It’s definitely a “see you later” situation but it felt like an end. Just before flying across the pond home to Canada, in an unfamiliar rural town close to the Lyon airport, I laced up for what felt like my last run on French soil.
I had never trained in this area of France before but these were my favourite type of roads; the narrow, winding, rolling, quiet farm roads of rural France that I had come to cherish. The roads that had spoiled me for most other roads. They weren’t the best roads I had ever been on by far but they had that je ne sais quoi of southern France that I felt deeply connected to.
I followed the road to a park and from there I let a twisting trail guide me along a small river. It was overcast, threatening to rain and far from warm but it was quiet and peaceful. I didn’t think or navigate, I just ran. When the trail ended, I stepped off the dirt onto the cement and ran into a tiny French town. Past a boulangerie, past a tabac, past a line of tiny houses, just following my curiosity. I spotted a narrow alley and abruptly changed my direction, bounding up the stone stairs. On the other side, my eyes followed a flowered wall up 10 meters. How did I not see this before? I was at the base of a beautiful chateau. Man, I love France.
Up a few dead ends, I finally took the main road around the side and, thanks to an open gate, entered the premises from the back. I slowed to a jog, making sure no one was about to scold me for trespassing. Thanks to another open gate and what seemed like an open invitation, I found myself in front of the chateau, on top of the town. I committed the view to memory, ignoring my dropping body temperature now that I had come to a total standstill. A few moments later, I noticed I was being watched by an old woman in the window. I figured that was my queue to leave but, being in the mood I was, I waved and gave her a smile. She didn’t return the gesture. I laughed to myself and then ran along.
I got the lay of the land at the chateau so I took off running with a sure foot. As I ran, I thought about the first time I ran in France. Life had changed so much since then. Now I could navigate the highways without a map, I knew how the tiered cycling system worked, when the banks were closed, how close to stand next to someone in a queue, and that drinking coffee out of a small bowl was perfectly acceptable. I knew that lane swim etiquette was pretty much non-existant, how to find the best roads to ride and that sometimes a bakery was better than a back-up car. I kissed people three times when I greeted them and I had even stopped on the side of the autoroute and cracked a baguette for lunch.
I knew deep down it wasn’t really France I was going to miss though. It was the life that had taken place there. Who I had become, all big changes and choices, the experiences from sharing a single bed for two seasons to visiting the Eiffel Tower and all the mountains I had climbed in between, it all happened with France in the background. Things would have been completely different anywhere else in the world. For me, there’s just always going to be something about France.