We set off from Cherbourg on our bikes on a very rainy French morning.
After some heartfelt and tearful goodbyes with Haydn’s mum and stepdad, we cycled into the drenched Sunday streets. We had been so eager to set off but we paid for our impatience in freezing limbs and soaking clothes within the first 20 minutes. When you live outdoors and that outdoors is cold, rain takes on a new meaning. It’s not just an annoyance, it really starts to feel like a danger. Like a danger only escapable with shelter. By twelve o’clock, both hunched underneath a huge tree, shivering and eating cold quiches bought earlier from a boulangerie, I realised that my raincoat was certainly not as invincible as I had hoped.
Our aim was to get to a house in Saint Marie-du-Mont, 50km away, owned by a Couchsurfing couple – Michele and Franck – that had offered to take us in for a night.
Four hours (and many hills) later it was still raining heavily and we were struggling to keep up morale. We seemed an eternity away and the exhaustion was really setting in. I could feel my limbs getting heavier and heavier, kilometre after kilometre. This was a new kind of endurance I had never experienced before. There had nearly always been a safe option before, a get out of jail free card. If it was too wet or too cold I could always just get safe and dry somehow, somewhere. But we were in the middle of nowhere with only cows and birds for company.
We stopped in a lay-by beside the country road and both slumped onto the ground. If we didn’t carry on until we got to the house we would have to set up camp in a field somewhere off the road. Remember that it is still pouring with rain. We would have to try to get dry and warm, considering we had most of our warm clothes on already and they were drenched. We would also not have dinner as we hadn’t passed any shops and had no extra food with us due to our Couchsurfing plans. That was the decider for me. There was no way after a day like that I was going to settle for no dinner. I had to grip on hard and reach down harder into the larder I didn’t know I had.
By five o’clock in the evening and the grey sky looking heavier than ever my mental state was violently shifting from Viking worrier woman to gibbering wreck. It was as if I couldn’t decide weather I had to give up and let myself rest or carry on to reap the bigger reward of house comforts. I had begun to not feel the rain anymore which was very strange – it was just part of me and my environment.
I knew I had already crossed my limit a while ago and now I didn’t know what I was running on – something new – some hidden reserves. We got to a corner where Haydn, also past his limit, thought we might have gone wrong a few kilometres back. My chest caved inwards and I realised I was sobbing, the rain and my tears all the same. He held my head up and he said we hadn’t gone wrong it was just the satnav playing up – the house was really close. It took all my effort to step back onto the pedals in that moment. But cycling down that last road that led into the little French village I felt an extraordinary feeling that I had never felt before. A feeling like I was completely unstoppable and no human, or element, or barrier could deter me. It was like the pure energy of determination defying everything else I had ever known to be real.