The last few weeks slipped away, before you slipped away, in stomach-constricting horror at the possible emptiness ahead, at all the bonds you were loosening by leaving, perhaps to the point of loss. Now this morbid embrace of six months of discomfort vanishes at an imagined and momentary point of perfection. Whichever route you follow, you have escaped – temporarily – you have successfully fought the wish to close out the world and sleep, mollycoddled by inertia, sedated and oblivious. There is no-one to depend upon for the feeling of being alive but yourself, and you accept the responsibility after having fled from it for so long.
You make good time, eating up the road, fearing no hill. You are disinclined to stop, even with dark coming on. Far from any town that may have a hotel, and failing the wayside appearance of a chambre d’hôte, you will have to find a spot to sleep. The descending rows of an orchard seem to offer cover from both the road and the night air. You bed down and once again eat your road meal, watching the stars through the narrow alleyway of trees; free from the screening orange glow of London, they are brighter, closer, milkier. With heavy legs and on a full belly, sleep comes soon to a less tormented mind.
A gortex ground bag will shield you from the next morning’s heavy dew, but not from insect bites. You scratch and cycle your way through a succession of villages and towns of varying size. The pays de Caux. Not far off now. You lunch on a bank by a junction, under the shade of trees and at the centre of a stretch of fields. A distant water tower perches at the top of a long gradient. An occasional car grinds to a halt at the junction, and the driver exchanges a nod or a wave with you. Such greetings seem like signs of acceptance, that if the driver were not on the road from A to B, for reasons as numerous as C to Z, then they could think of no better thing than to be cycling freely, and beyond that feeling of freedom, aimlessly. Perhaps they are thinking of no more than a month; you, however, have signed up for six. You are not sure this makes for a stay, a holiday, or a sentence, always with the chance of remission for good behaviour.
Despite the mind- and muscle-loosening effort of cycling, you are a little too tensed up to eat much, and when you have packed the baguette away, you are hit by the first breaths of a winding depression. You would prefer not to move, but rather to remain at this transitory beginning of your adventure. The end of the journey will mean a commitment to the place to which you are travelling, and the reality of that place fills you with anxiety. The kinetic hope which has fuelled the journey itself will be of no use to you when it ends.
You cycle more slowly, as if towards a halt. You check the roads more often on the map. Your stomach turns over, your legs feel drunk. This, then, you begin to realise, will be your immediate scenery for some time to come: crests and dips of gently undulating chalk, rivulet valleys fed by ambling or cantering tributaries. The villages are not so very old, but nor are they young, their character largely unaffected by new building.