I woke up in the dark, sunlight barely peaking through the window. I reached over to my nightstand to check my phone. The blaring screen told me it was still too early; I could go back to sleep for a little bit. My body always tries to beat my alarm every time there is something exciting happening the next day and this day was no exception. A simple beach trip might not seem like the most exciting event in the world. Yet, after two months of staying inside and coping with a pandemic in a foreign country, this little day trip was what I was looking forward to most of all.
At 7:15 I eagerly got out of bed to start packing my beach bag. Sunscreen, check. Swimsuit and towel, check. Snacks, check. Water bottle, check. Backup sunscreen, check. I threw on a sundress over my bike shorts, wanting to feel cute even if the Southern France weather made me sweat. I made sure to eat a filling breakfast of toast with egg whites plus some coffee and water to make sure I had enough energy for the long ride ahead. Bags packed, helmets on, my significant other/travel partner and I headed out the door with our second hand bikes.
We passed the main square and saw local farmers and producers setting up their stands for the farmers’ market, rode underneath the ancient red brick of the Castillet, and followed the wild river Têt until we no longer recognized Perpignan. On the bike path that ran from city to sea, we passed through Catalan towns marked ville fleurie, city in bloom. Because public transportation is currently limited, I was so thankful to have my freedom on two wheels. Even though it’s not the most beautiful or reliable bike, it brings me joy.
Because it was still early in the morning, the air wasn’t yet an uncomfortable temperature. I’ve never done well with heat being a fair-skinned girl born in Maine, so my first Catalan summer will be interesting. Despite the strong rays of the Mediterranean sun, the tall trees along the road and the gentle breeze of the Tramontane kept me cool as I rolled along. The fresh air and the scent of wildflowers were just what I needed after staying in the city center for so long. Passing by vineyards, peach orchards, farms and horses made me think of my own hometown. When I saw the sign for fraises 800 m, I remembered the fields of strawberries in Pungo and the long drive past farms to reach the less touristy oceanfront of Sandbridge in Virginia Beach. My favorite sight to see in the Roussillon countryside however, are the blue Pyrenees mountains peeping out from behind the fields and trees.
About an hour later, we reached Sainte-Marie-la-Mer. Still early, there were only a handful of beach goers there: swimmers, a few sun-tanners, and some walkers. We locked up our bikes and found the perfect driftwood bench to s’installer. Growing up, I took the beach for granted; I lived so close and I went there all the time as a kid so it was nothing special. Here, I find myself close to the beach again, but this time it’s incredibly special. Before even testing the waters, I admired the horizon. I could see sailboats in the distance making me long for summers spent on my family’s schooner sailing along the Maine coast. Sunlight glittered on the waves and invited me in.
Just before 10 AM on a partly could day in May, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the icy shock when I dipped my feet in. Since I woke up early on a Saturday and cycled a long way, I didn’t hesitate and dunked my head under the water. The cold embrace of the salty waves reminded my of the frigidarium in the Pyrenean thermal spa I visited a few months ago. The low temperature was good for my circulation and I eventually got used to the chilly feeling. Since it wasn’t a scorching hot day, I only took a quick dip. After drying off we walked along the shoreline for a bit with hot sand beneath our feet, sea salt in our hair, and smiles on our faces. I could have spent the whole day there, but we wanted to leave before the beach got too crowed and the weather became too hot for cycling.
Back on the trail just before 11, it wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be. The breeze and the trees comforted me again. This time, the pedaling became harder even though the path was flat; the wind was blowing on us and our backs were getting tired from wearing our packs all morning. Making sure to take a break every so often, we caught our breath, had a sip of water, and continued on. Just as I was debating on weather to stop by a farm stand and pick up some local produce or not, my left bike pedal fell off. The pedal and the arm crank actually. We managed to stick it back on, but it only lasted a few rotations. We tinkered around for 10 minutes before we realized this was something we couldn’t fix on our own and that I would have to visit the bicycle atelier despite having gone in for a tune up just a few days before.
Thankfully, we weren’t far from home and walked the rest of the way. An adventure isn’t an adventure unless something goes wrong. Half an hour later we arrived home after passing by the river once more and taking a shortcut through the park. My legs were tired and my skin was sun-kissed, some spots a little more than others. Even though my bike was slightly broken and I was a little sunburned because despite making sure to reapply sunscreen every hour, I was content. Even though this trip happened yesterday I’m already dreaming about the next one and wondering where else these Catalan cycle paths will take me.
Thanks for reading about my little adventure! Be sure to subscribe to my blog for more stories like this and check out my YouTube channel to see more footage of my life in France.
À la prochaine,