H and I were walking back home after a quick tour of the abandoned cemetery of our village when we spotted our 87-year old neighbour, Monsieur Zed*** , walking hurriedly towards our direction. A fair-looking 32-ish man on a bike was pedalling next to him and judging by the number of bags straddled on both sides of his bicycle, I could tell that he is doing a cycling adventure on two wheels.
“Bonjour, Monsieur Zed*** !”
“Bonjour”, the old chap replied panting. He lives 3 doors away from us and unlike the 90% of the population of our village who disappears for the entire duration of the winter, he, on the other hand, lives all-year round alone in his home but is active enough to be seen walking the streets whatever time of day it is. “I am going to show this gentleman the pique-nique grounds where he could camp for the night. He was asking about the village campsite but as you know it is closed for the winter.
Just ten meters away from where we stood, I could see the biker exploring the green spot equipped with some tables and benches.
“That would be a quiet place for him, pretty hidden from view and a toilet nearby. But he speaks little French.”
“I could talk to him. I’m English.”, H proudly offered.
By this time, the biker was heading back towards us and by the looks in his eyes, he seemed to be pleased with his future outdoor bedroom.
We started chatting in English telling him that there’s probably no problem pitching his tent on that spot as long as he doesn’t make it too obvious. He told us that he had been cycling for the last one and a half-months, started in London and travelled all the way down here hoping to reach Turin in Italy in few days. He is from Sydney, Australia and could not believe himself why he chose to travel in the Winter.
“The beauty of Winter is that it is quiet, no tourist crowds”, says H.
Walking home, I kept thinking about him. H and I have already met amazing people – young students, families, middle-aged couples and solo travellers like him embarking on such extraordinary adventures. They simply started with a dream, believed in themselves that they can do it and went on to turning that dream into reality. It may not have brought them financial gain but it certainly made a big difference. Personal fulfillment perhaps, a higher self-esteem, but certainly a greater sensitivity to the feelings and needs of others especially the less fortunate ….
“Why don’t we invite him tonight for some apperitivo?” H asked me unexpectedly. “He would surely welcome the idea of sitting infront of the fire enjoying some wine and finger foods with us and it could be very interesting to listen to his travel story.”
But it was never meant to be. The next morning, H’s iPhone thermometer app gave a reading of -3°C!
“Oh my goodness! I hope he did not freeze in his sleep!”
“He would be okay. With the right sleeping bag, he would be kept warm by his own body heat. He would be on the road by now, anyway. Winter cyclists usually start very early, that’s the only way to keep themselves warm again.”