By Jens Ourom
We felt like grizzled cycle trek veterans as we approached France’s border from the south. After nearly a month and a half pushing our bicycles and ourselves to the limit, the act of crossing another border, and beginning a new leg inspired overwhelming eagerness both in me and my prepared-for-anything-plus-French, cyclo-partner Sean Wilkinson. As we had been very gradually gaining elevation for days, we allowed ourselves to hope that maybe our ascent into the Pyrenees would not be as dreadful as it sounded — and it wasn’t. We were elated as a short climb brought us to the border crossing, and the climax of our carefully chosen route through the lush mountains.
It took less than five minutes for this feeling to dissipate, as I was rear-ended by one of France’s notorious drivers, seconds after crossing the border. Why residents of each of the countries we visited work so relentlessly to reinforce stereotypes, I will never understand. I was beside myself with rage, as newly broken pannier bags were the last thing I needed to add to the ever-expanding list of failing bike mechanisms.
However, a refreshing, winding downhill descent did much to soothe.
July in France seemed at an ideal time for cyclists. Weather was stellar, and wheat fields just harvested — meaning we could set up camp under the stars with only our sleeping bags and luxurious beds of straw. After camping in thorn-infested lemon fields, eerie tree farms, horse pastures, and gravel pits we couldn’t help but be enthusiastic.
Interestingly enough, we still had not really entered France. Both the residents of north-eastern Spain, and of south-western France identified more as Catalans. The red-and-gold striped Catalonian flag flew ubiquitously, as we visited historic Perpignan during a vibrant cultural celebration.
When we finally did feel as if we stood on French soil, the forests of Provence were meeting, and then exceeding our pre-conceived notions of their splendour. Post-card worthy photographs were available in any direction. Somehow, we also managed to stumble across one of France’s top five tourist attractions, the behemoth aqueduct that is the Pont du Gard, essentially free of other tourists.
Our French curtain call was to be in Nice, where we planned to meet, and then add to our troupe, a female Kiwi-Canadian cyclist in the form of a mischievous and nonchalant Rosanna Marmont, who would join us until Athens.