I woke up this morning to grey light filtering in between the gap in the curtains. Without getting out of bed to even look at the sky, I checked the weather forecast on my phone; 90% chance of rain from 8am, 70% chance it would still be raining in the afternoon. I got out of bed and looked out my window. It was already raining lightly. I glanced at my hiking boots. I could tell by the darkness of the red that they were still wet but inspected them anyway. Outside. Wet. Inside. Wet. Great. I was going to be walking in the rain all day wearing wet boots that would get even wetter. I wanted to cry. I felt tired tears pooling behind my eyes. But then I wanted to laugh because somehow at the same time the situation seemed ridiculously funny.
Number of kilometres today: 31.85
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 356.33
Total steps since Canterbury: 505,008
I put my boots on at the last possible minute before leaving to keep my feet dry for as long as possible, harnessed The Devil onto my back and walked out into the drizzle and straight into the bar next door for a coffee. I savoured its hot sweetness quickly so I could start the day's walking. When I paid, I discovered the bar lady spoke fairly good English. We chatted about what I was doing and where I was going.
"Aren't you scared of walking alone?" she asked.
"No. No I'm not. A lot of the time I am in the middle of nowhere by myself. There is no one around. I just make sure I am alert. I am more scared of walking on the side of the busy roads."
"You are very brave," she told me and wished me a good journey.
I then went into the patisserie and bought breakfast. Croissant and pain au chocolat, a double indulgence I know I should stop but I am addicted, I am in France, I am walking many kilometres every day carrying The Devil on my back and I don't think I've put on weight yet, much. The patisserie lady gestured to my bag, saying something in French I didn't understand but she seemed to know I was on a long journey, perhaps that I was a pilgrim and wished me a good journey.
Both of these ladies were kind and their genuine wishes buoyed me past my early morning despair of walking in the rain in wet boots. When I walked out of the patisserie, the rain had stopped.
As I walked today, I contemplated the bar lady's comment that I am brave. Brave is not a word that I would use to describe myself. It's not that I'm not brave. I know I am. It's just that I don't feel brave. I l always think of brave as in 'brave as a lion', fearless. I'm far from fearless. Brave is usually used as a noun or an adjective but for me, brave is a verb. Brave is that inner power you tap into to face your fears and move forward. That's my kind of brave. The brave I do.
Ten minutes into my walk, it started raining. An hour later, it was raining heavily. The cows galloped away from me, scared of the big moving green blob, then they got over their fear and came over to see what this green thing in front of them was. I stopped and spoke to them as the rain fell around me, and over me and dripped from my nose. And I realised this; walking in the rain in wet boots and socks isn't as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, the rain was just dong its thing, watering the earth. I had the Kermit Cloak to help keep most of it off. And yeah, my feet were a little damp and getting wetter. But I was fine. I was better than fine. I was walking through the French countryside, fuelled by coffee, croissant, pain au chocalat and the kind words of strangers, and making friends with french cows.
By late morning I was walking through the forest of St Gobain, surrounded by tall, slim trees standing side by side in their ivy dresses. Surrounded by green stillness and the soothing of rain pattering leaves and the breeze rustling high branches. This evening, I walked around the old medieval hilltop town of Laon as the day's business ceased and dusk descended, feeling the history in its narrow paved streets, crumbling abbey and towering cathedral.
Even if my boots are wet and it is pouring with rain again tomorrow, I will go out and walk. I don't get to choose the weather or the condition of the path or the challenges that will be thrown my way. I choose my outlook. I choose how I walk.
More cow friends.
St Gobain Forest
Cathedrale de Notre Dame, Laon
Cathedal side door