Mons – Valenciennes (46.6km)
19 riders. Average speed 12,3 km/h. Time pedalling 4h41
France, at last! The anticipation is flourishing as we approach our final destination. Now that we are finally in France we have the feeling that we are almost there. We have come so far. We have cycled a total of 1292 km. We are excited, exhausted but happy; all our efforts throughout this epic journey have been leading up to these moments. It feels like we have been preparing for this for a long time.
The day started early in Mons, in the gym of the University of Mons that opened its doors for us. Breakfast was at the same place where we had dinner; these heroes at the University restaurant stayed up late last night to prepare soup and pasta for us and then in the morning prepared perfect breakfast (blessed be thee chocolate croissants) and also provided us with half a baguette with cheese and salad for each for lunch. This is what heroes do in real life. We waved goodbye and cheered for them as we hopped on our bikes in the drizzly morning.
We met two day riders in the central station, fixed a flat tire and were off to France. We slowed down the pace in a nice meandering cycle lane that took us 20km out of Mons and as we were approached the border we took a small roads far from the highway.
It was a dirty affair crossing the border. Literally. Wheels stuck, losing balance in puddles and, for some, feet ankle deep in the mud kind of dirty. And we loved every minute of it. We laughed as we pushed up the bikes though muddy grassy hills and we laughed as we pushed our bikes and slipped in muddy ponds. We knew it was a short ride in terms of kilometres but that never equates to it being easy. It’s never been the case on the Cooperide. We marvel at irony of the fact that is always the short stages that offer us such entertaining challenges. And every day the challenge takes a different dimension.
Once in Valenciennes (mud-spattered bikes, pants, faces and wet shoes) we were received by a group from the local green party who host a lovely soiree. Meaning plenty of red wine, cheeses, hams, breads, fruits and lively conversation. Yep, we are in France.
There was live music by a Tibetan artist who lives here, who talked a bit about the struggles of his people in regard to climate change. A local farmer named Vincent shared with us how he organizes with the community to create a new kind of relationship with food production a consumption based on mutual support, trust and enjoyment of local produce, without exploitation of people or the earth. We taught the locals a song we came up with on the road and performed our theme song for them too. Finally a couple of fantastic short films about local initiatives were screened, one of these was about an organic food project and another a cycling promotion organisation. The series of short films was call the Halte Terres Natives, and can be found on the Collectif des Routes site.
It would have been a fantastic day if it hadn’t been for what happened at the end of the night, which can only be described metaphorically as a massive kick in the private parts. At the end of the evening, brimming with warmth, energy and contentment, we were being divided in smaller groups to go with our hosts to the places where we would spend the night (several kind locals offered their homes to host us for the night). We went just outside the building to pick up our bikes and found that two of them were missing. SCHEISSE! MERDE! FUCK!
Dennis and Issac had attached their bikes together using a high-quality ABUS lock. We always take precaution to do this, even in sleepy locations, but in this instance the bikes were in an unlit spot backing onto a park and the situation was exploited. Issac had a very nice bike which he had ridden all the way from Halland in Sweden, but Dennis´ was always the beauty in our pack. This trusted and much loved stead (Soma frame, Shimano XT hubs, Brooks saddle) was purchased in Australia and taken right the way through Asia, through Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Iran. As our principal Techie, Denis went to daily effort to ensure his wheels were rolling optimally. At home in Malmö he´d always carry it up 4 flights of stairs to lock it in his flat rather than risk theft. Losing a bike like that, with such a deep attachment, is like losing a limb. Nothing less than a tragedy…
Day 18 brought the some of the biggest highs of the trip so far, the most joy and laughter we´d enjoyed as a group, but it will also be remembered for the worst of reasons. Valenciennes- the town with some of the kindest people we have so far met on the road and some of the biggest scum-bags too.