Jeremiah Watt Cycling around God's Creation

long distance bicycle touring

Posts tagged ‘france’

Blog40-up thru Pais Basque

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The roads were indeed wet as I left fond memories of George and Natalie further behind with each pedal stroke. The threatening clouds were just that, threatening, never amounting to anything but bluster. By evening those grey clouds broke and scattered for the open ocean further south, leaving in thier wake a magnificent sunset to end a long day on the cranks. I am now headed north up thru Pais Basque country. North, too yet another friends house.

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My route is along the smallest most remote “D”roads I can find. Abundant hardwoods are festooned in thier autumn splendor, vibrant shades and hues are dabbled like so much paint on an artists easel……God has his hand in the landscape on display. The countryside is rolling a little higher and steeper with each passing mile. One full day of brilliant sunshine is followed by a nasty day of rain and wind which kept me pinned in my tent for the entire day. Survived the day of rain without much damage to me, my tent or contents.

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Broke free of the mud and mire that was my bedding ground for away to long. Further south, and many short steep climbs, takes me along cathedral trail as I came to call it. As you rode along, it just seemed that each distant hill had a Cathedral sitting at it’s crest. A statement of a time now past in largely secular France. Each day comprised some 25-35 short and often very steep climbs. The further north by northwest I went, the longer and harder the hills became, down to the point that some I simply had to push my bike up. The grand vista which lay always over my left shoulder, was that of the snow mantled Pyrennes. The white caps of snow recede into the vibrant hues of hardwood trees which inturn gave ground to the verdant green pastureland. Grazing white sheep dot the green grass like giant cotton balls across the Pais Basque lanscape.

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Busy with pedalling, grunting and farting to claim yet another hilltop village, I was passed by a small truck with 2 road bikes in the back. We all waved and smiled and I rezumed my pedalling. Some few moments later I actually crested that hill, arriving in a small town square with a tiny church as its focal point. There on the side of the road was a fellow biker sort of cheering me on, I stopped in order to catch my breath and exchange cycling pleasantries. It turns out this fellow had met up with the two fellows in the truck mentioned earlier, they were bedecked in the latest racing spandex and team colors, ready to tear up the roads of rural France. They were sort of laughing scoffing at my road tractor…..eh, bike. Her all black paint, and dull colored appointments, bags hanging off any and every place you could hang something from. She is no beauty when sitting beside the carbon fibre works of art they road…….too many smiles and snide comments for to simply shut up. All 3 of these fellows were and still are younger than am I, so, I motioned for the very first fellow I met to come over with his bike……it took a little coaxing, but finally he rolled his bike on over. Holding it by the crossbar, I hoisted it over my shoulder one handed, nothing difficult, it only wieghs like 11 pounds. Then I motion for him to come around opposite of me and hold my bike…….slowly, tenatively he approaches the offside of my bike….holding the seat and handlebars…….I ask him if he “has” my bike because I will let go. With a broad smile he nods and claims his metallic prize. His smile oh so quickly fades into that of total shock, eyes like pie plates as both he and the bike fall strait over backwards…….perfectly pinning him to the ground with its wieght. Oh how I wanted to slap my leg laughing…………but no, not me,  I held my composure as I helped him out from under my steed. All three left with a little more respect for those who travel the long lonesome road of a world voyage………..soon as they left I tossed out all the bricks I had put in my bags…just kidding.

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Much of my ride or roads has coincided with the Compostella route. The via de Compostella has actually several routes and names. So let me explain if I can. You may even want to rent the movie called “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen….a good flick. This movie set in modern times uses the Compostella as the scripts backbone, and the people you meet in the movie

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added the human story to a biblical frame. Yes, the Compostella is a biblical pilgrimage story of one Saint James. But, like all good stories there are twists, turns, and yes even an occasional half truth. Once here, in Europe that is, you will find there are actually three walks by various Saints, it,s just that the pilgrimage of Saint James is the best known. Since I am now in Spain, I will add yet another bizarre twist to the whole Compostella story. The reason for the original walk was one of duty and a Godly calling by that of Saint James, walking from Rome to Santiago de Compostella on the sea coast of northern Spain. That pilgrimage journey has morphed over the years into many who walk for a Godly reason, but it may have to do with asking for a miraculous healing, or thanks for such an event…..but with an eye and heart towards God the creator. Slowly the secular crowd have also taken to walking the Compostella as well. Since the original Compostella route makes abundant use of abbeys and churches as places of refuge for weary travellers on thier personal pilgrimage…..it stands to reason that overtime the secular nonbeliever types would have thier voices heard as well. So, as I am told today while in Ondarrua Spain, located on the atlantic coast, there is a new route growing in popularity which takes in more scenery and hotels and far less hardship and churches. Trust a total disbeliver to screw up an intimate human spiritually guided story.

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Anyways to the point. Once again the day finds me rolling into the base of yet another hill in my path towards days end. Ahead of me is a walker……I have seen enough of them that I can pick them out from simple day hikers. He is an aged man ( oops, turns out he is same age as myself ) slightly stooped, walking stick in hand and a backpack…..the classic “compostellaian” as I call them. Rolling up beside him, he turns to greet me and our visit begins. I can see he wears the Compostella sea shell around his neck, and he carries a simple stone in his pocket, which he proudly shows me. The sea shell is an adornment visible on houses who have over the years supported the travelling pilgrims with both food and shelter, a marker to all who see it declaring your intenttions as a pilgrim. The stone on the other hand is carried as a symbol of the wieght of your personal infliction, and at the far end of your journey you toss your stone onto the mountain of stones carried by thousands of others who walked before you.

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This fellow was placed in my path by God not by accident. Please read on. Being from Spain, and being 65 when he began his walk, he wanted it to be a true or real pilgrimage likes that of James. He left Barcellona

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with what he could wear, a simple blanket to sleep, but not one penny in his pocket. He has never bought a meal, never bought a hotel room and never went without. Kindness of Christ and the saints who dwell among us has been his constant companion on this incredible pilgrimage……but in a very bizarre way it gets even better. Eventually our visit turns to myself and my own journey which is always fun to share. Quickly though, my mention of Mongolia and Russia ellicit a broad smile and excitement in his eyes, it was easy too see the chage in his composure. He begins to tell me about his nephew and a friend who left Barcellona 2 years ago as well, and how they are travelling around the world and rode thru Russia and Mongolia just this summer as well. It is astounding to me, just how small the world is and how interconnected our lives become if we just have the courage to get off the couch and begin living the life that God has planned for us. I ask Antonio, my trekking friend……”does your nephew have long hair that is very curly, and does his friend Carlos have thick black hair…..are they maybe 30 years old. “Yes, yes, thees is my nephew and Carlos, do you read they story?”. No I said, I am pretty sure I met them both in Russia. His face went totally blank, like someone just pulled his hard-drive out……..the look that followed was that of disbelief. Seeing that we had a bit of a mental disconnect, I get out my phone and scrolled back thru images……sure enough, I find the 2 guys Pine and I met and whom fit the description he gave. When I showed him the image, it was unbelievable for him that I would have an image of his nephew in my phone……..I thought he was going to faint or kiss me for joy. We both acknowledged God’s divine hand within moments and events like these, both of us knowing we are pilgrims on different journeys but with the same end goal. If you go back to Blog post 15, you will read my mention of both these fellows and thier own amazing 50,000km journey thus far.

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Dang but I am long winded at times, but just too many good stories and memories too not take a moment and share them with all of you. My itinerary has me rolling headlong into the village of Ustaritz at the heart of Pais Basque country. Where proudly the Basque lay claim to a region within both France and Spain….as, thier own. Just a provincial region south I was rolling thru Gascogne where it seemed cows and cereal grain farming ruled. But rolling out of that region into what is Basque country it is easy to see that sheep have amply replaced cattle, and grazing takes precedence over farming. The grass is still thick and vibrant green, yes, even this late in the year. The hills just get steeper by the minute, so tractor type farming would not work here. Within Ustaritz is another friend, Pierre Duinat, or the wild haired one as I call him. We both met during my saddletree making class, and a good friend he became. Knowing my route took me north, he made me an offer of a place to stay and a meal if I so chose. Pierre lives as a widower, a man preoccupied with interests and hobbies, and like many of us….TIME is his curse. The house is 3 story, huge and grand all in one breath. The ground floor is all hand cut stone of some 16″square, hardwood timbers make up the roof of each level, rock cut and stacked 3 stories tall and 3 feet thick at ground level. The upper two floors have 12″wide heavy oak flooring with hand forged “TEE” style nails holding the beautiful character laden boards in place. High 12 foot cielings, heavy hardwood doors and shutters at every turn. You wind your way vertically in the house on a 8 foot staircase. Each room repleat with a 6 foot wide fireplace, the dining room has an 8 foot wide fireplace. And it all sits in the middle of 20 unspoiled acres of assorted fruit and nut trees. Built in 16 something, it was the last place that Jean Lafeyette slept in his home country before setting sail for the Americas to aid us in our War of Independance.
Thankyou Pierre for a great visit and fine meals sitting in your garden.

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Blog38-generators,Christ and hill climbs

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Its been a wild few days to be sure, my brother Niel got on the plane about 9am out of Nice, France. Which left me time to get back to the Hotel pack and get on the road by about 10.15am. I can only sit around a town for so long and then the “stir crazy thing”sets in. Gott,a move, gotta do something, so might as well ride ( I know it should be a horse and it will be when I get home Sis, promise). Besides, the truth is, I was missin my own cookin. On another note my wife brought me Bible Tracts to hand out, so far I have hit 75 or 80 that I have handed out. The reason for the title to this blog is because of just how wierd this night has turned out to be. I done a little buck naked Preachin…..honest injun I did., but not at all by plan. We climbed for 12 miles, not all climbing mind you, only to arrive at the top and find my blue GPS dot moved and had tricked me into riding the wrong road. Now, I am considering my options for the morning and what they may be. As my Pastor and friend Rob would advise, they would say -Pray about it, and I will.

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With my tent setup near the back end of a gravel parking lot about 100 feet off a traffic circle, and my stove setup to heat water for tea, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon and the clouds were on fire in all thier glory. It all seemed to me a good time to step behind my tent and have a quick bath. So with that in mind, I took out my OTHER clothes I wear at night ( almost the same just less sweat in them ). Add a little water here, and a little water there,, after all you are using about a quart of cold water to clean off the high spots from head to toe…..bare butt naked……..never even heard him drive in. Yes, a fellow drove in with a tiny little car which was covered in some sort of flame motif. By the time I seen him, he had already opened his door maybe 20 feet out in front of me. He walked with a purpose did this tall thin fella, I actually thought this was gonn’a get really ugly the way it was coming together. I should have known that being naked is one of the best ice breakers there is and renders most hostile situations to something akin a gong show. Pretty sure I surprised him as badly as he had surprised me. Not sure whose eyes were bigger once he knew my undressed state. But surprise did not halt his advance oe bit……as he came on I had the wisdom to instantly drop the water bottle and grap my camp towel. With a left hand full of camp towel and my equipment, water dripping from my nose, elbows and other places he stops 3 feet from me……a little bewildered as to what to say or what to look at first. So, realizing the awkward place that he found himself in, I began the dialogue……”hey hey, up here buddy, yup talk to me right here…..the towel is just a decoy……..dont worry about it for now. He says, What are you doing like this on private property…… in what was very broken english, enough I got the drift. Sorry I say, I didnt realize that the parking lot was a private affair. Yes yes he exclaimed rather excitedly, “ees is mine”. “Why are doing with a velocipede, what for”. So now with only one hand available, I have to explain that I ride for Christ, to meet people and see the world……try that with one hand tied behind….your someplace. “May I stay just tonight I asked”. To which he replied by making a rather loud motor noise which really confused the whole dialogue……about that time a 30 foot motorhome pulled in and stopped right in front of our debate stage. The driver steps out and walks right over to a tall thin man and another with a “too tiny” camp towel and goosebumps on the cheeks of his but you could hang a baseball cap on…….dang but that breeze was cool. He as it turns out, is surprised as the tall thin fella when it comes to my state of dress………”what does he do” he says not too me, but to the tall thin fella. He also then makes rather eboulliant gestures and noises like a motor or something. As it all turns out, these 2 fellas run a mobile wood fired oven pizza kitchen right out of the old motorhome, and the noise motions were a warning that once they setup thier generator I would not sleep well. Fine, I understand and accept the discomfort……..can I just put some clothes on……..no, I am not embarresed……..I am frozen. They left to go about thier work, and I dressed. Maybe an hour later they came over for an earnest visit about my trip, about Christ, about salvation thru Christ, and about what I do when not cycling. Maybe another hour goes by and they brought me over what has been the best 4 cheeses pizza I have had too date. A situation that began looking as thought it may not be too pleasant infact turned out quite remarkable. Handed out yet 2 more bible tracts in the process and never dropped the camp towel.

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Lets go back a wee bit, my leaving Nice was not at all difficult. Basically hit the boardwalk and cycle slowly down thru the throng of people that lined the beach promenade, watching the road beside me said that it was even busier. There is a point where you just want to leave humanity behind for a spell, no matter how nice they are or how good the food is. Sure hope there are a few dark corners in heaven for a guy like me to get into and collect his thoughts.  My route of choice has me on the coast down to Frejus and then from there I turn more northerly and westerly all the time. Dont get me wrong the coast is a true camera paradise, but not being an ocean and beach guy, it was wearing on me in a bad way. Stopping every 15 to 20 minutes to remove various and sundry items, bikinis, thongs, towels, sand pails from my spokes and chain was fraying my rock steady nerves. Did’nt seem to bother the folks that lost thier swim suit…..at all. Meantime, I was riding back and forth along the beach trying to be sure that each bikini wearer got her suit back…………call it the good samaritan in me, just my sense of obligation kickin in. First camp, first day after Nice, was set like a birds nest high on a rocky point of a headland. The wind was cool, the legs were tired and it was 5pm and the sun was slouched low on a clear horizon line. So that was it, there were so many houses and people around and very few flat spots to throw out even my little tent, I just threw out the bag of sleep and my mattress and cook up some couscous. Hit the sack at 7pm sharp, and slept right thru till 7am. Hot coffee, some toasted baguette (this baguette was a real one, not those convection oven specials like we get back home) we are rolling.

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The previous night, I talked to Colleen and found out where my saddle making friend Yves Lesire had moved to. once armed with that bit of information we then had to workout a new route or approach to Yves place. Since going north at all would be a waste of time. We head due west, again along the French coast. the countryside gets quite rough and rocky between Nice and Marseille, it rather caught me by surprise. At one point I dropped down into a small town on very steep roads which I came to regret later upon exiting the place. Roads where in the mid 30 percent grade and 2 that I road on where cobble which really makes it fun. The tiny little village was gorgeous to be sure, very quaint and worth the effort, but the Postal lady not so much. My reason to drop down in to the town was to rid myself of some items that needed to just get mailed home………THE POSTAL LADY’S RESPONCE…..very sorry but we do not take mail……only give mail……adios ( but in french which I cannot spell ). Plenty cold and windy, the weather began to change the day before and just kept getting colder.

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Down off a rocky ridge I blazed, as I made my way into Marseille, a town that I really wanted to just get thru and out the other side so I could find a camp. For some reason that is not how it ended up. I got hopelessly turned around in town and it took me and my cell phone better than 2 hours to get things right again. By now I am about 2 miles from the western edge of the city and it is very dark and I need to make camp someplace. Marseille is a rather ruff town, and I am right down in the seedy part of town with no hotels/motels that you spend more than an hour in if you get the picture. I prayed as I pedaled and looked for a campsite, sure enough,it turned up, right along the edge of shipping yard, chain link fence to keep the guard dog from me, a willow tree with low hanging branches, no broken glass etc to impail me and a large enough flat spot to pitch the tent. We made it, what more could be asked for. I was able to sit there eating and watch folks walk past on the sidewalk just 10 feet away who had no idea that I was there. Had a hot supper but no bath, just too cold. Two cups of sweet hot tea to finish the night, climbed into bed and began yet another book that Pine had helped me download sometime back. About books, not too segway off into anotber direction, but I am a huge fan of Brian Jaques writings for kids known as the Redwall Series. Since Brian has new book out I of course had to get my head into that one as well.

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Esapcaped Marseille by just a few minutes after 6 the next morning. My route would take me right into the french Camargue ( Frances ranching and horse  culture center). This is a special place within France for many reasons beyond the simple fact it has cattle on it. The cattle are a breed unto themselves,adapted to these wet marshy saltwater laden tidal flats. High horned and smaller than thier American cousins, fast affoot and excellent swimmers. The horses as well are an adaptation, born solid black and turning white within a few years. They as well are shorter than most American horses, lighter, and larger shoe sizes( refferencing the horses shoe size here, not the French mans foot) All of which are an adaptation to the wet environs they must operate within.  The wind is howling out of the north and escaping down thru passes in the French Alps to sweep across the coastal tidal flats and escape out over the boiling surface of the Mediterranean. I was not so lucky, no escape for me. It was mostly a head wind, I had on every piece of clothing I owned and was still freezing up badly. The route I had chosen thru the Camargues is devoid of trees, nothing taller than about your waist around, no place to get out of the first gail type winds of the pending winters approach.

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A portion of my route required I take a ferry crossing over to a tiny isthmus of land that bridges the saltwater like a dancing ashphalt ribbon across sea grass right up into the city of Montpellier. For 2 hours a trucker and I sat waiting for the ferry which ran on the hour???? Only to find that after the first run the Ferries operator quit and went home without telling anyone. Now that we knew there would be no ferry coming our way today we both turned back into the wind for a direct shot so 20 miles total of wasted time and energy. We would now make our way north towards Arles which is considered to be the nkrthern edge of this camargues region. The town is obviously proud of its legacy and heritage as it regards cattle and horses both as steel signs of appreciation for both animals festoon thier tiny streets. Out thru the other side we roll, right after we stock up at a Boulangerie for some pastry and bread. Further on we get some sausage and water for tonights supper. Camp, wow, one of the best I have had in sometime. We camped quietly behind a row of huge spruce trees that act as a wind break for an apple orchard. Great supper and great camp. Adios the coast and hello to more interior type small village farm ground……I am well pleased.
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I thought surely I would make it to Yves saddleshop, but no such luck. Its cold again with a milder wind but in it all I realize that I will need some warmer clothing for the coming season. Since Montpellier is a much larger town than most I will be going thru, I opt to do a little shopping in the afternnoon. Tried 3 different cycle stores, all had clothing, all of it was aimed at winning the Tour de France. Hence a little to light and flimsy for a fella following my current pursuit. Had to pass on adding any heavier clothing at the moment, not for lack of trying. That evening, I camped within about 15 miles of my desired destination, but once again, it was just too dark to make it all the way. Quit for the day and found another great camp site.
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I began the next day with little shopping right off the bat, there was a SuperMarket right along side the road that enticed me in, not that I needed any food. I have a friend, Don Wudel back in Canada who used to keep the saddle shop ( Chuck Stormes Saddlery where I was able to apprentice )supplied with Schimmelpennick Dutch Ginger cookies called Speculous. Since I knew they were his favorite  cookie, I thought I would buy some Lu brand Speculous and mail them over to him in Alberta. So Wudel, I now have  your cookies I just need to find a French Postman during those brief few hours that they are actually at work so I can get them sent. Made it to my talented friend Yves Lesires house by about noon and was welcomed in the usual french fashion……..with an embrasser…….a kiss to each sweaty cheek…….and a very fine meal. Yves, Myriam and Erin Lesire make France a must stop destination for me with hospitality,friendship and great food. Yves, not just an outstanding saddlemaker but a heck of a cook as well, prepared his world famous Shrimp recipe for me which I had heard about maybe 10 years earlier from my buddy Brock Lynch. Brock had bragged about it, and what Yves prepared indeed lived up to the boast of a Colorado salt salesman. For desert,I was served an indigenous Villeveyrac variety of apple….wow what an apple. Tried a second just to be sure and it was just as good. Friends are Gods Blessing for our time here on earth, and Yves and family are certainly that.
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