June 19, 2017

Time shift

Time compacts, though whether minute by minute or hour by hour, I leave to science. A musician and fellow long-distance rider I met further north said it mushes together. He is correct. I try to grab it, suck in the views, the smells, the efforts and experiences, imprint them on my mind, bury them in my body.

Why, and how, does this happen? I suspect a combination of traveling through time and space, experiencing constantly something new, and travelling with effort. Recently with quite a lot of effort. This isn’t the hardest riding I've done, but it is incrementally hard and that adds up. It is the weight of four bike panniers and a loaded handlebar bag. The past several days it is also the heat, with a notable heatwave here in France.

Mornings always seem to start off lovely. Sleep, food, weather determine the start and thus far I have been lucky in all three. “Road” surfaces kick in, that is to say: it is the surface that counts, I am virtually never on a road. Here, in the south, the surface is often paved, making for easy riding.

Muscles that start off tight loosen up and energy is high. For days now I have ridden along the coast. Sometimes with the Atlantic in view, sometimes in the dunes defining the border between sea and land. Occasionally across those dunes, constantly up and down, hard riding. These dunes are measured by the hundreds, not the tens, of feet. Days are gorgeous, impossibly beautiful, I am so very lucky.

Then, I suppose, the kilometers kick in. Fifty-fifty, Sixty-five. Seventy. The afternoon sun asserts itself. It gets hotter. I get fatigued. The weight on my lovely, dependable, capable bike starts making itself felt.Those are probably the only reasons why the end of the day always feels so much harder. Reasons enough.

Pretty much daily, 75 – 85 k after beginning, I find myself in another campground. Set up my tiny tent, shower, find dinner. Try to grab those memories of the day before they slip into a continuum with previous days. Recently I camped at the astonishing dunes of Pyla, near Arachon.

Tomorrow I continue south, through this constantly changing countryside.

At some point during each of my long rides, my experience of time changes. Pushing pedals around, looking for turns, chatting from time to time with other riders, watching and smelling the world around me, becomes just what I do, what my world is about.

The days pass one after the other, while I try to hold onto each experience. But still I marvel, just when was it that I shared the ferry across the Gironde with those two other cyclists?

June 16, 2017


Odd, or silly, I'm sure: somehow it felt as if I wasn't moving at all.

I knew I was pedaling, but the feeling was as if I was on a stationary bike, the world around me some kind of slowly changing virtual reality or video. Flat, it was very flat. To the horizon in all directions there were fields of wheat, sunflowers, corn. I knew I was moving, but … really?

With no real sense of direction, or of my true location, it felt as isolated as the high remote peaks, and valleys, of the Pyrenees. That is foolishness. Other cyclists were rare, though I saw many signs of aquaculture ...oysters, shrimp, maybe other shellfish.

Continuing sometimes on narrow tracks, sometimes double, my route a rough mixture of white stone and shells, it continued… beautiful slow riding.

The air warm, humid, and so salty I could feel and taste it. Crossing digues … dikes, I think built to manage human's relationship with the sea. Rather than the sea managing us.

Construction blocking the route, with no detour signs. In a marked route of 1250k, normal enough. I circled, searching for a route to continue southward.

And I found great, marshy bird habitat, birds familiar to those at home, but not the same species.

This was the first time in all these years of touring that it felt truly like long-distance riding. It didn't much matter how far I rode. What mattered was continuing to pedal, and continuing to pay close attention to the world I travel through. Because I was indeed moving.