douglas

Point A to Point B – Backpacker Style

After our Workaway experience in the Tarn region the next stage of our plan (such as it were) was to head a bit further south to an area near a town called Quillan. Like much of southern France it was green and lush and filled with rolling hills (you might call them mountains), that one would think would be a cyclists nightmare but in truth only seems to encourage them.

They impress me and make me shake my head in the same moment, these cyclists, climbing up a hill that a sane individual would find a car to transport them up – but perhaps that is part of the secret of why the French can remain so unfairly thin.

You’ll see them everywhere (or at least in the south, I cannot speak for the North as Paris is my only experience there) the young, the elderly and everything in between. They cycle at all hours of the day, all days of the week and it seems that no hill or mountain can daunt them. (But I’ll get into that in a later post because that particular detail doesn’t come in until we arrive at host number 3.)

puivert-valley
See those hills in the distance? Cyclist’s paradise!! (c) Beth Hobson 2016

Cycling is most certainly a European and particularly a French obsession, as they do of course host an annual event you may have heard of. One rather well known ‘Tour de France‘.

There wasn’t a great deal of cycling that happened in our lives as our host had only one bike available for us to use and I believe Mister took it out only once and that ride resulted in some minor injuries and the loss of a significant amount of skin on his palms.

Due to the lack of transportation we were forced to utilise other methods to get from point A to point B. The bus system in the south of France is quite comprehensive and getting to Quillan was easy enough. Unfortunately we were a bit further along and there were only two buses per week that went to the little village nearest us. This does make life complicated when you are hoping to explore the area a little.

Our hosts were kind enough to occasionally take us with them and during our three weeks there we saw several of the nearby towns including the lovely Mirepoix, whose market square is a riot of colourful shutters and quaint buildings.

mirepoix
Mirepoix center – Panorama (c) Beth Hobson 2016

However sometimes we had places to be, and no way to get there. One of these such places was Lavelanet, and the reason we wanted to be there was that aforementioned event. The Tour de France was just happening to be passing through and it seemed like something we should certainly experience. That being said there was no public transportation, no bikes and we didn’t know anyone that could give us a lift.

What in the world are you to do when you are stuck in rural France?

Why you hitchhike of course!

hitchhiker

I know. Don’t panic. Being born and bred Canadian there is a part of me that recoils from the thought. Hitchhikers in my area are rare and other than Mister I don’t know of anyone that has picked one up in the last decade or so. You usually pass them by and wonder how long they will be standing there.

France is another story. In the area that we were staying it was common for older ladies to hitch a ride into town so they could do their groceries, and hitch a ride back with them when they were done! A valid and acceptable mode of transportation.

ben-hitchhiking
Our homemade sign, made from the top of a pizza box! (c) Beth Hobson 2016

During our stay at this host we had to hitch at least four times and these are the little tips that I can offer you.

  1. Have a sign that states very neatly what your destination is. This way, anyone that stops already knows where you want to go. They are more likely to stop for you and if there is a language barrier you will have less to explain.
  2. If you don’t speak the language well, make sure you know what towns are between where you are and where you want to go. Some people might not be able to take you all the way, but they might offer to take you to a destination that is on route – and it is generally a good thing if you know where it is!
  3. Stand somewhere with your signs that not only makes it easy for people to see you, but where they can stop safely. If you’re on some busy highway with no turn off or roadside stop nearby, no one will risk stopping for you.
  4. Be prepared for a bit of awkwardness, especially if there is a language barrier. Also – be prepared to potentially meet some very interesting and very kind people.
  5. If you are travelling in a group, be aware that you might have to split up; most people likely won’t have room for more than two.
  6. Give yourself way more time than you think you need. Sometimes you will get picked up right away and sometimes it can take a while. If you have a train to catch or anything like that, giving yourself extra time to get there can only ever be a good idea.

We did it, and we certainly survived. Some hitching experiences were better than others, and faster than others; but we always made it where we wanted to go and in time as well!

tour-de-france

I do have a video of the peloton passing – unfortunately at the time I was shooting in some bizarre format that I can’t play and as such need someone with far more technical skill than I have to convert it into a normal video. Thus I cannot actually share it with you. Don’t worry you’re only missing about 10 seconds, which is how long it took the cyclists of the Tour to go by. But it was a very exciting 10 seconds, so I maintain that it was certainly worth the effort to get there!

Should you decide to embark on an adventure, you will undoubtedly find yourself performing unpredictable feats you never would have anticipated. All in all, I think it’s part of the charm!

 

  • Micki LaDurante

    Another tip – smile! Happy faces succeed better than frowns. I suppose that applies in all cases! Safe travels to you and Mister!