This is the first year I could recall the exact moment when winter wrestled the sunshine from autumn. I was leaving Bellegarde, heading south, when a frosty gust of wind swept across the road and when I looked up, the blue skies went grey. And that’s the way they’ve stayed for the better part of a week.
Living on the road is an entirely different beast when the weather is difficult, and there have been times when this monster has roared. I’ve had frozen toes, icy food and so much frost on my tent that I’ve had to wiggle free like some kind of freakish Arctic worm. But I’ve also learned a lot – about myself and how to, y’know, not die – so the last few days have been uncomfortable but tolerable.
Thankfully, my bike is headed in the right direction and I’m nearly in Bordeaux, in the southwest corner of the country. Slowly but surely I’m making my way to Spain, the thought of which is what keeps me going when I’m climbing hill after hill with numb feet. I’m no meteorologist, but I’m certain that it must be warmer there.
It’s a pity that I’m forced to rush for the border because France has been incredible. Far from the snotty French I expected, the people are exceptionally warm and are not only happy, but excited to offer me assistance whenever possible. One couple even filled my water bottle with a litre of cabernet sauvignon – not the best frosty treat, though a nice gift all the same. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is that my French has gone from dismal to slightly coherent. I can’t exactly carry conversations, but I do manage to give them a good nudge. It’s a work in progress.
And what of Paris? Amazing. Biking down Avenue Charles de Gaulle, past the Arc de Triomphe, weaving in and out of the crush of traffic was an experience I will never forget. For awhile I didn’t even realize I was riding my bike – I was just a part of an enormous metropolitan creature, an atom in an artery, and I arrived exactly where I was supposed to be. Time got away from me and all I wanted of the lights and flavours and sounds was more, so I criss-crossed the downtown streets until nearly midnight. Magic.
I don’t know when I’ll be near a computer again, so I want to take a quick moment to thank everyone for following my trip. It gets a bit lonely on the road sometimes, but all your kind words have kept me going over the past six months and 9,000 km. To each of you, I wish a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year. All the best!