Sat 18th May
Leaving the canal
Learning from Bill’s ‘camp on the side of the canal’ tactics, I’d decided not to waste time by leaving the canal and finding a spot in a field. I was getting used to the way of camping and caring less about what other people thought, or if they could see me. By now I also had the setup and pack away down to a system and good pace. Still room for improvement though.
Journal and thinking.
I took sometime (not that I had it) in the morning to update my journal. I thought about how I missed home and friends in London and a bit more seriously about my situation, and what I would do next, after this trip.
The bike’s a wonderful way of thinking and philosophising about things. Once you get into a rhythm you can really go into an auto-pilot mode and can use your brain to dig deep into parts of your memory you’d neglected or a while. Sometimes getting into some of the small things you’d wanted to think about for a while, resolving things, developing things. Sometimes just fantasising about life, the bigger picture, or what you’d do if you won the lottery. That’s a fun-filled thought that’s occupied many a day or evening on the bike. Daydreaming on-purpose, with a purpose.
It’d be impossible to write down all the things I’ve thought about on the bike, in a way it’d be nice to have it all documented, but there’s something nice about having them come and go. Also I think they leave a trace in my thinking and patterns. Similar to mathematical equations in that respect. When you figure one out, or think about one enough, you have a solution, or a resolution, and that stays with you, changing your attitudes and approaches.
I also think about the weeks ahead and what I should do, as the trip is improvised, I’m making it up as I go along, deciding what would be best and why, or to explore a lake, or mountain pass I didn’t know about before. Similar to Gromit when he’s on the toy train creating the track in front of him as he needs it.
At this stage in particular I was recording all of the things I’ve thought about doing in design and haven’t done and realised that I should take the time to execute those projects and ideas. I also noted that I was listening to a lot of podcasts, which has been good to help developement thoughts and ideas.
The podcasts are also really key to coping with being alone in the tent at night. By the time you’ve setup, eaten and got in, you can’t wait to sleep, but a podcast can be a nice comfortable bridge between that gap.
It started off as just wanting to hear english accents, something familiar for comfort. Often the next day I would forget I was in a foreign country and it wouldn’t be until seeing a foreign sign that I would realise I’m not in England. The sensation would wave over me in a mixture of humour and relief “Oh yeah, I’m in France”.
Later in the trip in other countries, I would often wake up forgetting which country I was in, and have to recap the last few days to work it out. This may sound embellished, but it’s true and I put it down to drifting back to England before going to sleep every night.
While on the canal, I had the brain wave of listening to my iPod to pass some time and absorb information. I hadn’t used the iPod as it’d be stupid to cycle on the roads with it on. On the canals however, it’s much slower, quieter and makes perfect sense. I had a few news podcasts, audiobooks and language lessons that I dipped into, offering food for thought.
On the canal
Once on the saddle, I got moving and the mud got worse. Thicker and much more of it. I decided after Carcassone that I would ditch the canal and find a route through the mountains. Something I had feared, but given how bad the canal was, I didn’t see an alternative.
Carcassone was nice, I got right into the centre and it was like a gridded maze, with lots of cobble streets, nice shops and old buildings. Naturally I didn’t have much time to enjoy it and there wasn’t anything I needed there, other than to leave.
It does feel a bit pointless at times having such a brief window in such historic places, but the way I saw it, I had cities I wanted to see, and every other town or city I didn’t know about until I was a few hundred km away from it, so I was happy to take some photos, get some food and go.
The mud wasn’t improving. I had toppled over twice and decided I had to leave. I left shortly after Marseillette, about 12km after Carcassone.
It was a shame I wouldn’t get to see the whole canal that I’d planned to see for so long. But given the way it was there was no way I could. I thought I could find a way to revisit after Barcelona.
Getting back onto roads was a blessing. You put the same effort in and you really reap the benefits. I didn’t realise how much of my energy the mud was absorbing. I sped away from the canal like it was a long-term enemy, keen to put as much distance between us, as quickly as possible.
I had started to spot mountains while on the canal on both sides and started getting excited as it began to feel like a real challenge was emerging. I was also, technically in the Pyrenees. The vast range.
Would I be able to make it in the mountains? I didn’t have much experience in endurance uphill touring, let alone with all the added weight of the bags. Just looking at them from miles away, I could tell they had what it took to make or break someone.
I began to fear them. Also more clouds were building up in the distance.