Guess what I saw when I looked out of the window this morning! Guess!! Something I haven’t seen in such a long time!…The trees weren’t moving! Well, just a very gentle rustle, but no wind! You little BEE-YOO-TEE!! The forecast had been for a drop in the wind today, so we planned to make the most of it and do a longer ride, so we set off early.
First stop on our way out of Carcassonne was the Post Office. Good Friday isn’t a holiday in France, so it was business as usual. Easter Monday is the only public holiday here for Easter. Knowing we were heading into the Easter period though, where finding supplies and shops open may prove difficult over the weekend, we had stocked up at the supermarket in Carcassonne with a few day’s worth of supplies and meals. As we pedalled off, I certainly felt the extra weight in my “pantry panniers”! We arrived at the post office a few minutes after it opened so we could post home a few bits and pieces, such as our Spain & Portugal maps and my padded bike shorts that I no longer wear. Steve suggested I just throw the bike shorts out, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away perfectly good Castelli pants, that just happen to be extremely uncomfortable on our long rides. I’m sure I’ll wear them again at home on my road bike with the skinnier seat, or maybe on shorter rides, but either way I decided to send them home rather than have them take up room in my bag, or to throw them away. So here I was at the post office, with the mission, should I choose to accept it, being to make myself understood to get this little parcel sent home. I stood in line and was called up to the counter.
“Un pochette, Australie,” I asked.
The woman behind the counter hopped up, disappeared behind some shelves and appeared with a box.
“Non,” I said, “envelope, soft?” (a bit of a mixture of English and French there!)
She checked the shelves again and held up a square pouch. We both shook our heads, it was too small. Oh well, the box it would have to be. Then she handed me two forms to fill in…both of them in French (obviously, because this is France!) and the woman serving me also spoke no English (which is to be expected because this is, well, France!). I looked at the forms and just fell back on context and memory of similar forms I’d seen or used in English. I got most of them filled out, but a couple of boxes I wasn’t sure about. I handed them back to the lady and she pointed to the empty boxes and told me in French, what I needed to do. Well, I don’t know what it was, or how, but I figured it out and filled in the remaining boxes and paid my postage and that was that! I said, “Merci beaucoup” and she said, “Au revoir,” and we were done. She was so friendly and helpful and I’m just so grateful to the people I’ve dealt with and their patience as I try to use the language. From the nice girl in the reception booth at our Egyptian motel in Valencia, to this nice lady at the post office, they are all patient and kind as I bumble my way through attempts at communication. We are now on our third language in six weeks though, so we have to do a full-immersion, learn-on-the-job crash course very quickly, with each new language we’re faced with!
We headed towards the canal path and after a couple of wrong turns and a bit of navigational confusion, due to the map disappearing from the GPS, we eventually found it and were on our way. The notes about this section of path said it was quite rough, so we decided to start and if things got too bad, we’d take to the road.
We passed a lot of cyclists, many with panniers who looked like they may be out for an Easter weekend cycle tour of the Canal du Midi. We fell in behind one couple and I couldn’t take my eyes off their panniers. They were so stylish! They were like little suitcases attached to their bikes, all nice and neat and symmetrical in a perfect little set of rectangles. They looked nothing like our bulging and stacked panniers sticking out from the side and top of our bikes. The stylish couple soon disappeared into the distance and another couple rode towards us and they had bulging panniers like us. We all stopped to say hello, introduce ourselves and chat. It turned out they were from Switzerland and had been on the road for nine months, having cycled through South America, Europe and were now cycling home. We exchanged cards with our contact information and Claude and Mette invited us to stay with them if we go to their part of Switzerland. It was so nice to meet another couple who were travelling like us, an extended trip, going to many different places and they were still going and still smiling! We shared some laughs and some stories, wished each other happy and safe travels and off we pedalled in opposite directions.
The notes proved to be correct and the path was indeed a bumpy one, with a mixture of gravel, tree roots, rocks and deep ruts from dried mud. As we rode along I couldn’t help thinking of the poor cyclists who had made those deep ruts in the path, who had obviously had to plough through mud. I kept thinking I’m so happy the mud had at least dried, and while it left big potholes and grooves to navigate, at least we weren’t ploughing through mud. Then, up ahead, what do I see…MUD! Big lakes of bog crossing the path, with no way to avoid them! I thought my thoughts too soon! I rode through the first bog and despite some slipping and sliding, I got through OK. Then came bog number two, with some deep, sloshy mud puddles. I pedalled through and so far so good, I was navigating the mud. Then came bog number three. There were deep muddy puddles and sloshy mud pits and muddy cycle ruts. I pedalled into it and then…the bog bogged me! The bike stopped and the mud grabbed hold of my wheels and wouldn’t let go. There was nothing left to do, but put my foot down…SQUELCH! into the mud I stood. Then…all that extra weight I was carrying with those extra supplies, made the bike pretty heavy to hold, while standing in slippery mud and I felt it lean, I heard myself groan and huff in the supreme effort to hold it, but then…SQUELCH…SPLOSH…the bike tipped into the mud! Darn! I heaved and pulled on it and eventually sucked it out of the bog, with both myself and my little bike, now wearing a fashionable extra layer of mud! All I could think was, “I wish we were camping tonight, I don’t want to walk into a hotel like this, all covered in mud!” Oh well, I was eventually out of the bog and pedalled off over the ruts, bumps, rocks and tree roots. I must say though, I did a lot better at avoiding them. Steve said the reason I keep hitting the bumps is because I look at them. He said, your brain will naturally head for whatever it is you’re focussing on, so don’t look at them. So, if I saw a rock or root or hole up ahead, I would look past it, or to a track around it and strange but true…I dodged most of them!
We came across another little jetty beside the path and stopped for elevenses and I tried to wipe some of the mud off my feet in the long grass. It was really nice sitting beside the water in the sun and not being blown around by a howling gale!
We soon pedalled off and continued along our bumpy little track. The track was still nice and flat, but it threw some steep bits in every now and again, just to make sure the legs don’t forget what it’s like to ride up an incline! As we approached a bridge, with a road going across the cycle path, there was a really steep section going up to the road. They weren’t long, but they were steep and were enough to make us have to get into low gear and pedal hard to get up them. We’ll be tackling more momentous hills and mountains as we go along, so it was good to be faced with these occasional sections of steep path, so we don’t get too “hill unfit” on all these nice flat paths!
As we rode along, it was so nice to have calm conditions, sunshine and no wind, with the trees lining the path and the water beside me. Do you know what I did? Feel free to roll your eyes or laugh, or both, I don’t mind. I pedalled along and I…sang! Yep, there was no one around to hear my tuneless warbling, the day was so nice, that I rode along, singing out loud to myself. How about that! OK, you can stop rolling around the floor laughing now! Cheesy I admit, but I did it anyway!
We rode through the town of Castelnaudary, where we stopped for lunch. Our bench beside the canal wasn’t in the sun and the wind had got up a bit and it was quite chilly. We were joined by a couple of swans who paddled in the water in front of us, maybe hoping for a handout, which they didn’t receive. Then it was off again, for the final kilometres towards our destination of Avignonet-Lauragais.
The path eventually smoothed out its bumps and became gravel, then for the last km in Avignonet-Lauragais, it became sealed! Just a flat, smooth, sealed path! Bliss! We arrived at the hotel, parked and locked the bikes in their rack for the night and headed to our room. Time to peel off those muddy clothes and hit the hot shower! I took my shoes in with me to give them a good wash too!
We rode 63km today and I really liked the ride, despite the bumps and the mud. Steve said he didn’t enjoy today, he didn’t like the bumps and suffered in the saddle as a result. I didn’t think the bumps were all that bad and the nice calm weather, which has been missing for so long, was a much stronger positive for me and it overrode any inconvenience from bumps, rocks, holes, mud and tree roots. I really hope this weather keeps up. I keep asking Steve when we’ll start camping again and he keeps saying the weather isn’t good enough to camp yet. It may sound strange, but I’m missing the tent. Yes, hotels are convenient and yes, it’s nice to have our own bathroom, but they’re a pain when it comes to the bikes and being able to cook. I like being able to just ride up to our pitch and have the bikes and bags right there where we need them. Hopefully, we can get back to camping soon, although the strong winds are forecast to start up again, so we shall see. So on Good Friday, I had a super good day, despite being a bit squelchy! But hey, we’ve had wind, rain and hills, might as well throw in a side order of muddy bog! Excuse me waiter, I’ll have a cup of tea with that order thanks!