Cycling is a European story set between Germany, France, England and Italy. It is also the most common form of transport in the world.
From the 4th to the 22nd of June 2018, Miquel Matas i Ferrer and Àlex Todó Plasencia, cycled across France for La Maison de Commerce. They followed the Paris-Lyon-Marseille trade route before branching off towards Portbou on the Spanish border. A non-polluting, economical and artisanal journey. Time and space are not the same. Neither are the tests of the road and the encounters along the way. This is a narrative of their efforts and joys along the way.
Objective: trace a route from Paris to the Catalan border whilst visiting 10 manufacturers.
Bilan: 2 bicycles, 15 kg of luggage each, 18 days, 1200 km, 17 French departments: 75, 91, 77, 45, 89, 58, 71, 03, 69, 07, 26, 84, 13, 30, 34, 11 and 66. Also: 4 punctures, 8 tan marks for life, 1 crooked knee, 1 broken light, 1 uncomfortable saddle and 4 feet on the ground during the final ascent to the hell of the south.
Paris, June 4th 2018, 12:00.
We start peddling in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district of Paris early one morning in June. Leaving our small departure committee behind us, we are haunted by the nerves of first timers. Leaving Paris is not easy, escaping the concrete is laborious. Water proves, and will prove again to be our closest ally: the Seine guides us to the countryside we are so anxious to find.
First stop : a camp site on the other side of the Fontainebleau forest. We circle somewhat before Friederick, a German traveller in search of brutalist buildings, crosses our path and becomes our guide.
The next day, when we wake, the trip offers us its first challenge: rain, rain, rain. What should we do? We think about plans B, C and D during which Friederick folds up his things and leaves without saying a word. Ok, lesson learned. We also leave, and the real journey begins.
A routine begins right away. A series of small habits that we hold dear. That delight us in good times and save us in the bad: “home brewed coffee”, the search for a boulangerie, “deux croissants et deux pains au chocolat, s’il vous plaît”, pedal, pedal, banana, Orangina, pedal, bread/cheese/saucisson/ham/houmous/sardines, the pleasure of summer fruits, pedal, pedal, biscuits, banana, pedal, camping, shower, stove, pasta/rice, tomorrows map, good night. Start again.
Our first week is spent under rain and in fog. Swanee et Stéphane put us up for a night in their bicycle workshop. We follow the Loire, deviating towards Saint-Just-en-Chevalet, crossing mountains and forests under summer storms. Having reached the col de la Chamba, we arrive soaked in Ambert and sleep in a partially flooded campsite. The next day, it is still raining. Whilst visiting their paper mill, Sylvain et Emmanuel offer to drive us to the col de Pradeaux. We avoid rain soaked ascent. The weather forecast announces sun everywhere in France, at last.
Leaving the uneven, wet forests and bad weather behind us, we know that this difficult stage will nevertheless be one of the most beautiful of our journey. We arrive in the Rhone Valley. The sun pops its head out, and it smells of the south. Our first rest after 10 days non-stop: Valence. Our legs are going to regret it. Our departure proves painful! We follow the small roads, fruit trees showing us the way. 100 km of vines at the foot of the Giant of Provence, le Mont Ventoux. Once in Arles, we board a train for Marseille where we have arranged one of our last visits. The sea at last. Catalina et Paul host us and listen to our adventures. We continue our journey towards Perpignan. The end of our trip is approaching and we need to cross the Pyrenees in order to get to Baix Empordà.
Under the southern sun, two retired cyclists decide to pedal at our pace. They tell us about their experiences as truck drivers when there were borders. We make our way, slowly. At Céret they bid us farewell with a “Bon courage”. They knew the last stage on French soil would be a hard test, the worst of our trip!
30 degrees, under a relentless sun, a steep climb that never ends: we get off our bikes for the first time. Last village before the border. Under the shade of the terrace of a restaurant with mild sun stroke our eyes close. We start off again for the last few kilometres, the countdown begins: we are both euphoric and nostalgic when a small sign discretely announces that we have arrived in Catalonia. We pedal 60km on well known territory. An orange sunset wishes us benvinguts.
We reach La Bisbal d’Empordà at 22:00, after having pedalled for 12 hours. We have arrived. THE END.
La Bisbal d’Empordà, June 22nd 2018, 22:00.
During our journey we stopped 10 times to visit a manufacturer. 10 encounters, 10 different stories, 10 different ways to conceive and talk about a trade. Factories closed in the 1950’s, young people reviving forgotten traditions, know-how in danger of disappearing, 6th generation heirs and lovers of materials: all of them passionate. Earthenware, Moleskine canvas, woolen mattresses, paper, pewter dishes, scourtins, lavender spindles, ceramics, soap, knifes. Ten points on the map, which we joined by the strength of our legs, which have punctuated our journey and led us to the deepest countryside, far from agglomerations and tourist sites and to the end of unexpected paths. We have experienced the pleasure of discovery, surprise, loss and detour.
Poc a poc.
Notes for later:
– “deux Orangina, s’il vous plaît”
– “thursday, the sun comes out in France !”
– “thank god it goes down”
– “where are you going with such a hard saddle?”
– “good luck you heroes!”
– “I prefer climbing to peddling against the wind”
– “It smells of the south!”
– Bread and biscuits (of terracotta)
– “we are tacky, it’s a bias”
– “I don’t like artists, they do what they want”
– a label as a work of art
– the signature of quilters: the sewing point
– what we cal lavande is lavandin
– “Lou souleou mi fa canta”
– Shave and brush ones teeth with soap
– To have an old farm, transformed into a factory, in the middle of the suburbs
– “a knife is not made to be decorative”
– Try every way possible to cross the French-Catalan border by bike
– Taking different routes for the same journey
Pauline Lévêque, Raphaël Palti, Terres cuites de Courboissy, Le Potier d’Étain, Le Laboureur, Cardelaine, La Scourtinerie, Richard de Bas, Fuseaux de Lavande de Provence, Le Sérail, Louis Sicard, Christian Ibergay, Swanee et Stéphane, Céline-Vera cycling, Sylvain, Un Jardin vers le Sud, Júlia Balcells Roca, Catalina et Paul, our friends and our families.