As a schoolgirl, I spoke pretty good schoolgirl French, and from the age of 8 dreamed of visiting France. In 2009, I turned 60 and decided to go … for the first time. Call me level-headed and deliberate if you want, but life intervened.
I convinced my husband, Roy, planned a route in southern France, starting in Provence at Avignon, riding through the Languedoc to Toulouse: Avignon, Orange, Apt, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Sète, Béziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse: about 500 generally very flat miles. In late May 2009 we spent two weeks on the bike, staying in hotels and chambre d’hôtes (bed and breakfasts,) followed by a week in Paris.
Before leaving, I crammed the French language into my head. Every day I stuffed more in. And trained on the bike. I had a fabulous, wonderful, time … loved France, loved the bicycling, got by on my very poor language skills thanks to the kindness of strangers. Never believe that the French are rude. My husband had an OK time, good even, he says. This year, 2010, he decided to stay home and I decided to return to France, this time solo, appreciative of his encouragement and support, and drawn to the possibilities of solo travel. (My first solo cycling trip was in 2008 when I rode around Lake Champlain, from Vermont up into Canada, that time also staying in bed & breakfasts, and had a blast. But it was essentially my backyard, since I live barely 100 miles south, in Massachusetts.)
Last year in France, two of the following three things would have made an even better trip: stronger language skills, a tent, or more money. More money would have removed the sometimes stressful need to find available rooms in low-cost lodgings, which always seemed to fill first, but more money is not an option. Anyway, a good part of what I hoped solo travel would offer is more opportunity to meet other travelers, particularly other cyclists, and hotels minimize human contact. So, I spent the year since the last trip improving my language skills and my cycling skills, and bought a sweet super-light solo tent, sized perfectly for me. I also bought, at the last probable minute, a terrific bike, better suited to loaded touring and climbing hills. I say probable minute, because really, it probably isn’t very sensible to buy a new bike immediately before a trip. And bought a second set of panniers.