Like the trash I’d seen piled up on the side of the road on the outskirts of town I sleep in a bag, hidden amongst the trees in the dirt with the bugs comforted occasionally by the thin walls of my tent a cold can of food and a bottle of wine.
The importance of that bottle of wine (among other crucial items) is an essential part of one’s sanity and happiness on a long distance trip like this. It the small pleasures, as anyone that’s ever lived on barely anything and traveled some distance knows, that really keep you going. It’s the can of coke when you’ve been drinking filtered creek water for weeks, or the hot shower with actual shampoo after days and weeks of dirt and sweat. These small things can be the boost you need to get you up that mountain later on or just keep your head about you.
France has been one of those places I was started to doubt existed in Europe. Not that I was counting on it, but there wasn’t a single bit of ‘trail magic’ with the exception of Joshs friend from home who hooked it up the day we hit the northern coast of spain. However, from the day we entered france, more specifically the town of Bayonne, I was greeted by two nice looking french girls Charlotte and Capucine who spoke perfect English and invited Josh and I back to their house for a shower and some food. We quickly rode to their house on the country enjoyed our warm shower, bread cheese and sardines, and good conversation. It was nice to talk to some fellow travelers that happened to be girls as well. Before we left we exchanged information and wished eachother well on our adventures as they were leaving in the morning to ride their horses for 3 weeks (check out hoofprints of Patagonia). We left feeling refreshed, happy and full. Three things that are hard to come by when you live in your own sweat and filth wearing the same clothes you workout in for days at a time eating cold cans of ravioli for dinner and talking to imaginary people as you ride. The mental kick we got was incredible. So far throughout france we have run across many instances of little help like this. Whether it was the lady outside the grocery that gave me a bottle of milk, the ladies from the pharmacy that came outside with a bag made specifically for me filled with hair product and shampoo (haha), or the french middle aged people on a rental boat on the canal du midi that offered to fill our water bottles, gave us coffee, and send us off with any food they could spare. Unlike anything else, this brings me from about a 4 to a 10 instantly.
Wind can be your best friend in the world on a bike or your worst enemy. In most cases the more wind there is the more it seems to say, “hey fuck you” and smash directly into your face at 20mph stopping any kind of momentum you have and forcing you to use all your energy just to go forward. Downhill. But in some instances on the right day if it’s a full moon and the stars are aligned you may get a tail wind. As if god himself were pushing you down the road you peddle with ease, flying at top speed. Going uphill is nothing, downhill you’re hugging the breaks and on the flat straight roads it’s silent because the wind is your friend going the same speed you are, right by your side. The wind direction/speed can take you from about as low as you can get to as high as you can get, busting out big miles with little effort. We had a tailwind at some point every day in france (some headwind too) from Bayonne to Toulouse. Flying down a bike path on the canal du midi from Toulouse to the meditaranian sea past giant canal boats and surprisingly a lot of British people. Even a day of tropical storm winds in our face where we were cursing the unforgiving wind that was burning thru our flesh as it ripped past us, it switched and gave us hours of easy riding where were laughing and riding the wind like a sailboat.
I carry a portable radio with my that can be charged by the power of the Sun and has a small crank on the side to get power for emergencies. What’s almost worse than having jingles stuck in your head that you understand is listening to spanish or french radio and replaying that jingle back in your head having not a clue what they’re saying. The radio however is an incredible device to listen to local radio stations and take your mind off the monotony of riding your bike all day every day. Surprisingly, American pop radio (the absolute worst shit) plays all over the radio here too.. So now I have a jingle I can’t understand in my head, my legs are burning as I go up hill and I cant lose my momentum so I leave pit bull blasting thru my headphones. There are, however those moments of greatness when you find a Paul Simon marathon, or a jazz radio station with great original french jazz singers. Those moments I’m able to drift off and zone out the monotonous riding untill the next view or break.
It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. The stories you hear are a small portion of bicycle touring around the world but in reality there’s a lot of time to think and a lot of time to get frusterated, but the small things that snap you out of it and pick you back up are important. When were on our backs, losing our cool and missing home, these few simple things bring us back. So tonight as I finish biking, unpack my bike and set up camp for the 30th time so far, I will celebrate and reward myself with another 1 Euro bottle of wine made from the grapes in the vineyard up the road.