12th September 2019 10:35am Epicerie Quintin

I sit in a little square of the village of Quintin, surrounded by stone. The village was a centre of the linen cloth trade in the 17th and 18th centuries and its prosperity shows, a large chateau affiixed to a church towers over fine streets and stone buildings and facades that feel creepingly sinister in the manner of the more important towns we have passed through. As if the townsfolk now live hesitantly in the shadows of a past where the building and inhabiting of these towns made more sense.

The morning cannot make its mind up. Light drizzle replaces beating sun. M is walking the streets learning her monologue from Romeo & Juliet, I am stood upright with my book pressed against a wall writing in an alcove out of the falling rain. I am happy. Happy to be sharing that which I love with the one I love, to see the world from the seat of a bicycle, the winding roads, the copses, the little villages we coast through and whisper goodbyes to in our rear-view, unlikely to come this way again. The out of the saddle sweating uphill. The breath-catching heart-easing cresting of them, the wind-on-our-faces free-wheeling glee of the descent.

On our first morning we flew down through a field of sunflowers to the river Rance by Dinan, I turned back to see M free-wheel the whole hill and shriek and reach me with a look of wowed disbelief, and a smile she struggled to contain. The freedom the bike gives you, to see her experiencing it, to begin to love what I love. Show me what you love, so I can love your love for it, and love the thing also.

The sun is out now and beating down on the right side of my face. Today is the third morning of our adventure, but already the dark rain of Portsmouth feels weeks ago. We sat on the ferry eating cheese and drinking wine watching the tos and fros of the passengers, feeling like it was just her and I, just the two of us on our ship, on our planet. Out on deck the moon was making an aisle of light on the waves towards its altar, M laughed half in fear at how hard it was to fathom us on this vessel out in the dark black ocean, alone.

Last night as we got into the tent at the Camping Municipal she said again ‘it’s almost alarming how alone I am with you right now’. The boat drew into Saint Malo just after dawn, we were the first off the whole ship, reaching out with our wheels onto a new landmass stretching unbroken further than our imaginations could contend with, past a disinterested gendarme, with paper bags full of fruit and croissants from a covered market we sat on a bench looking out at the bobbing boats glinting in the light of the morning breathing salty air waiting for the café to open.

Two days now it has been, but feels much more, just her and I, this is all I had imagined, M is strong on the uphill and hardy and rolling with the punches of the contours of Brittany. She is teaching me to slow down, to be calm, to get my fill of being present and learning that on a cycle tour life off the bike sets you up for life on it. All things in opposition. She worries that there is nothing in it for me, and this is not true at all. Slowing down is lovely, the gnawing yapping terrier in my ear needing to move move always move is muzzled and I am peaceful.

We are finding our favourite food in the supermarchés, carrot rappé, tarama, fruit for M, chocolate for me, emmentale, jambon, sometimes together in a little brioche – n a u g h t y – yogurts and muesli, put the cutlery in the box bag, no, why, because there is a system, forget your system.

At night we lie together in the tent breathing within cms of one another, sleeping intermittently, dreaming much, and we cuddle for an hour in the mornings. We pack up the tent, wash, clothe ourselves, load the bikes and find breakfast. Today we head for the coast and a room and a real bed and a view of the sea.