By the time it came to leave for my cycle on Sunday, the huge turnout of friends and family to my party the night before had made it rather more difficult to leave. I’m not talking about the huge lack of sleep, although that was certainly a factor. But, what incredible people I was leaving behind! And why was I even leaving? What was I hoping to find? I didn’t know.
Pushing over the start line I was in complete disbelief; disbelief that the day I’d anticipated for so long had actually arrived… so far it still just felt like a cycle around my town! Also disbelief however about what I was attempting to do. ‘Big Sus’, the female representative cycling to Dover was delighted to excitedly yell to everyone that we were cycling to Australia. It sounded like some kind of crazy joke; people don’t actually do that, do they?
Family farewells made, our band of six reduced to three, we boarded the ferry, and I suddenly realised I had left my last English-speaking country until I reached Australia. It started to rain, a fitting English tribute. Not for the first time, feeling overwhelmed, a few silent tears rolled down my cheeks, the white cliffs of Dover melting into a thick fog.
Whenever I told people I wasn’t going to train for this cycle, I was often met with odd looks. I didn’t pay much attention however, reassuring myself North France was once joined up with Kent, therefore was basically Kent, and therefore flat. Somewhere along that long line of assumptions, I made a mistake. Of course I expected hills (and mountains) along the route, but they weren’t meant to be here quite yet! When I first bought my bike, specially built for touring, I couldn’t imagine ever needing to use the bottom gear; my legs spinning rapidly, bike hardly moving. Let me tell you, I hardly came out of that gear for the first day! As I expected though, it’s not been easy, but fitness is coming along quickly, with daily distances of 50 – 70 miles so far.
I’ve fallen in love with bike touring even more than I expected. Seeing how the country changes slightly, passing through villages and towns often missed which punctuate the roads less travelled, and forcing you into contact with locals. So far, we’ve been entirely dependent on people for our water. Whenever we’re running low, we approach someone outside their house, or in a shop, and mutter in broken French, “Bonjour. De l’eau sil vous plais’, and immediately a smile creeps onto their face, and they run inside, and fill our water bottles, before bringing them back out, proudly presenting them to us. One man, invited us into his house, asked us questions about our trip, before giving us 4.5 litres of his own bottled water.
After a puncture, I stopped in Albert to buy another inner tube. Using gesticulation alone, I managed to get the correct size, and I took my wallet out, asking how much it cost. He seemed shocked, firmly shaking his head, refusing to take any of my money. “Free”, he happily declared in a thick French accent, before wishing me well. I had heard tales of such generosity from every bike toured I have every read about or spoken to, but I just couldn’t imagine it ever actually being like that. So far, all the people we’ve met have been great!
I’m writing this from the Champagne region, vineyards as far as the eye can see, hundreds of men bent double nurturing their precious vines. It already feels like some distance away from my home, and, having travelled through on a bike, a different France from the north. Until next time, I’m off, to explore some more, always heading south-east.
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