By the Skin of our Teeth

We made it to Toulouse. After 9 hours of riding we pulled into our hotel exhausted. Just that much closer to home.

Yesterday was the anniversary of VE Day. Most Americans don’t know what that is, as we don’t mark it in the US as a National Holiday. And frankly they don’t really teach it in school. Our version of WWII is more romantic than real. In France it’s the real deal, since it happened on their soil. In villages and fields across the country. It also means everything is closed, and parades will be out. Commemorations happening. And nothing, including a lot of gas stations, will be open.

We left Dijon in sunny crisp weather and rode through towns and villages with old chateaus, left over turrets, winding pastures dotted with cows. But coffee? Not so much. Finally, we spotted a bunch of people walking up towards a church. When I say ‘a bunch’ I mean it was like 5 people in a very small village. I felt coffee must be there somewhere.

Sure enough, right across from the big village church was a lone coffee/bar that was serving locals. After generating much interest by riding by, we decided to join them. Lots of stares and my French being non-existent, well it was challenging ordering a cafe au lait and a Coke. But we muddle thru.

From our perch on top of the ruined building we were sitting in, we could see the Church and the two old ladies with coffee cans collecting money and handing out stickers for donations to Le Bleuet de France. It’s an old organization going back to WWI, who helps women and war orphans. And veterans.

People stopped to put money in the cans and then made their way up to the cafe. There was a lot of hail-fellow-well-Mets, as they entered. Hand shaking and back slapping. The village we were standing in was in the path of the initial Nazi invasion of France in May of 1940. They had to be a hearty people to have survived under occupation for 5 solid years.

We watched the steady stream. Eventually, one man toddled up to the ladies. He put his money in the can and crossed the street. He had medals pinned to his chest and was treated with great deference by the crowd in the cafe/bar. Jeff knew what some of the medals were for.

‘That Guy was a paratrooper in the war’ he whispered.

The others in the bar seemed to recognize his service. We finished our drinks, hoping further down the road we could find food. On the way back to the bike I stopped and put a few Euros in the old lady’s can. I got my own sticker pasted to my chest by an arthritic burled hand and her thanks In French.

We got back on the bike, with her Veterans license plate from back home – with the American flag on it (we will have to register it in Spain soon). I figured it was fitting we were there with that on VE Day. There were probably more than a few Americans that helped to liberate the area that final year of the war.

We headed out and I forgot I had the sticker on my shirt. We got to Bourbon-Lancy and found the one open grocery store we saw all day. We bought food and sat in the entry way on a bench to eat. The sky was threatening outside.

People smiled as they came and went, wishing us Bon Appetite. The bike outside got a lot of interest, loaded down as it was and with the American license plate. Especially little kids. In all our gear we looked gigantic to them, I’m sure.

The weather was getting worse, so we decided to brave the toll ways ( I had no idea how tolls work here) and make some time. We were trying to stay ahead of the impending storms we saw in the distance. But, while we threaded a few needles between clouds in the mountains, we got to experience plummeting temps, lightening, thunder, gum ball sized hail and finally Movie Rain. You know the kind of rain I mean. The rain made by machines on a movie set that is so over the top you think ‘there’s no way it would ever rain this hard’. Yeah. That kind of rain.

I should have known what we were in for when we pulled out of the rest stop and a guy in a full on RV stood outside waving at us yelling ‘Noo’. But once we were in it, we had no where to go. Toll ways don’t have regular exists here. You get on, take your ticket, and go 30-50km without being able to get off. This is interesting because they have signs telling you all about the castles, chateaus, ruins, lakes, volcanos, archeological sites and historic villages you’re whizzing past. But you have no way to get off and see any of them.

They do wildlife over passes like crazy in France. They’re well done and clearly needed. We saw one dead badger the entire trip so far. Near our old house outside Seattle we would see dead deer every day. Sometimes a bear or an elk. So we have something to learn from the French on wildlife conservation. I know they care about animals a lot here because for miles north of Toulouse they were warning us of an ‘errant animal’ on the signs over the freeway and then on trucks on the side of the road with flashing signs. I was a bit concerned if perhaps a lion had got loose from the zoo. They were deploying a lot of energy and manpower into notifying the public on the carriageway. Didn’t seem like they’d do that for a dog or a cat. Where’s a wildlife overpass when you need one?!

We made it to Toulouse late. Dinner and a documentary on the French Resistance to commemorate the day, and we were out. Today we head over the Pyrenees and back to Spain. We are about 10 hours from home. Depending on how Jeff feels and weather, we will see if we make it the whole way today. Wish us luck.

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