We were stuck in the pretty average town of Chatillon-sur-Seine (just north of Dijon) for a whole week. Which might not sound long to you, reader, but when you’re actually just waiting for seven days with not much else to do, except read, eat, sleep and be mindful, it feels like a pretty long time.
Rewind a few days and we had cycled 100km and then 85km in two days which for us at that stage was a lot. The following day we had tried to make things easier for ourselves by cycling less but slept in as we were so tired which meant we set off in the heat of mid-morning. Big mistake. We decided we would wild camp so we didn’t have the stress of trying to get to a campsite that evening but stumbled across a very wild, basic looking campsite by lunchtime and decided that was enough for us as we were very tired. The campsite owner was a funny little man, whose reception, office and small library was all inside his rusty old white van.
The air of this wild little campsite was alive with mosquitoes as there was a wide, still lake at the bottom. I had an almost completely sleepless night, tossing and turning, very sweaty and my whole body on fire with bites. We knew we should have just dealt with the mozzies and stayed an extra day to rest but the thought was so unappealing and our minds were so frazzled by the heat and lack of sleep that we packed up and left the following morning. I was fantasizing about somewhere cooler and more comfortable for a proper rest, a rest that didn’t involve our tent, a rest that somehow excluded this huge heat. All I could think about was a large, clean, white linen bed. So simple, so endlessly inviting. It was the holy grail in my mind, when I thought of it angels began to sing. I had to get there, I had to get in it. I had to lie in it and be as clean as it.
We cycled very wearily to Chatillion-sur-Seine, which was not very far away, but all uphill.
When we got there, we collapsed into the first café/restaurant we found and gulped down a huge jug of water while still sweating profusely. God it was embarrassing to be around people who had obviously washed that morning and not then had to poo behind a roadside hedge and cycle uphill for an hour and a half carrying 40 kilos and catch half of France’s insect population on your suncreamed arms and shins. I felt so utterly and completely grimey. I had never felt so highly aware and appalled by my own appearance and smell. I was amazed people didn’t stare more. We must have been quite a sight.
We looked online to find a cheap Air B&B in the town or a cheap hotel. Ended up sat in a scrubby little park for ages waiting for the apparently “instant book” apartment to be available. We were waiting on the host to respond and answer our prayers. She didn’t. I rang Air B&B. They said there had been a fault on the website and that the place wasn’t available. But he gave me a voucher for $20 on my next booking. I clenched my teeth and thanked the very upbeat Australian Air B&B guy for his help. The sun had moved across the sky. We quickly checked the hotels we had been considering on my phone. No! Suddenly they were all booked! WHAT! I quickly checked the more expensive ones – nope – all booked. WHAT? HOW? We decided to cycle to a few of them and check if they could squeeze us in. We thought we would be lucky. I stumbled just getting my leg back over the bike again. Fuck – I was so exhausted.
I was having a struggle coordinating my brain and my body. They were not communicating well – they were having a stand-off. My brain was high on adrenaline and espresso – knowing we had to find somewhere to rest as quickly as possible. My body was not responding in the same way – it felt like a dead weight, like a deaf, heavy bag of sand. Not rested, not happy, not wanting to get back on the bicycle. I could feel my body shouting NO, I’ve had ENOUGH! My body was having a tantrum, turning to jelly, the sand was being let out of the bag, my energy draining away, every second, through the soles of my feet. I had to gather myself up. Like a mother would a child. Cradle myself and say – not long now – we’ll find somewhere to rest. Not much further – then you can rest.
We cycled from hotel to hotel. All booked. The Tour de France was coming through the town in a few days. Oh amazing! Maybe we could see it! Wait no – fuck, fuck, fuck – that means everywhere will be booked up! I got to the point where I just had to get off the bike, shaking and slump in the shade for a while. Head rested on knees. Haydn could see I was crumbling. He valiantly cycled off to try to find somewhere – anywhere. He returned breathless saying there was a really dodgy looking place for 50 euros a night. I sat for a while with my head in my hands. We couldn’t afford that – but if we just stayed one night … The heat and exhaustion swimming through my mind, fuddeling my tracks of thoughts. Making them swim in circles, round and round, shouting demands for sleep, food, water, more sleep. I clapped my hands together. OK – I don’t think we have another option. Let’s go.
We cycled there and after much cyclical and completely beffudling, language barred, conversations with the owner we collapsed into a room that looked remarkably like a room in a shabby hospital. Not what I had fantasized about at all but remarkably apt for our current state.
Unfortunately it was about to get even more apt.
Somehow in the night, in the bed that was shaped like a spoon, Haydn managed to trap a nerve in his shoulder.
He woke in agonising, searing pain and it took me a while to realise what was going on. We realised a few hours later with no improvement that we were in a bit of a pickle. I couldn’t move all our bags and the bikes on my own, up the huge hill to the nearest campsite. My body was still having a tantrum and I had to respect it. I didn’t really have a choice.
So we had to stay in the hotel for longer. Very expensive for a spoon bed in a hospital room.
After one more day and night of rest the demands of my unhappy body were getting quieter. I moved everything to the campsite at the top of the hill. I felt like Superwoman. I cycled my bike with all its luggage up the 20% gradient, spoke to the receptionist to say I would be leaving my bike in his care for fifteen minutes and then I ran back down the hill and pushed Haydn’s loaded bike up too. Haydn walked beside me with his arm in a homemade sling. The quicker he healed the quicker we could get on the road again, so I had to do everything for a while. We had to stay at the campsite until his arm was fully healed as life on the road is so demanding of physical fitness and ability.
We knew we wanted to speed through these agricultural flatlands of France that we weren’t really enjoying.
It was becoming expensive and it didn’t really feel different enough from the landscape of home. We were hungering after a new landscape, after a view that made this effort worthwhile. A view that made the nomad spirit come alive with wonder for the world and treat the eyes and heart with a taste of the wildness to come.
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