Cycling Stories

Skepticism

July 6, 2020

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Skepticism

We were planning to go to the edge of the land, to a promontory where the sea brushed the rose granite. We’d seen a plastic placemat on a newsagent’s stand with a picture postcard view of the ragged coast with its small, rocky islands and pine tree silhouettes under a cloudless blue sky. 

“It’ll be great,” the others said, still brimming with energy at the end of a hard day of cycling. But on a bicycle, no one takes lightly a decision to make an eight-mile detour. Not at the end of the day. Not when the light is fading and a fine drizzle is falling from a grey sky. 

We were cycling in Brittany, France for a week. In the first few days, on an excursion south, we saw more cows than people. Herds of black-eyed beasts roused themselves, edged to the fence and stared as we cycled past, as if we were the most exciting things they’d seen all day. Certainly, the feeling was mutual. 

There was an autumnal stillness about the place and in the fields, hedgerows reminders of summer, odd flashes of pink clover, red apples on trees, and orange pumpkin lying on the earth, startlingly bright as if already lit for Halloween. 

Now, we were back by the sea and the ragged coast required choices – go to the headland and see the view, or take a shortcut and miss it. A cyclist must enjoy the journey as well as the destination, but the pleasure gained should be directly related to the effort involved. 

“Come on,” they said. “You saw the picture. It’ll be beautiful.” 

I wasn’t convinced. In fact, I was skeptical. Ernest Renan, the famous French writer and skeptic, whose statue we stopped and admired earlier in the day in TrĂ©guier, had affected my thinking. His quote, “Oh God, if there is a god, save my soul if I have a soul,” had morphed into, “Oh God, not all that pedaling to see a view that may be obliterated by mist.” 

So, we parted company. They struck out for the headland. I made for town. I watched as they disappeared along the narrow country lane between fields of maize. I sliced across the promontory and headed for the hotel, a warm shower, and a glass of wine in the bar overlooking the harbor. 

Later, after I sat silently munching a mountain of mussels and listened to much eulogizing about the marvelous views I missed, how easy the cycling had been, how they were there and back in a flash, I decided to ask for evidence. 

Michael produced his camera. “It’s a panoramic shot,” he said. And then, by way of apology, “Not quite as good as the placemat.” 

I took the camera. “But it’s nothing like the placemat,” I replied. “It’s just a few greenish shadows on a grey sea. Definitely not worth the effort.” Thank you, Monsieur Renan, for that moment of skepticism.

Janet Rogers worked as a news reporter in her twenties, returning to writing when she retired. She has won several national travel writing competitions, and her articles have appeared in the UK and Australian press. She is a keen cyclist and has cycled the length of France and in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. She also loves swimming and skiing. She lives by the sea in West Sussex.
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