The Road Less Travelled

Reminiscences from a bicycle trip through the forest of Fontainebleau

With only ten months to make the most out of my MBA journey, weekends are precious commodities. In the grand scheme of life (as viewed through the lens of a bleary-eyed INSEAD student), they represent a bright beacon of opportunity – opportunity to spread out and explore a new city, or drift inwards and strengthen the bonds within one’s close-knit nucleus of friends. But alas, the beacon burns dim when the ‘midterms’ begin to cast their shadows.

Confined to my room on one such weekend, I felt fairly straight-jacketed. Admittedly, we all did need to study, owing to which a day-long Paris excursion was definitely off the cards. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that engaging in some form of activity for a few hours that weekend would harness, not hinder, productivity.

I wrestled with these thoughts as I skirted around the edges of town, unconsciously making my way to my favourite coffee shop in Fontainebleau. But before I could walk in, a fuzzy shape looming in the corner of my vision prompted me to pause. It didn’t register instantaneously, but a few seconds later, I realised that the ‘rentals’ sign outside the town square bicycle shop had caught my attention. For me, this was most certainly an ‘aha’ moment! Buzzing with excitement, my honest ambitions to consume coffee that morning were quickly swept under the rug.

In a matter of minutes, I had mustered together a gang of eager comrades wanting to participate in my envisioned adventure.

barbizon

And this is something that truly amazes me about INSEAD – in a school that brings together people from over 90 nationalities, and even more cultural identities, commonalities still manage to always trump perceived differences.

No matter how offbeat an idea or activity may sound, one can always find like-minded individuals eager to participate and support in bringing a proposition to life.

We soon set off! Meandering through the zig-zag trails of Fontainebleau forest, we aimed to journey to the neighbouring town of Barbizon*, which is famed for its stunning traditional French architecture (picture a scene from ‘Beauty and the Beast’) but more importantly, also boasts a host of creperies, restaurants and dessert options.

The expedition was a first for all of us, and the spellbinding beauty of the trail left us awestruck. Watching the falling autumn leaves, listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops and feeling the cool October wind on my face re-kindled childhood memories of listening to Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by the Woods”, for the first time. And yes, the delicious chocolate mousse we discovered at a tiny, old-world Barbizon cafe was just the icing on the cake!

Barbizon

*Barbizon is approximately nine kilometres away from Fontainebleau and is also easily accessible by road. Bicycling routes through the forest typically take 45 – 75 minutes (each way), depending on the individual’s appetite for adventure…