The last morning of my ride was short, relatively gentle and wet. The rain patterned in the tent as I woke and the sun wasn’t going to put in any kind of appearance. Strong winds batted the tent around as I prepared to leave and I emerged myself in the simple task of packing each and every item, that I’d unpacked the previous night, for the last time.

Sunday morning in France are quiet. The streets of St Columne were empty. Nobody stirred on this wet morning and nobody was out and about at all.

The scenery was changing. The hills had softened, still tree-lined, but with wider valleys that allowed your gaze to survey a much greater area. The town of Chalabre, where I retreated from the previous a afternoon on account of the campsite being closed until July, was just as quiet with only one or two people showing their faces as I approached the centre through lines of plane trees

Passing through here the intensity of the rain increased along with the tempo of the wind. The weather seemed to be perfectly timed to make life on the cycle as miserable as it gets as I began the climb to the Col de Benoit.

This isn’t a huge, scary col like some of the others but the road twists and climbs for around five kilometres. My map showed that on reaching the top there used to be a viewpoint, but today clouds swirled around as I began my descent without a thought or a pause.

As I let gravity take over the realisation that this ride was all but complete saw my emotions boiling up and escaping as tears as they always do at poignant moments. I felt proud to have come through adversity in the mountains and even more so at the way I handled situations that anybody would find difficult.

I was ready to finish and relax with my friends and with less than ten kilometres to go I stopped to send a text alerting them to my imminent arrival.

The rain had stopped by the time I reached Ajac and sent my message. The col marked a dramatic change in my vista which now comprised of rounded hills all covered in vines. Trees sat on gentle hills like hats, and the neat lines of the vineyards grapevines brought new textures and colours to the landscape all around.

My arrival surprised Richard who was busy putting up a welcome sign. My text hadn’t got through as Naomi had forgotten to take her phone off airplane mode after the cinema, so nobody was expecting me. It made no difference. It’s always good to see them and I was soon exploring the gite and its surrounds where they have spent the last year whilst looking for a house to purchase.

Since then we’ve found a gentle balance between the work that has to be done as part of their rental agreement and enjoying our time together. I’ve learned how to clean a swimming pool and cleaned the patio to help out. We spent a day out looking at places, beaches and generally chilling out on the Narbonne coast and we’ve eaten all our meals outside in the warm summer air.

The local wine has been more than tasted and most of all I’ve spent a few days with two of the nicest, most relaxed people that I know, the perfect end to an incredible journey with tales to tell and memories that will lt a lifetime.

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