The lady in Bapaume woke exceptionally early to make breakfast for me – or, it seemed to be that way because I woke before six to pack up my tent and she was already stirring in the house. Her mother was sleeping upstairs so we spoke in whispers; unfortunately, the food she served was a toasted baguette with jam that barked every time it was bitten.
So I started the day awkwardly but exceptionally early for once and arrived in Péronne at about 3:30. I went a good thirty kilometres or more, but somehow my body and feet took it in stride. It is amazing how one night’s rest can prepare your feet for another full day of assault.
Still, today I consciously took time to rest and remind myself that I’m not rushed: the darkness isn’t coming; the darkness doesn’t come until 9 p.m. or later. Even if the darkness comes, all the better because it would make it easier to find a place to hide and camp on the edge of a forest, maybe.
I felt no pain until the last bit of walking through Péronne itself, which seems to be a city: small, but a city, which meant a fair bit of treading pavement even after I reached the destination. Now that it’s evening though, I notice that the small toe on my left foot is somewhat swollen, which means friction which means fire.
I want to say something about the walking, this slow and steady means of movement. It seems like the body takes time to adapt, but so does the mind. At least in my experience, the mind and moods fluctuate as the day goes on and that is normal, no matter what you’re doing. Memories, ideas new and old, faces, so on. But while under physical stress like this, combined the constant worry about who or what will provide food and sleep (although I’m starting to worry less and less about this), the body and the mind and the world seem to dialogue more. For example, I spent a couple of days now walking through long flat stretches of farmland, often dusty and with little shade, with hardworking people who generally will not make eye-contact – but sometimes even slight things, like a stretch of trees or a cooler breeze or a ripple in the landscape, fall heavy on a walker. And today I emerged from the flat, mechanized farmland to uncover a canal and I sat watching a barge move on it. I waved at the man inside and he waved back. It was a profound moment, and a change.
Now, France seems to be getting more forested, diverse, river-swiped, and this excites me. I look forward to what the next few days bring.
Péronne itself is a pretty place. Their epithet, as displayed on the welcoming sign, was something like “The city of flowered villages.” When I came in, everyone was cutting their lawns and trimming their hedges. Then two boys came by riding one bicycle and saying, “Whoa, un randonneur!” (I’m not sure what was so surprising about this, but I took it as a complement). They rode by again a few minutes later and said hello, as though we had become friends. They stared, too, but certainly not out of rudeness. It was another good moment – the days are decorated with these.
Then I walked out of Péronne, to a campsite on the outskirts and washed my clothes in the shower and laid down directly on the grass.
I noticed that writing these posts gives me a peace of mind. It is something I can do only when I am completely at ease. So I guess I’ve been lucky for a small moment every day. And even though I’m completely prepared to sleep in the woods, I always find a place to stay, even though I rarely plan ahead…Today it’s a campsite with an empty on-site bar that plays Euro-pop music videos on the T.V.
Also, I have been reading everyone’s messages to me. Unfortunately, internet access has been very spotty so I haven’t been able to focus and respond, and may not get the chance to for some time. But the support is incredibly appreciated, a kind of food even! Thank you.
I decided to spend two days here in the campsite in Péronne and nurse my feet. Also because I bought a bottle of wine that, lovely as it is, is not worth the added weight.