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.’

Aristotle

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!

                        Haiku

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”