I get ready to depart La Malatre holding back tears as we eat our last breakfast together. The emotional wounds endured by this family are opened again. This is a repeated outcome at La Malantre. While we eat breakfast I witness the tears and sadness well up in Evelyn as almost ready to burst. A dam is filling inside her, as it fills in us all – waiting for the inevitable moment when I say goodbye, our dam breaks, and, we all cry.
The family of La Malantre open their doors to volunteers who want to work on the farm and enjoy some hospitality in the quiet countryside of Auvergne France. The volunteers arrive to a family rather than an employer. They are taken into the family and treated like a favorite daughter or son. It is love that is shared here. The method of its transfer is so genuine that one can do all they can to not feel at home and as though they have been family all their lives. If not by acquaintance with the family then as a long estranged child who had returned home and was now engorged by the comforting method of reassimilation into the family unit. The celebrated return of the prodigal child.
Before I depart we give our final hugs and goodbye kisses. Megan the new workawayer set to replace me is filming the whole exchange. I nearly forget to hug Megan goodbye, she reminds me, we hug. Waving goodbye and pushing off my bicycle my mind becomes full of wonder and excitement. It is hard to believe that I am actually doing this. Shoving off on a bicycle with the intent to take it all across France, than Europe, the Middle East and all the way to Thailand. This is not something I imagined myself doing – ever. It was only a week ago that I decided to do this at all. Plans were sparse as was preparation. I have no idea where I’ll be sleeping and eating beyond the next few days. I will have to plan and prepare and adjust along the way.
My first stop is not far from the house that I stayed at in the Malantre. I must return some tools to the local mechanic. I had borrowed some sockets and a wrench to assemble my bicycle two days ago. The mechanic greets me with a smile and handshake. We communicate in broken french and hand gestures. I explain that I am about to depart for my tout le monde (tour of the world). I thank him “Merci Beaucoup” for his lending me the tools. He wishes me luck. I depart.
There is a thick fog in the air. I make mental notes of the importance of adding bright lights to my setup. The road is downhill all the way to commentary. I arrive there within six minutes. On Monday many shops are closed. The streets are empty. I go to the town square because I need to use the free local wifi. I had to update my map and sync my GPS. I had planned to do this at the Malntree but the departure proceedings where confused by heavy emotion.
My plan was to leave my phone tucked into my backpack on the rear tire rack. I could listen to google voice directions while I drove my bicycle. As I departed Commentry at the village roundabout was the first time I heard Google say “GPS Signal Lost”.
My bike is loaded so heavy that it cannot stand on its own on most surfaces. With my headphone cable attached to my pack behind me it makes it complicated to get off the bike without yanking the earbuds out of my ears. Since my GPS signal is so weak I am forced to ride a little down each roundabout exit and stop and awkwardly brace my bicycle then retrieve my phone from the sack and reload the GPS. Did I mention I have no pockets? This is what lack of planning involves. To think I did not buy a handlebar phone mount for my bicycle because I thought it seemed corny! It is definitely on my shopping list now.
I take a few twists and turns repeating the same awkward procedure mentioned above. I do this multiple times for about twenty minutes. The obstacles of this journey are already becoming apparent. They do not seem to bother me however. I can only laugh at my own ridiculousness at this point. I have become more familiar with how foolish I am. I am accepting it. I am embracing it.
Eventually I acquire a strong GPS signal and google begins to guide me through my attached earbuds. Google leads me through town alleys that give way to town roads that give way to passageways and eventually turn into dirt roads. The stoney house structures of France become less and less bunched together. They begin to spread out and become separated by large fields. Once again I am overlooking mass stretches of rolling farmland. The color of the fields and hedges that border them remind me of giant stuffed teddy bears with odd colored patch work stitching them together. The large fields of brown, green, and dark yellow, make up the fur and the trapezoid shaped hedges bordering them make up the patchy seamstress work.
I begin to doubt the path suggested to me by google as it becomes more and more narrow. It’s taking me through a forest now on bumpy grass pathways between the houses and fields and farmland.
After a final strange turn Google insists I turn right but I can not. My path is blocked by a gated fence that encloses a train track on both sides. “Does Google want me to ride the rails?” I wonder. There is a deadbolt that locks the gate. I begin to wonder if I should lift my bike over the gate or turn back and find another way. I wonder if Google is as lost as I am. I begin to wonder if this track is even in use. Just as this thought crosses my mind I begin to hear the rumble and horn of an oncoming train car.
I turn my head to the left and see a single yellow train car with two operators aboard. It is a funny shaped car. It’s awkward appearance matches the feeling of helpless uncertainty of my own mission. The two operators honk and smile and cheer at me as they pass by. I watch them disappear around a bend. I decide that since I am on an adventure that will call for many unorthodox decisions I can not let a simple fence obstruct me. I begin to push my bicycle into the gate and lift it over.
It is a heavy bike. It has over fifty pounds strapped to the back. I have to lift its awkward weight over my head to get the rear wheel over. As the bike falls to the other side my backpack strapped to the carry rack detaches and falls to the ground. I hop the gate thinking it is good that my backpack detached. Since my bag is easily detachable I can use this feature to throw my bike over future gates that attempt to block my way. Simply disconnect bag, toss bag, toss bike, toss self and continue. No problem. Lets go Google.
I throw my bike and bag over the second fence. I reload the baggage and fix my dress. I hop back on the bike. There is a path on this side that follows the train tracks. I ride the path to find a street that has multiple exits and hear that faithful sound from google “GPS signal lost”.
Much of my ride plays out like this. I find myself re-adjusting google quite often. There are long stretches of open road though that make up for all the confusion. When I am out in the open and sure of my way it is the most genuine feeling of freedom I have ever known. “This is the best day of my life” I hear my consciousness say. I find myself pushing the bike up many hills. I get lost in forests. I take lunch in the middle of a farmers field. I nap here a bit and listen to “The Alchemist” on audible book. It is the second time for me to read this book. The first time was one week ago when I was deciding whether or not I should attempt this crazy bike ride. It was impossible to say no to such a thing while listening to the alchemist. I must follow my personal legend. I simply must. One day I will teach you to do the same if you want.
After hours of up hills, down hills, lost in small towns, knee scrapes and running out of water I find myself in Vichy France. This is my first destination. My couchsurfing host Mathilde is not off work yet. I take two hours to lay on a bench in the centre of town and listen to my audiobooks. Tonight my legs burn like when I was a child. I attach medical patches to them and sleep on Mathildes couch. She greets me into her home with warmth. All over her flat is decorated with positive sayings and mantras “Follow your dreams!” “Life is beautiful” “Take care and be well!” things like that. A kindred spirit. A traveller. A lover of life. I shower and fall to sleep quickly waking up through the night to nurse my legs. The next day I sleep nearly completely through. Mathilde and I get to know each other. She cooks me a specialty of france. Bread, cheese, meat, and butter. I scarf it down like a hungry animal.
In the next few days I prepare for the second leg of my journey. I am .87 percent closer to my goal of the estimated 10000 km to Thailand. I am still messaging people for places to stay. Not everything has become obvious yet. I have faith it well. Until next time, Take care!
GPS Signal Lost