Oh, the feeling we had in May 2005, when we got off the train in Les Eyzies, France!

Noreen Skoolicas stops at the Cro-Magnon hotel in Les Eyzies, France, at the end of the first day of the four-week bicycle trip that she and her husband took in 2005. Photos courtesy Noreen Skoolicas

After six months of reading, planning, packing and re-packing, we took an overnight flight to Toulouse, France, and found our way to the shop where we had arranged to leave our bike cases. On the sidewalk out front, my husband spent two or three hours reassembling our bikes. Then we rode through the city, had lunch, found the Matabiau-Toulouse station and hauled our bikes and gear onto the train by evening. We were both wired and exhausted.

Les Eyzies was the last stop. Getting off the train at midnight, we got chills of excitement, anticipation and awe as we watched it chug away, leaving nothing to see in the pitch black, only crickets to hear in the rural silence, and no one to depend on but ourselves.

We pulled out our headlamps, and I tried to recall the directions I had memorized to get us to the hotel, La Rivière. Feeling an odd mix of trepidation and power, we (nearly) blindly rode exactly a half-mile straight, a quarter-mile left, etc., until we reached the hotel.

The next morning, we headed out on day one of the four-week trip, one of the most fabulous days of our lives. We rode 46 miles through exquisite farmland, hearing cuckoos calling, sheep baa-ing, horses snorting. We saw plows, fields of grass, lettuce, vineyards, a 12th-century Romanesque church, very warm and welcoming people, a local bike race, a bike museum and a market where we bought bread, sausage and fruit for a picnic.

Noreen Skoolicas’ husband, Bill, enjoys a beer and a slice of the chocolate cake that the proprietor of the Cro-Magnon hotel brought the couple, “just because she felt like it.”

At the end of the day, we stopped for a beer at the Cro-Magnon hotel in Les Eyzies. As if the day hadn’t been glorious enough, the proprietor brought us some chocolate cake, just because she felt like it.

With each cycling trip, we learned so much about what we need to have with us, what to pay attention to and how essential it is to be on the same page when we don’t speak the language, don’t know where we are and we are probably hungry and possibly hypoxic. The first few times I complained there was something wrong with my bike, the brakes seemed stuck, Bill would dutifully get out his tools and examine my bike, finding no issues. It wasn’t long before he learned to pull out another bag, hand me a Snickers and advise me to try the bike again in 10 minutes.

Those European bike trips have shaped how we think and behave. The moment I felt most alive (so far!) was rolling into Budapest at rush hour, trying to find our hotel, competing for road with buses, cars, trucks and other cyclists, all at breakneck pace. That combination of vulnerability and power is intoxicating.

filed under: