Bicycling France’s Loire Valley

 

We flew to Paris with our bicycles. But in order to avoid fighting traffic in the city we took our bikes onto the Réseau Express Régional, (the commuter rail service that links Paris to the suburbs) out of town as far as we could. We started cycling at Saint-Martin d’Étampes past brown fields of mown hay, waving barley, tall oats, and yellow sunflowers. 

In addition to the secondary roads, France has a wonderful system of even smaller roads only the local villagers use. These are the roads we chose for our trip in France. They are the thinnest lines on a detailed map and are called “departmental roads.” We bicycled past a village every three to ten miles.

Our first destination was the cathedral in Chartres. We spent an afternoon in and around the glorious medieval cathedral, marveling at the 167 stained-glass windows in its Gothic interior. The Chartres Cathedral, home to a Black Madonna (Notre Dame de Pilar), is one of several pilgrimage sites throughout Europe with Black Madonna figures. We walked around the labyrinth on the floor of the cathedral, following the footsteps of pilgrims who had walked it for hundreds of years. This was a good start on our journey through France.

We continued on toward the Loire. Bicycling the Loire Valley was a dream. The land was fairly flat with dense forests on either side of the road. Every so often, a stately château broke up the ride and begged us to visit. We easily bicycled over one hundred miles a day, still managed to tour a château or two, and ate well. With the long summer days, we packed two days of cycling into one. Our legs and stamina were strong after Scotland. In France the days were warmer, and the sun shone during our entire month there. Campgrounds were plentiful with amenities, such as hot showers, clean toilets, swimming pools, and even little stores. We met other campers from all over Europe and enjoyed talking with them about travel and life.

Chambord

The châteaux of Blois, Amboise, and Chinon impressed us, but my favorite château was Chambord, which Leonardo da Vinci had helped design. I had visited Chambord many years ago, but bicycling up to the château was an entirely different sensation.

I hadn’t realized that the grounds were so enormous and surrounded by woods full of deer, wild boar, and other animals. Before our visit inside, we took out our cameras and fanny packs with our money and passports, and locked the fully loaded bikes together. We did this at every stop without a problem.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Amboise.

The Loire Valley in France is a wonderful bicycling area. I highly recommend it both for the ease of cycling and the abundance of campsites.  Unlike many other places we bicycled in 1991-1992, I believe the area hasn’t changed too drastically. Since then, many reclaimed rail lines have been converted into bicycling, hiking, and equestrian trails. They are called “voie vertes” in France. The possibilities of bicycling for hours without traffic are very enticing. I want to explore more of them soon. Do you have favorite rides or hikes to recommend? Or ones you are dreaming of doing soon?

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

Bicycling along Loch Ness

My virtual bike ride takes me alongside Loch Ness in Scotland for the next couple of days.

Photo by Callam Barnes on Pexels.com

To inhale fresh, clean air and bicycle around my area with a purpose, I signed up for a virtual mission last spring to walk  the Camino de Santiago with a friend. We both tracked our progress when we walked or bicycled in our neighborhoods on an app with the My Virtual Mission organization. It was a good way to combat the frustrations of not being able to travel during our Covid shutdown. I found myself bicycling more and more and felt so uplifted by the experience. The organization planted trees every time we hit the milestones of 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100%.  We could even log on and see the street view of where we were in our progress and find out what the weather was like! The experience helped combat stress and frustrated wanderlust, so I signed up for another mission when I completed the Camino de Santiago.  

Photo by Callam Barnes on Pexels.com

Today I am bicycling alongside Loch Ness in Scotland as I approach John O’Groats at the northern tip of the country. I’ve come 928 miles and have 156 miles to go. The weather is rainy and it is 33º F (1º C). A big change from the 54º F (12º C) in my town in California!

The organization sends me a postcard when I go through areas of interest and history. Here is my postcard from Loch Ness. 

Almost 30 years ago I bicycled this same route, but on the other side of the Loch! Here is an excerpt from my book, Bicycle Odyssey, about that day.

We stopped at Loch Ness but didn’t see Nessie, the famous Loch Ness Monster—a creature locals consider to be more than a myth. We looked out over the still loch waters and talked with a man working by the side of the road.

“Hello! Have you come to see Nessie then? She hasn’t shown herself today,” the friendly man said.

“Have you ever seen Nessie?” I asked.

He took off his cap and scratched his head. “Aye, many times I’ve caught a glimpse of her. You should have been here yesterday. My neighbor looked out the window as she was cleaning,” he said as he pointed to the house by the loch. “She said she saw a hump of Nessie’s back come right up out of the water.”

Loch Ness, with a depth that surpasses the oceans surrounding the United Kingdom, was connected to the ocean at one time. Over the years, scientific investigations using sonar in the dark mysterious loch have yielded large animate objects. Not a single ripple disturbed the surface for us, though.

I would love to go back and bicycle through Scotland. Until then, cycling through the country virtually will have to do. The experience helps satisfy my desire for travel.

What have you been doing to combat stress and open up in your world? If you are interested in trying a virtual adventure of your own, check out My Virtual Mission. Maybe I’ll see you on my next planned experience, trekking to the top of Mt. Fuji!

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

Changing Holiday Celebrations

This year so many of us will experience a change in our holiday routines and celebrations. One year when that also happened stands out brilliantly in my mind.

Aarti in Karnataka

In December 1991 on our bicycle odyssey we climbed up into the high elevations of Tamil Nadu, India to reach the town of Kodaikanal which sat at seventy-two hundred feet in swirling mists with thick pine and eucalyptus forests. Kodaikanal means “the gift of the forest” in Tamil. The hill station lies on the edge of the Western Ghats in the Palani Hills.

The Western Ghats

 Minimal traffic circulated in the quiet town, and the fresh, cool air was pleasant after the high temperatures in the plains below. The town offered a delightful place to settle in for a few days of rest and exploration. We planned to spend Christmas in Kodaikanal, hike in the hills, and take day rides without the constraint of our gear.

Forest monkeys near Kodaikanal

During the colonial era, the English had ascended to higher elevations and established hill stations to escape the heat and dust of the plains in the summer. Many of the structures in the town had been built during that time period. The stone buildings, cottages with fireplaces, and old churches reminded us of Scotland. We found our own one-hundred-year-old cottage to rent. Fireplaces in both the bedroom and the sitting room provided cozy and comforting heat in the chilly mountain nights. Because of the eucalyptus forests, we could buy fresh eucalyptus and lemongrass oil. Almost three decades later, I still have the bottle of lemongrass oil. The aroma has stayed potent and transports me back to Kodaikanal with one whiff. We took hot, steamy showers and inhaled the eucalyptus oil to clear our respiratory systems. We cleansed and healed from our ordeal bicycling in the hot dusty plains below

A local resort offered a Christmas Eve buffet and we decided to attend. As we walked over along the lake that night, pangs of homesickness echoed through me. I missed our families and holiday meals together. I knew they worried about us. They received news of our whereabouts and wellbeing only once or twice a month when letters and postcards arrived. We, however, were on this great adventure. The homesickness usually vanished when I focused on the next experience. My thoughts of home melted away at the gathering, where we met people from different parts of India, who traveled to the resort while on holiday.

Before and after Christmas, we spent several days hiking and bicycling in the forest around Kodaikanal. We rode and hiked peacefully together in harmony with nature and each other. Deep in the forest, we experienced a side of India most visitors don’t have time to see and don’t even know exists. Our journey by bicycle connected us with the hidden, out-of-the-way places that held exquisite beauty and magic.

Forest monkeys – mother and child near Kodaikanal

That Christmas broke with tradition. At first I experienced homesickness and nostalgia, but the new experiences and encounters filled me with joy. That holiday will always stand out in my Christmas memories. What about you? Do you have some unusual holiday memories? 

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

Bicycling with Scottish Ghosts

When you bicycle you are close to the land. You pick up the aromas of the different landscapes you glide through.

At times you inhale lavender, heather, pine, sage, or unfamiliar scents you can’t identify. Strong winds might buffet your body as they fight to blow you off the road and keep you from moving forward. In turn, soft breezes will caress you and push you towards your destination. We started our around-the-world bicycle trip in England and Scotland. Besides the elements, I learned on this ride that the history of the land affected me also.

From Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, we took a ferry to Ullapool on the main island. Traffic was sparse on the roads. The summer daylight extended past ten o’clock in the evening. With our stronger, more conditioned muscles, we biked easily and hit a good rhythm. I loved the green all around us, which felt exotic and fresh after years of living in dry, brown Southern California. We glided by grand estates, castles, and fields of cattle.

Even though we followed the main road down from Inverness, there was minimal traffic. About five miles after Inverness, an inexplicable mournfulness fell over me in spite of the stunning nature and the occasional stately castle. I thought I suffered alone. Decades later, discussing our trip, we both recalled the deep melancholy that had swept over us at times during our ride through Scotland. I’ve since learned that we traveled right beside the area of the famous Battle of Culloden. Our spirits must have picked up on the sadness that permeated the land from so many souls who had lost their lives there. Highlanders had rebelled against the English for decades in the Jacobite risings during the early eighteenth century. On April 16, 1746, Scottish clans fought in support of Prince Charles Edward Stuart so he could regain the throne. The battle was fierce, bloody, and short. The Highland clansmen lost almost two thousand men in the hour-long battle against the better-equipped English, who lost only fifty men. That was the Highlanders’ last battle.

Staying open to the sensations and emotions we pick up as we travel and bringing a sense of curiosity is enlightening. Learning about the history of the places we visit is illuminating. Have you ever been struck by a strong emotion in a place you visited without realizing why at the time? Did you research it and find a correlation with the site’s history?

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

Bicycling Scotland

My virtual bike ride the length of Great Britain during these Covid19 times brought me back to memories of Scotland on my around-the-world bike trip in 1991.

Yesterday, the virtual bike ride took me across Hadrian’s Wall. Romans erected this wall of stones, also called The Roman Wall, in AD 122. The wall stretches 73 miles from coast to coast. The Romans built it to defend the south from the wild northern tribes. Today, Scotland lies a few miles north of the wall.

We started our tour of Scotland in July, but it was so cold that we

piled on all the warm clothes we had brought with us for warmth. The big highlights of each day’s cycling were tea breaks with scones or biscuits to warm and fuel our bodies. We averaged fifteen miles per the tea and bread.

The terrain was deceptive. Our bodies had the endurance to ride many miles in a day, but forty miles in Scotland often included numerous hills and strong headwinds. When we stopped to rest, the midges—tiny bugs that swarmed and delivered a nasty bite—attacked any exposed skin, leaving itchy welts that were by no means small.

We had trained as much as we could before the trip on the trails in the mountains above

our house in California. But nothing can completely prepare you for the journey of bicycling every day for miles. We developed new muscles and built stamina on this first leg of our travels across the Scottish Highlands. When we asked a Scot about the terrain up ahead, he answered with “fairly flat.” We learned that this response translated to “hilly” in our language.

I delighted in the ferry rides to the different Hebrides islands.

We cycled across the Isle of Mull to board the ferry for Iona.The island enchanted us as soon as we docked, and my feeling of melancholy from bicycling in the rain the past few days lifted. The mist descended, and turquoise water lapped the pink rocks in the harbor. We wandered down narrow roads with no traffic. Sheep grazed in vibrant fields bordering the lanes.

Tobermory after the storm

Rain pelted us during the entire sixty miles to Tobermory and really brought me down. But the next day when the sun came out, my spirits soared again. I was amazed at how much the weather affected my mood. The Isle of Skye shone a brilliant emerald in the sun as we pulled into the harbor on a ferry.

The Isle of Skye

Another ferry brought us to the Isles of Harris and Lewis. Immediately off the boat, we climbed a steep two thousand feet. Although we were exceptionally tired, we managed to make it to the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis. The stones stood silent and empty except for a flock of sheep grazing nearby. I gazed in awe at the solid blocks of stone that had stood for thousands of years. As night began to fall, I pressed my palm to the stone’s rough surface, which still held warmth from the sun. I thought about the history. What rituals took place here? What were the people like who participated? I closed my eyes and listened to the stones in silence.

Callanish Standing Stones

Our environment can affect us deeply. Sometimes we pick up on the vibrations of a place without knowing its history and only later, when we learn more about it, have our feelings confirmed. This happened to me a lot on the trip. Looking back, can you recognize instances when this has happened to you?

Our environment can affect us deeply.

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

Bicycling Great Britain

November 22, 2020

We’ve all, for the most part, had to curb our wanderlust these past nine months. I used my time to complete my book, Bicycle Odyssey, about my epic around-the-world bicycle trip.

Then, encouraged by a friend, I entered a virtual trek on the Camino de Santiago. The challenge took me out onto the quiet streets of my city and beyond to new neighborhoods.  It brought me full circle back to bicycling daily and filled me with exhilaration. I completed the 480 miles over the summer, becoming a virtual pilgrim. The adventure left me thirsty for  more so I entered a virtual length of Great Britain challenge from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Now that I am 60% through the 1084-mile trek, I find myself right by England’s beautiful Lake District where I started my epic around-the-world bicycle trip in 1991.

These past nine months have brought me back to my passion of bicycling. It had been buried for a long time and I am thrilled to have it back. Have you rediscovered something long neglected this year? Or discovered something new?

Below is an excerpt from the beginning of my book, Bicycle Odyssey just out now.

We covered thirty-five miles that first day. Exhilaration swept through me. Mist filled the sky, and rain fell softly at times. The clean, fresh air cleared our heads. We cycled along gently rolling hills and down narrow country lanes bordered with thick vegetation. At one point, dozens of bleating sheep blocked the road and milled about. Two highly trained sheepdogs responded to the shepherd’s whistles and kept the flock in order while we all waited for a train to pass.

Our itinerary led us north to the Lake District National Park, a mountainous region known for its lakes and forests. Hill Top was home to Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many other well-known children’s books. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and other poets had also resided in the Lake District in the early 1800s. We set up our tent to face the lake near Ambleside and Windermere, and gazed out, drinking it all in. Imagine stepping inside a painting by Constable or Turner! The visit to the Lake District was Dermot’s father’s suggestion. It stands out for me as the most beautiful spot we visited in England. The Lake District is part of Britain’s National Trust for environmental and heritage conservation. Since we could visit many impressive historical properties in the National Trust, we decided to purchase a membership to use throughout our trip. Traveling through England and Scotland transported us into the worlds of many of the authors we had grown up reading.

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

Lake Windermere, The Lake District National Park, Great Britain

Lake Windermere, The Lake District National Park, Great Britain

A Sudden Shift During Our Travel Through India

November 13 fell on a Friday a few days ago just as it did in 1991 during our bicycle trip in India. We laughed at the date that day as we set out from Mysore. We had experienced blissful days bicycling by the pastoral fields of Karnataka after the festivals. Farmers harvested grain and carted it off with ox-drawn carts. The chaff-filled air gave the sky a golden hue and we glided on traffic-free roads over gently rolling hills. But  Karnataka was in deep in conflict with the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu over a water dispute that had raged for over a hundred years. The day we set out, Karnataka declared a strike that prohibited vehicles from driving on the roads. That would make for a peaceful day to bicycle south, we thought.

Harvest in Karnataka

We were so wrong! The day of the strike we came upon a road block after ten miles. About sixty people, mostly boys and teenagers with a few adult males, surrounded us. They yelled and jeered with an edgy excitement. We talked to the ringleader and asked if we could continue through. We explained that we wanted to travel to Bandipur, twenty miles up the road. He instructed us to wait ten minutes while he considered our request. We leaned our bikes against one of three trucks the crowd had forced off the road. We put our backs to our bikes and turned to face the pressing mob. The ringleader held a flexible stick about a yard and a half long, which he snapped like a whip around the throng to keep them in check. He nearly hit us! The agitated crowd yelled, their frustration fueled by those around them. We asked whether the roadblock was because of the Tamil Nadu water issues. No one understood that much English, but when they heard  the name of the state, they yelled louder and beat the air with their fists.

We decided to turn back to Mysore. As we approached the city, masses of protesters swarmed in the road blocking our path. I caught sight of flames grabbing at the blue sky. Hundreds of young men chanted and pumped their fists in the air while others set an effigy of the prime minister ablaze. We cut down a side street, veering off course. When we thought we had dodged the mob, we swung back to the main street but encountered yet another mass of protesters marching in our direction. We turned down more side streets and arrived safely at our hotel, only to find that the gates were locked.

The hotel gates were locked…

The next day we read in the paper that an estimated five thousand demonstrators had marched in the streets of Mysore. Ten people had been wounded in Bangalore, one person had died from a gunshot wound, and mobs had burned two movie theaters.

Our previous experiences had filled me with wonder and gratitude and now I trembled with fear and uncertainty. Yet, I was thankful that we had a safe harbor in our hotel amidst the chaos around us. The sudden change in tone reminded me that nothing lasts for ever and how important it is to adapt and be flexible so we can change course in the face of danger or unexpected obstacles. Plus, that night at dinner we met the most interesting fellow bicyclist who ended up biking with us for a few days after the civil unrest calmed down. He took us on a detour into the mountains we might have missed without him. We also gained deeper insights into the history and politics of India as we learned the back story of the hundred year-old water dispute.

A negative and scary incident led us to a positive one. That often happens in life. Sometimes we don’t see it at the time and only recognize it in retrospect. Reflecting back on your life, are there times this has happened to you? Did a negative or unsettling experience lead to you something positive?

You can read about the our around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book;

Bicycle Odyssey

An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

by Carla Fountain

Available in print or ebook through

amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com

Festivals in India

Every November for the past thirty years I am brought back to the festivals I attended while bicycling through the state of Karnataka in India. I set out with my husband on a two month journey through southern India by bicycle. Our only agenda was to look for magical places away from the tourist trail. A chance encounter by the side of the road led us to divert our route to a small, tucked-away village during its most important festival of the year. A young priest befriended us and took us under his wing for a life-changing week.

This diversion from our route ended up being my most memorable experience from our two and a half month odyssey through southern India. That experience taught me the valuable rewards we can reap when we listen to our intuition and stay open to serendipity.

As I reflect back on that era I am reminded of the importance of trusting our intuition all the time in our daily lives. Of the importance of keeping our eyes open to serendipity. It is a constant dance. What wonderful things have happened to you when you did this? When you trusted your gut feeling in spite of the impracticality of it?

Ganesha Festival

was the first one we attended during that magical week in the hidden village we stumbled across.