Sometimes good fortune feels like destiny. Stars align and something magical occurs. In the spring of 2001, before 9/11 and 20 years before Covid-19, Marilynn and I rode our bikes from Bordeaux through the Dordogne in southwestern France. No itinerary, just three weeks alone rolling through the countryside.
We had grown up together, married other people, and were back together after a 40-year break. I had traveled a lot in those 40 years. She had done some but wanted to do more. I asked if she would be willing to try it on a bicycle. She was game and we were off on the first of our ten self-supported bike trips.
We had no set itinerary, just a general plan. Look at the map, work out a tentative destination and go. On that trip we put the bikes together in the parking lot at the Bordeaux airport and rode north toward Margaux and the vineyards of the Medoc. The day was unseasonably hot and traffic leaving the airport was intense. M hates hot weather and dense traffic. Not a promising start but we were finally on the road.
After an hour of heat ripples and diesel fumes our water bottles were dry and we needed something cool to drink. Unfortunately, between 2 and 6pm French business is out of business. Nothing was open, but we eventually found a bar (closed) where the patron sold us four bottles of Perrier. I poured two over M’s head to cool her off and we drank the other two before resuming the ride north.
We arrived in Margaux late that afternoon only to discover there were no rooms near our price range. The woman at the Syndicat suggested an auberge “about 10km” up the road. 10km is a long way when the sun is setting and your ass is dragging, but we pressed on. It was full too.
Out of pity, the owner of the auberge called back to Margaux and got us a room at one of the pricey chateaux – way over budget.
When we walked in, after retracing the 10km, the woman at reception looked at us as if we were vermin – tired, sunburned, sweaty, and bedraggled – but she grudgingly give us a key to the room. The good news is that we travel light and know how to do it. After showering we dug into our paniers and retrieved our formal attire – always the same – upscale black T-shirts, black jeans, and loafers. When we returned for dinner she nearly fell over; at first failing to recognize us and then treating us like royalty.
That night we ate on the chateau’s terrace overlooking the vineyard and split a bottle of Margaux’s finest. A memorable day to be sure.
After Day One things got better. The region is phenomenal – scenic, uncrowded, and quintessentially French. We drank the wine of the region, ate foie gras in Perigord, visited the caves at Lascaux, and rode part of the Tour de France course. But, the best and most lasting memory of the trip was a detour that triggered my remark about good fortune, destiny and unplanned magic.
About ten days into the trip, we saw a sign tacked to a fence advertising a B&B. The detour took us off the beaten track and meant climbing a hill then waiting for a shepherd and his flock to clear the road, but eventually we found it in the middle of nowhere–no other houses or village close by. I don’t know how they made it profitable, but Ian and Anne Arnold, two Brit expats, were exceptional hosts we bonded with immediately over a glass of wine and the two big Gibson guitars leaning against the wall.
Ian had driven a big rig (lorry) until his back gave out, and Anne had been a bookkeeper somewhere in the Midlands. They cashed in their life savings and bought this house on the edge of Parc Naturel Regional des Causses. (Think of the sweetest fromage bleu in France). They built a second apartment and small swimming pool on the property and began their life as innkeepers an hour’s ride from Rocamadour, one of the most picturesque villages in France.
That night Ian and I played guitars and drank a couple bottles of local wine along with Anne’s delicious dinner. But the Arnold’s lasting gift was introducing us to the music of Eva Cassidy.
If you don’t recognize the name, Eva Cassidy was an American folk/blues singer who died of melanoma at age 33 and became a huge hit in the UK posthumously. For ten years following her death she topped the charts in UK record sales. She’s, without doubt, my favorite female singer.
Before M gets up, I often listen to her. Last week, I paid special attention to Who Knows Where the Time Goes, the Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) song. Its words have special meaning at this time of life.
M and I lost track of Ian and Anne a few years ago. We exchanged a letter or two, but the address we had no longer works. When I tried to find them recently I learned that they sold the B&B in 2005. Life is like that. It was one night in rural France 20 years ago. Unplanned but magical. Good fortune feels like destiny.
Who knows where the time goes?