Last Tuesday was the coldest ride of my trip so far. I am guessing that it averaged about 6 degrees C.

That morning, I woke up to a cold room. The heating oil had run out the day before, the radiators were cold and the little electric radiator in my room struggled to beat the chill in the room. So I pulled on two layers of long underwear, a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I needed to pack the last items and let the Gold Wing idle for a few minutes until it was warm. Then a quick breakfast before zipping into the leather bikers pants and jacket. Goodbyes having been said, I eased the bike into its first gear and pulled out of the winding driveway, leaving La Moulin Foulon in Lower Normandy and heading for an old farmhouse near Poitiers. According to my navigation, the ride would take about 4 hours.

I had been watching the weather during the last week and todays forecast was consistently represented with the image of the sun poking out from behind a cloud. It was supposed to be ‘mostly sunny’. The fact that there was a heavy mist hanging all around me seemed strange, but I figured it would begin to dissipate as the sun came up. Besides, it made for some spectacular views. May as well enjoy it while it lasted. It was chilly, but I had the ‘mostly sunny’ day to look forward to.

An hour later, I was still riding through patches of thick mist. The sun was higher in the sky, but could not penetrate the mist. Here and there, the mist would clear and the sun would shine bright, but just as I felt the warmth through my jacket, the mist would once again close in. The novelty of the wet and cold was wearing off and I was starting to wonder if I was going to see the sun at all today.

When I reached Le Mans, I decided to get some gas and shop for some essential snacks. Not knowing if my next hosts were fruit eaters, I thought it would be wise to stock my own bananas. As I walked out of the supermarket, it looked as if the sun might finally be making its appearance. While I sat and absorbed the warmth, I tried to restart my navigation app. Without realising it, my iPhone had been switched to ‘offline’. I did not have the presence of mind to correct it and consequently my navigation app refused to work. Fuming at my dependance on technology, yet happy for the warmth of the sun, I decided to just head towards Tours for now. Maybe the phone would sort itself out.

I wasn’t even 5 minutes out of Le Mans and I was again enveloped in heavy mist. At this point I was no longer sure if I was going in the right direction and even less sure that I would see the sun again. By the time I reached Tours, there was no point in getting off the bike to get warm. The chill wasn’t going to go away and, due to the grey skies, it was going to get dark early. On top of everything else today, I had left knowing that my rear running lights were not working, so I needed to arrive at my destination before dusk. In the middle of Tours, I stopped to eat a banana and look again at the map. I also looked at the iPhone settings one last time, and this time I saw the problem. Once the iPhone was back online, I started up the navigation..only to see that I was now going to arrive an hour later than anticipated. Apparently Tours was not exactly ‘en route’ to where I needed to be.

The next 90 minutes of riding was the ultimate test. I could feel I was starting to get tired, I was running low on willpower and still lower on time. Then, to make matters worse, the highway that would take me there the quickest was a toll road. 60 kilometers further, I had to pay 5 euros for a piece of highway on which I was rerouted 3 times due to repairs. According to the navigation, I still had 45 minutes to go. The only thing which now kept me going was the knowledge that, when I finally stepped off the motorcycle, I would walk into a warm welcoming home, where I could shed the cold and forget the long chilly ride. I imagined the waves of warmth coming over me as I stood under a hot shower.

When I finally arrived at Donna and Keiths farmhouse, I was indeed given a warm welcome and a hot bowl of soup. However, as I sat eating the soup, I became aware of how far removed my expectations had been from the present reality. I had just walked into one of the biggest remodelling projects I have yet seen on this trip. This farmhouse, where I would be spending the next three weeks, in fact has no central heat, no running water, and limited power receptacles. The dining room, with its wood burning stove, has a semblance of heat, while the rest of the home is stone cold. The only functioning toilet is in an outbuilding and turns a night time pee into chilly ordeal. The only shower is in a cold and damp camper with a slow (but hot!) stream of water. The camper also houses the current kitchen.

Oh, and did I mention that there is no WiFi here?

So, what is my take away amidst all this? Very simple: drop the preconceptions. Don’t even try to imagine what the next place is going to be like. Don’t assume anything. Whatever the image I have in my mind of where I am going, it won’t be like that. It is always different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. No preconceptions = no disappointments.

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