Friends: After another marvelous week-and-a-half of bicycling France, I remain dumbfounded that I seem to be the only touring cyclist enjoying the unparalleled glories of pedaling the peaceable byways of rural France. I continually marvel at how much of this Texas-sized country is unfenced, pastoral farm land. It doesn't take long to forget one's woes and the all too many uncertainties of the daily grind bicycling in such a relatively unspoiled environment. One's worries are few--simply keeping the legs going, finding food and water and a place to bathe and a place to camp. And those are challenges easily met, especially camping. It is almost beyond belief the ease of finding a secluded place to pitch a tent, almost at a moment's notice.
Gliding past centuries old chateaus and cathedrals and castles is a sublime treat, but I am equally enamored by the many small touches that make France such a sanely livable place. Everyone seems committed to a beautify France project. Planting flowers is a national pastime. Many towns are designated a "Ville Fleurie" for their displays of flowers. Towns receive ratings from one to four flowers. Displays of flowers can be found everywhere, even on bridges across the countries many rivers and canals. It is common practice to mount boxes for flowers on the railings of bridges. Some bridges predate the automotive era and aren't wide enough for cars to pass. A stop light regulates the flow of traffic to a single direction at a time. Its not unusual at all to pass through towns so old that their main street likewise isn't wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic. A stop light allows traffic to pass from one direction at a time.
Round-abouts are huge palettes for artistic flourish with flowers or sculptures or objects of art. They offer another small but significant opportunity to beautify the landscape and please the eye and lift one's spirit. The round-abouts on the Tour de France route are often embellished with decorated bicycles or flowers arranged to form a bicycle. A round-about in Madelieu just before Cannes was adorned with four metal figures of golfers, promoting itself as a golfer's haven. In apple country, one might see a giant apple in the round-about. South of Vichy, as I approached the region of volcanoes, a round-about featured a pyramid. Another had a giant insect.
France is laced with hundreds of miles of canals dug out centuries ago, many accompanied by a bicycle path. Whether passing over or riding alongside them, I feel a surge of pleasure hearkening me back to simpler, saner, less hurried times. They further that sense of peace rural France is continually conveying.
The roads should be teeming with touring cyclists breathing free and regaining their equilibrium. In such unsettled times people ought to be flocking to the countryside on their bikes as relief from the tensions and travesties of current events and the urban cauldron. If they only knew the therapeutic effect of riding one's bike in a tranquil rural environment, each pedal stroke allowing them to unwind and unwind and revitalize themselves, they and the world could improve their health, physical and mental. But I have to be careful not to be too chagrined at this neglect, as it diminishes my joy of being at it myself.
At least I was able to share a couple days of the bliss with Yvon. It continues to mystify me that what seems so natural and obvious, so much so that it has become a way of life for me, remains unknown except to a select few. It need not be. I know that many have the inclination to go off on their bike. The website crazyguyonabike.com that catalogs bicycle touring diaries has a huge following.
Taking off on one's bike to ride across a state or country or around a lake or to visit grandma several hundred miles away is in our collective DNA. People hear of someone doing such a thing and they think, "What a swell thing to do." I'm continually told, "I've always wanted to do such a thing." And I continually hear from those who complete such a trip that it is their proudest accomplishment. The roads should be swelling with with touring cyclists. But why aren't they? Because it is takes effort and it is simply easier to remain in whatever rut one is swallowed up in. That's not living, as a rut is nothing more than an early grave.
Though the urge is there to break free and do something significant and out of the ordinary, to do something that one has long wished to do, it is quickly short-circuited by lethargy and one's deep-seated programming that places more emphasis on acquiring than doing. Owning a fancy car or deluxe condo or country estate is more appealing than climbing a mountain or cycling across a continent or fulfilling some other non-material fancy.
Advertising and peer pressure mount a non-stop campaign to make each and every one of us want things we don't need and aren't all that good for us. One becomes buried in dept, making him a virtual slave to the system, just as the system wants. It can't have people breaking free and doing what they would like to do. The system is an ever growing cancer that needs people to consume, consume, consume and work, work, work. I'm constantly told, "I wish I could be doing what you're doing." Whenever the media catches wind of my story they want to publish it, the latest in last Wednesday's "Le Journal de La Haute-Marne."
Good thing I'm not some crusader trying to win converts, otherwise I would have long ago given up. I am simply content to do what I do, knowing that it may be my calling, not deterred that many consider it a folly. Who in their right mind would take eleven days to pedal a bike 800 miles to Cannes when they could get there in a matter of hours by plane or train? I'm lucky I haven't been arrested for flagrant waste of time and energy.
Once again I'll no doubt be the only one of the 35,000 people attending this festival to have come by bicycle, though I would have had a co-conspirator if the pregnancy of a colleague at work hadn't kept Waydell on the job. There are usually two or three others at the festival with a fold-up bike, buzzing from venue to venue, but I have yet to see another bicycle equipped with racks for touring. If word got out how economical it is to bicycle from Paris, maybe I could win some recruits.
I spent less money the past ten-and-a-half days bicycling from Paris to Cannes than most people will spend for a nice dinner here. And to prove it, for the first time ever, I will share the expense account of my ride from Charles de Gaulle airport to Cannes. Not even the IRS has seen these figures. My expenses are somewhat skewered as I brought along a stash of food, all compliments of Dominicks discarding perfectly good food upon their expiration date. My front panniers were loaded with one pound of muesli, one pound of crackers, one pound of frosted shredded wheat cereal, half a pound of cashews, 50 cereal bars, 20 pop tarts, one 16-ounce can of Amy's vegetarian stew and a three-pound jar of peanut butter.
Day One: Thursday, April 30 from de Gaulle airport to just after Chailly-en-Brie, 50 miles, average speed 12.16 mph, no expenses
Day Two: Friday, May 1 to just before Dolombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 100 miles , average speed 13.37 mph. A holiday with all stores closed and no expenses.
Day Three: Saturday, May 2 to Dijon, 94 miles, average speed 12.39 mph. Hotel with Yvon, two for the price of one, his treat. Expenses: yogurt 1.16 euros and buffet dinner 8.53 euros
Day Four: Sunday, May 3 to after Charolles, 91 miles, average speed 11.99 mph. Breakfast came with the hotel and no expenses.
Day Five: Monday, May 4 to before Vichy, 53 miles, average speed 11.33 mph. (Slept 14 hours until 11 after not getting much sleep in hotel the night before.) Expenses: one kilo honey, bread, 500 grams couscous, 850 grams ravioli, one liter chocolate milk, 500 grams potato salad--8.64 euros.
Day Six: Tuesday, May 5 to after Ambert, 66 miles, average speed 12.42 mph. Expenses: internet 4.50 euros, yogurt drink, couscous, pate, quiche, raspberry drink syrup--6.12 euros.
Day Seven: Wednesday, May 6 to before Aubenas, 73 miles, average speed 11.99 mph. Expenses: yogurt, ravioli, banana--1.82 euros.
Day Eight: Thursday, May 7 to before Nyons, 77 miles, average speed 13.75 mph. Expenses: cassoulet stew, ravioli, bread, bananas, yogurt drink--5.97 euros.
Day Nine: Friday, May 8 to before Manosque, 83 miles, average speed 11.77 mph. Expenses: yogurt, juice syrup--2.67 euros.
Day Ten: Saturday, May 9 to before Vidaubven, 72 miles, average speed 12.70 mph. Expenses: Internet 2.50 euros, couscous, ravioli, pudding, yogurt, bananas--3.63 euros.
Day Eleven: Sunday, May 10 to before Mandelieu camping at summit of final col before Cannes, 30 miles, average speed 11.38 mph. Expenses: ravioli, bread--2.28 euros.
That comes to 46.80 euros in eleven days. It is about $1.30 to the euro.
But my expenses are shattered having to pay ten euros a night to camp in Cannes. I arrived two days before the films start to give me plenty of time to digest the schedule of over 1,000 films. Unfortunately, unlike in the past, credentials and schedules can not be picked up until tomorrow. I'll be there at eight a.m. when the office opens. I'll sit on a bench overlooking the beach all day trying to plot out my 12 days of cinema, hoping for another "Triplettes of Bellville" or "Hell on Wheels," rare bicycle movies that have screened here.