It’s September and the lifeguards have gone. Taking with them the bright yellow buoys that I have been swimming out to all summer. With no yellow buoys to stop me I could just keep going all the way to Sweden. It doesn’t look so far. Land is easy to see from the little beach here at the north of Copenhagen. I wonder if anyone has ever done it? I’d love to do some kind of sea swimming challenge. I may just let that one sit and percolate for a while. This is what normally happens, isn’t it?. An idea. A note or two. Then nothing as forgetfulness inevitably takes over. But, as often happens with the spark of an idea, things just take their own course. Bubbling away below the surface. And before you know it there you are. Swimming to Sweden.
That’s what happened earlier this summer when we ended up cycling over the Pyrenees. Years ago I thought I might like to do a bike trip. I don’t know why as I didn’t even have a bike at the time. The inspiration had come from a speaker I had seen during a literature festival. He had set off on his bike from England with something like £400 in his pocket. And had arrived back four years later having cycled around the globe and written a book about it on the way. I could do that, I thought.
I didn’t. Like I say, I didn’t even have a bike. But the seed was sown. Not that a two-week trip over the Pyrenees equals a four-year expedition around the globe, but it’s a start. This summer I did have a bike. My lovely 1973 Peugeot Randonneur. Yes, it’s heavy and yes, it only has ten gears, as opposed to the twenty seven on Running Boy‘s super-duper vélo. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
Due to a last-minute housesitting juggle we ended up with some free time in the month of May between leaving our housesit in France and arriving in Copenhagen. At first I suggested we leave all our things in storage in France and cycle here. Caussade to Copenhagen. Only 1,830km. I got excited and started calculating how many kilometres that would be per day. Running boy looked at me as if I’d escaped from somewhere with heavily bolted doors. But you’ve only ever cycled for a day at a time before. Usually only for a couple of hours. And your bike is heavy and older than me.
He had a point. We revised our plans. We would leave all our stuff at the current housesit and just cycle off for a couple of weeks with as little in our panniers as possible. It would be a vague circle, taking in the Pyrenean foothills and maybe crossing to Spain if we could manage it. Running Boy would definitely make it. He had been training all winter with the local cycling group. A hundred kilometres every Sunday morning. Up at the crack of dawn and off around the Tarn and Garonne while I was still in bed.
We sorted through our gear and decided in our usual haphazard fashion to just make do with what we had. The bikes were in good condition. We had a small toolkit and spare inner tubes. The panniers were old but ok. The tent was heavier than ideal and our sleeping mats were old. We had an odd assortment of cooking utensils which strangely included a full-size frying pan, but that was alright. All packed up though, the bikes looked remarkably compact. We were ready to go.
The following morning I woke to a crack of thunder. This was not looking good. We waited around all morning, knowing that we always had plan B of abandoning the cycle trip and going camping with the car instead. But we probably both knew that plan B was not really an option. At about 3pm in a break between storms we finally set off and after a couple of initial pannier tweakings we were away. Just us, our bikes and the open road. It felt good.
Forty two kilometres later we arrived at the friendly campground in Moissac. It was only here that we realised we had actually planned to follow the Chemin de Saint Jacques (Camino de Santiago) without realising it. This meant that every night we would be camping alongside pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela or further. We actually ended up staying in some of the gîte communales along the way and it was nice to feel part of something even though we wouldn’t be doing the whole trip. We stayed as close to the route as we could and it was great to bump into the same travellers again and again.
Our route went something like this:
- Day One – Auty to Moissac (42 km)
- Day Two – Moissac to Fleurance (73 km)
- Day Three – Fleurance to Eauze (56 km)
- Day Four – Eauze to Aire sur l’Adour (42 km)
- Day Five – Aire sur l’Adour to Artheaz de Bearne (57 km)
- Day Six – Artheaz de Bearne to Mauleon Licharre (55 km)
- Day Seven – Mauleon Licharre to St. Jean Pied de Port (43 km)
- Day Eight – Rain & Rest!
- Day Nine – The Pass de Ibañeta (1,057m) to Roncevaux (Roncesvalles), Spain and back (57 km)
- Day Ten – St. Jean Pied de Port to Saliere du Bearne (57 km)
- Day Eleven – Saliere du Bearne to Hagetmau (49 km)
- Day Twelve – Hagetmau to St. Justin (77 km)
- Day Thirteen – St.Justin to Condom (63 km)
- Day Fourteen – Rest day in Condom!
- Day Fifteen – Condom to Moissac (86 km)
- Day Sixteen – Moissac to Auty (45 km)
Can I just say that I LOVED THIS TRIP!
We hadn’t planned anything. I hadn’t trained for it, although to be fair I had been cycling all winter. Short trips around and about a couple of times a week. And I had been cold swimming all winter too in the unheated pool. Starting with two lengths at the end of January when it was really freezing cold and building up to over a hundred lengths a day by May. I think this helped hugely with my fitness.
This was hands down one of the best things I have ever done. I can’t even put into words how freeing it is to just cycle off into the unknown with everything you need on the back of your bike. France is a beautiful country to do this in as there are still roads where you can cycle and not see anything other than the odd tractor for hours on end. The campsites are great and the amount of times we heard “Allez, allez! Bravo, bravo!” shouted from passersby was heart-warming.
You will never be ready but you must do it anyway!
My point, if there is one, is that you never really feel ready for anything. But the fact is, you must do it anyway. I surprised myself with the bike trip but it has given me a boost of confidence in terms of what I am able to do. Yes, our sleeping mats sank in the night and we arrived home with one broken pannier and only four usable gears on my bike. But none of that matters. We made it to Spain and back. Over eight hundred kilometres of hilly ground, often in the baking (thirty-four degree) heat. And I loved every single minute of it.
What is it you are dying to do but feel you aren’t ready for?
Leave me a comment and let me know ♥
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