I am not immortal - Five days in July - CycleBlaze

July 8, 2019

I am not immortal

Babette and Bertrand. You'd love to meet them but in a tight spot they're angels
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ST-AUBIN-DE-NABIRAT - I'm writing this on the steps of a small and much-used caravan. My saviour saint is a sparkle-eyed woman called Babette. And, yes, that's her real name.

I didn't bother with the tent last night at Valeilles. It was so hot that I didn't need to. I spread the inner on the gentle slope of tufted grass and laid the sleeping pad and bag on top. I kept the outer to my side for the improbable chance of rain, and I stretched out. The colder it became, the more I shuffled into my bag liner and then the bag itself.

"That looked so romantic," a tanned but paunchy man called next morning as he walked a dog as naked as himself. "It's the thing I'd have done as a kid. You made me jealous."

I was the first to fall asleep. I was the only one to have ridden there. It reminded me of a picture of cyclists retreating into their tent as everyday campers got on with chatting, playing and walking about.

"Don't these people realise it's long gone half past seven?" the caption asked indignantly.

I got up correspondingly early. The dog-walker was about and a handful of others but otherwise I rode away unobserved.

After yesterday's hill, I was repaid by the rush through Valeilles itself. A handful of hills on country roads lined up for attention and then the riverside town of Fumel.

I'd expected to pick my way through in the confusion I reserve for most towns. Fumel stands on the underrated Lot. It once stood beside a railway. The trains have gone and in their place, I noted with delight, was a gravel trail complete with old station.

Clear road ahead on the old rail line beside the Lot
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The old station is now a house
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The Lot flowed lazily to my right and, to my left, hidden by the railway's earthworks, was the town and traffic from which with gratitude I was separated.

Back on the road, orchards gave way to round bales, then sunflowers and then to sheep. I had a single road now, quiet, pastoral but increasingly hot. I pulled into a campground for something more refreshing than the tepid water in my bottles.

There were smart stone buildings, a gate and a gravel courtyard. A woman in shorts and shirt smiled back.

"It's too early to stop," I apologised, "but if there are cold drinks..."

She smiled with a hint of apology.

"We haven't got much of a choice," she regretted.

I wasn't looking for choice. If it was cold with bubbles, that would do. And so we sat in the little bar, me at a round table and she on a stool.

"You're French?" I thought I heard an accent.

"Dutch," she said, still in French.

She had come with her parents when she was in her teens, tired of The Hague and its traffic and pollution. They dreamed of trees and fewer people.

"We spent two years looking. This was still a farm. Everything was in a state and it wasn't properly finished when we opened. We had a celebration with the mayor and the neighbours and they'd just gone when two Ladas full of Poles pulled in.

"'How long have you been open?' they asked.

"'Exactly an hour' I said."

Poles: they added to the exoticism of Dutchmen as neighbours.

"People had no idea where Holland was. We were even asked which ocean you crossed. And then...". She laughed. "There was a promotion for Gouda cheese on television and that's how they finally got to know."

Within an hour I was feeling rough. It was further than I'd ridden for a long time on a loaded bike thanks to a year of mishaps and a crash that put me in hospital.

I pushed on. Literally, because the final stint was a two-kilometre climb. I spooned myself into the soft seat of a campground and half sat, half lay, panting from heat and dehydration. I was grateful that Babette took so long to find me. And then I began reducing her cold drinks.

But there was a final indignity: a pole of my tent had broken. It wouldn't stand up. But... but...  another night under the stars would add to the romance.

And it was there, alone on the field and far from the chalets that were most people's accommodation, that Babette found me an hour later. Her worried look said it all.

"Come with me," she purred in a tone that was half nurse, half mother. "We've got this old caravan you can have. It's not glamorous but it's clean and it's yours."

I plonked a single kiss on her cheek - stronger than a kiss on both cheeks - and announced her an angel. And the caravan is where I slept as a storm edged its way around me. And it's here on its steps that I'm writing to you this morning.

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Suzanne GibsonHi there, Léo! Happy to see you're back in the saddle again and making an appearance here! I didn't know about your crash, glad to see you're back!
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3 years ago
Leo WoodlandLovely to hear from you. Thanks. Yes, a bad bump going downhill and a night in hospital and a back that still hurts when I walk (although not when I ride!) 15 months later. But it all just makes me ever more saintly, don't you think?
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3 years ago
Keith KleinBonjour Leo,

Well sir, its been a while but there you are again and I for one am glad to see it. You were awfully quiet about your crash, which seems very un-French to me as we do revel in our misfortunes, don’t we?
I am amused to see that you are being asked to explain Brexit, which of course you had nothing to do with. I would have said that it beats trying to explain Trump, but now that Boris has come to center stage the two phenomena appear to be linked.
And you may not be immortal, but you still have time to chat up dark eyed Spanish maidens and Dutch sirens, creatures who I have not encountered recently and would not know what to do with should I be so lucky. Although I do find that nice young ladies smile at me in the bakery and even open doors for me. I guess I have become an old codger, and am viewed as harmless or worse, feeble.
One of the benefits of cycling for me is that it has never strained my back, and the exercise has had significant benefits. I can’t run, and walking any distance is difficult, but on a bike I fly. Plus the fraternity of cyclists means that there always friends nearby.
I won't carry on further, and await your further posts.
Welcome back!
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3 years ago
Leo WoodlandTo Keith KleinHi, fellow old codger. My old friend Terry, both a cyclist and philosopher, once observed that girls who would never have spoken to you when you were 17 show no hesitation when you're 70. His reasoning is that they think you're Safe. And you are. But it doesn't stop a bit of secret lusting, he insisted.
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3 years ago
Leo WoodlandTo Suzanne GibsonLovely to hear from you. Thanks. Yes, a bad bump going downhill and a night in hospital and a back that still hurts when I walk (although not when I ride!) 15 months later. But it all just makes me ever more saintly, don't you think?
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3 years ago