Off Cycling

Jenny finished her hot chocolate and croisssant, and left her table by the ferry window to head outside.

She climbed the steep metal staircase to emerge on the aft of the weather deck, gripping the railing and bracing into the 40 knot wind as the ferry swept forward.

Ahead, France was drawing closer, St Malo’s Intra Muros just to the left, some fine coastal houses haunting the mouth of the Rance, and the beaches of Dinard and more away to the right.

She remembered walking along the promenade at St Malo overlooking the Grande Plage du Sillon many years ago, popping in to the bar at Le Grand Hôtel des Thermes and listening to the live piano music being played on the baby grand.

That seemed a lifetime ago now.

She used to come here on family holidays, the car packed as full as it would allow, St Malo often being just a quick stop to wonder amongst the crowds and fuel up on a galette, perhaps a ‘Forestiere’, before heading out, away from the buildings and roads to become enveloped in the wide green countryside.

This time, everything was different. Life was different. She was free of paying rent, her few important things were stored in a small outbuilding in her dad’s garden, and she had enough money to last several months if she was careful. Her bike pannier doubled as a small rucksack, and had her clothes, lonely planet, some guides on cycling the greenways of Brittany, and a few pocket guides on local flora and fauna, birds, trees and butterflies.

She never thought she would do this, could do this. Could allow herself this freedom. But after the last year, she realised she needed to take hold of her life, to set out on an adventure, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t know where it would lead. Now, it was suddenly clear, it didn’t make sense to do anything else. Her small office had had such a force over her life – yet in a world of 7 billion people, in reality it was nothing, an invisibly insignificant spec on the surface of this planet – yet it had consumed years of her time, just because she had been there, because that had been her world. She would miss many of her colleagues, but could always meet up socially when she was back. For now, her life was waiting to roll forwards.

Riding out of the boat was fun, and she headed straight for the small ferry to cross to Dinard. She had studied the start of her route carefully, both on maps and satellite images, so this was all easy. There would be plenty of challenges ahead, she hadn’t wanted to face an unneeded one before her first day was over.

At Dinard, she was welcomed with a huge smile and waving arms at her hotel, and Monsieur helped stow her bike and things, and swept her to a table, calling in staff who flurried in with drinks and appetisers to get her settled, as she sat at a table overlooking the sea. She had never been there before, but anyone might have thought it was her regular place when visiting.

So, this was it. 

She had come early, to spend a few days to herself, to relax and soak in the start of the adventure. Two of her friends were arriving on Thursday, and staying at the same hotel overnight. 

On Friday, they would get set up, and spend the day on the first leg of the trip, cycling inland, joining the Rance, and continuing on to Dinan.

There they would all spend a few more days, then off to Rennes and Redon, then north west following the Nantes Brest canal. They might spend a long time exploring Brittany, before heading south along France’s west coast.

It wasn’t a race, and they wanted to settle in to their trip, visit creperies and museums and sites of interest along the way, and go for countryside strolls. Each evening, they would camp – it was amazing how small and light tents could be these days – and where better to find a multitude of friendly campsites, happy to store their bikes, and give them local advice, than in France?

She supped on her bolée à cidre. New guests arrived and colourful laughter and keen voices filled the tables around her. The water had settled from the ripples of the afternoon breeze to an evening stillness, and who knows how long her eyes peered out across the water as she felt a rising thrill, of being alive, of living life, her life, of setting out into the world, enjoying the moment she was in, and of excitement at the times to come.

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