Letters from the GR 11 – Fontainebleau

Letters from the GR 11 – Fontainebleau

The last night in the wood, was very similar to the first night 10 days ago. Full of sounds. Only this time all my fears were gone. I was now part of the wild. One of them, no longer threaten, no longer scared. Hogs, dears, foxes, multitudes of birds, frogs, not to mention all kinds of crawlers, minding their own business, some more curious of me than others. Protected from the elements by one of those signature boulders of the Fontainebleau forest, I slept like a baby. Now sitting, my back resting against the rock, I spend the first minutes of my day observing the many details we fail to notice when we pass through. I’m taking it all in, trying to imprint it all in my memory.

Fontainebleau forest
The Fontainebleau forest

I’m currently on the south side of the forest, my house is on the opposite side. Reaching it will take a day. My last day, probably, or at least I hope, my best day. If you remember, on the first day, I had the choice between taking left or right. Going clockwise or counter clockwise around Paris. I purposely turned my back on Fontainebleau and went clockwise, as I wanted to finish the journey there, by doing so saving the best for last. That Forest is my garden, my playground. Big enough to never completely know it all, to remain somewhat mysterious. Flat meadows filled by oaks, some few centuries old. Pine trees covering the hills, some adopting very tormented shapes to find the light between the granite boulders. Long “avenues” drawn for the kings to enjoy their passion for hunting, small tortuous single tracks designed in the 19th century by Claude-François Denecourt, taking you through some of the most stunning natural wonders in the woods.

fontainebleau forest
The forest, its boulders, pine trees and ponds…

On a weekday, off season, away from the main circuits, you can spend the entire morning all alone. But following a GR like me on a sunny day, you’ll meet trekkers, cyclists, and climbers. This place is a mecca for rock climbing. It’s not Yosemite, as the rock hardly reach beyond 5 meters, but their technicality, going from beginner to master, attracts people from all over the world. I took a climbing class when I was younger, but despite loving it, I was never able to progress, lacking basic flexibility.

Rock climbers
Rock climbers

In the middle of the forest is Fontainebleau and its beautiful castle, built by François 1 and used as a summer home by all the French kings and emperors. On the outside, is the market, where local farmers can come sell their harvest directly. Time to refill for a last meal on the go.

Fontainebleau market
The Fontainebleau market

The rest of the trail I could do with my eyes closed. The bike and I know it by hart, and it seems effortless. A sharp contrast with the first hours of this trip, where, all rusted, I doubted I would reach to this moment. I am happy. Happy for so many different reasons. Happy I succeeded. Never gave up, never doubted I would be fine once I had overcome the pain of the first day. Happy I allowed myself to be moved by the most basic, simple, plain, ordinary elements of my surroundings. Reminding me that happiness lays everywhere if you know where to look. Happy our complex and frenetic world has not yet completely absorbed nature, polluted all it touches, destroyed all it can’t control. Happy that in the middle of our urban expansions remain patches of freedom, peaceful islands where a lost soul like me can still seek refuge. Disconnected, unreachable, reunited with simplicity.

Finally, happy once I arrive back home to see the smile of the one I love, feel her embrace, her warmth, reminding me, that no matter where I go, that no journey can be complete, unless you can share it with the one you love.

If interested in doing that journey on your own, I invite you to grab a copy of the two guide books dedicated to the GR 11 (guide # 104 & 121 edited by the FFRP), as well as the maps covering the region on the IGN website.

I will soon, (hopefully) dedicate a travel guide to it with the valuable informations you might need to enjoy that trip the way I did.

Happy travels.