Thurs 20th June.
Ambling around the south.
Over the years I had heard so much about the south France. The heat, the beauty, the sea, the people and food. Movie stars buy houses and take holidays there (even have their kids here in the case of Brad and Angelina). Yet all I experienced was high winds, endless boring roads and miles upon miles of vineyards, whose charm had worm off. There were few opportunities to cycle beside the sea, after I’d heard that the south was well-connected by cycle-friendly lanes and roads, which I’d seen everywhere else in France, but struggled to find here.
It was grinding me down quickly.
I got out early woken up by people on the farm springing to life. It sounded like there was a lot of young people there. Maybe it was a WWOOF farm. I snuck out unnoticed, it crisp and the sun was rising. I saw a group of ladies out walking, we exchanged ‘bonjours’ which lifted my spirits and gave me an optimistic start to the day.
My aim was to get to the coast and head east with the sea to my right, only there was nothing connecting me to the sea.
I ended up on roads for hours surrounded by cars, the most boring countryside I’d seen for weeks and a rising heat. When I did make a break for the sea, I got stuck in some nothing land that was home to ditches, sand and a burnt-out car. It was by the sea, but the road ended. It was a dead cul-de-sac, which meant backtracking, wasting time and giving me one safe option of heading to Arles, then moving south.
I put all my energy into getting to Arles as quickly as possible, for two hours I was cycling full pelt against a strong headwind, but managing to keep an average of about 30kph, something I hadn’t done before.
When I got to Arles I’d used up more energy then anticipated, leaving me feeling drowsy and with a very short patience. All I wanted to do was check the internet and leave, yet the city was another cultural hotspot, home to art, history, architecture and tales of frequent visits from Van Gogh.
I thought about seeing some of the sights, but realised I couldn’t care less about forcing myself to like something I had no energy for. Every city seemed to have hundreds of things to see and do, a wealth of places you ‘have’ to go to according to Lonely Planet and sites like Trip Advisor designed to fill people with an endless wealth of things to do and keep them spending money.
I realised that despite the fact that these places are historical, were cashing in on their history, using marketing to attract as many tourists as possible to mine these towns dry of any ambience or well-being.
I was done with trying to like places and instead would do exactly what I wanted, which usually meant buying food, checking the internet, drinking coffee and writing or reading a book. No longer would I be a mental slave to all the things I would miss in each city. It’s simply impossible to do everything.
I should also add that long bouts of cycling gives you an incredibly short patience anyway, so the thought of seeing something you’re not that interested is already difficult.
This revelation made me almost proud to be ditching more ‘culture’ in favour hamburgers and fizzy drinks. I ordered my third full meal at the American chain and got comfortable.
No-one could host me in Marseille, but someone did recommend a cheap community campsite outside the city boarders, which sounded fine.
I was starting to feel bad that I was spending so much time on this trip in McDonald’s. I promised myself I wouldn’t go everyday, even if it meant not staying with hosts. I realised that McDonald’s had become my temporary office on the road. The always looked exactly the same and offered the same things all over the country.
I should add that hosts provide a few essentials for my well-being, hence my dependence upon them. If I went without them for more than four days, I would start to breakdown in tiredness and exhaustion from short nights sleeping in the tent, possibly leading to short-term damage. This I would learn in Marseille.
Around five I left the complex and headed out into the countryside again, looking to make up some distance and find a spot for the night.
My route took me through quiet roads with tall, bushy, green trees either side, made nicer by the hazy orange sunset. The wind had died down and no-one was on the roads, it was the perfect time to be out riding. It stayed like this for miles and was absolute heaven compared to the first half of the day. The realisation occurred that it was one of the many days were you get a heavy blend of ups and downs, just tipping the scales in favour of positivity.
I passed a small town where some kind of fête activity was taking place and police had blocked cars going through the street. I stopped to investigate but couldn’t make out what it was.
I left the road for a beautiful field perfect for camping, with a house in the centre. I knocked on the door to ask to camp (something I told myself I would do from now), but no one answered. I considered camping in the field regardless, but voted against it. There was another house nearby, which sounded like its owners were hunting pheasants. I passed on that one.
Later I found a perfect spot in a country park, distance enough from the roads and covered by fir trees. As I looked out in the distance I could see the mountains near Avignon in the pink sunset. I finished the wine I’d picked up in Montpellier and listened to podcasts while drifting off.