I feel battered and fatigued. I took my first bicycle crash yesterday enroute to Nantua France from Lyon France. Luckily the crash was minor enough to only produce scrapes and bruises. The crash also taught me a cycling lesson. Do not attempt to dart onto the sidewalk at too fast of speed. It also taught me to respect the road and to remain calm. Abrasions incurred on my right elbow, shoulder, hip and ankle where minor yet bleeding with a sting. I shook off the damage to my ego.

While cycling on a narrow pass through town I heard a large truck coming up behind me. I thought I would be generous and give it more room to pass. I tried to hop on to the sidewalk next to the road. My front tire skidded along the groove and I lost control rolling into the sidewalk. The first thought that went through my head upon stopping against the sidewalk was “That could have been worse.”. I rose to my feet quickly to let passing traffic know I was OK.

As I gathered my wits and examined my wounds a car pulled in behind me. The man inside sounded his horn and motioned me to move forward so he could park. He exited his car and noticed my bleeding wounds and speaking in french asked me what had happened. I was able to explain in poor french and hand gestures that I had taken a fall. That I was alright and that it was minor. The man offered me disinfectant which I accepted. He went into his house and returned with an alcohol spray and some gauze. Together we cleaned my wounds. I thanked him and I told him I was from Canada. He wished me luck. I straighten the handlebars of my bicycle and made the last ten minutes of my journey to Nantua in slight discomfort but good spirits. I was thankful for what I had learned and grateful the ordeal was not worse.

I have to admit. I would have preferred to show up to Gailes with a blood covered arm. Although this would have likely scared her it would have satisfied my ego and the cool made up image of myself. I chose instead to accept the french man’’s help and had my wounds cleaned up.

As I arrive at Gailes I pass alongside a lake surrounded by the mountainous region. Cliffs overlook a pristine blue body of water that calms the otherwise hostile overlooking cliffs creating an atmosphere of protected relaxation. The sun is setting and the scenery is lit in its most golden way. Once I pass the lake I enter the town of Nantua. The buildings are of typical grey stone and red clay roofs so very common in France. The streets spider in many directions. There are kebab shops, tea shops, boulangeries, a tattoo parlor, and the neon green lit pharmacies. Most shops look permanently closed with the exception of the kebab, pharmacy and boulangerie.

At Gailes flat my wounds have reached a persistent sting. I abate this with the memory that it could have been worse. I have to guess which buzzer is Gailes. I still do not know her last name. I buzz the first on the list. Luckily there are only two to choose from. She answers and buzzes me in.

I hear Gaille at the top of the stairs. I unstrap my gear and begin to climb the steps. The staircase is a long narrow spiral of brown wooden steps chipped with years of neglect. They crunch at the bottom of my feet in a sound only old hardwood can produce. At the top Gaille and I greet each other. She is of small frame and looks like a mature child. Her hair is thick brown and curly. She wears a woolen red sweater with a brown scarf and jeans. Later I find she refers to herself as the racoon and her boyfriend is the sloth. He is tall, lanky, slow, and cute. When I meet him I find this to be true. They are a lovely couple and compliment each other well. I never get to know Francoir but his company is sweet and hospitable. I return to my bike to retrieve my luggage. I lock my bike and return upstairs.

During the next two days Gaille and I practice French and English. We watch movies, grocery shop and make some meals. Her mannerisms remind me of my cousin Leo. She makes insane guttural sounds to accentuate feelings, crux’s of jokes, and weird awkward moments. We have a few drinks and dance to garage punk bands including the B 52s. Rock Lobster was a big hit. I made her soup but it was too spicy. I am told Francoir likes spicy food. I am hopeful he will like it.

My stay here in Nantua is fun and as rewarding as all the encounters I have had on this journey. There are some obstacles though that are beginning to become more visible. They appear on the horizon of my thoughts like a monsterous looming army. They become taller and grin wider as I move closer. They will not yet deter me. They have just become apparent. I will attempt to write of these monsters in this post.

The crash was minor. My scrapes will educate me. However they have raised awareness to what could happen if something worse where to occur in a more desolate place. My first aid supplies are low and need to be examined. Couchsurfing has been amazing but so far I have no accepting hosts beyond Nantua. I am met with many refusals. This raises the concern of finances as paid lodgings will eat at my budget quickly.

Couchsurfing also takes up a lot of time and planning. I have to search, message and correspond with potential hosts for the next city on the tour. I do not like to be on my phone making routes and finding places to stay. I worry about the fact that I will not stay long enough in any one place to truly ‘travel’ it at all. I am spending money that I shouldn’t be. My accounts back in Canada are a mess. Corresponding with those that represent my financial interests are becoming exceedingly difficult the longer I am away.

I am behind on many important personal things. The terrain is becoming difficult. The excess physical excursion is tolling on my body. Although I take a few days to rest in between routes it is becoming apparent that I have no idea what I am in for. The weight on my bicycle is too heavy. My legs, hips, back, wrists, shoulders, neck and elbows are beginning to murmur whispers of mutiny. I have no idea about the many countries I intend to pass. How can I plan the routes? Google seems useless beyond Switzerland.

Those aforementioned are just obstacles. Everyone has obstacles in their paths. My only choice is to continue on and deal with them. The uncertainty of the future is a myth I tell myself. Every mountain I climbed so far, though somewhat tortuous in their ascent, only ever lead to the discovery of some majestic beauty previously unknown to me.

It astonishes me to think that for some reason I have pushed myself, with the weight of fifty pounds added to my bicycle, to slowly traverse a fine portion of this earth. To discover its regions and find in every crevice an infinite amount of beauty, awe, and wonder. That the human spirit of love is painfully abundant in us all. That friends can be found everywhere. That there is no need to leave anywhere, go anywhere, or change anything to witness this vast supply of indescribable astonishment. Be grateful! We have to look nowhere to find it. It is infinitely abundant. With the smallest amount of effort can be found countless wonders of the entire universe. This is because beauty IS in the eye of the beholder and that is you.

So how many resources must I deplete? How deeply should I risk financial ruin? How close must I get to these scary monsters? When will I realize they are just shadows of mountains I have already climbed? Why do it at all that on faith I follow some unidentified child like voice from within? How can I at all be certain that what I am doing is worth it? I can not at all be certain about it. I have faith. I have faith that I am, as Paulo Coelho put it, following my own personal legend.

During lunch Gaille and I finished our pizza from the night before. Gaille has a high voice supplemented by a strong French accent. She is hilarious both by design and effort. Her smile and laugh are pure, stern, and genuine. She is a sophisticated punk rocker in that she is wild while still being calculated and peaceful. She is a serious joker.

After we finished our pizza Gaille searched for a dessert. She brought back a handful of grapes to the table and began to munch on them while talking and making jokes. At one particular stretch of silence Gaille decided to show me a trick. With her French accent and highest of high voices she said “Look it’s funny!” and proceeded to put a whole bunch of grapes still on the vine in her mouth.

Her goal, I think, was to pull out the vine while keeping the grapes in her mouth for consumption. This failed. Instead she pulled out broken pieces of vine while choking and coughing and continued to grab at and pull out still more pieces of vine debris. This display had me in a fit of tears. She then watched me while laughing and choking, still with grapes in her mouth, reenact the scene I had just saw.

“Look its funny!” I said with her accent and pretended to reach in my mouth while feigning to choke and cough. This put her into hysteria which then made her choke and laugh and cough more. I was crying I was laughing so hard. The joke was compounding on itself through its mirth and the imminent risk of death that hung over it. Her choking and coughing became more severe. Unable to control her efforts to elegantly subdue the situation she had to spit out the mess of grapes. Her face turned red and eyes went teary and widened both with uncontrollable laughter and fear.

She became lost in that place of desperation and hysteria. We were laughing at the possibility of death through laughter. Trying to get a hold of ourselves in the situation only made it worse.

I began to think of the heimlich maneuver. Thankfully I never had to use it. I got her a glass of water instead. When Gaille and I finally gained composure she told me I had “Almost killed her”. This was hilarious as well. We continued to snicker about the whole thing afterwards but I could tell she was slightly mad at the same time. It took a few minutes to become normal again.

During breakfast the next day we regale this moment which again brought us to tears. Even now writing it is difficult to not laugh.

The sun climbs above the mountains and illuminates them. Sharp stone tips of yellows and grey radiate the overwhelming awe of earths natural beauty. The blue sky appears as a haze caused by the abundant beam of the sun. The sky is completely vacant except some clouds bordering the sun. They gather there and participate in the course of mother nature’s provision to all things living.

Under the visage of monstrous obstacles I write this. I reflect in the gifts I received from them. The many more coming.

Under the Mirage of monsters.

Allen Hall