I’m so exhausted. I just arrived in Nice and have ridden over 1500km in the 10 days since I left Paris. Only a few of the days did I get to really spend playing, the rest were spent pushing to get here to meet Azure tomorrow, thank god, I’m ready to touch another person again. I rode through that storm in SW France that caused so much damage, I rode through snowy farmland and mountains and now the beautiful Provencial sun.
One of my favorite experiences was on the Indre River, south of the Loire, where I found a town called Courcay. It’s in a very thick little valley, so small it feels like it was personalized for this town, and in fact the town barely fits – its main road runs a hard zig zag up the West bank and all the buildings on that road are kinda piled on top of each other. As was the common practice, Courcay was built around an intimidating 12th century church that looks as much like a fortress as it does a place of celebration. Maybe not much celebrating went on back then. Maybe more did, I don’t know. The church doesn’t have many windows, anyway, but I love the design, it gets the job done.
Behind the church I saw signs that said, “Sentier de la Doue –>,” so I followed, not knowing what the two important words meant. I was interested in finding the Sentier, whatever it was. The street dead ended after 500m and another sign pointed down the forested riverbank, “Sentier de la Doue.” There was a trail that I assumed lead to the Sentier so I started walking. It was cold and achey and wet in a Pacific Northwest forest kind of way, so I felt right at home walking there. I walked for 5 or 10 minutes and didn’t see any other signs for the Sentier, but the trail was getting interesting – when you poke around rivers in France there’s always the potential for finding something ancient or hidden or quaint or tasty, I’m always excited to find secrets from the past that had been left in the woods.
The trail got thinner, then some stuff appeared on the left – behind wooden fences were a bunch of caves carved into the cliffs. There would be one, then a fence, then another cave, then another fence, and so on, it went on for 10 minutes. I think they might have been caves for storing wine or tools… I don’t know what, really, it could have been anything. Why would people cordon off caves? It seemed like maybe each family from the town had its own, but that’s total speculation. And if so, why so far from town?
Finally I came to a cave where the fence was knocked down and it looked like it hadn’t been in use. I climbed up the wet grass and went inside – it was big enough for a bunch of people to sit and drink, and in fact there was a ring of stones for a firepit. Not much else, but you could probably sleep there. I didn’t.
Back down on the trail I’d forgotten about finding the Sentier and just continued walking, enjoying the potential of each turn. The cliff and the trail pulled up side-by-side right where a spring was gushing from the rocks. The water was clear and very very cold. I finally came to an old property called the “Moulin de la Doue,” which I think means “Mill of the Doue” (Doue still being the mysterious word) and there was this cool grotto against the cliff – a little overhang of rock with a pool of freshwater underneath, and the pool practically glowed green from what looked like underwater ferns.
There was nobody at the mill, and I followed the path a little farther to a dead end. I walked back to my bike never having found the Sentier but loving the walk anyway. When I got back I looked up the words in my dictionary – the Sentier I was looking for, it means, “path.” Sentier de la Doue means “Path of the Gifted.”