At last I have managed to finish my second communal email – with which I send my apologies for the delay. It felt that every time I sat down to write, my creativity stood up and left. Although I am keeping a diary, it is not so detailed and most of the inspiration and ideas I put in the email come to me whilst I am cycling. I am forever stopping to scribble down a phrase or a few words on scrap pieces of paper which I then try to work into a wee story.
The last email found me in Fecamp, where I was able to rest myself and repair my bike. For many miles the bike had developed a constant creaking sound which increased as you cranked up the speed. After tightening everything that could be tightened and other things that probably shouldn’t have been I decided to seek out a second opinion. I wandered into the local Intersport bike shop and pointed to my pedal whilst making lots of creaking noises. The guy looked at me with a wee smile on his face and said “what’s the problem mate?”
Before leaving Fecamp I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to be able to face my fear of heights by trying tree walking. Although I am glad that I did, this was not an enjoyable experience. My brother Steve and his friend Francois were very patient and respectful, choosing to hide their hilarity at my expletive strewn performance as my leaden legs refused to move at the same pace as my mouth.
Although the previous weekend had consisted of good company, cuisine and cognac, sleep had been at a premium and the first few days back on the bike I was a little leg weary and tired and had quite a few protein pit stops to refuel with porridge and prunes. I was simply flat. However, the road was anything but with the constant crisscrossing of toll roads eventually taking its toll. The view was beautiful which is just as well because the speed was sedentary. I passed a sign for St Vigour thinking, yes please, but it was no use so I stopped for a wee seat and siesta against a tree. My pedals then plodded onto Brecy where I found a nice quiet campsite, read my book, watched the sunset and had a wee dram from my half empty half bottle of whiskey!
The next day I slept so late that I decided to have brunch at Brecy. Without realizing it, I had ordered the standard lunch menu and a plate appeared with more meat on it than at an abattoir. After a wee tète-à-tète with the waitress it was replaced with a sumptuous salad, a big basket of bread and two men who had decided to take up the spare seats at my table. They also decided to take up the spare bread in my basket – well, obviously it must be for sharing? When the same thing happened with my wine, I thought, some things are not for sharing! I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was but when their large plate of cheese and bread arrived I helped myself to that – it seemed like a free for all and I had no idea how they worked out the bill but for once I didn’t care, this was great fun! Looking for the loo I found the toilet cowering in a wee cupboard at the top of some narrow stairs. As I entered I bashed my head with the result that I almost passed out whilst passing water. Searching for the sink to wash my hands I bumped into a bowl so small you had to wash each finger individually. Dizzy with wine and my wound I wobbled back down the stairs, paid the bill and pedaled off. I still have no idea how much it was!
Next it was on to Le Mont St Michel, an ancient abbey perched on top of a rock which also houses a monastic community which provides a permanent spiritual presence. However, the entrance which consists of houses, shops and restaurants (which offer a different kind of spirit) was jam packed with Japanese, crammed with Koreans and bursting at the seams with British schools kids. As beautiful as it was I made a sharp exit to a few km’s along the road where I spotted a crepery. I gobbled a goat’s cheese galette with rocket salad and washed it down with a bottle of Breton cider served in a clay pot.
St Malo was the next port of call where I moored for a rest day spending it walking along the wall which surrounded the town. Again though, it was brimming with Brits ferried across from
A few days later and almost two hundred miles further south I found a deserted fully functional municipal campsite in St Urbain, which lived up to its name by being so courteous that no one wanted to take my payment.
As I was leaving another campsite in Les Sables D’Olonne I borrowed the proprietor’s foot pump and promptly broke it. The pressure I needed in my tyres was just too much for his primitive pump. He said he left a high powered job to run a campsite because he couldn’t stand the pressure – his pump nodded knowingly.
The next day in
Heading for Ile de Re I passed through a wee village which was a maze of narrow one way streets which went round and round – I could not find my way out! I eventually asked a group of kids for directions. A fifteen year old lad shouted, ”Follow” and shot off on his bike with his testosterone powered toes. I struggled to keep up as my panniers began to panic as they were bounced, bashed and bumped all over the place as we clattered through the cobbled chicane like lanes. We came to an incline and he whizzed up it like a whippet. I followed doggedly trying in vain to keep on his tail but it was hopeless. After he had become a speck in the distance he eventually stopped and looked around to find me peching and panting as I pulled my panniers up the hill. To prevent him from powering off again I presented him with a chunk of chocolate then chatted for ten minutes. I love these simple interactions. On this trip I am not so interested in seeing things but quite content just passing the time of day with people.
I cycled over the bridge to Ile de Re, a beautiful island which has been taken over by bikes, trikes and tandems with trailers and turned into a massive cycle path with more lanes than the M25. I checked out some campsites but did not check in as they were too expensive. I stumbled upon a municipal one which was half the price, twice as quiet and with three times as much space. It was basic but more than adequate. I tied my bike to a tree, pitched my tent and got directions from a German couple as to where I could find food. After a late shower at midnight the same couple invited me to their caravan for a can of beer. They had been coming to the same campsite for fourteen years. Before I realized it I blurted out “fourteen!” in a surprised tone. The German lady said, “Yes, isn’t it boring!” For once, I didn’t say a thing. Strangely enough though I wasn’t offered another beer!
With five days to fill in until I was due to meet my brother, Steve at
Before reaching Bordeaux I had the privilege of staying in my most expensive campsite to date – twenty four euro’s (£20) and that was with a 10% discount after pleading poverty! This site at Claouey had more stars than the galaxy but unfortunately it didn’t include the female whose voice was booming from the nearby bar - to be fair to her though, she was competing with the din from the disco next door. The site was so large that I couldn’t even find my spot so I just pitched my tent on one with a good view, which wasn’t that easy as the place had everything – open air cinema, shops, pool, lake, tennis, bowls, bikes for rent, barbeque area and more security guards than the Bank of England. Considering the prices they charged they were probably wealthier – they even wanted two euro’s for a wee space in a large communal fridge!
The campsites I have stayed in have ranged from the grand to the gross and invariably the finer ones are to be found slightly away from the coast. In
The 4th July is the American Day of Independence. However, it is also the day that I lost some of mine, as I met my brother at
Our holiday almost started with a bang. Just as Steve was reassembling his bike, the airport was evacuated due to a bomb scare. We had to hang about to retrieve a part of the bike which had been left behind when we were turfed out of the terminal. So it was a little later than planned that we ate at a wee bistro in the centre of
The cycle paths along the canals consisted of a mixture of hard pressed gravel, concrete, tarmac and some terrible parts which were really only suitable for mountain bikes. Steve was fine with his suspension sprung speedster but I had to nurse my bike around some bold boulders, rough it with rampant roots and career over dry paths with cracks like canyons. I was not always successful with my navigation and occasionally I came to an abrupt halt but even with my front tyre as naked as a new born bairn the bike and wheels survived - thanks, Andy!
On Steve’s budget it was red from the restaurant, on mine it was pasta from my pans at canal side. The first four night’s accommodation came to a total of 17 euro’s (£14) which included a field, a campsite with no one pressing for payment and two 2 star campsites – I guess for two Scots on holiday this is as good as it gets. The French say that the Scottish keep the thistle in their pocket so that when it comes to paying for something the hand is barely able to reach the money!
By mid week we had reached mid way and completed the Canal Garonne. To celebrate Steve treated me to a long lazy lunch in
The next day we headed for
We had everything in our week. Almost a falling in (the water), a falling off (the bike) and a falling out! On the whole though, having company wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be and after four hundred and fifty miles of brotherly bonding, we cycled into Sete to toast our triumph both well pleased with our performance.
In Sete we were met by Steve's sister in law, Jocelyn, who is in the process of moving house from Montpelier to Puylaurens about 250 km's west. I had intended cycling south to
I have been through more tunnels than a train and done as much work on bridges as a Dentist. One tunnel just over the Spanish border had air conditioning, very considerate for the cyclists thought I but probably more likely for fanning the fumes. Further on, ladies of the night who had obviously moved to day shift sat on stools at the roadside. As I cycled past they crossed their legs in a
I then cycled the couple of hundred miles down to Santa Maria de Palautordera which is thirty five miles North West of
Initially, during the meditation there were people burping, belching, farting, fidgeting, snorting, sneezing and adjusting limbs but as the week progressed things settled down to a serenity and silence which was almost tangible. For the duration of the course there was a policy of ‘Noble Silence’, which not only included no talking but also involved no eye contact or gesticulations – this suited me fine, as after over six weeks in
A few days into the course you were encouraged to sit for three separate hours each day and apply ‘Strong Determination’, where you were not meant to move even an eyelid. As the sixty minutes moved in a snail like fashion muscles began to moan, tendons started tweaking whilst ligaments longed for locomotion. With a little mantra (which was not allowed) you could ease the pain with a few well chosen phrases such as marvellous muscles, terrific tendons and lovely ligaments which helped to prevent the pulsating pain from puncturing your defence mechanism - your mind! Simply put, the whole idea of the course is to come out of the constant cycle of aversion and craving to bad and good sensations and to follow the middle road of non attachment – you are trying to train the mind to gain awareness of sensations and not to always act instantaneously to each one, whether internally or externally! You are trying to break the stimulus response action. I was given heaps of opportunities to practice!
The Spaniard sharing my bunk bed kept insects at bay by applying lashings of liquid administered whilst on the top bunk, making me feel as if I was in a bay as my bed rocked violently back and forth. The rocking only subsided once he and his pyjamas had clambered under his sheet, duvet and blanket. Meanwhile, although completely naked under a wafer thin sheet, I sweated like a Geordie in a math’s exam! In the morning the rocking resumed as he perfected his bed making skills to produce a surface as smooth as the baize of a snooker table, all the time trapping me in my bunk – just as well I was not allowed to speak!
After eating your food you had to give your dishes a wee rinse and lay them to the side as they were to be put in a dishwasher. Some students scrubbed the dishes as if they had been sitting for a week, with the result that I often felt I had been standing for a week awaiting my turn. My only motivation was to get back to bed in order to lie completely flat as quickly as possible. After sitting for twelve hours each day my need to have my plates gleaming had lost a bit of gloss.
It was a good course, well organized, bloody hard work but so worthwhile. The courses are run by volunteers and you give a donation at the end which then allows another person to attend a course. For those interested then please look at www.dipa.dhamma.org/ which gives information about the centre in the
Whilst loading up my bike about to leave the course I was still undecided whether to cycle down to
I arrived at the outskirts of
That evening Victor took me on a tour of the city on the back of his Vespa which included a trip to a wee tapas bar. Later on we sat on his balcony drinking a dram watching the late revelers roll by. His flat was on Gran Gracia, which I think loosely translates to, 'many thanks' – it was very appropriate!
During the meditation course the pain in my troublesome tooth had reached titanic proportions and there was only really one sensation I could focus on - I made a decision to get it seen to the minute I left. Victor was kind enough to arrange an appointment and took me there on the back of his bike. After leaving the Dentist I was given a prescription for strong painkillers which I tried to obtain from the nearest pharmacy. However, the young lad behind the counter said that he could only give me the first painkiller because he could not read the second drug. I did not think there was a second drug! I walked fifty yards to the next pharmacy and got my prescription within one minute. I explained to the chap behind the counter what had just happened and he asked if it was the one down the street, whilst shaking his head in disbelief. The supposed second drug was the verb, ‘tomar’, which means, ‘to take’, which I certainly did! They were strong enough to heal a horse and tended to my teeth with the added benefit of allowing me to hare up the hills whilst my legs remained pain free – I thought of asking for a repeat prescription! As I was so drugged up I would probably have got automatic entry into the Tour De France. I was fortunate enough to catch stage twelve of the race in Durban Corbier. The peloton powered past in seconds with the real race happening ninety minutes before as vehicles of all shapes, sizes and colours drove past tooting, hooting and throwing away all sorts of free goodies - even the bags to hold them in! Everyone walked away with happy smiles smothering their faces and bags bulging having completely cleaned up – someone tossed me a sachet of washing powder, perhaps suggesting that I do the same!
After spending a few days in
The next day I left late as it was only thirty six miles to Lescala, where I met up with Ali and Judi, the couple I visited in Northumberland. They had emailed mentioning they would be in the area should I be passing. It fitted in perfectly, so I popped in by. Ali and Judi’s holiday home, which they were sharing with the immediate family, had numerous bedrooms, bathrooms and more balconies than a hotel and although there were plenty of people there the construction was cavernous and you could easily have found a wee nook to nestle in and remain undisturbed for days. It actually had a cupboard were the sole resident was a massive rock covered with a rug? I only stayed two nights but it was lovely to catch up and spend some simple time together.
I had decided not to go back up the coastal route as it had more ups and downs than the aforementioned Spanish roadside prostitutes knickers – well, those that wore them! So I spent two days and over one hundred and fifty miles cycling through the Pyrenees to Perpignan, Fitou and then back to the coast at Sete where I again showered on the beach and had a wee dram in the same bar where Steve and I had celebrated a month ago – it all felt very surreal!
The next morning I motored my way to
The bike draws a lot of attention and often people just approach and start talking like an old friend - which is fine by me as this is what my trip is about. Mind you, one day a man walked up, picked up the bike, nodded approvingly then walked off without saying a word! Other people are always asking how much it weighs - I haven't a clue. I am half expecting someone to try and lift up me, so as they can have the combined weight! I have even had to open my panniers to show how they work. One man asked how many teeth I had. I thought it was a strange question especially with the bother I have had. He wanted to know the number of teeth on my front cog - again,when I said I hadn't a clue he bent down and counted them! On the whole it is all good fun and I enjoy it but some days depending on how far I have cycled then it can be a little tiring. At one pit stop someone asked where I had cycled from. When I said
I must finish with a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed money to the Justgiving web page. A special thank you has to be extended to the twenty odd folk (not so odd) who camped and trekked through the
So many people help in many different ways which makes it impossible for me to include everyone but I would like to thank anyone who has helped me in their own small way.
As always, with many thanks and much love