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On spontaneity and traveling outside your comfort zone

I could hear them laughing behind me as I struggled to get my oversized bag situated and my feet planted on the pedals of the recently rented city bike. I hadn’t been on a bike since I was fourteen, and now, six years later, I was perched on one at two in the morning in Nice. Antoine was looking at me, a slight smirk on his face as I finally balanced myself and unsteadily propelled myself forward.

“Ça va?” he asked and when I nodded, we were off, looping around the winding streets back towards the city centre. There were four of us, peddling faster and faster trying to see which one of us could beat the other down the hill. Pierre with his long dark hair and coke bottle glasses appeared beside me, stretching his legs out in front of him, weaving the blue bike from one side of the road to the other.

“Allez,” Pierre turned, “we are the motorbike gang. Please, Mackenzie, we need a girl in our gang which means you need to pedal faster.” I laughed and worked my legs into a frenzy, flying fast along the winding road, seeing the sea glitter in the moonlight at the bottom of the hill as the “motorbike gang” laughed hysterically through the empty streets.

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Nice was beautiful in the daytime, with the streets milling with both tourists and natives alike. At night, streets were lit with a warm yellow glow while music could be heard from the few clubs that were open. Girls in small dresses, smoking cigarettes outside while speaking rapidly about some boy they couldn’t believe didn’t show up. It could have been any city, but the quick French and late night crêpe stands gave away the location. Nice in the daytime meant weaving through backpackers and old men in khaki shorts, their striped polos tucked into the front of their trousers. Yet at night, there weren’t tourists with “selfie sticks” standing around the Fontaine du Soleil, but young couples sharing secret jokes, kisses, and wine. I smiled as we passed them, Antoine whistling loudly, as the couples parted and laughed in their hands.

The sea crept closer as my legs grew more tired with each turn of the pedals. Antoine and Chris were in front of Pierre and I, they turned their heads, laughing at us to move faster, the beach was waiting. Two days before, when I arrived at this sea town in the south of France, finally meeting Antoine, my pen pal of three years, I never pictured myself laughing through the empty streets of beautiful Nice, part of this motorcycle gang of two French men, a German and a Syrian, racing towards the dark beach.

Now looking back at this adventure around Nice six years later, it makes me long for those chance encounters you only have when you really let go. When you let people be people and get a bit outside of your comfort zone. I had no idea that when I landed in Nice on that day in September what adventures I had in-store for me. I learned then that when you stop overthinking and just live that’s when you find the best stories.

Mackenzie Taylor