Home and happy - Five days in July - CycleBlaze

July 11, 2019

Home and happy

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HOME - I had just two close neighbours last night. The nearest, in a camper van with its awnings out, was a German family: two parents, two boys and a girl.

"We are from the east of Germany," the mother said. "From Dresden. Do you know it?"

It wasn't intended as a difficult question but it's never easy to speak of a city that your side deliberately flattened for no reason than revenge and the intention of burning as many civilians as possible.

"I've never been there," I said regretfully, "but I know the history."

Her face established that we were both now on tricky ground, even though what happened had been long before we were born. It's a shame, but inevitable, I suppose, that we feel guilty about our immediate predecessors. But that has so often been the case in Europe, the scene of so many and so dreadful tribal wars.

I am happy to have grown up with a generation that has never been to war. My German neighbours, too. Those of us born in Europe after 1945 are blessed people. We have never known anything but peace, health care for all, education for all and the falling of international boundaries. We have never been to war.

"We love coming here," the woman said. I never did get her name. "We've been almost every year the children have been alive. They love coming here and they love going to the Atlantic, to a place there. They won't hear of going anywhere else."

She came across to inspect the kit explosion that I'd left a few trees away.

"Please" she said, "if it rains tonight or if you have problems, come and see us. You can sleep under the awning."

My other neighbour had even less space to sleep.

Now, I don't know if you're the same but it takes me just moments to realise there are other cyclists about the place. It's like people who sense underground water or know there's a ghost: neurones unknown to others start to twitch and set you off on a journey to find the fellow traveller.

I didn't have to walk far. I didn't see the bike and not until I was close did I see the four yellow panniers lined up in a square. What I had seen was a tiny tent. And he had spotted me, too, clearly, because I had only to approach and he was unzipping his fly screen to meet me.

He was maybe in his 30s, dark hair, beard, slightly overweight but glowing with the outdoors.

"The tent is perfect for carrying about," he smiled, "but I soon realised it's too small. I can barely prop myself up on my elbows when I'm in it, let alone sit upright."

He had ridden over from the Alps, where he lives, en route to the Atlantic close to the Spanish border. And from there he planned to ride northwards beside the ocean until... well, until time ran out, and his plans were so loose that he wasn't sure when that might be.

"I tried getting dressed and undressed in the tent when I bought it," he said. "But I can't. I have to wriggle out on my back and put clothes on. In the evening I have to take my clothes off and wriggle back in naked."

We chatted for a while, in the way that cyclists do, and we wished each other bonne route for the morning. His tent was still there when I pushed my bike up the slope to the exit. So were the Germans, whose new day would now doubtless be complete thanks to the surplus tin of rice pudding that I left them.

For half an hour I rode in shorts but with a rain jacket. The air was chilly but promised much. I was soon glowing as the sun gained self-confidence.

The Lède valley, with its quota of watermills converted to house
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Pretty village succeeded pretty village as I headed south, but now they were all familiar. I was on or getting close to home territory. I took a winding route to see something new but, to be honest, all I saw was the winding route: there is a good reason why people settle beside rivers and, while I had plenty of open fields and blowing crops and the occasional tractor driven by dusty-looking men in T-shirts and shorts, I didn't have pretty barns and byres.

The drop to the Lot at St-Sylvestre is pretty dull, enlivened by a run of small hills but otherwise a rural road that soon becomes almost suburban as the old houses and 1980s bungalows push themselves closer together.

River break at St-Sylvestre
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I stopped beside the river for a drink and a bite, crossed the wide bridge, turned right past the tiny station from which countless people were sent to extermination camps, and then on up the climb to Hautefage that's closed once a year for motorbike races, and finally a hill that I dread, the rise to Beauville, the first village on this five-day ride.

Over the river and on to the climbs of Hautefage and up to Beauville
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I'm home now after more than 80km and more than one per cent of climbing today. One per cent? It doesn't sound much, does it. But let me put it this way...

If you were to ride a one per cent slope all day for a hundred miles, you would have climbed 1,600 metres. That happens to be enough to cross the Tourmalet, the highest road pass in the Pyrenees. The Tourmalet is shorter and steeper, of course, but one per cent on a fully loaded bike is quite a busy day.

There was that sticky day on this ride and I needed that unscheduled day off. But all in all, I'm pleased how it went. My confidence and my fitness had taken a beating and I wasn't sure that I'd be up to setting off in August to join Steph on a month-long ride to Luxembourg and on to Brussels.

Now I know that I am. Should you be interested, look out for the report here on Cycleblaze.

And thanks for riding with me this time.

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Scott AndersonGood to hear from you again, Leo, and to have another report from one of our favorite corners of the world. Looking forward to following along with your next outing.
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4 years ago
Bill ShaneyfeltAs always, I thoroughly enjoyed following your colorful narrative and nice photography. Thanks for the efforts!

Looking forward to your next turn of the pedals.
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4 years ago
Suzanne GibsonCongrats on the successful tour! I'm looking forward to the journal on your ride to Brussels.
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4 years ago
Jonathan HechtAs so many others have said...welcome back. Glad to hear you’ve mostly recovered from a fall we never heard about! It is amazing how muscle aches and sore parts of the body seem to disappear once one starts turning the pedals.

And as for that 1%, there’s no question that anything more than that now feels a bit like l'Alpe d'Huez. In fact, the thought of tomorrow’s short 7% climb between Arnhem and Utrecht is already giving me pause! (I’m just finishing a tour that started in Prague, followed the Elbe, and had me dinking around Holland.)

Anyway, welcome back. Looking forward to more wonderful journals soon.
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4 years ago
Leo WoodlandTo Jonathan HechtGood to hear from you, old friend. Prague is wonderful, isn't it? I rode there a couple of years ago. And Holland, I know well. Do keep in touch.
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4 years ago