Paul Holder August 6 at 12:45pm
Hello people of earth,
I am in Lyon right now. Took about five days to walk here, and am now a bit over 435 miles into my trek.
Lyon looks like it could be pretty ace. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my time since arriving here at lunchtime in a laundromat (had to sit in nothing but a towel, because everything needed a clean), and this here internet cafe. Still, I figure that if I get all the bits and pieces done today, I can have a proper day off tomorrow for the first time in over three weeks. I realised this morning as I was walking into the city that in twenty three days, there has only been one day on which I have done no walking with my kit. I am probably made from adamantium by now.
So yeah, Lyon is tres belle. Loads and loads of bridges and water (the rivers Saone and Rhone converge in the middle of the city). Also it is the gastronomical capital of France, so I aim to find something unusual for dinner tonight, like moon rock sorbet. Going to do some proper sight seeing tomorrow. There are Roman remains, amphitheatres etc, plus I really want to go to the Lumiere Museum, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born here, so hoping to see some original Little Prince drawings.
This past week has been a bit of a tough one to be honest. This is largely because I had to walk on road the whole way here from Clermont-Ferrand. Often they were busy A-road style affairs, and the first two days was pretty much one long and torrential thunderstorm, so I spent it getting soaked and dodging cars. Longed for the peace of the forest again. Kind of takes the romance out of it. Also, I got quite lonely this week. I think this came from being in civilised areas a lot. It’s strange; when I’m completely alone in the woods or up a mountain, I feel fine. It’s only when I come down into the towns and cities and stop walking that I begin to get anxious, lonely and feel a bit ridiculous. My energy level has started to dip, and I had a couple of really rough days, where I was running on nothing but determination. Having to put a second new notch on my belt was a bit demoralising. But for all this, I know that there are better times ahead, and I’ll be leaving Lyon at least partially recharged.
So what can I say about the landscape of the past week? Well, to be honest, because I’ve been following the roads, which almost always follow the path of least resistance, it has been pretty bland. I passed over two low mountain ranges (Monts du Forez and Monts du Lyonnais), crossed the Loire, and went through a few picturesque little towns (Thiers especially is worth a mention, though it felt a bit like The Prisoner – I couldn’t find the road out!).
I suppose there’s only two incidences of particular interest. The first was on Wednesday evening (4th August). I got to a village called Ste-Foy-L’Argentiere and really had no energy left, so searched around for somewhere to camp. Found a park and was about to pitch when I noticed two guys watching me. Instantly knew that something was amiss. They came over and asked if I was going to sleep there, I said yes and they got pretty vocal about it. They then went and sat on a bench in front of me and just stared at me. I didn’t want to give up my ground, so I decided to sit there for twenty minutes to see if they’d go away and also to give myself time to think about my next move if they didn’t. I thought if it got nasty, my walking stick Balderic would even up the numbers. However, I didn’t know my exits and whether they’d call in more people if a confrontation arose, so in the end I decided I’d have to leave. It was getting dark by now and there really wasn’t anywhere else to pitch in the village, so I went to a nearby bar and asked if there was a hotel in the area. Turned out the only place with rooms was a run-down bar on the other side of the village. When I got there it was closed, but I saw a light on so I knocked on the door and an incredibly fat, incredibly hairy man opened the door. He showed me up to a room with no lock, there were wires hanging out the wall, and the neon light outside my window flickered. It was a bit like staying in a Tom Waits song. Still, in three weeks that was the first problem I’ve had finding a place to put up the tent, so that’s pretty good going. Things like that are bound to happen. There will be difficult situations, but in a way, I enjoy the challenge. And increasingly, I’m adopting the Billy Pilgrim maxim: so it goes.
The second thing is pretty hard to explain. Yesterday after lunch, I was walking along a pretty remote country road when I happened to look up and see a bird flying really unsteadily towards me. I ducked out of the way and it landed with a thump in the middle of the road. It was an owl. I don’t know much about owls, but it was definitely from the gigantic side of the family. Seriously, its wingspan was about the same as my arms. It just sat there and I just stood there, and we were staring at each other, probably both unsure what to do next. I took a step forward and he started hopping away, trying to take flight. I realised he was injured, but didn’t know what to do. Do the French have something like the RSPCA? I couldn’t just leave him there. A car came whizzing around the corner and I waved it round frantically. And all the time, the owl sat there, his neck twisted around in that hideous way they are capable of, with those huge unblinking orange eyes fixed on me. He kept on trying to fly, until he hopped off the road into the thick undergrowth of the embankment. He was completely stuck. Every time he moved, he just dropped further down the steep embankment, until soon he was beyond my reach.
But still, he looked at me. I felt dumb and useless, like when you’re making stupid noises at a baby and its just looking at you, and you suddenly realise that you are making stupid noises and start to feel a bit of a plum. In the end I just turned and left. The whole incident probably only lasted five minutes, but for the next couple of hours my head was thick with blue fog. Seeing such a majestic creature hobbling along like that was so pathetically comic, and knowing there was nothing that I could do, well I don’t think there have been too many events that have sucked the joy of life out of me so rapidly. Last night I dreamt that the owl laid eggs in my hat.
Sorry if this all sounds miserable. I am still really happy and definitely know I have the Right Idea (cheers D-Rob). In a week I should be in Geneva, though the small matter of the Jura Mountains stands between me and Switzerland. I can’t believe that I’ve nearly walked across the whole of France!!! It’s a real buzz in the base of my pants just to think of it. Also, please chip in a few quid when you get the chance. I’ve nearly raised a grand so far, which is close to halfway to my target. And please do send me messages, on here and by text. It makes more difference than you’ll ever know. Sorry for the tone of this message, I’m sure I’ll be full of it again next time I get in touch.