Things have gone very smoothly since disembarking from the Newhaven – Dieppe ferry on Thursday. It was a bit of a race against the clock on the way to Newhaven from Brighton. 10 miles against a strong headwind (again) is one way to wake you up. On leaving the ferry I got laughed at by the French customs who chortelled to his colleague ‘Looks like somebody’s first outing of the year’, commenting on how blindingly white I look. ‘What me, mate?’ I said in French looking him directly in the eyes. Somewhat taken aback, he fumbled a response before I cycled off. He did get the last laugh though because I cycled off on the left hand side….
I met a British couple Tim and Mary in their 60s who were travelling via tandem to Paris and back. They told me about a cycle path leading out of Dieppe. Apparently this cycle path was meant to connect Paris to London in time for the 2012 Olympic games. Those plans have clearly been ditched cos it stops after around 40km or so. Embarassingly they were travelling faster than me so I snuck in behind them and used them as a wind break for a few miles. Doing this took my rolling speed from around 11measly mph to 16+. Before I left I was thinking for a while of having a dual bar set up on the handle bar; the bull horn style, and drop bar style. Whilst this would look pretty ridiculous it would make all the difference when tackling a strong headwind. Doing JOGLE my preferred rolling speed was in the high teens (although averaging around 14.5mph), whilst with this mountain bike set up I seem to be rolling around 12/13. This sluggish speed is gonna take some getting used to. Perhaps I’ll ditch some more kit when I get to Germany.
I am determined to pay for water as little as possible on this trip. Indeed so far I have found that asking for water is the best way get some good conversation and offers of fruit juice/sandwiches/biscuits etc. One good conversation a day should keep me sane I reckon although clearly this will become more difficult once I leave the French and German speaking countries.
I found myself a little lost on the first night (my map just just wasn’t a big enough scale to follow the minor roads). Not only that, but every field was occupied by herd of energetic cows and so nowhere really suitable to camp. I pulled up into a dead looking village (it was about 2130) and cycled into the driveway of the one house which had lights on. A gentleman answered the door and I asked for directions and if he knew of any good fields to camp in. He asked me if I was alone then returned into the house to fetch a map a (presumably) check with his wife if it was OK for me to pitch my tent on their lawn. He suggested I could pitch up in the corner and I gratefully accepted. Following offers of fruit, tea and beer I crashed out after my first day….
Day 2 started with a hearty porridge and an escort by the chap to point me in the right direction. The sun made for exhausting work and I guzzled litres of water ( I dread to think what Turkey and onwards is going to be like). I am aiming for about 50miles a day and once i have done around about that distance I start to look for a place to camp. Last night was my first night in a forest. I had already done 65miles and was pretty krackered. I clocked a broken fence on the side of the road and forest edge and saw my opportunity. I timidly wheeled my bike in and cycled about half a mile or so getting stung on the legs by stinging nettles as I rode. 1 medium and 1 small deer jumped in the path in front of me and bounded off into the undergrowth. Birds in the trees above called out to their mates what to me sounded like a warning call. I wanted to get to the edge of the forest where there was more light. I took a right at a fork then parked my bike against a tree. I trudged through the undergrowth to the perimeter of the forest but alas the farmer had planted his legumes right up to the edge of the field so there was no chance I could pitch my tent there. The sun was well on it’s way down. I turned on my heel and re-entered the forest where at once the hairs on the back of my neck stood up on end upon the realisation that it was here where I would be spending the night. For a moment I forgot where I propped up my bike then once I found it got straight on to pitching my tent and cooking dinner (pasta bolognaise) before darkness fell. Bugs writhed and scampered across the forest floor. It was time to whip out the headtorch long before the pasta boiled. I have learned that I can forget any kind of stealth cooking with the Primus Omnifuel stove. Sounds like a bloody rocket taking off! Wiped out after a day’s cycling in the sun, I sat up in my tent and scoffed dinner. I did one final 360° sweep with my headtorch looking out for any unwelcome eyes before turning in for night. Laying in my tent I put my ear plugs in and eye mask on. In my head I said ‘Bonne nuit le foret’. ‘Bonne nuit Talan’ I imagined the ancient trees replying. Then suddenly ‘CRACK!!!’ from about 20 metres away …WTF was that!??!!… … “I SAID GOODNIGHT!!!!” Silence…