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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

The Joy Of Being Lost

By Ren Withnell

The night brought nothing but more rain and along with it even fear. I know there's a river just across the other end of the campsite and I fear it may burst it's banks. At best everything would be soaked, at worst we could be swept away trapped inside sleeping bags and the tent, wrapped in our own body bags. Just give it some thought, a wave of water whilst in a sleeping bag inside a zipped up tent? There'd be no chance. I do often dwell on the most morbid of thoughts, something I need to stop doing. I scare myself.

As I make a brew and pass it through a tiny gap into the inner tent and to the gf I notice it's no longer rain, it's drizzle. As we dine on left over cookies and bread I venture out and I still get wet but not soaked. After the last two days I'll take drizzle over downpour anytime. As we pack and do our best to avoid the toilets everything is wet. Somehow the clothes have managed to only achieve mildly damp which is good but the paperwork, in a supposedly waterproof map pocket, is wet. The stove is wet, the sleeping bags feel moist and even the cameras and phones which we've protected gain a little condensation. I hope to god they survive, the gf will lose it if she can't keep in touch with the kids.

my tent on the grass at the campsite in auxonne with the toilet block behind
The luxury that is camping. The rain is now drizzle but everything you see in the tent is at best merely damp.

The start of the day is still miserable. We are still keeping our spirits up and the drizzle temps us with a teasing hope by lightening from time to time. I laugh as we pass through Dole, imagining that no-one works there. I'm tired of the same old same old roads and villages and farmland as we reach Lons-Le-Saunier. We're just making progress, trudging through the country, heading towards the south and the hope of dry land. I'm trying my best to not use the front brake too much, the wet roads will mean there's more grit to make grinding paste and I must look after those pads.

And then after what feels like a lifetime it happens. The rain turns from drizzle to mist and then to just grey clouds. At the same time another miracle happens. The countryside takes on new and interesting shapes to our left, the east. This, I excitedly imagine, must be the start of the Alps. If you're reading this as a travel hardened adventurer you'll be unimpressed but to me, the man who once thought that Manchester was another world and Birmingham was another planet, to find myself near a place I've only seen on TV and never imagined it was real and that I'd get there, this is stunningly delightful. 

a clean and quite large church in chirens, france. notice the dry tarmac and the light skies
DRY LAND! I's started to believe it was a myth but here it is in Chirens on the road to Grenoble.

Bourg-En-Bresse, it even sounds far away. Grenoble, imagine that! Me, Ren, in a place called Grenoble! I recall as I ride a young man, 18 years old, having owned his first 100cc bike for a few months who took a massive and arduous undertaking to ride from the Preston area all the way up to the Lake District. Back then I felt like I'd taken on the whole wide world in a distance of around 70 miles. I felt far from home, far from help, far from anything and everything that made me feel safe. I was a big biker on a big adventure. And now, 23 years later I'm in the Alps! I laugh, it's all rather pathetic compared to people I know and things I've read.

It doesn't matter though. It's all relative. If you've been to Mongolia and back 5 times then you have to go to the Amazon to see something new. I've only been around UK and bits of Europe, I don't have to go far to see something new. Imagine if you'd seen the whole world by the age of 30, there'd be nowhere left to explore. My world is growing and I'm loving it. And it's even better when it stops blooming raining. 

At Grenoble my plan is to head straight south, but I somehow end up lost. I end up on a road heading east, into those mountains. I'm thinking of turning around when BAM! The road starts to twist like a worm in pain and snow topped mountains reveal themselves behind every curve. It's a delight. Although the cloud is low and in places the road is wet this is just too good. This is what I came for. This is what we've ploughed on through the rain and the cold and the flat lands for. I pull over to take some pictures and to consult the map. The gf's spirits are up high with the mountain tops.

I consider turning back. But, but we've done enough miles today and my phone map indicates there should be some campsites ahead. We shall carry on for a few miles and see what happens. There'll be a road or two back onto the original route anyhow I'm sure. Oh my lord, have we ever made the right choice! Sinuous tarmac writhes through the steep rock formations and between the misty grey skies jagged mountain tops try their best to be seen. It doesn't take long before a town appears on a broad valley floor and we pull into a large bus stop to regain our bearings.

mountains covered in mist with trees in the foreground on the road to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, France
This is the true joy of being lost. This is what we came for. This is completely stunning.

This must be ski country. The shops, devoid of customers, cater for the pursuit of falling down a hill on bits of wood hopefully in a controlled maner. The road through town is closed with no explanation. The gf after a struggle manages to operate my old phone and find a signal to make contact with her daughter who has pending exams and a birthday. I use mine to re-find the campsite. The bus stop must be a terminus, it's far too big for anything else in a fairly small town. It's odd, there's something missing. People, hustle and bustle. It should be busy here.

steep rock faces with buses and the gf taking a picture in the foreground at Le Bourg-d'Oisans
The view at the terminus is too good a photo opportunity for the gf. 

The campsite is easy to find but as we roll onto the gravel of the entrance a slim perky grey haired lady tells me "FERME!", shut. She gesticulates to go back, a circle, a right. I figure she's giving me directions to somewhere else "Deux Kilometre" away. I roll back out towards town and take the right at the roundabout into a cluster of houses then 2 campsites appear, I turn into the first. There's a couple of cars and signs of life here, this looks promising.

A huge fat Basset Hound is spread across then entrance to the reception, then an equally huge fat Alsatian waddles towards us. A slim mature lady ushers the dogs away and they lazily move just enough. €20 seems a little expensive but we're shown a reasonable campsite with one special extra, a room for the use of should we see fit. Admittedly it's filled with boxes and bedding but there's a large table, a settee and a TV. If that goddam rain returns we'll shelter in here, hell I'll even sleep in here if needs be. The gf's concerned it's not for us to use, today I'm being a rebel and telling her we're going to use it if we must.

building to the left hedges to the right with a misty mountain behind at the campsite.
The campsite entrance. No matter where you look there's a misty mountain in the distance.

I'm starting to work out what's wrong with the town and the campsite. The lack of people. At the campsite there's a large covered area with bar and seating and tables. There's also a large pool, clean and inviting. This set up is for lots and lots of people and there's no-one here. The town is also ready to receive plenty of tourists. There's individual faux wooden chalets at the site and I'd noticed hotel style buildings in town. This is a place in waiting, a place in anticipation. So where is everyone? The gf reckons we're out of season.

I notice a massively built man pondering around the site. His build marks him out as a grafter, the solid torso, thick hands and firm walk. He passes by again and I greet him with a Bonjour, he replies with a Hello. As the sun set over the steep rocks of the valley sides we talk and the gf joins me. Franz is a joiner from Holland and like most of the Dutch he speaks perfect English with a joyous lilt and is as friendly as a puppy. He has the confidence of a strong man which means he's no ego to appease and talking to him is a 2 way delight.

We learn he's travelled here for a holiday before 8,000 more dutch arrive to organise and take part in a charity bicycle ride around the Alp D'huez, which apparently is where we are. He tells us it should be 25 degrees, there ought to be fruit on the tree we're stood next to, the pool should be open and he's never seen it this cold and wet in the 5 years he's been coming here. The gf and I are getting rather tired of people telling us it should to be a lot lot nicer at this time of year. The closed road in town is due to all the mountain passes being closed because of the snow and he fears the cycle ride may not go ahead.

He also informs us that Germany is soaked, even flooded in places. Many roads are closed across the Alps. The forecast is for no improvement and that my plan to return across the Alps and Germany may not be the best idea. Gutted. His wife joins us as the light fades. They stopped in a chalet last night as it was too cold, but they'll have to camp, they can't afford the €65 per night for the luxury of real walls. I do like the Dutch folks I've met, I ask him for a few tips and places to visit if I ever go there.  

The gf and I are cold. It's dry which is such a relief and I'd swap cold for wet anytime but we retreat into the room for a warm before we go to bed. We sit and chat on the settee surrounded by all the things needed to fill chalets and keep the site running. I'm relaxed and the thought of going to bed in the tent sits comfortably. It is cold but it's not wet, this is a fine site and we've had a good chat with new friends. I do have one question hanging over me now, keep to the original plan and risk being stuck in snow in the Alps and floods in Germany, or do something else? I must sort out the brake pads too. 

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.
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