Pushing yourself mentally when you are feeling low is harder than pushing your legs to rotate the pedals of a loaded bike up a mountain. We cycled separately to Montbard, leaving me alone in my heavy thoughts. Struggling to decipher the rights from the wrongs, our friendship suddenly fell apart in a tacky sports cafe in Montbard. Anger swelled inside me as we both forgot how to see each other as good friends. I sat and drank cheap coffee, alternative plans swimming amongst the strong currents of annoyance in my head. For the first time, I realised our inability to be a team would be the most likely reason for failure of our trip together. Eventually the waves calmed and we tried to clear the stormy air between us.
I breathed into my muscles the next day, willing my wheels to go fast. I had something to prove. They drank the puddles dotting the towpath and powered alongside lock houses and over bridges. Grey and misty hills were home to flocks of sheep and grey-stoned farm houses. I watched as majestic storks rose high into the cloudy sky as we passed. Slowly, my negative thoughts drowned in the therapeutic reflections on the murky waters of the canal. The repetitiveness of the view became soothingly familiar.
Our interesting host family in Dijon was a welcome distraction. Floorboard planks led to the bedrooms in the basement, with the self-built and messy living area above ground. Anarchist slogans and family photos adorned the peeling walls around the fireplace. The children greeted us at the door with their mops of floppy hair and grown-up ease of conversation. Their creative minds and intelligence were tangible reflections of growing up in a somewhat alternative family. Over the weekend, they created their own computer programs, wrote music on synths, and watched their parents sing in a choral performance, critiquing the musicality of the performance. There was no mainstream TV to hungrily consume their time.
Two days of rest and escape from the cold helped us to heal our divisions and we happily cycled out of Dijon along the canal, spending one night with a lovely family in Orchamps before arriving in Besançon. The river meandered around the horseshoe-shaped old centre of the town. Several Roman remains are spread across the city, interrupting the golden grey stone streets with their unusual spires, towers, and pillars.
The next days were spent following the same waters of the canal. The rain and repetitiveness of the canal dilutes your memories and your mind drifts deep in thought. The water carved through hills that were becoming more and more alpine as the miles to the Swiss border declined. Our final night in France was spent in Mulhouse, a Germanic town in Alsace, with Jeremie and his shy cat. His parents invited us to their belated Saint Patrick’s’ day party with cannabis scented incense, Baileys and beers. Once again, we were treated to wonderful generosity.
As our time in France drew to an end my lasting impression was of incredible hospitality. We were welcomed time after time by lovely people who opened their doors to us, expecting nothing in return. Fittingly, our final meal was spent at a church group, sat around the table with an eclectic array of youngsters, having been invited by a lady at the supermarket checkout earlier in the day. Thank you for being so kind to us France. Merci for the ride.