Another delayed posting. I could claim that I waited for Armistice Day (c.f. below) – but, really I was just too busy with reflection…
Into the Countryside: Simplicity of the Past.
Not every magnificent Christian edifice has withstood the test of time. Impermanence is an aspect of all humanity’s endeavors. Occasionally, deterioration leaves behind evocative mysteries of a past place of worship.
At St. Jean-aux-Bois & Compiègne, the remnants of a 12th Century church provided a lovely stopping point for lunch on a pastoral ride.
Not far from the secular remains of an earlier millennium: a Roman amphitheater and bath.
Of course, not every old church is in ruins. By celebrating simplicityThe Benedictine Order avoided some of the deterioration that seems to have resulted from the extravagant and ornate adorning of other religious buildings.
And, in keeping with the age of iTunes – a new organ for the current visitors to the ongoing place of worship.
More Countryside: Riding into The Past Century.
As may seem obvious, this blog is less chronological and more psychological. (Indeed, the delayed postings are the result of an avoidance of deadlines. The thrill of retirement.)
Now that I have more time and space to spread out, I seem have too many “local” commitments. However, I can still vividly recall the wonderful exploration of France & Belgium on a barge with delightful fellow bicycle riders.
Living on a canal boat is a mixed blessing. A true blessing in that, despite a minuscule kitchen the food was Cordon Bleu quality. But, the daily schedule was rigorous – the activities of daily living were hard in a cabin that, although clean and neat – felt not much larger than a comparable space in a submarine. And, for those of us 6’ 4”, a “bathroom” that is 4’ X 4’ X 6’ 5” is rather cramped. (Smaller than my closet at home) And, a bed that is 6’ 4” is quite cramped. Consequently, it was hard to create and upload thoughtful comments without space and without consistent WiFi.
Sadly, living in close quarters had other disadvantages. When the trip began, a few folks had a slight cold + cough. As I sketched this entry – 10 days into the trip – about 6 people had stopped riding due to illness.
However, one of the advantages of a bike-and-barge journey is that rather than ride when sick, people can create a floating infirmary – and, heal.
Our discomfort paled as our rides through rural France reminded us of the excruciating protracted horror that was the Great War, World War I.
In the Forest of Compiègne we encountered the war memorial commemorating the signing of the armistice where World War I finally ended.
The war memorial contains a reproduction of the rail car where the armistice was signed.
And, artifacts that bring to mind the nature of the war.
From the New York Times (old and new) come observations about the nature of man’s inhumanity to man:
Known then as the “Great War,” World War I was also described as the “war to end all wars,” because many believed its high death toll and vast destruction would deter future fighting. This, of course, did not hold true. Because of resentment over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, rose to power in Germany, seeking to avenge Germany’s defeat. After invading and defeating France in 1940, Hitler ordered that the French sign an armistice in the Compiegne Forest in the same rail car where the World War I armistice was signed.
More recent NYT observation (2011)
Travel in Europe can provide images of great beauty and emotions of great sadness.
Barge Navigation Note:
For me, no description of a BAC bike trip is complete without some mention of Navigation.
On non-barge trips, the exact itinerary is set well in advance. Day 1 starts at hotel-1 in town-1. Next day, we ride ’n’ kilometers to hotel-2 in town-2. Repeat for 14 days. Or 12 days, if the trip includes two rest days – one rest day in town-x, second rest day in town-y. Obviously, hotel reservations need to be made by the trip leader months in advance. Consequently, riders can have Cue Sheets (“Starting at hotel-7, ride 0.5 kilometers North; turn Left onto Rue des Pavés…”) and/or maps which show the route from a “Google map / Michelin Map” view – and, perhaps, even a GPS file. All formats describe a predetermined route. Note: there are generic GPS standards (Open Geospatial Consortium) – but, each of the many navigation devices may have a proprietary file format. And, few devices can use “the other guy’s” format… (refer to GPS details on BikeRadar.com)
On a barge trip, the itinerary needs to be flexible. Barges travel through narrow canals. Barges queue up for access to very narrow locks that accommodate changes in elevation. (Think: mini Panama canal every ’n’ kilometers,,,) And, canal traffic happens. (I live in Atlanta… Let me tell you about traffic…)
Although each bike-and-barge tour has a default itinerary, adaptability is a natural component of all travel. Our schedule had been imperfectly communicated to the captain of the Zwaantje (the thrill of working through an intermediary travel service) – and so, significant changes were made on the first night as we discussed where we would travel each day.
So, how does one create Cue Sheets | Route Map | GPS files for a unique route – re-designed on day 1 – that may change on-the-fly? (Remember: canal congestion and delays…)
Not possible. So, our trip included a staff of 6. Four folks to do the boat: a captain, his wife, an engineer, and a cook. Two folks to lead each ride. The ride leaders were graduate students who alternated as Ride Leader and Sweep. All 24 riders kept the same pace as we were guided on each day’s journey.
That is – as BAC folks know – not the usual approach to a two-week ride. The advantage of pre-planned routes is independent navigation. Often there are several groups based on speed: the quick ones; the moderate paced riders; and those travelers who want to stop and smell the flowers (and, take close-up pictures of the sunflowers that look like the ones that Vincent Van Gogh painted…).
Not this trip. A single line of riders. Think Tour de France peloton traveling relatively slowly.
But, a benefit of group cohesion was knowledgeable talks from our well-educated ride leaders at break points. Descriptions and histories of specific towns and cities; stories about the original inhabitants of that special chateau; insight into the origins of a place of tranquility…
Every journey provides unique perspectives and rewards.