Wed 15th May
We woke up around 5 o’clock to the sound of rain on our tents. I opted to stay in bed and ignore the world, but I could hear that Bill was up and packing. Before too long, I was up and packing too.
It was still a semi-dark and the rain was in thick droplets. It wasn’t heavy, but it was annoying, as it was the sort of rain that made things wet quickly.
We were cycling by about 7am, the earliest yet.
Despite my forced optimism that things would improve, it didn’t, it got wetter and heavier. There were other people out on the canal which was good to see. Seeing people encouraged me and reminded me that it was just rain. Exchanges of ‘hello’ became more exaggerated and emphasised, celebrating our determination that we were not put off by the weather and out in this ridiculous situation.
It made me realise that I had become that I had become an outdoors person. Someone braving all weathers to get a good bit of outdoors in them. Something I wouldn’t have seen happening a few years ago.
As I was cycling, I stopped to check for Bill and he was significantly further behind. I didn’t want to leave him behind, but if I was to carry on at his rate, it would severely slow me down, meaning I’d arrive at my destination for the day (Toulouse) much later and wetter.
I’m not a competitive person, or necessarily obsessed with lapping up miles at speed, but in this instance with the rain pleasing no one, it was better get moving. I stopped for him under a bridge, waited about 10 minutes and he said to go on without him if I wanted.
I said I wouldn’t, but even keeping a slow pace 12 mph or so, I soon drifted away from him. Once he was out of sight, I knew I couldn’t keep waiting so decided to up the pace.
Everything was soaked. My coat isn’t completely waterproof, so water was getting in and riding at a pace meant I was building up a body temperature. Rain would mix with body heat and it was altogether a miserable affair.
It didn’t take long for my hands to become numb in the cold. There wasn’t any alternative other than to keep riding, but they slowly became more and more numb. I tried making a cup with my hand and breathing in them, or even sucking my fingers to try to get some warmth across, which helped but didn’t solve the problem.
This continued for about a few hours of soaking wet misery. At first you try to put off getting wet as best as you can, but once your wet, it doesn’t matter and like the kid playing in the puddle who’s already ruined their shoes, you begin to enjoy it.
Things are pretty much as bad as they’ll get, so you can only look forward.
I didn’t really think anything serious could happen, then I thought about a friend who had got pneumonia from a similar situation and people can die from pneumonia. I carried on for as long as I could, but after a while I had to stop under a bridge to thaw my hands out.
Bill was far behind and wouldn’t catch up for a while. I decided to eat something to get the things in my body working, perhaps creating some heat. I ate up all the snacks I had and it felt amazing, each mouthful breathing a source of life back into me. It really cheered me up, but I was still shivering uncontrollably and groaning. Groaning seemed to help, or at least give me something to do.
I realised I had never been like this before and from the few outdoor things I had done before (I had been soaked for three and a half days continuously in a hike across Devon). I realised it was probably the speed of the bike that made me so cold and my hands were exposed so that was obvious.
I remembered I had my cooker, pots and water, so I made some tea to warm my insides. It did a much better job then the food, so much so, that I prepared another, warming my hand above the flame not to waste any precious heat.
I was probably under the bridge for an hour. I only saw one guy walking his dog the whole time I was there. I managed to keep my groans to a minimum after the tea. This groaning was a strange thing. I would breath in and then realise a loud groan on the exhale, continuously and although I could control it, after a while it had synchronised with my breathing.
The shivering was different, my body violently reacting to being cold and wet for so long. Some level of activity was good and the groaning seemed to be my ticket. The louder the noise the more it helped.
My fringe was also long enough that it was running down the side of my face, soaked. In this desperate scenario, while cycling I began sucking the tips of my hair to give me something to focus on. It tasted like the smell of greasy hair, not great. Again, this helped although I didn’t do it for too long.
I was hoping Bill would arrive in time for the second tea, but he didn’t. He must have been moving really slow not to have caught up by now. I had the second tea, started to feel normal and got back on the saddle.
Within an hour or so, I was in Toulouse. It took a long time to penetrate this vast city and there was a lot of decent graffiti on the industrial buildings that adorned the canal entering the city.
Once in the centre; i got food and sought shelter provided by the entrance to a mall. There was a small crowd doing the same including some young homeless people, who were getting would they could from shoppers. Cigarettes, a light and even a small cheese. They were all drinking beer (or cider) and they had a dog that looked sad. Naturally they took interest in me and the bike after a while and started asking questions. The news broke that I was English and I decided I should move on.
I managed to find some contact my host. I had a problem finding her place, so I called her, and she came to get me.
Her place was a basic all-in-one student room with a tiny kitchen and an on-suite bathroom. All of which she’d mentioned and I would sleep in the same room on the floor. Which I was more than happy with.
I was relieved to be indoors, slowly drying out and was glad I survived the ordeal and thought about the potential seriousness of the situation. I had a shower and ate well. My host Aiva, was Latvian and studying a PhD in science here at the uni. She had commitments that evening leaving me alone in the room. I couldn^t have been happier, although I did think about Bill.