11/07/2011 Burgos


There are said to the three sections to this pilgrimage. The first part is physical. Today was a steady climb in elevation into a gusty headwind culminating in a 3km long 6% grade. I am tired.

The second section is mental. After today the terrain levels and becomes monotonous. To get through it you need mental stamina.

The final section is the reward, considered to be the most beautiful part of the trip.

Burgos

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Burgos

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The Cathedral in Burgos.

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Cathedral spires.

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A frozen pilgrim.

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11/30/2011 What a camping spot!!


I feel peaceful after a night in the pine forest

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I have lunch with this tree. I realize that the patterns of the branches are actually writing, a language. The subject matter is generalized in the trunk, expanded on in the branches, and is detailed in the leaves. The life work of the tree is to communicate this thought.

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This boat is suspended in Hossegor.

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I use the GPS to find a McDonalds so that I can upload a post to the journal. I manage to reach Leslie on Google voice. but it is getting late, I am in the middle of Bayonne, and have kilometers to ride before I camp. So I set out. But the terrain becomes much more hilly. The GPS leads me in silly directions. It is 4:00, time for me to be camped, and I am still in a very dense area.

I spot a car camping area and check it out. I could camp here, but there is no grass and no bushes-if you get my drift. So I move on, but it is a gamble. A couple miles down the road I turn down a path that leads to the beach. What do you think? Does this look good?

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I decide that despite the people and the openness, being on the ocean bluff with the crashing waves below makes it a thumbs up.

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And you can see that I am a happy camper. Geesh, it’s a million dollar view and I get it for a little audacity. And there are no taxes to pay and lawn to cut. Here I go again: “Things always work out.”

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11/29/2011


Another day of “just” cycling. I meet an 80 something year old woman at the grocery store. She sees me loading groceries into my panniers and smiles and walks over. She tests the tires by squeezing them and examines the headlight. Everything seems to be to her satisfaction. She then tells me she was born in Malasia and lived there till she was 20, met her husband and moved to France. She proudly tells me of the travels she and her husband have done in their camper van. She asserts, “I am a citizen of the world.” She and her husband get into a rather heated discussion, he feels she is now a French citizen. She remains adament. She turns to me and tells me she doesn’t like living in France, and would move but her husband needs hip surgery and can’t go anywhere. She shakes her head in frustration and stares pointedly at her husbands cane. She looks at me with fierce eyes and says “He has a pacemaker too- if he goes- I go.” Which I take to mean that if he dies, she will leave France. And she hugs her baguettes close to her bosom and turns to follow her husband, who has thrown up his hands in exasperation and limped away.,.,.,.,.,.,. The fire never dies.

Another cold night. I drink in the chilled air like ice wine. The blackness cocoons my little light harbor as I read and write and lie on my back and listen. When camping the night is such a generous stretch of time. In this quiet darkness attention can be paid to dawning ideas and feelings. Then sleep pulls me back into it’s embrace.

Yellow Caterpillar tending its wood chip mountain. I took this picture for Gail, my manager. Your combination of sensibility and ethics frees my mind from worry. That is also true of Leslie and Stacey.

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A Day


11/28/2011

Some days nothing interesting happens, you just ride your bike. Today is that day. I leave Lydie’s home this morning and ride 55 miles through a sandy pine tree farms and agriculture. I am camped in a pine tree farm. I can see a farmer’s house from the tent, but I don’t think they’ll care. The great thing is that I am riding my bike in France, the sun comes out and warms me up, I have good food to eat, and I ride on a bicycle trail part of the way- and only go 18km out of my way retracing that dead end bicycle trail. Uneventful, relaxing, just sit on the bike and let the world go past. I am glad to have days like this. Not even any pics, nothing grabbed my eye. Another 3 to 4 days and I’ll enter Spain.

Talence, Near Bordeaux.


I last wrote Friday morning, 11/25/2011. When I rode out that morning and into town I saw that the temperature was 3 celsius. That’s 37 fahrenheit. It was cold, and only by riding hard could I stay warm. If I stopped to eat, I had to make it quick. By the time I got to my host’s home, I was aware of a tickle in my throat.

On Saturday, 11/26/2011 when I woke up I was unwell. I was nauseous and headachy. So I rested, and by noon was feeling better.

Lydie’s daughter Charlotte and her boyfriend Prince came over. We devised a great way of communication using Google translator. If we didn’t know a word or wanted to try to cover a complicated topic we would type it in. We could talk at the speed of typing. I would type something in and pass the computer over.

Saturday night Lydie drove us into Bordeux to see the town at night. Bordeux is the fourth largest city in France.

Child eyeing Noel chocolates.

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I love the old with the new. Check out this silent electric tram gliding through 17th century buildings.

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Cafe scene. These guys are used to the cold. But when we got back home, I wasn’t feeling well again.

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Sunday, 11/27/2011

From left. Charlotte, Lydie’s daughter; Lydie, my host; Prince, Lydie’s boyfriend; and me. We are about to enjoy another delicious meal together. My deep thanks to Lydie for her generous and tireless hospitality. Thank you Charlotte for your conversations and efforts to help me find the McDonalds;) Prince is truly a Prince of a man. For a weekend I feel like one of the family though I don’t do so well with the rabbit and duck and oysters. That’s OK, Lydie has mac and cheese for the American.

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Charlotte helping me with Portugal and McDonalds and my cell phone.

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Wed, 11/23/2011 through Thursday, 11/24/2011


Wed, 11/23/2011

My ears are ringing. The rest of the forest is silent. I am camped precisely where I am not supposed to be, in the middle of the Foret Domaniale de la Coubre, which is to the north of Royan. This is a pine forest with lots of dead wood. The soil is worked by pigs hooves and snouts seeking mushrooms.

The information desk clerk looked aghast when I asked if I could camp in the forest. She drew back and said, “Oh, non misseur, that is a national preserve. It is forbidden.”

So I am truly by myself in miles of forest. I am coming around to seeing what a luxury it is. It doesn’t bother me anymore, it’s a precious gift this space and silence.

I amuse myself with bad philosophy:

If your ears ring in the forest, and there is nobody there to hear it, do you still have a Zen koan?

I theorize that humans have an instinctual concern about being isolated. “What if the big bad thing comes? Who will help me fight it off, or think about what to do? Better to live in a large group.”

Another instinct that has outlived it’s usefulness?

So I relax inviting peace to come.

“If you build it water will come.” Actually there is a hugh tidal flow on the coast here. According to a local, at high tide the ocean is against the breakwater on the right. There is a net at the end of the pier that is lowered during high tide to trap tide challenged fish.

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Most of the day was spent riding through drained marshland. The cloud covered sun made everything mud colored. Cows graze contentedly on their slight elevations.

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Thursday, 11/24/2011

I start in the morning riding through this. Lisa and I gaze at all the pleasure craft and wonder where the pleasure seekers are.

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This car is parked perfectly legally. The dotted rectangle is how far the car can extend into the street. The whole block is filled with cars parked like this. I’ll let you make the comment about bicycle lanes, pedestrian rights, etc.

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A French sandy tidal beach.

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A typical French beach house.

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Hey, I saw Karst that looked just like this in Ireland! So I try walking on it and sink in 6 inches. Ok, so I’m a 100 million years early. Don’t rush, I’ll wait.

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Where the heck am I? I am pointed south to Bordeaux, where I have Lydia to host me. As near as I can tell I am around Saint-Bonnet-sur-Gironde. I have been following the compass, taking the smallest roads. The country is now rolling, and vineyards and olives are the predominant crop. I am remote. No bars on my cell phone, and a wifi cafe, are you kidding? I haven’t even seen a gas station all day, and I had to ride 4km out of my way to get to an open grocery store.

I camp in a vineyard. Really not a great spot, but it’s getting late at 3:30, and I am getting anxious.

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So who is this man of mystery and why is his face obscured with a dead grape leaf?

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Friday, 11/25/2011

All night the dew/rain taps on the tent’s fly. I pull back the sleeping bag from my fully dressed and jacketed body checking again for daylight. I detect a slight greying of the sky. I check my watch. 7:30AM. The air smells like old goats milk and cold wood smoke. The fly on the tent is soaked, on the outside from the constant dew, and the inside from my body heat causing condensation. Again I marvel at being dry. I step outside with my flashlight on my head. The fog is so thick I can only see 10 feet in front of me. The individual particles hang suspended, floating like fine white dust. My movement sends them scurrying in circles and swirls. My breath condenses into steam engine puffs. Time to get going!

La Rochelle- Medieval City


What do I think about the people of Europe so far? When I cruise the supermarket isles I see the same concerns reflected in the products that I see in America. I see a whole isle of beauty and skin care, I see an isle of toiletries, an isle of soda pop, an isle of junk cereals, an isle of pharmaceutical. I do see more and better cheese sold in 100’s of little boutique packages. The shops are loaded with what I would call luxury goods, the cafes are filled with people enjoying the street scenes.

If you were to swap out the Peugot’s, Citroen’s and Renault’s for Fords, Chevy’s and Chrysler’s, and swap out the language, swap out football for er- football, I think you would find the same people with the same values. The same with Ireland and England. And I am a little impatient to go somewhere really different.

Hmmm, Morocco is close.

La Rochelle pleasure craft, to illustrate my point.

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Everyone says the best part about traveling is all the interesting people you meet. I meet dead people. The architecture displays their values, that which they thought sophisticated, beautiful, useful and modern. The dead who built this city shout out as I pass, tread the cobblestones with me.

The Great Clock Tower, parts dating back to the 14th century.

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This is a walled city. In medieval times these towers guarded the entrance to the city and the harbor. At night a chain was drawn between them.

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Here is the only remaining medieval lighthouse on the Atlantic.

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And they do have a public rent-a-bike system. Check out the shaft drive and generator powered headlights. A Euro for half an hour.

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A tour de supermarket leaves me wondering how folks can be so numb to the high prices of things. If Euro’s were dollars things would be priced similar to what they are in the States. But it takes $1.35 to buy one Euro. My lovely buffet lunch at an oriental restaurant for example costs me 11 Euros, the best lunch deal I could find. But that translates to $15.00. In the US we can get a similar lunch for $8.00. Why?

La Rochelle street scene.

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And this is what happens if you put off the cosmetic work for 400 years. Note the toilet addition scabbed on when sewers became available- a 1700’s ? handyman job.

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First look at the French Atlantic

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This was the first city I saw on the French Atlantic, Notre Dame De Monts. What a shock. Thought I was back in Miami. It is terribly out of season here, the “crowds” don’t fill the infrastructure, many places are closed.

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Further south things got very nice.

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There are cycling routes throughout Europe known as the Eurovelo. They cover thousands of miles and crisscross Europe. I’ll be darned if anyone but me has heard of them. I’ve stopped at bike shops, tourist information, anyone I can speak to. I did get a tourist map of the cycling routes in Machecoul and at last found EuroVelo 1. Boy did that make me happy.

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What a great day of riding. I’ve ridden on dirt roads, on glamorous oceanfront boardwalks, through parks, alongside roads on my own dirt road, and up and down and all around through some marvelous detours. I was able to follow it and only got off track twice. What a pleasure.

Saint-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie

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Saint-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie

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Bretignolles

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A happy camper

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camping somewhere around Clone-Sur-Mer.

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Redon and beyond.

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Thursday, 11/17/2011 Thanks so much to Patrick and Christiana for taking good care of me and sharing their lives. They built the house they are living in, went for years with minimal electricity while raising three daughters, and have managed to have some wonderful adventures topped by a rainforest replanting trip to Madagascar with their three daughters.

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Shawn in front of their wonderful house. See the solar gear on the roof?

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They send me off in the morning down a canal path. I ride it for 40 Kilometers! It is slow and bumpy but great to be free of cars.

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Canals have boats,

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and reflect the sky beautifully.

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I cycle 57 miles intent on stealth camping. I check out half a dozen spots before choosing a large empty wood of Chestnut trees. It fronts a major highway. My indian scout skills tell me that the area is not used and not trafficked. My tent is wet from the rain night before last but dries out. This time I am well stocked with food and water. I still need to get a France sim card and figure out how to get WIFI consistently. I am feeling good at my game. I do miss my home life, but I’m not yet desperate. I am seeing so much beauty and having such an adventure. My essential French is getting smoother and more melodious.

11/18/2011. This whole thing is very simple. You wake up in the morning and you ride your push-bike. You eat. Then you rest at night. Repeat. What’s so hard about that? Going to work or raising a family is monumentally harder. I should be reading your blog. The hardest part of this is not the physical effort, communications, the uncertainty. The hardest part is not having Leslie here to share this with me. I do feel more alone so far from home.

So I am gong to invite anyone who wants to join me for a portion of this journey to do so. You don’t have to be uber fit or an experienced cyclist, just ready to have an adventure. I am also going to post on the Adventure Cycling website to see if I can find a few people who want to join me for a spell. This would give me some variety and an inexperienced cyclist support and a false sense of security.

So I camp by a creek in the swampy part of France between Machecoul and Bouin. I am not at all nervous about stealth camping in France anymore. I look at staying in a hotel in Machecoul, but it is $80 US, and just not worth it – yet. So I ride a few kilometers out of town, find a spot, and plunk down. The fish are splashing. A duck rasps a droning french quack; Alons, Alons. Occasional cars whoosh by, most probably don’t even see me, though I am 100 feet from the road, comfortable in my pajamas with some goat cheese, some as-of-yet-unidentified-experimental-food and electronics surrounding me. Ahhh.

Cycling touring is 50% adapting. My pattern has changed from Ireland and England, where I sought out a hostel each night, and headed for the town that it was in. There are fewer hostels in France, and they charge a lot- about $30 US a night. That buys a bed in a dorm. Hope no-one snores. Ireland seemed to have the most hostels, and the price was lowest- as low as $15-20 a night. So the hostel pattern made sense.

My first night in France, I tried the hostel pattern and struggled into into a major city and spent $37 US. Just not worth it. The advantage of the hostel pattern is the internet access each night, some company, and a shower. The disadvantage is that I have to determine where I am going to go based on hostel availability. Sometimes it is too near, sometimes too far. Plus the cost.

The camping pattern means I need to have enough food and water on board at 2:00PM, and to ride into the country looking for the right spot. The right spot is that scrap of land that doesn’t seem to belong to anybody, that has some privacy from the road, and optimally is dry with water nearby. There seems to be ample places like that here. I now ride as long as I desire each day. Camping eliminates my major expense, and I like being cozy in my tent. But the disadvantage is no internet access and no city to tromp around at night.

Stealth camping at last.

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11/15/2011

I left the hostel this morning determined to stealth camp. I think I have had fear resistance. But I am writing this from my first stealth campsite. I am going to try a cycling pattern Jim Tucker and John Pearlman and I developed when we cycled down the west coast of the USA from Canada to Mexico. We would camp a short distance before the next town so that we could ride into town the next morning and have a colossal breakfast. The cycling pattern of riding into cities at night to stay in hostels was stressing me a little too much. This should be a lot more spontaneous.

So I’ll give that a go. If I can solve the internet access problem at a cafe in the morning, great.
There seem to be plenty of places to stealth camp in back roads France. There is not a lot of surface water, so I need to remember to carry extra.

Feels good to be camping, really camping, again.

Griboulee admiring the crops.

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Lots of flower fields.

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Hey Drew, look where you might be staying someday.

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This one took a few minutes of head scratching.

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11/16/2011 I am in my tent. It is early morning. A steady solid rain is falling. I am out of food and water. I was planing on the short ride into Redon this AM to restock. I have a lunch invitation for 11:00, but the hosts gave me no address. They would be off to work now, 9:00 AM. I think I have little choice but to pack and head for Redon. I need food, and water. If I had those, I might have decided to stay put and let the rain pass. The thought of getting supplied, then riding out of town seeking another place to camp in the rain does not excite me. But if I can get my cell phone working, I might be able to call my hosts.

2:00 PM. Another lovely example of how things always work out. I break camp and ride into town. I have a mental list of my priorities- Bathroom, Water, Food, Shelter for tonight, Internet to contact hosts. I ride past a McDonalds- then think- wait- 3 or 4 out of 5. So I turn around. While there I check my Kindle for messages. Christiane and Patrick have sent me their address. So I head there for lunch and am warmly welcomed, and invited to stay the night. From being cold and hungry and concerned to cozy and a pampered well fed houseguest in a few hours. Amazing. Again!