Last night as we arrived in camp we were unable to check in. Like at so many French campsites we've encountered, the reception office was closed when their signs clearly indicated it should be open. We cycled through and made ourselves at home for the night while checking occasionally at the office to no avail. It seems important that we support the sites we stay in as they play such a vital role in our lives but unfortunately the French campsite warden can be an elusive creature.
Annoyed that being an honest customer felt akin to hunting a rare animal we agreed this morning to stop making such a concerted effort. Our feeling is now that if they don't want us to part with our money, we're through going out of our way to help them in doing so. To the surprise of nobody when we left, reception was closed. If any French campsite owners are reading this: consider a drop box for payments with clearly marked tariffs if you can't be bothered to staff reception!
A few dollars saved, we pushed our bicycles up the steep, San Francisco-esque hills leaving Rodez and made our way to the highway for another day of oppressively hot cycling. Neither of our happy-go-lucky attitudes towards cycling up mountains under the hot sun would be reprised today.
We quickly found the highway and began our trek into Massif Central. Every half-hour or so we took breaks to have a snack, hoping in vain to fend off the energy-sapping heat. Even more frequently we hid, resting shortly in what little shade we could find before venturing back out into the hazy sauna of a day. Almost continuously we turned to our water bottles looking for a cool drink to ease our suffering. Though it helped a little, our water was piping hot and anything but refreshing.
As we rode on it seemed to me that the only frozen thing in the world on this sweltering day was time itself. Every pedal stroke carried on for what felt like hours. I uselessly spent the time between each one reflecting why on earth I ever decided to uproot my cozy life for the "adventure" and "freedom" of the open road. Under the heat of the day my thoughts began to wander as though I were in a waking dream and it was around this time that we stopped for lunch.
We'd found a decent clearing with a good amount of dark shade and we collapsed to the miraculously cool ground in a sweaty, tired and smelly pile. Laughing together while eating lunch we talked about our delirious thoughts on the road behind us. Tara had been thinking, "If I just laid down in the shade and never woke up it wouldn't be so bad. It would be peaceful and relaxing and then I wouldn't have to bike up mountains in the heat." Meanwhile, I had been imagining elaborate scenarios where someone threatens my life and I laugh at their foolishness because they don't realize I wish I was dead.
We had a good laugh at our uncharacteristic and mutual morbidity, and then snuggled up in the cool shade for a relaxing nap. Thankfully Tara decided that peacefully dying on the side of the road wasn't that compelling; she woke up at my behest an hour or so later so we could continue on.
Though at the time it didn't feel like it would, all of our climbing did of course pay off. I was overjoyed when we reached this sign saying that the next 4 kilometers were downhill, almost all the way into Millau!
As we coasted down, a bizarre sign marked our arrival in our intended destination and also informed us that we might possibly acquire a roasted turkey from a proper chef, a nice bowl, and some gloves?
Once in town we stopped a Lidl grocery store and bought tropical flavored ice cream bars and devoured them them before going back into the heaven like air conditioning to buy groceries. Steak, red wine, and salad would be our dinner!
Finding a campsite was easy; they were everywhere. We settled on Camping des Deux Rivières and promptly found a great shady spot under some huge trees next to a river. Ignoring our camp-building duties we immediately ran down the riverbank into the freezing water.
As we splashed around together, the river washed away the hardships of our day. The suffering we had experienced on the road just hours ago seemed like some long forgotten memory. With our spirits immeasurably improved we made our way back to shore and simultaneously had the idea of cooling our wine in the river while we made camp and prepared dinner. I quickly grabbed a spare nylon strap and secured our bottle in the cool waters and we got to work making home.
It is remarkable the range of moods we experience in a day. In the course of three hours we went from half-jokingly wishing we were dead to being absolutely content in every way. All of our positive memories are definitely the fuel that keeps us going when things are hard. Looking back I am amazed that we made through the first week having nothing to draw on but our mutual faith that it would be worth it. I wonder how long it will be until we can weather any storm without negative thoughts. Maybe it isn't possible, but I guess we'll find out :)