We are in the process of preparing for our return to France.

  • We are looking for places to sleep in between Madrid and Paris (we only need a little corner of land to pitch the tent!). If you can help us out, please follow this link.

  • We already have a couple of conferences lined up along the way. To see the schedule, follow this link. We would be happy to met with you!

We are also looking for an apartment in Paris or the surrounding area, starting in mid-May 2010. Any help or suggestions would be most welcome!

The turning of a page

It’s been almost three weeks since we posted any news! Did you think we had been already caught up in the whirlwind of life without bikes? Of city life? Of the settled life?

Our last message was from the Jura, where we spent a lovely time with my grandmothers who had been impatiently waiting for us. They were able to proudly introduce us to their friends, happy to finally meet us in person.

We had bad weather, and our immune systems proved not at all adapted to European germs. We both caught the worst cold of our whole trip – and in France, what irony! It didn’t stop us from biking through the rain, though, in order to keep to our tight schedule. After wonderful family welcomes in Dole and Chenôve, we spent a couple of chilly nights in our tent, sniffling away. And we biked with our gloves in the cold and grey along the Bourgogne canal.

The first night of our trip, in Alaska, Tony set the tone by inviting us to stay with him for the night. In Paron, in Yonne, only three days before our final arrival, Madeline and Jean-Jacques offered us a meal and a warm bed, and we are grateful to them.

Under the returning sun, we biked along the back roads into the Ile de France to Avon, to see Simone, one of Sara’s aunts. Then, in the yard of the Boissy Saint Léger church, we pitched our tent for the last time and cooked pasta for the last time on our stove.

The next morning, the sun was shining and we had only about 30 km to ride. We biked slowly,  full of reflection. As we folded up the tent for the last time, we couldn’t help but think about all the places that we had pitched and folded the tent over the past two years.

We had enough time to pass by Sara’s university where she got her master’s degree. Sara wanted to go and pick up her diploma, but they were only able to give her a certificate dated a year ago, or two years after her last exam. They told us that if she wanted to pick up her real diploma, she would have to come back on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday between 10 and 12, and that it was impossible to send in the mail. Sara didn’t even bother to ask for an electronic copy of the precious document. Practical, right? Especially for the foreign students, who make up 20 percent of their classes.

A little later we joined the shores of the Marne, and followed its banks and the banks of the Seine, along the bike paths, all the way to the Gare de Lyon. We took a break at the Seine, and another at the pyramid of the Louvre, and then covered the last few hundred meters, full of emotion. We turned the last corner, and crossed over the Iéna bridge to face the Eiffel Tower and the welcoming committee there to greet us. There were more than 20 people there. After the initial hugs and kisses, we went back to a room in the 16th arrondissement, where there were more people waiting for us. We said a few things to the group, in front of selection of our pictures displayed on a big screen. There was a present for us too, from our families: a beautiful piece of art representing our whole trip, by Roseline, a multi-media photographer. Everything was very touching, and we weren’t expecting that at all. The evening went really well.

Those of you who know us well know how pragmatic we are, and so it won’t surprise you that the next day we started looking for an apartment. After four days of intensive searching, we found a place and we plan to sign the lease next Tuesday.

We’ll keep posting news on the site, to share with you our impressions of life after cycling, something that we found was missing from a lot of the sites that we looked at before the trip.

If you want updates on our next presentations, send us an email at contact@pladusol.org and we’ll add you to our mailing list.

We would like to share our adventure with you, and if you are interested in having us give a presentation, please don’t hesitate to write to us. We travel all around the country (France).

Sébastien

[Drapeau de France Heather | Le 23-05-2010 23:56 | Add a comment]

On home turf

So much has happened in such a short time!

When we arrived in St Maurice de Beynost, Didier my uncle greeted us warmly and emotionally. First stop – first surprise: he had invited Christiane and Robert, as well as Monique, who have all been following our adventure since the since the beginning, but whom we had never met. As soon as we arrived, they told us that the mayor was waiting to take a picture with us at 7:30. We biked over to the town hall and there were at least 30 people there waiting to hear about our trip. The mayor himself was in full regalia, including the medal of recognition of the town.

The next step was amazing. The sun was out in full force, and the Jura was warm and welcoming as we rode up the through the Ain valley. In Chemilla and Cézia, I rediscovered my childhood and there was another surprise waiting for us. Marie France and Raymond came from Savoie to meet us with Josette and Louis (all 4 of the great aunts and uncles). It was a great family reunion that night.

The sun stayed with us all along the jurassian plateau, across the Vouglans Lake, and through the great spruce forests. On the Grandvaux plateau, I recognized the roads that I used to train on when I was younger. Some had changed, and others not. It felt like coming home. Although my perception of distance was a little different 20 years ago…. As we rode into Saint Laurent, we heard two children calling out to Sara. Yes, there were more people here to meet us - all the kids from the elementary school that we were planning to visit the next morning. Michèle and Denis were there and welcomed us with open arms, and so were Lydie, Schani, and my friend Guillaume – all of whom made it a wonderful evening of reunions.

Friday we were almost overcome with emotion when we arrived at the community centre. More than 100 students were waiting for us, and they all clapped and shouted encouragement, just like at the end of ski race. They really enjoyed the presentation and we answered lots of questions. We got to see the work they had done while we were gone – thanks to the teachers for all their involvement.

Saturday night we shared our stories in at a more intimate gathering in the St Laurent town hall. My parents were there, my grandmother, and by great aunt and uncle, whom we hadn’t seen in a long time, and who surprised us by coming to the presentation. Rémy was also there, one of our webmasters, along with a number of other people.

The next step took us to Foncine Le Haut, with Francoise and Guy. My brother Nicolas and his partner Céline came to meet us and everyone tried out the bikes. We got to bike up a steep hill on unloaded bikes… and Sara even got to try out a bike with electric assistance!

We’ve spent two days in Chaon with Nicolas. We got to babysit Paulin, our nephew, a smiling little boy. We had a great time with him.

Next up, we’re heading towards Lons Le Saunier, where my grandmothers are waiting for us. It’s been really amazing getting the chance to spend so much time with our loved ones.

Sébastien

[Drapeau de France Heather | Le 05-05-2010 12:45 | Add a comment]

Three Cheers for Our Cyclists

After a night with Caspar in Orange, then a night in Saou with Thierry (Sébastien’s uncle) and Julie, and another night camping, we arrived in Beaujolais country… Sébastien knows it well since his parents moved here when he was 18 years old. He knows all the little back roads that run through the rolling hills. We rediscovered the sun-warmed rock, the halls we visited when we were looking for a place to hold our wedding reception, little corners where we had picked cherries, blackberries and grapes.

We chatted as we rode calmly along. Around Chazay d’Azergues, we were met by two big waves – Francois and André. They wanted to greet us as we passed, and invited us to speak at a conference in September. We continued towards Lachassagne.

We could see one final hill in the distance and we watched as a cyclist rode quickly down it. Sébastien thought it was his brother Damien coming to meet us. But then the cyclist turned around, turned around again, and finally stashed the bike beside the road and hid. We knew it was for us. We chuckled to ourselves. We saw eventually that it was Liliane, Sébastien’s mother, who had ridden out to meet us. It was a big reunion, and our eyes filled with tears. Liliane rode Sara’s bike up the last hill to try it out… and ended up falling flat on her back, overcome by the weight of the bike when it came to a stop.

On the way back to the house, Sébastien’s dad, Jean-Pierre stopped to say hello to us on his way home from work. When we arrived at Sébastien’s parents’ place, we saw they that had put up a sign that read “Three Cheers for Our Cyclists!” It was very moving.

Damien and Marine showed up and also tried out the bikes. And a little later, Nicolas (Sébasitien’s other brother) came with Céline and Paulin, our nephew who had been born while we were away. We spent a wonderful weekend with them all.

We are realizing just how quickly things are moving now. The next step is the Jura, and we have a full schedule there. We are meeting with Antoine Lyonnet de Saint Laurent School in Grandvaux on Friday afternoon, then a conference presentation at the Saint Laurent town hall on Saturday night. And of course we can’t forget our friends in Haut Jura who are waiting to celebrate with us.

Sara

[Drapeau de France Heather | Le 27-04-2010 11:41 | Add a comment]

More reunions!

Since our arrival in France, we have been taking more back roads through the country. We want to see France from another perspective and also stay away from the traffic. We’ve been biking through lots of small towns, trying the bread from the local bakery, as well as their cheese and charcuterie. Our taste buds are in heaven!

In between Montauban and the Gard, we stopped in Mazamet, where the Association du Pot Ethique wanted us to give a presentation about our trip. Although it was during the holidays, a few people still came out to see us, and we shared our adventures with a small group. It was very different from the Montauban conference of over hundred people, but just as interesting.

In between the Tarn and l’Hérault, we biked 50 km along a trail, a old railway track that has been converted into a bike path. It was really nice to see such a well managed public space, and we really enjoyed the green interlude.

In the Gard we were meeting some of Sara’s family and friends at the beginning of the bike path. We were reunited with Marie-Thérèse, Sara’s aunt who we hadn’t seen since we left. Carl and Nadine were also there (Sara’s aunt and uncle), and their kids Titouan and Anélie, all of whom had come to visit us for two weeks in Costa Rica, a year ago. We had a picnic in the grass, and after lunch we suggested a coffee. Nadine admitted that she had forgotten the thermos. But not to worry, Sébastien took out the stove to heat some water and we used some of the powdered coffee and sugar that we had left. Our lunch companions were astounded, but it just goes to show that a cyclo-tourist is ready to handle (almost) anything! So after a little cup of coffee, we headed out for the last 20 km. About half way along, Cyril, a distant cousin, joined us with his two kids. We didn’t know him, but he knew us – he had been following our whole trip! It was amazing to meet him and we were really touched. We were able to bike a little some of our nearest and dearest, and that is priceless.

At the end of the afternoon, herded along by Marie-Thérèse (who felt like she was bringing us home), we were reunited with Sara’s grandparents, eagerly awaiting our arrival. Mamie Jeannette was waiting at the corner of her street with Sabine, another distant cousin. They clapped as we rode up. It is all those little things that mean so much to us, the seemingly insignificant gestures…  someone waiting outside to greet us, a smile, a hug.

With Sara’s grandparents we watched French news for the first time in two years. We were a little lost when they talked about the train strike since they never mentioned the reasons behind it, and when they discussed the French consequences of the Icelandic volcano. We could hardly believe how the news only addressed the French perspective, as if France was the only country in the world. We were surprised too to see how the French news only talked about the consequences of things, and never their causes. We asked around, but no one could tell us exactly why the SNCF were on strike, even though they’ve been striking for almost two weeks. And the planes were grounded all across Europe, which we were thankful for! Since being back in Europe, we seen and heard more planes than during our whole trip. Even when we are camped in the middle of a forest, the planes still shatter the silence as the fly overhead.

Yesterday, Sunday, Marie-Thérèse organized a dinner at her house with all the aunts, uncles and cousins from Sara’s mom’s side of the family. We met Colline, born while we were away. We had a wonderful time, laughing and getting to know them.

Tomorrow, we are back on the road. Sébastien’s family is waiting impatiently for us to arrive, and we will finally get to meet our nephew Paulin, also born while we were away. You remember that little bundle of joy, the next cross-country ski and cycling champion, currently exercising his vocal chords!

Sara

[Drapeau de France Heather | Le 16-04-2010 23:44 | Add a comment]

Reunited!

As soon as we said goodbye to Rachel and Guillaume, we started to get a little nervous…. Nervous about seeing Sylviane, Sara’s mom, who we hadn’t seen in almost two years…. Nervous about the two conferences, where so much was riding on our presentations… Nervous about being back in a town that Sara has known for almost 22 years.

Sylviane was waiting for us at the edge of Montauban, accompanied by her friend Pascale and Pascale’s daughter Anastasia. They greeted us with an ‘ola’ from the side of the road, so sweet and simple that it brought tears to our eyes. A car pulled up beside us with Bernard, one of the people organizing the Montauban conference. He had recognized us and wanted to welcome us. We were touched, impressed by this all this activity.
Friday afternoon we went to Lou Camin, a home for mentally ill people, funded by the John Bost Foundation. We were welcomed as heroes, and our presentation went really well. We were pleased, and feeling a little more relaxed.

At 5:30 we left Lou Camin and headed to downtown Montauban: a welcoming committee was waiting for us to do a little tour of the town by bike. The stress started to build – that night was our first big conference, with microphones, lots of people, and microfinance institutions coming in from all over. We knew we had to be clear and concise in our explanations, but that seemed impossible – we had so much to say that it was hard to stay on topic. There is so much that we want to talk about that we could talk for hours on end! But that night, we only had one hour. The room was full – 100 chairs filled plus another 30 or 40 people sitting on the floor. We were intimated at first, but warmed up to our subject, and were able to make them smile and laugh, keep them engaged, and even inspire them. 

Everyone we met that day really seemed to consider us ‘extraordinary’. That was actually the word used by the woman who introduced us, over the microphone, to the whole town. But we don’t feel extraordinary; we feel normal. All we had was the courage to live our lives differently for a little while. We were motivated and determined, and it took a lot of work and energy to make this project happen. But we are still just two people in a big world, two specs of dust in the whole wide universe.

All the conferences in Montauban went really well, and we send our thanks to the organizers for their hard work and their warm welcomes. We also want to thank those who travelled to meet us and show us their support. It meant a lot to us that we were able to share our adventure with so many, even without knowing them. Our actions might only be a drop in a bucket, but we have succeeded in reaching out to those people who want to change but don’t know where to start.

There is still something that disturbs us about Europe though. In Spain and in France in particular, it seems we have lost the ability to simply meet and appreciate another person. All our relationships seem complicated, regulated. It is a big change for us, after everything that we experienced in the Americas.

PS: Monday, April 12, we will be live at 5:00 pm for an interview on CFM radio (Montauban 90.7)

Sara & Sébastien

[Drapeau de France Heather | Le 12-04-2010 00:42 | Add a comment]

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