Detour day

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This has been a day of rain, mud, getting lost in small villages again : in a word, the French North.

I spent almost seven hours to reach my target, when less than five were expected. I wasn’t in an open desert, but in a densely populated part of the country. What happened was that I tried using the roads the gps was suggesting. Right after leaving in the morning, I went from a small paved road, which transformed into a dirt road, into a bumpy mud road. And as I was expecting, I fell – almost. I was going slow enough to avoid an accident. I continued by foot for a long time before reaching a normal road again. Not an unpleasant experience, and as I was just starting my daily trip, I took that sequence lightly.

Still, after that, I stopped at every village or so, to check the next destination, and find that on the road signs. And for each stop I needed also some place to get protected from the constant rain, falling ever since I woke up. There’s a saying that if you can’t see the church in this part of France, it’s raining. And if you can see it, it’s going to rain. I was soaking wet for the whole day. I did have a fancy rain cloak, bought in LA actually, but after five minutes it was more effective in keeping pockets of water all over me than anything else.

Moving from village to village was ok, until I had to follow mandatory detours for road works. At this stage I didn’t try forcing through the construction areas as I did in the US. Maybe I should have. I was going slowly, but overall still in the right direction. And as long as you set close milestones, you feel like you are making progress.

I finally reached Douai, an average town that was about the middle of the trip. I was lured by signs of a nearby McDonald’s “unique in the region” (uniqueness of a McDonald’s is in itself intriguing), did a large detour around the city and never found it. Back on the road.

The last half of the trip was also filled with unnecessary detours. At one point I noticed I was going off course, went back, found the small road I was supposed to take, and ended up with the choice to once again take an agricultural road, or more or less go east or west and go back the way I was coming from. And I chose to get through a cobblestone road, very typical of the region. After 10 meters I was on foot again to avoid breaking down my bike. The road ended in another mud sequence.

Time was passing by, I was surviving on a banana and a few cookies, and enjoying the few minutes when it was not pouring heavily. It was like 2pm, probably two more hours until I reached the destination. Any bakery in this village ? No, all closed from noon to 3pm. Oh well.

  
I started seeing signs for the patchwork of towns making up the Lille metropolis, and I was finally there. Not too tired but still happy I was done. 90kms planned, certainly more than a hundred done. For this trip to Sweden I stopped counting distance up or down, or keeping track of speed. I’m only checking I don’t get lost, and I get to arrive whenever I can. No rush, no pressure, no stress. I’ll be there at some point.

This whole day was also in itself a detour : I decided to visit a branch of the family. My aunt, her daughter (so my cousin) and her family here. People that I had not seen for around 30 years! We are literally all splattered over France, still, as you can gather, we don’t visit each other often. My cousin has a daughter and a son of less than 30 years, hence, I had never seen them.

  
My aunt, now 85, recognized me immediately, my cousin too, and I got to know her children. It was nice being with family, even distant, a feeling closer to home than a hotel (although in a hotel I would tend to remain hours in the shower). We talk about trips, life in the region, the US, comics… I also remember that it was here that I played the first video game of my life, Pong, when I was probably 8. I knew it was the future when I saw that 🙂

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Angkor Wat

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A great and easy first day, with less than 40 km’s, mostly on dirt tracks in the jungle, and visiting temples!

   

I met the rest of the group over breakfast : six people from Australia, three from Canada, and one from Germany – who also did a very long flight coming here. People slightly older than me, except for two sons (teenagers). I was getting a bit nervous when some started discussing their marathons times! But at the end of the day, we don’t seem to have a huge gap in capacities. Tomorrow will be much longer, I’ll see if I keep up – especially as they know now I crossed the US, and probably think I’m an Olympian biker!

 

Today was dedicated to visiting a few temples around the city – there are actually dozens in the jungle north of the city, among which Angkor Wat is the biggest and the most preserved. We started quite early at 8, and left the city to quickly enter the jungle surrounding it. Biking in small dirt paths is great when you have the proper bike. And I got the same exhilarating feeling of biking in another country, as I did in San Francisco the first day last year. Except that, when you miss so much the one you love, half of yourself is kinda like switched off, looking out the window.

 

We were slaloming from one road to another, taking shortcuts in smaller paths, with quite a lot of mud, as it’s been raining for some time (as would be expected during monsoon season). But there were no major difficulty, and we were moving fast enough.

  
 

Our guide, Bun, takes all the time to explain when and how the temples were built, left to decay, and for some, restored, then going even into comparative theology, as the country switched from Hinduism to Buddhism around the 15th century. This was right after the 600 years of the Angkor period, where Cambodia was autonomous and powerful, and everyone was building temples around. Then we visit one, two, three not-so-small temples. Among one of them, trees have reclaimed their place, and are now part of the structure and the tour – some of the most famous pictures of Cambodian temples include them. Most of the walls are carved with events of the time, in a similar way to Egyptian carvings, or the Bayeux tapestry, with lots of soldiers, and sequences of events.

  

Moving around with a support vehicle is really fantastic, as I discovered in Kansas. You don’t have to carry much, you have snack breaks every now and then… And someone to look over your stuff when you visit.

   

We visited Angkor Wat mid afternoon. This temple was never left to decay on its own, as there was always some people looking over it, which is why it’s in a great state. Lots of restorations were done though, including by French colonists early in the 20th century. The proportions are impressive, especially as each level rises 10 or 20 meters, with steep stairs, over the previous one. What was the most surprising to me, is that each new level is a block put on the previous one : there are no rooms in the current level, it just rises to a new plateau. That’s a lot of stones. Lots of tourists there of course. The roads around the temple are filled with small shops and kids trying to sell you postcards. 

  

Rain started to pour right as we headed back for the hotel. After a couple minutes, I was soaking wet, my shoes were soaking wet, so there wasn’t much else to do than enjoy it to the fullest! So I started aiming at any rain puddle on the way, parting water like Moses, laughing like madman, and having the most fun I had in over a month! That was a whole new meaning to “biking bad”, as I was spraying water all over my partners when passing them 🙂 And I jumped in the swimming pool as soon as we arrived, a perfect way to relax after riding. 

  

So, even with a short ride, I had some time to think about my first theme, learning about love. But this is a question that’s been in my mind for long. What I mean here is how you are given a visual, social example of what love is. Basically, what school would teach you about it, if they would.

  

I think that, as with most lessons, you learn by watching, and then doing. Monkey see, monkey do. And the first place to learn is in your family. If not, among other families, or among friends. But the parents are, probably, the first example of what love can be experienced in a couple, and in another form, the love they have for their children. This is certainly how you learn about caring, tenderness, helping, being present, protecting, respecting, etc.
  

The challenge comes when you haven’t got two parents, or no sensible parental love. Then you have no example set to you in the beginning. As I understood a long time later, this is a critical missing piece in early education. I certainly wasn’t an abused orphan or anything, but the fact that you are not the worst off doesn’t diminish your issues. It takes a lot more time to discover that you missed something, simply because you can’t know you should have had it in the first place. You have to play with the cards that you are dealt, whatever their value in the game. But if you are able to play well with bad cards, you become that much stronger.

  

So when you do find that you are lacking something, there isn’t much to do but learning by yourself, and trying not to overcompensate. For instance, I always had a tremendous lack of tenderness, and expressing it now is very important to me, even more so than receiving it. When it is not accepted and I don’t know why, it is a great source of frustration. This is where you must understand that you are probably not the cause, but a collateral damage of what is happening in the other one’s life. Not so easy at the start of a relationship, when you are still missing a good understanding of how everyone works. Later on, you would know to back off for some time, help in some other way, and not stress out for a bad reason.
 

Manassas

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I didn’t avoid rain today ! All of my preparation amounted to nothing at the end of the ride : I was soaking wet.

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Another relatively short ride planned to get halfway to Washington, and to the first Warm shower host in a long time. I think the previous one was in Utah ! Anyway, I had a map prepared, as I would use a few different roads today.

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Unlike the day before, I immediately geared up for rain. It had been raining ever since my arrival yesterday, and it was still very grey and menacing in the morning. So I donned all of the rain gear and tried putting my shoes in plastic bags again. I did try riding with flip flops in Christiansburg, and it was not fun.

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It had started with a light drizzle immediately. I was still riding on US29 for some time, and everything was going well. My shoes remained dry, I was going forward. I switched to a smaller road towards Manassas. No more shoulder, but a lot less traffic as well.

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Then it really started to pour down on me. Not end of the world level, still, a really strong and constant wall of rain. I had to stop a couple of times at gas stations to wait it out. But at this stage, with the usual riding sweat, I was already just as wet with the rain gear as without. And my shoes started being wet as well.

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I stopped for lunch just a few miles off my destination, but the rain kept on going. So I resumed biking and was back to square one : I had to dry off everything after my arrival. I found Margaret and Tom’s place easy enough, a really nice house in a residential area in the forest. And of course this is when the sun started coming out 🙂

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100 days since starting from San Francisco !

Bardstown

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This is a larger city around the middle of Kentucky. To me a large city is above 10k people now 🙂 It’s also been a second day of rain ! There’s even been tornado alerts over Kentucky. And the movie tonight : the day after tomorrow.

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Yesterday another cyclist arrived at the B&B : Roy, a Norwegian from Trondheim ! Yes, just like Lewis Trondheim 🙂 He’s going along the TransAmerica and plans to be in Washington in a couple of weeks. That’s one week earlier than me :p

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We did the ride together until Bardstown and he continued further. The sky was grey all the way, and we’ve been hit by rain twice, but it wasn’t as strong as the other day. I tried the plastic bags to cover my shoes but it didn’t help :p Another run in the dryer ! Aaand I lost another two foam pads that go inside my helmet, the dryer gobbled them. I lost one in Marion the same way, nothing in the lint compartment or anywhere. Now I’ve only one left, I need to find a way to replace them. That will a quest when I take a day off in Danville !

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Anyway, we rode under the rain without any problem. After a few miles in the fields, we switched to a larger road gaining us around 10 miles and a lot of hills. We also got to see the boyhood place of Lincoln ! His birthplace was a bit off route, but this one farm was right on our detour. Well he only lived here from about 2 to 6, but he said these were his earliest memories, including slavery. It was one of the reasons his parents moved north afterwards.

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Riding on a larger road has a lot of advantages. For one it’s larger 🙂 There usually is a shoulder. The slopes are also gentler, and it doesn’t twist and turns so much. And that means less farms with loose dogs. The main issue is the traffic, but on a rainy Sunday it was ok. So we reached Bardstown in only three hours.

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I wish I could take pictures under the rain and thunder, it makes for amazing views. But I don’t want to risk my phone.

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I had been juggling with options all the way. I could have gone on to the next city, or further on. The stops I had planned are relatively close, I could go a bit faster. But gaining one day here at the expense of stamina is not a good idea (all the while being soaked by rain). My last stop was eight days ago, and my legs are complaining.

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So I decided to remain in Bardstown, a nice town with a historic district that I passed quite quickly. And I’ll go to Danville tomorrow and do a stayover there (so that will be *my* day after tomorrow). I plotted a nice motel close to the cinema 🙂 I haven’t seen a movie since Montrose in Colorado ! That was a month ago ! What marvels could have happened in the meantime ?