined, needing to be somewhere later that evening. He insisted, however, that I wouldn't be bothered in the forest, and I wasn't (except by the noises from the monster trucks).

I'm afraid, dear readers, that's it for this round! Not much has happened that is out of the ordinary (given I've been in France almost a month now!) – I have biked, it has been hot, I've eaten croissants, I've experienced kindness. The rest can be better told by photos. To be honest, I will be sad to leave France, which will happen in less than a week. I feel like I've got a routine here, and I'm scared to go places where I don't speak the language. But that I've made France a comfort zone also intimates I need to go – one of the reasons for this trip, after all, is to do one thing every day that scares me.

Canal village!

It's always interesting to see US History in other countries.

I will say that I am excited for what's to come. I am excited to WWOOF in Ukraine, where I'll have a home for a month, assuming everything goes well (eg, they like me and I like them). I am also ridiculously excited to bike through the middle east. I've started researching visas and I might not get to go everywhere I want to go, but I'm sure going to try. Everything I've read about traveling through countries like Iran says the people are zealously kind and hospitable. The outcome of this trip I'm most looking forward to is being able to say, during conversations about places stigmatized by the media, “Yea, I've actually been there, and here's what it's really like: ….” There are a number of blogs out there that do this already, but to experience it for myself will be something else.

This is not to downplay the things in between – Germany, Hungary, and Greece, for instance. I am looking forward to those places, too. But so far my tour has only taken place in first world countries. Soonish, things will change. Soonish, I'll be back out of my comfort zone. And that keeps me going.


  1. What is your planned route now?

    Love, Mom

    1. Friend in Lyon, friend in Switzerland, engineering museum in Germany, whatever is between Germany and Ukraine, Ukraine.

  2. Sorry I don't always comment, but know that I am reading! Its a wonderful blog - I love reading your descriptions of the food, places, and people you are encountering, and have really enjoyed seeing you grow as you write about those bigger questions. Much love <3 -Shi

    1. You don't always have to comment, but thank you for doing so! I'd be interested to hear your observations on how I've grown -- sometimes those observations are different from the outside than on the inside.