What happens?

Riding his bicycle – a model called the ‘Odyssey’ – along Europe’s longest cycle path called, suitably enough, ‘La Vélodyssée’, a middle aged man sets off on a thousand kilometre ride through the dunes and pine forests of France’s Atlantic coast.

With only the ghost of the sixteenth century philosopher Michel de Montaigne and a battered copy of the famous Essais for company, he fights off oversized ants, passes through lands recently devastated by wildfires, skirts a nuclear missile site, and spends time in a naturist resort…all this, even as he faces the rumbling thunder of his own existential crisis.

Where on earth is his sense of humour? And if not Michel, who then can save him from drowning in such cruel seas?


Me and Michel Chapter One

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home

 Matsuo Bashō

I am flying to Biarritz in the south of France with my two grown up daughters, where we’ll holiday together for two weeks on a campsite. Then, when they’ve gone, the plan is I will cycle the thousand kilometres home again – alone. I’ll be gone for maybe six weeks.

My daughters are waiting outside the airport terminal. Now beautiful young women of twenty-seven and thirty-one, and seeing them together, chatting and giggling as we park up, I realise I am the luckiest man in the world to have this time with them.

As the plane takes off, I know I need this break for other reasons. I have flown in planes all my life, and all at once, I fear flying. What’s happening to me? Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter One”

Me and Michel Chapter Two

‘He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.’

Michel de Montaigne

The appointment was routine enough.

An ancient wisdom tooth had been grumbling and crumbling away at the back of my mouth for some time. At my last check up, I’d been told I’d be better off without it and it was time to follow through… Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Two”

Me and Michel Chapter Three

‘There is no remedy for love but to love more.’

Henry David Thoreau

Ours is a swish campsite, and we have a spacious tent. We have two ‘bedrooms’ separated by a bit of canvas, a hob to cook on and a fridge. We have our own little concrete terrace outside, and we’re only a few minutes walk from the beach… Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Three”

Me and Michel Chapter Four

‘Life is pain Highness, anyone who tells you different is selling something.’

The Dread Pirate Roberts, from the film, Princess Bride


Life is hard. It always has been. It was hard for Michel de Montaigne, a respected ‘seigneur’, or lord, with his own vineyards and lands producing revenues and every opportunity for a comfortable life. He lived in a chateau near Bordeaux, close to where we’ll be cycling, and he was twice elected mayor of the city. He had a wife, a daughter, and many friends. He was a magistrate, and a diplomat, held in high esteem by kings and princes… Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Four”

Me and Michel Chapter Five

‘You only grow when you are alone.                                                       

Paul Newman


I’ve wheeled the bike down to the gates of the campsite, panniers fully laden and my fancy trailer firmly attached to the rear rack. The girls have walked down with me and stand by as I make final adjustments to the bungees holding everything in place. I fold the map to show the first leg of the journey, and slide it into the plastic window atop the handlebar pannier. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Five”

Me and Michel Chapter Six

‘The journey of life is like a man riding a bicycle…if he stops moving…he will fall off.’

William Golding

Day Three and my somewhat saddle sore life –despite the padded shorts – is concerned solely with questions of comfort and survival.

This is a good thing, I guess. This is why I chose to make this journey, to quiet the monkey chatter the better to hear myself think, to become a traveller and so an outsider, able to see myself objectively from the distance of the road. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Six”

Me and Michel Chapter Seven

‘Hope is a waking dream.’


I was well aware that camping was likely to be challenging after so long sleeping in a double bed with many pillows and a generous duvet. I had thought the ten days with my daughters might act as a kind of boot camp, even allowing for the fact that our tent was roomy and well equipped where my new sleeping arrangements are rather more basic. But it’s taking a while to adjust. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Seven”

Me and Michel Chapter Eight

engulfing sorrow

sly tide on a shallow shore

submerge me alone!

Considering the cycle path runs pretty straight, south to north, with few branches in other directions to confuse me, I often stop to check the map just for a break. I take the chance to be consciously present in the moment by noting, quite dispassionately, my unchanging surroundings and feeling some sense of achievement at every staging post, each new to me, though they do look uncannily familiar. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Eight”

Me and Michel Chapter Nine

‘What cannot be cured, must be endured.

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

My nightly ablutions always involve a walk in my PJs past my fellow campers, bearing wash kit and towel, to a communal concrete building that is generally uninviting.

The wash blocks are all the same and all different in a way that makes no difference. They are generally smelly and the floors are always wet, no matter what the time of day, it seems. Some have showers that must be paid for with a coin, others use tokens, and others still provide hot water free of charge, though only at peak time in the mornings and the evenings. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Nine”

Me and Michel Chapter Ten

‘In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.’

Yun-men, 9th century Chinese Chan master


There is no doubt any longer.

As I ride, the smell of smoke is quite distinct in the air, the result of the recent fires, particularly around Hostens, an area only fifty kilometres east of where I am today, en route for Biscarrosse Plage.

I thought maybe I could see the fires on the solemn faces of those people shopping in Mimizan this morning, but it was probably my imagination. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Ten”

Me and Michel Chapter Eleven

‘The only way to have a friend is to be one.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am on my way to see one of the natural wonders of Europe, it’s biggest sand dune, and a jewel in the crown of the Gironde region; Grande Dune du Pilat, sixty million cubic metres of sand, five hundred metres wide, two point seven kilometres long, rising up from the flat coastal plain to stand a hundred metres above sea level. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Eleven”

Me and Michel Chapter Twelve

be the dawn and dusk

of a world in constant flux –

embrace becoming!


I said my goodbyes to Landes almost as soon as I set off this morning, and though only a dotted line on the map, a new département makes it feel like I’m making progress.

I’ve been riding parallel with the D218, though for most of it, the cycle path runs well away from the traffic so the ride is leisurely and peaceful. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Twelve”

Me and Michel Chapter Fourteen

‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

                                                     William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun


I’m standing on the jetty at Arcachon, waiting for the ferry that will take me and the bike and a dozen other passengers across to Cap Ferret. Today, putting all other thoughts behind me, I begin the journey again, with the thrill of crossing the bay by boat and looking back at the land from the sea for the first time on this trip. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Fourteen”

Me and Michel Chapter Fifteen

‘Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.’

The very lovely people at reception give me a map. With 756 chalets on site, I’m sure I would struggle to find my new home without it.

The setting is quite beautiful. After the flatlands of my ride so far, much of La Jenny is set on gently rolling slopes, albeit with more sand dunes that lie beneath. Tarmac lanes wind through pines with brightly painted chalets in reds and blues and yellows, shy amongst the trees, like exotic birds. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Fifteen”

Me and Michel Chapter Sixteen

‘A day without laughter is a day wasted.’

Charlie Chaplin


There is a German woman staying in the chalet just across the way from mine.

We waved to each other in a cheery way as I moved in. She is alone it turns out, and we chatted briefly as I unloaded the bike, both of us clothed. She told me she is a regular here, that this place is her sanctuary from a busy life as a teacher in Dresden, and that she likes to meditate in the evenings. I told her about the ants and I think she understood, with a little ant acting on my part. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Sixteen”

Me and Michel Chapter Seventeen

‘The only journey is the one within.’

Rainer Maria Rilke

On my last day here among the Lotus Eaters at La Jenny, I’ve taken myself to the beach. I have a makeshift picnic with me, leftovers and some bread, and a bottle of wine. It’s good to breath the sea air and today the weather is exhilarating. There are waves maybe a metre high crashing onto the foreshore.

Nature in all its glory gives human worries and woes some scale. When my concerns are pitched against the elemental, when the weather has some fierce quality, as it does today, I often feel that I am calmer inside. Why that should be, I don’t know. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Seventeen”

Me and Michel Chapter Eighteen

‘The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.’
                                                                                 Marcus Aurelius

The time has come to say goodbye to naturism and hello to clothes and convention. It’s ten o’clock in the morning, and I’m standing at the gate leading from La Jenny to the familiar painted green cycle path of La Velodysée. My faithful steed is loaded up, trailer and all, and champing at the bit, more so than me I fear. I’ve got used to the comforts of home whilst I’ve been with the Lotus Eaters, and whilst I look forward to the ride, I don’t feel the same about sleeping in a tent again. And after so long our of the world, I feel rather overdressed in shorts and a t-shirt, but when in Rome… Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Eighteen”

Me and Michel Chapter Nineteen

‘The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.’

 Paul Valery


I am one hundred metres above the sea, and like a hovering bird, I can see for miles and miles, or kilometres and kilometres. And after so long on the flatlands of the coastal plain at only bicycle elevation, save for that one memorable night on the dune, the view is exhilarating.

Behind me, one point five kilometres of the Viaduc de L’île d’Oleron, the immensensely impressive arc of a bridge from the mainland, snakes eastward to the horizon and beyond. That’s the ascent I’ve just made to reach the apex, where I’m standing now. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Nineteen”

Me and Michel Chapter Twenty

‘To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.’

Bertrand Russell


I’m sitting cross-legged on a beach. It’s almost seven o’clock in the evening and the sand is already wet with dew. The huge sky above my head is purple, almost black, and the air is cool, borderline cold. I’m wearing layers, including a t-shirt, shirt and my only sweatshirt. It’s astonishing how the weather has changed, and astonishing to have become so aware of the changes by virtue of being outdoors for the past six or seven weeks. Summer has become autumn as `I’ve travelled the coast path, the passing of time has become tangible in the temperatures, visible in the changing colours of the leaves on the trees, and the shortening days. Continue reading “Me and Michel Chapter Twenty”