Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Thank you note

Sorting through some leaflets about places we have been on previous trips, I found the above note and I remembered our meeting with the young Frenchman who'd written it.

As we've documented elsewhere, we'd had problems maintaining the leisure battery of the 'van with the fridge running.  Although we'd found an aire (de camping car) further along the river Loire we'd had to move to a municipal campsite at Gennes to get mains power to recharge the battery.

Shortly after settling I was sitting sheltering from the heat in the 'van doorway when I noticed what I took to be a young tramp stagger across the grass, and throw down a heavy looking rucksack onto the pitch next to us . The 'tramp' promptly fell asleep next to his pack, and didn't move for some time. First impressions were not good. I remember feeling somewhat annoyed that the site had allowed him in, based on his appearance …

Tiny baclpacker's tentWhen he woke he started to unpack his rucksack.  A small tent appeared and was quickly erected. He went off to find the washrooms: clear signs of a more ordered life. Sometime later we noticed him sitting by his tent, drinking beer, talking on his mobile phone. Like us, he wasn't late settling down for the night. His tent was tiny - his feet touched the bottom and his head the other end!

The following morning we'd been up for some time when he unfolded himself from the tent. He came over and asked, in  perfect English, if we could charge his mobile phone for him - which we happily did.  He seemed in no rush to go back to his pitch, and didn't appear to have any food with him - so we shared our breakfast croissants with him, washed down with coffee.

He was charming. His name was Laurens and he'd taken a month off work to walk the length of the Loire from his home town of Nantes near the coast to the river's source in the Massif Central, a distance of  just over 1000  kilometres (630 miles). He told us he usually stayed in people's gardens, after asking politely of course, and found most were happy to let him pitch his tent for a few hours overnight. He kept in touch with family and his girlfriend when he could charge his phone, and didn't seem to have had too much of a problem doing this.

His somewhat dishevelled appearance of the day before was explained by the fact that he had walked 35 kilometres (20+ miles), in the hot sun with temperature around 30C, which had been seriously challenging, although he was clearly very fit.  He even said he preferred walking when it was hot!

Laurens appeared to be in no rush to set off on the next stage of his walk, and  as the morning progressed it became obvious it was going to be another very hot day. With thunderstorms forecast he was unsure how far he would go that day or whether to return home for a break until they passed - so  while he thought about it, he and Martin carried on talking. He turned out to be an intelligent, articulate, well-travelled and educated young professional who was as happy to talk to us as we were to talk to him.

About midday he thanked us, went back to his tent, folded it up and packed his rucksack. We left for a short walk into the town, and he'd gone when we got back to the 'van.

I found the note a short time later, under one of the wiper blades, and felt very touched that he'd taken the trouble to write it. Definitely not the tramp of my first impressions!

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