Letters from the GR 11 – Pain

Letters from the GR 11 – Pain

The first pain comes with leaving behind the person you love. Heartbreaking, as the expression goes. Instead of looking forward to the thrills of what is to come, I am fixated on my loss, suddenly doubtful all this is worth the separation.
What ease this sentiment is my inner conviction something will break down from the get go, bringing me back home in no time. Whether it is me, or my gears, or both, the odds are good!

After all, what am I thinking? Yes, I used to ride a bike daily for years. But that stopped five years ago when I moved to Dubai. Which means that this eighteen years old bike I am trusting to carry me around, has been sitting untouched in a humid basement for that same amount of time. Undeniably, we are both rusted and ill prepared for this challenge.

Now, if I was to follow the guide book illustrating this path, I should head to Paris where stands the official GR 11 start. From there, I would follow the red and white markings through urban disenchantments until it reaches the first stretches of nature some 50 kms away, and begins its loop. Luckily I have already fled the depressing congestion of the city and its suburbs, finding refuge in the peaceful settings of the natural regional park of the Gâtinais, one hour south of Paris, where the GR 11 conveniently passes in front of my windows. My front porch shall be my starting point.

It doesn’t take long for the second sort of pain to kick in. As soon as I leave the road behind and enter the dirt sections, the uneven ground resonates through the bike and all inside my body. My wrists, my lower back, my ass, are the first victims of this aggression. Will shortly join the list of physical casualties, my shoulders and upper back, thanks to the weight of my backpack. Did I mention my neck ? Who cares, it’s all in the mind they like to say!! I’m curious to see how long it takes for mine to call this non-sense off, and turn around.

Half an hour later I already feel the urgency for a break, to get that bag off my back, lay down and stretch my legs. I have covered so little ground, I don’t want to look back, afraid I might still see my house. Coming towards me, three “fellow” cyclists.

– Hello.
– Hello.
– Are you ok ?

Shit ! I look like I need help already ! I can’t pretend to be fine, there is no denying the obvious. We exchange a few words while they check out my bike. Bikers can’t help themselves when it comes to gears. Either you have the latest and you are part of their tribe, or you don’t, and you’re just one of those… The tourists !

So as the proud tourist that I am, I pick up my stuffs after they’re gone, get back on my ride and head on towards the hill. All I need is to take it slow, get into a rhythm, and give my body a chance to get use to the beating. From now on I need to focus on what surrounds me and forget about myself.

At the top of the hill lay the endless fields of the flat plateaus. The region is known for its cereal production. Not much here is organic. Too complicated, too costly, too late they will tell you. Since the seventies the production here has been industrialized, and farms have been bought over by international consortiums one after the other. In between giants remain small folks trying to survive the administrative regulations and price free falls. Passionate people hoping to make ends meet as they feed others.

That job consumes every day of their lives. No vacations, no breaks, no rest, all for no real money, at least not enough to pay their debts, not enough to survive without government subsidies. Unfair competition, supermarket chains dictating their margins, chemicals ruining their health, global warming, way too many factors beyond their control.

Alain watches on as his son and grand-son plough his land. Two large tractors going back and forth on a large field, returning the earth before they can seed it.

– Colza. -Alain tells me. Won’t work !
– Why ?
– Wrong place, wrong time for it.
– Then why do it ?
– Europe.
– Europe ?
– E.U. Regulations, we have to. (Understand; to get subsidies)

I feel for him. I’m one of those former city folks, wanting everything organic, loathing pesticides, fighting to save the bees, etc… Yet there is no denying the obvious, those people are passionate about what they do, and they know a lot more about it than you and I. You can sense of mix of pride and resignation in Alain’s voice, as he explains to me what they are doing and how he hopes to beat the odds. Proud also to soon pass the family farm on to his son, yet worried about the hardships and uncertainties tied to it. Worried about his cancer, how tired he feels these days, limiting his abilities to help. Worried about the weather as the sky is getting filled with unfriendly clouds. Worried but here, doing what he can, like he always has.

I feel his pain. I forgot about mine.


  1. Beautiful. As always.

  2. Moving. Be strong.

  3. Paul Robida says:

    Thank you Helen. Will try.

  4. Paul Robida says:

    Thank you very much Sophie.