Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on March 11th 2023.
We are back at Le Shack, enjoying a few weeks of rural solitude after a month house-sitting in the bustling town of Pézenas. As always it is great to be back but there is a new dimension to being here this time. We have made a decision which will have quite an effect on our lives, and yesterday was the first day of this new regime. We are going to experiment with living without a car for a year.
‘Goodbye old friend,’ I said, as we parked the campervan up for the last time.
‘You’re talking to a van,’ said Michael.
‘And you don’t talk to her?’
I thought about reminding him of all the times he had said ‘well done, old girl’ as she laboured up a steep hill, but then thought better of it. You can’t argue with the selective memories of the male brain.
I might have been saying goodbye to our old companion but the van wasn’t actually going anywhere. You can’t SORN a vehicle in France in the way that you can in the UK, and as she is right-hand drive there are very few people who would want to buy her so, for the moment, we are taking the easy way out and mothballing her. She will remain parked up under her shelter for the foreseeable future, hidden behind a wisteria which grows in such profusion over the summer that no-one would even know she was there.
There were a number of reasons for this big decision. First and foremost, the van had failed the French version of the MOT and was simply going to cost too much to repair. We had expected to face this scenario at the last test and had gained a much-welcomed reprieve, so we were not surprised at the verdict this time round. Secondly, ever since we have lived on the boat for the summer months and therefore had no need of a car for effectively half the year, we have often contemplated the option of doing without a vehicle altogether. And lastly, but by no means least, it would further reduce our carbon footprint. These are three good reasons to take the plunge but we’ve always given up on the idea as it seemed that it would make our lives just too difficult on so many counts. Besides, each year the van plodded on and so we plodded on with her. But now she plods no more and we have had to make a decision.
It’s a moot point as to whether we were pushed or whether we jumped willingly, perhaps a bit of both, but the decision to try to live without a car has now been made. It’s an experiment and we are aware that it will definitely make life more complicated but it finally feels that it’s the right time to do it. By using a combination of different forms of transport we hope we can make it work.
Our bikes will play a major role in this new endeavour. We live in a rural area with no public transport. We have cycled to the shops from Le Shack on many occasions now, a minimum round trip of fifteen miles, and found that using the bikes makes it feel like an outing rather than a chore. For most things, we can choose to make the journey when the weather is reasonable, although we know the real test will come when it’s pouring with rain and we have no choice but to go out. For example, Michael has a dental appointment next week and the forecast is rain, rain and more rain. That will be fun. Transporting heavy goods like a replacement gas cannister for cooking will also be a challenge but we have stocked ourselves up on all the heavy items and so these hurdles lie in the distant future.
The train can take the strain for the longer journeys such as when we go back to Olivia Rose in April, or to the UK to visit family and friends and possibly even for future house-sitting trips. If the combination of the bikes and the trains doesn’t always work out then we have the option of hiring a car for a short period. Whilst our aim is to manage a year without a car, we can live with ourselves if we fall a little short of our target. There is a balance to be struck between setting yourself a goal and making life miserable. It will be a year of learning to adapt and we shall review it as we go along.
Yesterday was our first day of a car-free existence and we had planned on cycling to the little town of Lembaye to our favourite boulangerie, maybe even treating ourselves to a coffee to mark the occasion. It’s a 17 mile round trip, with a long, slow hill on the way out but the promise of a much quicker return on the way back. We woke up to strong winds, gusting up to 70km per hour, and intermittent heavy rain.
‘So what now?’ said Michael, staring moodily out of the window.
‘We don’t have to go,’ I said. ‘We can do without bread for a day.’
‘Forecast is even worse for tomorrow.’
‘Let’s stick to the plan then. We knew we’d get weather like this, although it would have been nice for our first symbolic outing to be in sunshine.’
‘Right. I’ll get the bikes out and you get the waterproofs.’
One tends to think of rain as the worst thing to be cycling in, but actually the wind is as bad, if not more so. We were blessed on the way up the hill as the high banks sheltered us from the worst of it, but once we were out on the ridge the wind hammered us, switching from sideways on to a full frontal assault as the road twisted and turned. I normally manage a cruising speed on the flat of around 14 miles per hour, but these gusts were so strong that they knocked me back to half that speed and it was a battle just to keep going. But get there we did, and as a reward I bought us chocolate brownie for coffee-time back home – the allure of getting wet at a pavement café in town having been blown away by the wind – and a strawberry tart for dinner. We arrived back at Le Shack just in time as the rain really set in within minutes of us getting in through the front door.
‘That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be ‘ I said, cradling my mug in my hands and watching the wind blowing curtains of rain across the field.
Michael nodded his agreement through a mouthful of brownie. There is a certain exhilaration in braving the elements and it would be no bad thing to rely more on ourselves and our trusty bikes in the future.
We shall be doing many more bike rides over the next few weeks, regardless of the weather, as we have a 400km cycling adventure planned for late March /early April and we need to get fit. More details on that in the next blog.
It looks as if the weather is once more playing havoc around the globe so I hope you are not too cold or too wet wherever you are. Spring seems to be a long time coming this year but I leave you with a picture that proves it must be on the way.
See you soon.
13 thoughts on “Mothballed”
I feel it might be unkind to say our car passed it’s test on the second attempt, after a very expensive outlay. Our bicycles are still resting! On the bright side all this bicycling will get you both very fit!
Hi Antony. Glad your car made it through. Yes we should be getting fitter for this. A win win!
I truly admire your tenacity. Bravo!
Hi Carol. Thank you. Time will tell how we get on.
I admire your resolve, MJ. I live in hilly terrain 13 miles from the nearest town, so being carless would be such a hardship, particularly in winter. When we become elderly, we may have to give up our driving, but I hope to push that decision far down the road.
Hi Eliza. I think we would find it a challenge if we lived here full time. I’ve decided when my knees give up on me and I can’t cycle I shall buy a bright red scooter, maybe a Vespa, and become a demon old lady of the lanes!! MJ
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Love that visual! 🙂
Bikes are great to have on a boat. We carry 2 folding ones. Our boat is on the hard for bottom painting so I measured the draft, 1.65 , so midi is a no go. We stay in Balaruc until end of June then let’s see. Either sail back the long way round on summer and suffer the Portuguese trades or play on the med until autumn then up the Rhône etc etc. Pity Etang Thau oysters are not so good in summer, right now they are just great!
Peter and Klaudia
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Hi Peter. Sounds like you have made the right decision about missing out on the Midi. We’ve always had our bikes with us in the boat but this year they will stay at Le Shack as we’re taking the train and getting through Paris man handling a heavy electric bike will be no fun. We also are going to get folding bikes for the boat, although I imagine they’ll take a while to get used to with such tiny wheels. Glad you are enjoying oysters – I’ve only had them once and never again!
Bon courage! I greatly admire your resolve and hope it all works out as planned. We are far too dependent on the car, but public transport is non-existent in many places, which complicates things. We did travel around Corsica with backpacks about 10 years ago, but of course that wasn’t the same as real life!
Hi Vanessa. We backpacked and camped around Corsica too. Nearly killed me! Not overly fond of sleeping on the ground…
A big step, best of luck. I do detect that you have electric bikes – that should make a significant difference to long, hilly and windy rides. Don’t forget tools, puncture kit and spare inner tubes. We’ve used all of them on at least one of our rides away from Catharina.
Hi Ian. Good advice thank you. MJ