I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m a bit of a fair weathered cyclist, so when it starts to rain I tend to stop enjoying myself. Its been a personal project to over come this issue but after several years of counselling dedicated to the topic I can still only manage to keep a smile on my face for so long. Some cyclists love cycling in the rain. So they tell me. But I wonder if the weather we have been having lately would even wear down the hardiest of those rain dancing warriors. Its not so much the actual getting wet while you are on the bike (although having rain pouring off my helmet onto my face isn’t my favourite sensation in the world) its more the added level of difficulty the wet adds to every aspect of the day. Packing up a tent while its raining is difficult if you want to keep the inside dry for the next night. Then what about lunch? If we didn’t have a toddler who likes to sleep during the time France likes to eat we might consider (on a particularly miserable day) splashing out on a restaurant meal and having a few hours of dry warmth. Instead we look for anywhere that will provide us a little shelter. Like a bus shelter with resident snails. It doesn’t make for the most entertaining of breaks but it keeps you out of the rain.
OK, it hasn’t been THAT BAD, we have had a LOT of rain (almost everyday for the month of May) but most of it has been intermittent. We have only ridden in a constant downpour for 2 of those days. But its wearing us down, it makes camping not very fun, and to top it off the temperature range has been more of less between 2 and 12 degrees. With, might I add, not only rain but also wind, AND we have been hailed on – twice. Essentially we are riding through a bad Australian winter. Yuck.
We are told this is very unusual weather for May in this part of the world – normally it is glorious. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. The crux of the matter is cycle touring has you completely exposed to the elements all day long. It’s an occupation that makes you vulnerable in many ways, and the bad weather has made us even more reliant on people’s kindness.
We were riding through the pine forest on an old railway track in a downpour when I was hit with excruciatingly painful stomach cramps. The sort of pain that makes you wonder if you need to go to hospital. There was nothing around so I had no choice but to ride on. Every time my legs hit the highest point of rotation the pain worsened forcing us to slow down. Now moving at 8km/hr we weren’t using enough energy to keep up the blood flow so we started to get cold. I kept looking at the ground wondering if all I could manage was to get off the bike, lie down on the grass beside the track and quietly… what? shake? shiver?… try to pass out so it would all go away? All I wanted to do was lie down so the pain would go but I had to ride on. Eventually we made it to a little town, we searched for a hotel, nothing. But it did have a very simple campground with a few sad looking caravans. I collapsed into a chair shaking, and crying, unable to bear the pain anymore. After establishing that I wasn’t about to die, the shocked camp ground owner quickly cleaned out one of her caravans and let us use it for no charge. She didn’t have to, but she did, and we will be eternally grateful. Yes, we are vulnerable, so when people are kind it means so much more.
We also meet the other sort of people who are unhelpful and thoughtless and then wish us a “bon voyage!” after telling us the camp ground we were relying on is closed, and the hotel no longer exists, and we have to ride to the NEXT town in the rain after a day that has already been too hard and too long with no guarantee of a place to sleep there either. Thanks, its currently a WONDERFUL journey (exasperated cheesy grin).
Thankfully this is a rarity, and as travellers discover most people are gems, with only a smattering of bad eggs in between. People are especially kind if they understand what you are doing isn’t a holiday, and the kindest of all on our trip thus far have been Bernard and Beatrice who we met in a small town in Spain. They invited us to stay with them in their small town of 26 people in a rural region of France. Their beautiful cedar home is situated amongst flower and vegetable gardens and filled with mosaics, paintings and other works of art all created by Bernard. Enthusiastic cooks and keen on us trying some of the local delicacies Bernard and Beatrice treated us to asparagus soufflé, chestnut soup, homemade Pineau (a French aperitif), and Beatrice’s homemade herbal liquor. All the vegetables came directly from the garden and we enjoyed ourselves planting potatoes, flowers and learning about the agriculture. Planing to stay only two nights, we ended up staying four – and it was tempting to establish some roots of our own and live the quiet life in this little paradise, dancing to local folk music and living off the land but alas the journey must go on.
And so we continue to limp our way up France slowly, slowly inching our way north. Riding for a few days then hiding as best we can from the cold, the wet and the wind for a few more. While we are waiting for the weather to improve I am continuing on my quest to stop my mood being directly linked to the rain. If the forecast is correct at least I will be happy tomorrow!