Day 19 / Dec 2

Valenciennes – Moulin de Lucy (Ribemont) (73 km)

19 riders. Average speed 17 km/h. Time pedalling 4h10

Today was a day of fast riding on brisk roads. No rain, no wind and not too cold. It was also a day of long breaks (probably our longest lunch break yet..), a lot of repairing bikes and some unexpected situations. On busy country lanes we had to put up with a lot of overtaking traffic, making us long for Danish/German/Belgian bike lanes.

The day started with uncertainty about what to about the stolen bikes. Issac and Dennis made a visit to the Valenciennes police station to report the theft. But it was our hosts who saved the day, and the boy´s continuation of their trip was made possible thanks to the fantastic Janine Lecaille, of the Ecologi Party, who sourced two bikes. Our friends in Valenciennes wanted to see us finishing this tour together and so we will!

Once we set off, everything went rather smoothly and we arrived at the lunch stop early, where we had an interview with a local TV station and met with children from a local afterschool club to eat together. As on Wednesday afternoons French schools are off, they had plenty of time to spare, so at this point things managed to drag a little bit vis-a-vis lunch arrangements. But we were shown to their youth club complete with table football and ping pong (cue: fun!) and after a bit of hungry clockwatching, a delivery of ´fast´ food showed up. Two and a half hour after pulling into Le Cateau-Cambrésis (the birthplace of Henri Matisse no less) we set off with 40km of road ahead and not a lot of light left in the day.

We covered ground fast despite a couple of flat tires. Luckily we have some really good techies in the group with the knowledge and skill to get things rolling quickly. Meanwhile, others in the group stay warm by playing games or grazing on snacks. After a day of car-filled roads, it was nice to turn off the road onto a country path, which had the potential to be one of the nicest of the route, however, the darkness made it rather challenging. Imagine it like a game: following the light in front of you, counting on the people before shouting “puddle on the left”, “pothole to the right” or “slow!”. We made it and arrived at the most idyllic place possibly imaginable, welcomed by super lovely people. And not unimportantly, Theres and Christoph are back! We´re happy to have them back in the crew, rested from a couple of extra days in Brussels.

The magical overnight stop was called Moulin de Lucy, an old watermill in which Hubert and Evi and their son Aristotle, the owners, served us a delicious dinner. The décor of the mill is quite remarkable, the sort of place you enter and are immediately struck by it´s creativity, colour, charm and character.

The food was prepared from artisan ingredients: vegetables from around the corner, bread made by the neighbour (specially for us), olives coming from the hometown of Evi in Greece and olive oil made from it by her self, and to finish Baklava made with nuts ground in the mill. The dinner was completed with homemade beverages brought by friends (juice, cider, beer) and some delicious wine. The cheese was the only thing not homemade, a delicious typical local cheese from the region. With friends of our hosts also gathered, it was a meal that connected in many ways and a jovial, truly unforgettable one.

The story of the mill is relevant for our journey too. It dates from the 19th century and was used during the First World War to make flour, after that for the textile industry and nowadays the hydropower generator provides power for the mill house and a few surrounding buildings. Hubert, Evi and Aristotle have worked incredibly hard to get the mill into it´s current condition, as they believe that this way of generating energy is of great importance to show that alternatives are possible. For Hubert it was at that time all about the fight against nuclear energy, he emphasised this is very related to lowering CO2. In this attractive and charming place we are reminded of our Lund teacher, Andreas Malm, who´s work Fossil Capital is an explanation of how hydropower was replaced by  steam (coal) in British industries during the 19th century. Writing in the Jacobin magazine, he ties this historically legacy very powerfully to today´s climate crisis. Moulin de Lucy is a lesson that small, rather simple and locally owned technologies and might offer the key to a cleaner and more progressive future.

Today we succeeded in living lifestyles connected to other people and to nature; a goal that we set ourselves in the manifesto. We have a mere three more days on the road…

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