The rain is smattering the windows and the roof like an explosion of rocks let loose on the world. And I am smiling. I am glad not to be cycling, drops hitting my face and covering me with an unending layer of water. I stand there, thinking of my wet tent packed away and the deafening attacks of the rain in the middle of the night, waking me up with a start before lulling me back to sleep, the only sound in the world around my safe cocoon. But this is a thing of the past. For now, for the next few days I am in a house.
My panniers are wide open, their content a sprawling mess dripping down to the floor from their opening. The kitchen is filled with so many pots and pans I’m not sure what to do with them all. There is an oven too, a kettle, and a coffee machine. It’s all a bit overwhelming, too easy after three months of a disassembled one-pot kitchen. But it feels good too.
I don’t have to do a thing. I’m at my dad’s home in France, ordered to take a break. I am pleased to oblige, watch reruns of old TV shows, read for hours on the sofa, eat good food, and watch the rain fall without getting wet. But best of all is the familiarity of life here. When I’m out, when I’m cycling, when I’m in, when I’m resting, I know where things are, I know where to go, I know what to say, and I can have conversations without struggling for the words and even share a joke or two. But I am not home. I am only in known territory.
Home is still miles away, in a town I don’t really know. It’s an idea, something that has whirled in my mind for hours on the road. I wasn’t sure if I needed a home back then. Why would I restrict myself to one place when I can have the road and people alongside it? But weeks turned into months and my thoughts wandered away from the tarmac and dirt under my wheels. They stretched to the UK, to my family there, to my friends, to the community I had built and lost. And I yearned for it all. Saudade, the Portuguese would say, the love that remains.
I wasn’t sad nor lost. But my heart split somewhere after of Lisbon. I was in Portugal, caressed by the salty winds of the coast and wrapped in the fragrant smell of the mountain’s eucalyptuses. I was in the UK sharing a meal with friends surrounded by laughter and the gentle touch of my partner. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not pull myself back into the here and now. It had been lost somewhere along the way, in Alentejo I suspect, where my thoughts had had no concept of the future. But then I had arrived in Lisbon and north of it a built-up world filled with echoes of my settled life.
Now I find myself in France, between a dream realised and a future yet to become. I am cycling between family and friends, taking trains and being picked up whenever time runs too short or I get fed up with the rain. It feels like the last summer before university. I hang around and do nothing, actively wasting time, and am cajoled by family. If the sun was out, I would lie for hours on the soft green grass, rich with flowers and not yet scorched by the August sun. Instead I doze off on the plump sofa, the rain a gentle tap of fingertips on the roof above.
Pedalling Portugal has began since March 2016. For more information about this trip, visit this page.