French Postcards 6

On days like this people often ask why we do it?

Why do you spend precious holidays pitting yourselves against the weather, particularly the hot sun, just to travel a few hundred miles by bicycle?

No-one’s asking. I’m running this conversation alone in my head, as the temperature climbs to thirty three and the cloudless, blue sky dominates everything with its intense heat. 

There are no sounds except insects in the hedgerows, no life on the tiny country lanes and tracks that criss-cross the line of the Canal du Midi.  The route planned by Headwater, the trip’s organisers, is clever. They’ve taken us off the canal path to give us some respite from the linear miles, so now, we catch a fresh glimpse of the venerable canal every twenty minutes or so, at the end of that old track, or that tarmac road that you thought was going nowhere. 

Carcassonne seems an eternity ago. The ride to Trebs, which we had already cycled in reverse to give us some practise and to check out my suspect left knee, seems very simple compared to this new set of landscapes as we approach the canal’s ‘port’ of Homps at the end of the hottest ride we have ever undertaken. 

Three bottles of water each – that’s what it’s taken to get us there, safely. And we know the danger signs; the light headedness, the sudden humour at the not very funny…

Sometimes we leave behind the great barges as they rumble their safe way along the water. The Midi is their own ocean, straight line or not. 

Life on a bike is not like that. It’s stark and immediate; there is no momentum from a mighty diesel, just the will and determined energy of the legs to keep going, going, as the keen eyes, now tired with the constant dust of the canal path and the country cycle ways, strain to pick out the dangers ahead – that loose boulder, there; the too thin bridge section there…

Lunch today was a far cry from the Oiseau of yesterday. A baguette, bought in Trebs, with a block of Comte cheese and a tiny bottle of rosé to share in washing it down. 

An apple each to wrap up the meal. All eaten sitting on the only sheltered bench we could find in the whole of Aigue Vivres – right at the main crossroads. 

We could have stopped at a cafe. But, in this heat, time is everything… To get there, in this case Homps, is life itself…

We’ve both gone quiet. No words in the past half mile. We know that the restored merchant’s house ahead is the end of the trail… For today. 

She’s not French, she’s Dutch, the lady who runs our home for the night. She’s been waiting for us for the past half hour, knowing, as all those involved in such tense arrivals, that we were nearly with her, nearly safe…

“Tell me why you do it?” She asks, pouring us a glass of sparkling white wine to welcome us to her home. There is a large jug of water behind her, in case we’ve cut it too fine, and the gesture will have to play second fiddle to life…

But we haven’t…

“For getting to know the country in a way that we never could in a car,” I reply. I pick up the glass and we toast her kindness. 

“For moments like this…”

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post. Yes you miss so much in a car…it looks beautiful, some lovely photos and pleased you arrived at your destination safely 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Very hot, and more tired than usual – but that was the heat, I’m sure! Thank you, Samantha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, travel safely and take care 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course. We get it. We know why you do it. Thanks. 💖 Beautiful photography.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you! Glad you get it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Smith says:

    I can feel the heat! I bet that chilled wine tasted good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Oh, it did, Mary… Heaven, but only after a litre of cold water, first!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Noah Weiss says:

    There’s nothing like a bike adventure. I love the details that you have provided, and the incredulousness of your host that I have inferred reminds me of when I biked to my Aunt’s house, about 66 kilometers away from my apartment, on a hot and humid day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Lovely comment, Noah! I can just imagine your Aunt’s face, that day!

      Liked by 1 person

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