Les Sables D’Olonne – La Rochelle
Freddy Kruger. Never have I ever sat through an entire screening of Halloween so why I was having nightmare about him make as much sense as why everyone in France seems to think I’m Bon Jovi (I’ve now learnt they’re merely wishing me a “good journey”). It wasn’t the best nights sleep by a long stretch, regardless of my beautiful camping spot.
I woke at 8am, minutes before the sun started warning the inside of my tent. Horrific nightmares maybe but at least it wasn’t cold that evening. My biggest fear now was that fact that I’d, once again, foolishly finished my water supply downing cups of liquorice tea instead of saving it for my all important morning coffee. A real nightmare indeed!
I unzipped and parted my tent to just two simply colours – yellow and then, immediately, blue. Sand yellow and sky blue, a vision I chose to savour for a while. I yawned, I stretched and started whistling a beach boys number, something to do with s beautiful day, or something, I can’t quite remember right now over the visions I have of my friend being stabbed repeatedly in the face by Kruger.
I stepped out of my tent and scanned the horizon. Yup, still all mine, not a single sole. My eyes drift down and I see an object that looks a little out of place – a plastic cup with a tin foil top. “What the fuck is that?” I ask myself and the nobody around me. Crouching down to pick it up and it feels warm. Now, the last time I felt this sensation was when I was working at a festival in a very busy bar that offered no toilet and a one hour queue for anyone that wanted to re enter. Not a pleasant job by any standards! My immediate reaction was of complete disgust as you can imagine but then I saw the colour of the liquid inside and thought “it’s almost black, seriously, no one can be that unhealthy” so I lift the foil and, shortly after a few genies of steam escape, the smell of fresh coffee hit my nostrils” Eh? What the…? But…
I look around, no one. I scan the houses overlooking the area but they are all still boarded up with any hope of life covered by the “for sale” signs plastered all over them. Seriously? Has someone left a hot cup of coffee for me? But… Is this some kind of “room service” for illegal campers? I… How can this be? Even if there was anyone around, who would do such a thing? And… and why??? Ok, so lots of people make a flask for a morning stroll but… tin foil?
The questions fade as I realise that there can’t be ANY other explanation! Someone has gone out of their way to do this for me!! Someone out there has spotted me. Someone has got up early to do this, for ME!
I start to laugh, laughter becomes weeping and then straight back to laughter and then more head scratching.
I sit, I drink, I enjoy the coffee. It tastes sweet even though it has no sugar. I drink, I think… and I learn! I learn that a small little from one can mean a huge massive to another. This gift wasn’t just a free coffee, it was a lesson that wasn’t intended to be. It was part of the main reason I embarked on this journey – to change myself for the better. To see things differently, to love more and hate less.
I hung around for a couple of hours I hope that my “coffee angel” would return and give the chance to explain exactly how much it meant to me but, every time I saw life and lifted my new trophy cup, my hopes of recognition returned nothing but questionable stares. Time passed and I had progress to make.
I left the campsite immaculate as usual, somewhat gutted that I hadn’t been a litter bug at my previous spots in order to make more of an effort, and pinned a note to a nearby rock in with little to no hope that it’d be received – “belle inconnue, voter don aporte des larme de bonhuer. Je devais pas d’eau. Je me soviendrai pour le reste de ma vie. Avec amour” finished with a link to my website.
I pressed on for the day, stopping at a fruit stall to spend way too much money on a nectarine and an apple to fuel the push. Into the marshes I’d stopped short of the previous day to avoid being eaten by mosquitoes thoughout the night but, once again, the realisation was not as planned. I had a choice of two roads – death or North, a direction that got me no where closer to my southernly target but maybe I might get there alive. The 25 miles I finger measured by sight was actually 39 and it was a hot day! Too hot for that mileage and way too hot to not be carrying water. Things went from bad to worse as a headwind hit me, pushing me back, forcing nearly double the effort for the same distance. My average speed was killed and the rough roads seemed to work in perfect harmony, slowing my progress and numbing my board foot. Dry roasted snakes littered the never ending straights and, just as the horizon broke, the roads continued into infinity. I reflected on my morning surprise to keep me going, preying for a shop in the next town to get some cold water, so dehydrated I could taste the salt in my mouth. The difficult, quiet roads became impossibly dangerous highways and the only cycle path I found lasted for as long as my morning coffee. It seemed as though my morning luck was one last hoorah.
I passed the marshes with its stench of dead roadkill, skated into a small town and straight to the local shop dropping to my knees as I realise the shutters are down and no one is home. Just as I raise my head of disbelief, a car pulls up and a young man steps out, calmly walks around to the boot and passes me a 2ltr bottle of mineral water. My second angel of the day brings on hysterics once again but I’m now so used to this I manage to multitask and control them whilst gulping down 1.5ltrs in one foul swoop. Again, the generosity I experience shatters my expectations. Maybe that wasn’t the end of my streak, more like a glitch.
I take a very well deserved break and check the map to find the cheapest supermarket in La Rochelle is only 5.9m away. I sigh at first but, what have I got to complain about. I’m fully hydrated. I can do this but I need music to push me forward. Not in the mood for breaks, nor house and I’m not angry enough for drum n bass. I need spirit and there’s only one man for that – Mike Oldfield.
Within minutes I’m rolling through the doors of yet another Lidl with a hunger. I shop with as much enthusiasm as a child stuck in m&s with his parents and head out. I’ve done 64km and I still have to find a suitable camp spot, the day isn’t over yet! I boot up the satellite imagery but don’t even have the energy for that so I head back to the roundabout leading to the supermarket and find a hedge. That’ll do Michael! Noes not the time to be hunting for ideals.
** halfway through writing this I received and email from Deborah. But I will always refer to her as “my coffee angel”