Cycling Through France for the Environment

The decision to cycle home and take alternative ways of transportation to the plain (my usual and polluting form of transportation between Dublin and Porto, 3 to 4 times a year) arose from my eco consciousness and willingness to take action to change my lifestyle and raise awareness in benefit of the Planet and the human condition, linked inevitably to the environment! I have always felt a need to travel, to know people, cultures, traditions and to help in any way to improve the livelihood of what really matters… Throughout the years I am learning how to do it more consistently and following my view of sustainability; doesn’t mean I know where I am/we are heading, but one thing is for sure, in no way i/we can dissociate from Nature, an so I will live accordingly…

I use mainly my social network to share and invite people to be more eco friendly, at the same time to gain in health and in life purpose (well, spiritual purpose I mean…). This time, and watching other examples, I decided to do a fundraising for Greenpeace UK, that are campaigning for years for the Planet (1€ per km cycling, which would be around 1000); thought this would help people to engage more with me and, one the other hand, I would help to demystify some fears of taking eco-trips like this and other simple ecological lifestyle changes. I began the fundraising in July 2019, a month before my departure. Via online social media my action reached quite a few important media networks and, thankfully, I was able to build an active social group, with whom I would share my trip preparation and progress. I wasn’t really concerned about how much I would collect for Greenpeace but mainly how many people I could reach and inspire.

The journey began on the 1st of August 2019 in Dublin; bicycle packed with just the essential – equipment to camp, clothes for sport and easy to dry, eco friendly hygiene kit, repair kit for the bicycle, power bank, mobile, camera bought in second hand (everything-proof, lol), water jug, coffee jug, grocery bags and just a few extras to make my trip self sufficient. Since Dublin is an island I had to take the ferry (I would prefer a sailing boat, but I do not own one nor I had the contacts to go along with a fleet); more than 20hrs inside a ferry gave me time to look around and understand if this form of transportation had suffered improvements in energy savings and waste management as read in The Independent; it seems like they are dedicated to lower consumption of fossil fuels, save energy onboard and manage waste…but it is not VISISBLY clear that that is happening (beside visible LED light bulbs and bins for recyclable waste not much was seen as in actions to invite passegers to comply wth sustainable measures…). Couldn’t a vessel like this be moved with the junction of 3 different sources? Solar, wind and fossil?? I wander and I hope we can see more ferries and ships in this direction for the amount of floating vessels in the ocean EACH DAY is unbelievable (you can check it on Shipfinder, by size and type)!

Landed in Cherbourg, FR, and initiated the tour via the “Vois Verte” (Greenways) from there. I had planned around 1000km cycling, with a few trips by train in between, until Hendaye  (city in south west of France). To get home I would take the night train to Porto (no bicycles allowed though…). Planned around 22 days for the all trip, so I could take it easy and get to know each different zone I would cross in Normandy, Bretagne, Pays-de-La-Loire, Poitou-Charente and Aquitaine. In Normandy I followed the eurovelo 4 stretch, full of well organised and mostly used farming fields; the routes penetrated forests, old railways, old farming trails and towns; the mix of rain and heat creates a special climate in Normandy, so you have to be prepared, but its perfectly bearable and the landscape is naturally calming; the people in Normandy I would say is one of the many highlights – kind, dedicated and very helpful. Mostly everyone is eco-conscious and you can see it in their day-to-day – valuing local products, minimizing waste, reusing, recycling, strong adepts of the bicycle and the contact with nature…I was inspired by the two Airbnb´s owners that welcomed me in Normandy, in ways never expected! Ghislaine, in Vaudry, is a lady with the warmest heart ever, that  inspired me to travel more and to continue to make eco decisions throughout; we exchanged contacts, photos and ideas to be better humans!

Mont St Michel was one of the most expected points to reach in this journey. I was curious and anxious to get there (good type of anxiety though, before i stared to descend towards Nantes). The religious mark in North of France is worth the visit but I got concerned as I crossed the pathway to reach the citadel entrance, as the communication buses weren’t runned on natural gas or electricity…the direct pollution wasn’t visible but nowhere in their website they defend using eco alternatives to fossil fuels…Who knows me is aware I hate crowded places and so I didn’t go in. I stayed back, mesmerizing, photographing…wandering how it was before the make over….On my way down I met this old gentleman that explained me (as from I could capture from French) that he was part of the construction workers in Mont St Michel and got injured while working there; looked proud and sad at the same time…Know that this is one of France’s most recognisable landmarks, visited by more than 3 million people each year, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay had been submited to continuous reconstructions and are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1979.

Brittany tour was very short as i crossed by train Rennes on my way to Nantes. The train journey resumed to a very small amount of CO2 produced (quantity expressed in ticket bought, per passenger); this extra offers a unexplainable sense of tranquility and satisfaction to the jouney. The train trip offers time to reflect, to plan and to meet more interesting people – 4 seniors in their electric bicycles touring to reach a town in Brittany (near Roscoff) just to spend a couple of days in a gathering of old colleagues, in touch with nature and with memories! Just for a matter of advise, taking a bycicle in a french train may be challenging, as the dedicated spaces are minimal…it comes in hand to meet a french spoken passenger for a “smooth-talk” with the train warden to persuade one more bycicle than what is allowed allowed in the train 😉

Cities like Nantes deserve the tourist predilection; the city values it’s historical and cultural landmarks as their natural resources and protection of same. In here I had the first contact in 33 years with an Youth Hostel (Auberge de Jeunesse) – I joined the group and was amazed by the warm welcome, organizational structure to be respectful towards the environment and people,  the conditions inside giving the aspect from the outside, etc.; this is when you actually appreciate the act of challenging yourself to try to see from different angles, getting out of the norm and the usual rental accommodations for 40 to 60 euros just to have a bathroom for yourself and no one else to talk to. Living with less means gaining more and again I have learned!

The tour continued through the west coast – passing salt marshes, rivers, oyster farms, forests…kms and kms of sunflower plantations, summer towns full of tourists, sand and souvenir. Again I managed to get away from the busiest areas and on the way I met Ghislain (i am not kidding, the two people that made a huge difference in my trip shared a name proximity!); Ghislain is a very kind and calm guy (who spoke English, yes!! ?) that, as me, decided to use his holidays to cycle around France, meet people and take good memories home. It was very easy to cycle for 2 days with him as we had common interests and began to share ideas about how we could live more sustainably and inspire others to do the same; he was definitely more ready than I was to be self sufficient – morning coffee made by him using a second hand french press and just a camping gas tool. Preparing meals gave us time to chat and rest from the daily stretch. Camping was our choice since in this area is your best option if you are in a budget and want to have more contact with nature and people. In these type of solo trips there are always people you meet that stay in your life forever, somehow. Ghislain and Ghislaine were the ones and I am happy I met them!

I continued my solo travel from Léon towards Hendaye. I managed to stay in a Youth Hostel in Biarritz for Bayonne was fully booked and wasn’t really charming as i thought it would. Loved Biarritz though, despite fantasising it would be full of pretentious tourists! not at all!! Arrived to Hendaye train station in the following day (the 17th) i had to manage a place to stay and an organization to give “freddie” away (no places in night train available and no bycicles allowed unfortunatly); the train sation staff helped me to find an organization – which i contacted via Facebook and organised meet-up  – and i departed immediatly to find somewhere to sleep the night; an old gentleman had offered me to use his garden to do the same – we were just chatting about rasperries in a cycling path along the beach and when I said my train was full and I had to wait for tomorrow he didn’t even blinked before the offer! For logistic problems i couldn’t find his place, so i tried a camping park even though i knew everything was full; thanks to the kindness of a staff who granted me a corner next to the showers where to set up my tent, i managed to sleep quietly before my departure…not before i went to the beach and visit around the city 🙂 Wrapping up the fundraising event i vision it as a success – all went well, no major stepbacks beside the expected tiredness, big smile in my face, 850 euros raised for Greenpeace (with feedback sent to their supporting team advising better support for fundraisers), great interaction in social media with words of encouragement throughout my journey and a willingness to repeat a cycling trip in the near future, choosing a different route!! There are so many, just check Eurovelo website.

Summarizing my journey in France, in short encouraging sentences, i would say:

Good things come to you when you allow yourself the freedom of choice.
Eco and slow travelling allow you to be surprised and overwhelmed by random acts of kindness!!
Just  give it a try!

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