Today has been all about the bike. That is, all about pushing the pedals, feeling the machine roll forward, balancing the push of my legs with the weight of the bike. It has been a tough day. An early direction from my map took me on a pleasant back route through close, cobbled streets but which lead to a steep and steady climb of around 6 kilometres long. Not too much normally; but in the heat and with the thought that I still had a long way to go, it was a struggle.
The landscape changes once again south of Montelimar. vineyards return; the earth seems a deeper red; plane tree-lined avenues are more common. It is the prettiest of environments to cycle in. Soon, the flat lands gave way to rolling hills and I crossed yet another bridge and found myself at the campsite. I had to wait until I ate: steak frites, surely made for the hungry cyclist?
This is the last night of camping, the last night of the tour. Tomorrow I shall head towards the sea and by lunchtime, the cycling gods permitting, I shall be at the sea, and the tour shall be over. I read, over dinner, the final chapter of Graham Robb’s excellent ‘The Discovery of France’. It had its beginnings as an intended guide for learning more about France from the saddle, almost a Lonely Planet guiide. But when Robb started to pedal, it became much more. When he writes of the first world war and its huge impact on French life, the sense of an innocence lost is heartbreaking. It justifies alone my bringing the weighty paperback.
This chapter, and the book entire, also serves to remind us that the idea of discovering the ‘secrets’ of France, of embarking upon a journey, an adventure, a pilgrimage – to find something lost, or new; to push one pedal before the other, is as important as those secrets themselves.