People travel and crave movement for many reasons. Whether it is for a change from the usual, for a sense of adventure, to see what’s around the corner, or to see how other people live. For me, a treasured moment of travelling by bike is drinking sunrise coffee outdoors in a new place, while listening to birds sing.
We had already camped in France for weeks, but the thrill of the morning bakery van honking and playing music like a Canadian ice-cream cart brought me and my son, Zion, running every time.
First light was beginning to peek over the hill beside Le Doubes River, and only us and other eager bike-tourists awaited the campsite bakery delivery. Together we peered at the offerings and inhaled: the thick, sweet bready smells alone were almost enough to satisfy our hunger. I purchased five croissants, three baguettes and two chocolate éclairs. This haul would maybe last my family for the day. I laughed and thought about the new spare tire growing around my waist, which may just be my favourite French souvenir.
My mom and I walked over to our bikes and delicately squished the baked goods into her front panniers. Hand-washed laundry hung from multiple different straps of our bikes. The sky was clear and after a lot of cold spring rain, a day where our laundry might dry was exciting.
“Excusez-moi, you’re touring on an E-bike?” A French man in a tight yellow and black cycling jacket interrupted my musings.
“Yes, I am.” And I checked out his bike too, as it seemed to be the thing to do.
“You are too!” I exclaimed.
“Oui! It’s the best, I travel with it every year,” he told me. “Next year, I’ll ride to Vienna.” He paused, already dreaming of his next adventure I supposed. “How are you liking your CUBE bike?”
“I love it!” I beamed. “My family and I have followed La Meuse River South and we’re now veering to the east and hope to make it to the Rhine River in a few days.”
“I’m Jean-Paul,” he reached his hand out. I took it and then introduced my parents and my husband. We were all ready to ride, except my son, Zion, who had jumped off his own CUBE bike and was now standing beside me.
“How many kilometres are you getting each day on that battery?”
“Well, depends how much my second power source is helping out!” I motioned to the attachment connected to the back of my bike and squeezed Zion’s shoulder. Zion tucked his head into his arm a bit, being shy. “I average about 80 kilometres on a battery,” I then said. “Some days though, my legs are not good and I keep it in Turbo-mode. It also depends on the hills. Yesterday was a doozy,” I admitted.
“Are you finding charging stations easy?” he asked. I was. And Jean-Paul was clearly happy to chat with me. I felt like the cool kid talking about e-bike cycle-touring. He was the first person I had met on the trip also travelling with a pedal-assist.
“I bought a second battery in The Netherlands so I wouldn’t have to stress about keeping it in Eco-mode,” I told him. “I’d been concerned about finding enough places to recharge but that hasn’t been an issue.”
Jean-Paul smiled knowingly and then turned his attention to Zion.
“How old are you son?”
“And you’re biking too! Extraordinaire! What is your favourite part?”
“Finding new swimming pools and playgrounds,” Zion said. “And when I can bike on my own.”
“Are you biking on your own today?”
Zion picked up his bike with a cheeky smile and we chorused an au revoir to Jean-Paul as we pulled out onto the path.
Le Doubes River was full of locks, cranes, herons and ducks. Eventually, the path turned to road and we wound our way through a village with a statue depicting the devastation of WWII. There is always much to learn from the seat of the bike.
That evening, in the downtown of Mountbeliard, a family took us into their home and gave us beds for the night.
“This house is older than Canada,” I told Zion as we explored all the floors and rooms. In fact, the house is older than when Jacques Cartier sailed up to what is now called Canada and claimed the land for the French, I realized.
On the very edge of France in another campsite, Zion and I found Jean-Paul again. He was stooped over packing his bike wearing the same yellow and black jacket. Croissant crumbs sprinkled the ground.
“It’s my last day, today. I head back home by train.” He looked happy to see us and wistful at the same time. I imagined his mind had already gone towards his next trip. The next time he will feel like an explorer. The next time he will push out of his comfort zone or meet new friends and have Canadians run up to him at a campsite. Perhaps by leaving, he also realized how much he loved his home.
I know I felt nostalgic as I nibbled on my last French Fraise Tartlette. Later that afternoon we arrived at the Three Countries Bridge. Zion led up the ramp to the single span bridge over the Rhine River. We signalled him to stop midway. His front wheel was now in Germany, his back wheel leaving France and on our right was Switzerland. I wondered where my next morning coffee would be savored and if Switzerland would still have bakery delivery trucks. My family and I still had a lot to discover.