The word ‘Constant’ ,according to the Oxford dictionary, is defined as 1. occurring continuously, 2. remaining the same, 3. faithful and dependable, 4. an unchanging situation.
As I cycled across France, I noted I was becoming a constant pedaller.
After all, what was I doing but turning the pedals continuously, remaining seated all the time, on a faithful and dependable bicycle.
Maybe number 4 was the only definition that didn’t quite fit. The situation of The yellow bike and I changed continuously.
But first lets go back to the continuous pedalling.
Some cyclists would find this most aggravating. I spoke to a friend recently who exclaimed ‘But one of the nicest things about cycling is the reward of freewheeling down a hill after the struggle uphill’.
‘But continuous pedalling has none of the struggle part and all of the freedom part’ I replied.
She didn’t get it! and in fairness, unless you have a chance to be somewhere where you can practise the gentle art of constant pedalling you probably wouldn’t get it either.
Another friend described it as ‘ boring’ and when I tried to explain that it was as far from boring as a mouse is from an elephant, she just smiled a smile that said ‘Stephanie has lost it’ and maybe I had. Maybe the year of interferon treatment had twizzled my brain.
But maybe it had also helped me to see repetition in a different light, not as boring, but more as soothing and meditative.
But constant cycling didn’t mean you could just dream about other things and cruise along and not even realise you were on a bike. If that was the case you might as well be in a gym on an exercise bike.
No! constant cycling meant that you could enjoy the sensations of your legs turning at more or less the same speed, getting into a gentle rhythm. working with them.
Looking down now and again, I would admire the length of mine, the muscles working happily under the skin, the ligaments lengthening and shortening, pulling muscle to bone and releasing it as needed. Indeed the wonder of what legs are all about and how their actions can propel us for great distances at ease.
Am I thinking this way because I thought I would lose mine ? probably. Its only maybe,when you fear you might lose something that you begin to appreciate it.
So I looked down at my right leg and thought ‘wow look at you, recovering wonderfully , a little swollen at the end of the day but healing well.I would often pat my thigh and say ‘well done leg, when we find somewhere for the night I will rest you on some pillows’, and my leg would just , well, keep constantly twirling, I suppose.
Some people also like to give themselves the distance challenge. ‘oh I did the 700 kms across France in five days. that’s …let me see 140 kms a day’…well! well done them I say, if that’s how you like to travel or maybe you only have a weeks hols to do it in, but I was more interested in spontaneity and diversions.
(A floating shop..here I bought the freshest baguette, the sweetest tomatoes, the smelliest brie)
I clung to only one schedule and that was,buying my bread, cheese, tomatoes ,honey and figs for my lunch before the shops shut at twelve.(they didn’t reopen until two ) Missing that twelve o clock deadline meant a constant rumbling stomach and a miserable calling out of ‘bon appetite’ to the wiser cyclist’s, who sat smugly on the canal banks chomping on their goodies whilst swigging bottles of excellent local Bordeaux.
And speaking of these speedy cyclists I will add a quick remark about the French ones..A merry lycra’d clad bunch, looking for all the world like colourful parakeets swooping along the velo trails.
I noted with interest it was the men who were the most colourful, ‘les Femmes’ sticking mostly to black…like birds? or maybe black being the more slimming colour.
However there was never any snobbery by them towards me and my slow trundling constant yellow bicycle .
In fact the calls of ‘ courage’ and ‘bon journeau’ filled the air like the squawking of the birds they resembled as they flew passed.
Gel padded derriere’s in the air and colour coordinated matching helmets (if your lycra was pink, then your helmet was purple and vice versa)between the handle bars, they would raise their hands in friendly greeting and disappearing round the bend, the dust would settle and once again I would be enveloped into the peaceful stillness of the canal, the silence only broken by the birds or my wheel breaking a twig as I continued on my constant pedalling.
And veering again (a constant habit of mine) I would like to add how friendly the French are to anyone on a bicycle . You could be soaked to the skin and covered from head to toe in mud with your bicycle resembling some piece of scrap iron pulled out of a pig sty and smelling of such a place but the Maître D’hôte would, with a spread of his pristine arms and a smile from ear to ear, welcome you (and sometimes even your bicycle) into his five star establishment as if you had just won the yellow jersey(more of these experiences in another post).
But back to Constant pedalling
And so I would pedal along and admire the scenery and veer off to the markets or go into a church and light a candle and thank the gods of the canal for my lucky escape and my healthy leg.
I would stop for coffee’s at the canal bank cafe’s when the humour took me or watch the boats tackling the locks, or admire the traditional windows of the old lockhouses.
Or I would sit on the canal bank and sketch the plane tree’s or the barges and the day would roll on peacefully. I might doze on the grassy canal bank,the yellow bike propped up against a tree ,after a lunch of baguette and brie with figs and a drizzle of honey and a glass or two of vin rouge.
And when the sun hung low I would brush the grass and crumbs off my dress and getting back on the yellow bike, head along the tow path in search of a bed for the night , pedalling gently and of course …..constantly.