In this extract from her blog, Catherine Pringle describes her tandem ride through the Cévennes. This blog post doesn’t appear in the final version of Peloton of Two, but it hints at an important decision that lies ahead for her in the story.
The post title borrows from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Catherine quotes from Stevenson’s book in the post. (There are other quotes from his book in my list of favourite quotes.)
Cycling in the Cévennes with a donkey
by Catherine Pringle
Day 42, Friday 29 July.
Today’s ride took us south-west from Florac and up onto the Corniche de Cévennes, a ridge-top ride with spectacular views across the Parc national des Cévennes. After the ride along the Tarn valley, which by the third day seemed almost oppressive, the ascent onto the 700 metre high Corniche was liberating. Starting just outside Florac, we began a steady climb through Saint-Laurent and up and over the 1,000 metre high Col des Faisses. Then we descended a little, levelling out onto the Corniche.
It was below us in the Cévennes that Robert Louis Stevenson made his walking trip with the donkey Modestine, a journey he recorded in his 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Reading through it last night I was struck by two passages. The first comes in his chapter, A night among the Pines, where Stevenson describes the pleasure of spending a night out of doors:
The outer world, from which we cower into our houses, seemed after all a gentle habitable place; and night after night a man’s bed, it seemed, was laid and waiting for him in the fields… I thought I had rediscovered one of those truths which are revealed to savages and hid from political economists; at the least, I had discovered a new pleasure for myself. And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near me in the starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within touch. For there is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect. And to live out of doors with the woman a man loves is of all lives the most complete and free.
This passage spoke directly to me about me own situation, and I have to confess that I shed a hidden tear. Here I was, sleeping outdoors within miles of where Stevenson had travelled. And whereas he had at that moment been utterly alone, my journey felt complete because of my companion. Yet, we are possibly just days from saying goodbye to each other. We haven’t spoken about it, but both of us know that Avignon could be the end of our time together. By not talking about it we are prolonging the illusion that this is a journey without constraints, that it will go on till we touch the sea along the English Channel.
In the final passage of his book, Stevenson says goodbye to Modestine. Realising his loss, he doesn’t hesitate to yield to his emotion. But, by then, it was too late – Modestine was gone. Throughout the afternoon, and during my own 20 kilometre descent from the Corniche to St Jean du Gard, Stevenson’s words ran repeatedly through my mind. By the time we reached our campground near St Jean, my mind had reached the inescapable conclusion that I was about to throw something good away.
I realised there was still a donkey travelling through the Cévennes. It was me.