Camping Anyone?

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Now let’s be clear, camping is not for everyone.

Indeed, it wasn’t for me for the first 45 years of my life until that wretched thing called love got in the way. You know how when you’re truly smitten with someone you’ll do anything just to be with them? Hang gliding, parachute jumping, ironing their pants? Well, camping was in that category for me.

After a month of camping on my own around France (yes, I shall be bringing out that ol’ chestnut for many months to come), I became a bit of a good camper. I can get my tent up and down in a nanosecond without breaking a fingernail, can make fabulous meals on what is effectively a Bunsen Burner but with only a fraction of the gas (particularly after I broke it) and finally, can manage to ensure that standards prevail at all times in terms of cleanliness (the entire range from Clinique was hidden in the base of one pannier – a necessity but somewhat heavy). So yes, I can now proudly say that I am indeed a jolly good camper.

However, yesterday I went one step further and the Colonel and I visited the Caravan and Motor Home Show at the NEC in Birmingham. (For those not living in England, in terms of size, the NEC is like a dozen aircraft hangars all stuck together i.e. VAST).

Now I know, for a middle class lassie like me, this is not really the done thing. It’s certainly a far cry from the twinset and pearl brigade. And I will confess that it is full of sock and sandal wearers with practicality rather than aesthetics at the forefront of their minds. It is akin to being stuck in a giant IKEA with groups of anorak-wearers. And yet here I am, rebelling slightly by wearing a sassy little skirt and my fabulous Gant boots but loving every minute of it.

I have discussed and bonded with complete strangers over storage capacity within caravans, have talked and listened at length about tents, floor mats and cooking implements, and have lain down sniggering beside the Colonel on many a double bed in the Motor Homes, to see if indeed we can both fit in. (For those interested, the answer is yes, but any ‘whoo hoo’ would be fairly limited without serious injury i.e. falling out or knocking oneself out.)

So a wonderful day was had by all, with packed sandwiches in the Colonel’s very practical military backpack at lunchtime and despite having a couple of collisions with two motorised wheelchairs, I came away with perhaps not an upgrade to our current tent, but certainly with even more enthusiasm for spending more time in the great outdoors.

I will never go down the route of socks with sandals, but perhaps I shall find a backpack of my own. Perhaps something in a fantastically zingy colour and fabric other than the dreary black or camo in canvas, and fill it with a more practical, smaller and therefore lighter travel version of the Clinique range. Fabulous! I have found my inner troglodyte, but one with class!

Katie xx

Are you an outside or an inside sort of person? Indeed, have you gone camping?

Ps Apologies to all sock and sandal wearers …

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Solitude … Necessary or Not?

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Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.

I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.

On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.

“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”

“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.

“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.

Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.

However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.

I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”

Katie xx

What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?

It’s Over …

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
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I’ve done it.

I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.

I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.

Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.

I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass

But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.

Katie xxx

God bless you all and thank you for your support.

Not Far Now …

Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.

I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.

Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.

I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.

And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.

And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.

And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.

Katie xx

Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?

Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.

LIVING IN THE MOMENT …

As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.

The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.

One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.

The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.

As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!

And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.

And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.

Katie x

Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?

It’s Rather Hot ..

 

wood light vacation picnic
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If I had thought it was hot in London, well here in Huelgoat it’s positively steaming. After the typical schoolboy error of bicycling too far on the first day, leaving me utterly exhausted, today I have just gone a few kilometres to this beautiful (although frankly they’re all beautiful) little town. I am camping beside the lake and all is peace and quiet.

Disasters to date? Breaking Claude’s saddle on the ferry. Yes, another minor mistake! When travelling with this much weight, lift by the frame not the saddle. Durr me!Honestly with all these schoolboy errors I should be in shorts, pulled up socks and sensible shoes. Nevertheless, found a repair shop and all sorted for twenty euros with much broken French/English and a lot of arm movements.

Successes to date? The Colonel’s army sleeping bag. Heaven in a rather sickly green colour. Never again will I poo poo his suggestions.

All in all, I am making slow progress in a haphazard sort of way and learning very quickly about the importance of food and fluids and taking advantage of the boulangeries and English style lavatories at every opportunity.

Katie xx

Has anyone any advice for travelling in France par bicyclette?

The Last Post …

architecture art city clouds
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I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.

For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.

I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.

But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.

The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.

But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).

So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.

Katie xx