So we stupidly decided to cycle to Grenoble, late in the day, after a stunning but very exhausting hike up into the mountains to the West of Le Bourget du Lac with Alexis’ family.
Haydn and I still felt a deep awkwardness about staying in other people space, and not wanting to over-stay our welcome, we said we would set off on the seventy-five kilometre cycle at 4pm. Alexis was hitchhiking back to Grenoble, where he lived and studied, that evening. We didn’t want to be the two hangers-on in his parents home without him there. So even though our muscles were aching and our limbs were wobbling we packed up our bikes and set off towards Grenoble.
It was not surprising really that sixty kilometres and four hours later I was sat on the curb blubbering. It felt like this had happened too many times now. I was bored of sitting on curbs sobbing with exhaustion – it wasn’t what I wanted this experience to be – a painfully repetitive record of feeling physically destroyed and pathetic – literally having nothing left to give. I looked up at Haydn, who had also reached his limit for the day and said – Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Maybe I’m too sensitive and weak and just not strong enough for this life. Maybe you have to be superwoman to live like this, maybe you need to have endless energy and positivity and physical and mental determination that I just can’t grasp. Maybe I’m just too soft?
We sat there on the side of the road, with the fag butts and bottle caps, questioning the whole project we had begun. We had suddenly lost all faith in ourselves. It was quickly disintegrating along with our willpower and energy. It all just seemed too big and too difficult. The enormity of the whole thing was crashing in on me. I wanted to be a different person. A braver, stronger, fitter person. A person who could do this without crumbling.
We knew we had made a mistake setting off so late but it felt like more than that. It felt like we weren’t learning quickly enough and our desire to be polite and fit in with other people’s plans (which you have to do to some extent) was overriding our instincts of what we were physically capable of. We argued and cried and shouted for a while.
Then we both went very quiet and after a time of quietness we both picked up our bodies, exhausted, hungry and deflated and carried them on to Grenoble.
We arrived at 10pm. Alexis greeted us with his wonderful warmth and asked why we were questioning ourselves so much. We sat on the pavement outside his flat. I lay on the ground and looked up at the bright stars through gaps in the thick grey clouds.
Alexis reflected on his cycle travels with his parents when he was little and explained that of course you have to make mistakes to learn. To learn about your own capabilities and about this kind of life. He told us to not be so hard on ourselves and that if we really wanted this, we would learn and grow into the people we wanted to be. He gave us a beer, a shower, fed us vegetarian lasagne, and let us crash out on a bed in the living room. What a hero.
We had a gorgeous few days in Grenoble. We met Alexis’ housemates and friends who were all hugely intelligent and charming. On the last night we went out for a beer and stumbled upon a big crowd listening to psychedelic live music in a park. I had a familiar, swelling feeling of electricity in my body. I realised in that moment how much I had missed moving my body, not for exercise or cycling, but for music and movement itself. It was bliss just dancing and forgetting everything for a while. The world melted away around me. I realised then the true importance of dance. People of all ages should be able to dance and feel free of all worries and plans for a time. To just listen, completely absorbed, moment to moment, in letting the music change and shape the body into a responsive instrument. Not just flesh and blood but alive in sound.
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