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 🙂