En passant – end of part 1. Bagneres de Luchon - Brussels (almost 1200km)
I didn’t plan such an early departure but I find myself leaving Luchon in the pre-dawn dark. My body clock woke me up at 5.30 AM. I was packed and ready to leave within an hour. The first forty five minutes on the road home is slow: mountain roads whose curves, cambers and twists I am not familiar with. I cross the Garonne three times and the railway line twice. Just as I get to the motorway it starts getting light. Half way to Toulouse the sun rises – a huge ball of luminous orange. I cross the Garonne twice more before hitting Toulouse and the morning rush hour.
But its only a short delay through Toulouse and once north of the city I stop for a coffee and then pick the A20 heading north – with nary a glimpse back at the mountains that have enfolded my life for the past three and half weeks. This is no time for sentimentality. I have a serious drive ahead of me. The sign says Paris 700Km +. That’s a lot of clicks to cut through – then there’s some. The A20 is a new motorway that (not on my 25 year old Michelin map) that gave me the impression that I was tearing through the heart of the Massif Central. In fact it runs through its much less significant neighbour, les Causses de Quercy. Every village name ends in ‘nac’ or ‘zac’ and its remarkably colder here than in the Pyrenees - even though I’ve only travelled 200km north and the sun is shining brilliantly.
By Limoges the countryside becomes less savage, more fertile and more populated 9although not much less hilly0 There’ more traffic here for a while and then it thins out again A little further on – after another coffee and quiche stop and I’m half way home. Ii hadn’t entered my head that I could do this trip in one data: but its only 1330 and the TomTom says ‘ETA; 1915’. Damn that still almost light. I get the idea in my head that I can do this trip in one shot – see my own bed tonight and not have to get up the next day thinking aware that I have another 5-6 hour’s drive ahead of me.
From Vierzon onwards the motorways start get wider first from two to three lanes, then four and around Paris to five. Its half past four and I’m hoping I get around the periphique before the rush hour. Fat chance. It takes me around an hour and half to get through 50km of the ring round and then there’s another bouchon by the Charles de Gaulle turnoff. It’ running late. – but I’m just three hours from home and one and a half hours daylight left. I think I can make this. I gun it - foot down to the floor till it gets dark then stop for a coffee and to set my TomTom to night vision. Forty kilometre from The Belgian border I pas the last peage of the day – and the first manned one I have seen all day. The TomTom reads an hour and a half to home. I slow down a bit when I cross the Belgian border – the road layouts are different, the engineering specs different and it takes a while to readjust to them. A tanker with a huge luminous smiley on the back overtakes me. I tick into his wake like the peloton on a bike race and let him guide and drag me all the way back to Junction ?, where I turn off into Brussels. Almost 1200km. Just over 1400 hours. About 75 Litres of diesel and about 60 Euros of tolls. Epic. I’ve crossed the Garonne (five times), the Gironde, the Dordogne, the Ivorie, the Loire, the Seine and the Somme: the rivers and valleys that define the geography and history of western France.
Back home there’s a bowl of soup waiting, some help with unloading and my flat mate has already organised my social life for the next ten days. There will be a pile of bills and lots of files to update and transfer. But for tonight some sleep.