Cycling Europe Days 20 to 23: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Today was my 20th cycling day and it was absolutely miserable – albeit with some

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier, France

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier, France

really great views.

I was due “miserable”. I just had three absolutely perfect days with my husband. Colin arrived by plane into Montpellier on Saturday morning – I had arrived by bike the previous evening. When I cycled into Montpellier on Friday, I was rather taken aback by how crowded and dirty it appeared to me. Th crowds in Place de la Comedie in the city’s historic center were so dense and noisy that I looked for a restaurant where I could eat inside, just to get some relative quiet. I promised myself to reserve judgement on the city until Colin came and we had some time to see it properly together.

My verdict: Montpellier is a beautiful town and everything looks better when I’m able

Cycling with my husband on one of the few easy days I've had on this trip. He no longer believes it's been challenging.

Cycling with my husband on one of the few easy days I’ve had on this trip. He no longer believes it’s been challenging.

to share it with my husband. It’s that simple. We spent Saturday walking around Montpellier, Sunday cycling to the beach and lazing about, and Monday we cycled 70km together to my next destination, Arles. Every single day was perfect. Every place we visited was beautiful. The cycling was easy and tremendously enjoyable.

This has given me the chance to see solo-cycling for a family woman like myself in a different light. A very large part of the challenge for me is not in doing this generally; it’s in doing this alone. I have always been able to enjoy my own company and to go places on my own. But solo-cycling for weeks on end, being solely responsible for everything, not being able to depend on anyone but oneself or complete strangers when necessary, having no one to talk to or to share the experience with: I’m finding that very very difficult. I think it has resulted in me seeing and experiencing things in a very different way than if I were to have done this with my husband or with a group of people. Yet at the same time doing it alone has its rewards. The sense of accomplishment is fulfilling. And then I’ve promised myself not to hold back on my dreams when I’m able to achieve them simply because I don’t have a chaperone to accompany me on them.

Arles, France is a must-see.

Arles, France is a must-see.

So I had three perfect days with my husband. And we parted ways this morning: he set off to the train station to go back to Montpellier to catch his flight home to the UK and I cycled off into the sunrise to Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume. Lots of tears and snot were involved. The first 70km of today’s journey were not bad. The road was gradually ascending but barely enough for me to notice. My first problem occurred when I suddenly found myself cycling onto a motorway. I have absolutely no idea how it happened. One second I was on a quiet country road and the next I was on a crazy French motorway. It freaked the heck out of me.

“What happened?! WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED??” I yelled at myself.

Beeeeeeeeeep. I got from one motorist. Then beeeeeep beeeeeep beeeeeep from another. The following conversation happened between me and several motorists via telepathic communication:

Motorist: “What the FUCK are you doing woman?? Are you trying to get yourself killed??”

Nadia: “Be careful, idiot!! Can’t you see I’m struggling here?? And although it may look like I’m trying to get myself killed, I’m not!! I don’t even fucking know how I got here in the first place!”

Motorist: “Well fuck you!” Beeeeeep.

Nadia: “Fuck YOU!” Then Nadia gives him the imaginary middle finger – which is reciprocated – and says to herself, “Well! Glad that’s settled!”

I eventually managed to get off at an exit. I was on the verge of crying. French motorways are so different from the much more benign Spanish motorways. I found a side road and stopped to gather my wits. I ate the other half of the cheese sandwich that I had for breakfast; all I had to eat this morning. I drank some juice from my water bottle. I knew where I was generally but did not know how to proceed to get back on track. I decided to type my final destination into the GPS. I needed to let someone else do the figuring things out.

“You are having a bad day, cherie?” GPS said to me. My lower lip quivered as I nodded

Tis the season for poppy fields.

Tis the season for poppy fields.

my head. “No worries. I have a route zat will take you to Saint Maximin. It is only 40 kilometeghs away. Bon?” asked GPS. “OK,” I said. “40 km sounds just about right. Let ‘s go.” In the meantime, I was feeling very sorry for myself. I was missing my husband terribly. “I don’t want to get to my next destination after 40km. I don’t want to be there without Colin. Maybe I should look into cycling further than planned today,” I thought. Little did I know that GPS heard my thoughts.

“You were a sneaky little shit today, cherie, taking a route I did not plan for you,” it whispered to itself. “You do not want to get to your camp because yough usband is not zere? Bon. Let me first take you on a grand tour of zis city we are in. I will show you eveghy alleyway in it. Zen…ZEN…I will take you up ze biggest…ze steepest mountain you have evegh cycled in your life. Mwahahahaha!”

It was awful. Don’t get me wrong. The views were absolutely fantastic. But the cycle to

At 630 meters somewhere in southern France.

At 630 meters somewhere in southern France.

Saint Maximin was awful. Up into a mountain I went. No more gradually ascending hills. No sirree. It was up, up, up a never-ending steep incline. Kilometers and kilometers of it. I finished all my juice and water. I was running out of energy. My snacks weren’t doing me any good. I was zonking out. Every time I hit a descent, hoping it meant there were no more ascents, I discovered I was wrong. There is one rule in cycling I have memorized by heart: Whatever goes down, MUST go back up. And that’s what it did. Eventually, I calculated that I should be reaching my destination in about 5km. I had done some 35 km since the GPS told me the destination was 40km away. It was then that I finally saw a sign pointing to Saint Maximin. It was 21 km away. “What the fuck, GPS?? What the bloody FUCK!”

“Madame, yough language, PLEASE!”

“You told me it was 40 km away!”

“Indeed. That is if you drew an imaginary line from where we were to where we wanted to go. But you saw the mountains, non? Surely you enjoyed. Come, come, cherie. You know ze mosquito? Let me show you its breeding grounds in France.”

I was not going to look for my camp outside of the city after all that. I was too exhausted and seriously worried I would collapse before I got there. I’m not even in a hotel in the city center. I found a budget hotel that’s on some highway and booked in there. And I’m dead tired.

I was due a bad day.

Kilometers cycled: 134
Total ascent: 1192 meters
Total descent: 914 meters
Calories burned: 3150




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