Sun Chasing

Saint-Pierre-des-Loges to the Char Sherman Memorial: Wednesday 09 August 2017

10:35. Park-Bench, Saint-Pierre-des-Loges.

Water’s on the stove. Tent and fly are draped over the bikes; bike covers are similarly draped over a fence; Agnieszka’s poncho, too. The ground sheet is spread out on the floor to catch some distant Sun. My gears and chain sound a bit crunchier today. I’m a bit damp.

It pissed it down early yesterday evening.

Pissed.

It.

Down.

We’re practised now, though, so nothing got wet that shouldn’t get wet and we had a great night’s sleep cocooned in our nylon shell.

We do like our tent.

Decamped efficiently, and, yes, we now sit on a bench, with the feeble Sunlight gallantly making an effort to warm us. The coffee now brewing will help, and the avocado kanapki are going down well, too.

A similar ride, in terms of distance and goal, in prospect today. Another night under canvas and, I’ve got to say, the weather looks like it may have similar conditions in store; but if we’re able to get the wet things mostly dry and packed away before we set off again, it’ll be OK; well, it’ll have to be, whatever.

Tomorrow will be our eighth day with some riding involved; a couple of those days have been really easy though. However, you should always eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty, rest before you’re tired, blahdy blahdy blahdy, so we had thought that a rest day on Friday would be nice. However, in the absence of a Warmshowers’ host, friends in the area, or the desire to spend our diminishing funds on a two-night stay in a hotel, we’ve opted for a short ride to a hotel tomorrow morning for an early afternoon check-in, followed by some cleaning, some wifi-ing, and resting – possibly with a few beers in the evening – before continuing our way Southward Friday morning.

Chasing that Sun.

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Seems like we’re slipping into a kind of morning routine now, where, upon waking, we decamp and move off until the nearest suitable breakfast spot is come across. This serves two, maybe three, purposes: we get packed up and keep dry things dry; we get packed up and move on until a time when things can dry out and we can fuel; and maybe number three: we inch a little further along our merry way. So, we’re nice and chilled in the mornings, and ready to focus on and enjoy the riding through the afternoons.

Today we’ve got a fair old way to cover before our main stop – about 32k. The temperature’s up to 21º now from 12º; layers are off and that damp cold feeling’s gone – so here’s to some more of that good ol’ bicycle touring 😃

Wouldn’t be surprised at more rain or showers later, though.

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Normandy is, without doubt, within my world of experience so far, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Even the exhilarating downhills reward you with beautiful vistas. The vast majority of buildings sit unobtrusively, as one with, and complementary to, the natural surroundings, due in no small part to the building materials being sourced from the area. The towns and cities are charm-fests, and the natural surroundings, well, non-exotic as they are, in the sense that they are non-mountainous, non-coastal and Northern European, similar to where I myself come, are just breathtakingly wonderful and amazing – reminding us all of what the countryside is and can be. Simply marvellous.

I keep saying this at least once a day on our little way through France so far, but it is wonderful to be alive, and all our preparations would be worth it if it was for this and this alone.

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“Norman rain: famous actor in er 1917.

“We’ve stopped near a sherman tank. Every boy of ten has maybe dreamed about driving one or played with a toy version of them, at least when I was a kid. We stand near the Char Sherman Memorial.

“A family’s just dashing back to their car.

“We find shelter in the middle of Normandy. When we’re going downhill, we’re rewarded with views. When we’re going uphill, the uphills are slightly less than the downhills. When it starts pissing it down, a shelter is presented to us…

…on every occasion, I kid you not. Ja pierdolę! Yeah.”

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“What do you think, Aga?”

“I’m really happy we’re here; and I really want us to stay here for the night, and I think we will.”

“I think we will, yeah, it looks like er…”

“Wow!”

“Y’see, the bad thing with this weather is: it’s bad weather. The good thing with the bad weather is: not many people are going to be wandering around.”

“Exactly. I think it’s perfect. No-one. I think it’s perfect, because we’re in the middle of this big, beautiful, old forest. It’s like Beskidy of Normandy.”

“It’s fucking…”

“Listen to that – that’s the roof!”

“Ja pierdolę.”

“Seriously. We were riding. We got to Le Bouillon. The rain did start to get a little heavier. We thought: ‘OK, we’ll stop at a bus shelter until it eases up.’ We rode a bit – and the rain just came on – and we saw this shelter. We stopped and thought: ‘OK, looks kind of nice.’

And the heavens have fucking opened.

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And, er, this is not only a shelter for now, but possibly the evening. Normandy keeps providing us with the answers to all of the problems we may be presented with. Whatever happens, whenever we leave Normandy, it will have a place in our hearts forever, I believe.”

“No, babe, it hasn’t been all good. I mean, we got absolutely drenched yesterday. We were basically just standing, because we got so stupidly wet. Our dry-bags and panniers got wet – inside! Everything was wet.”

“Can I just stop you there, Aga? because I believe only someone’s panniers were wet inside, because, I don’t know, maybe they weren’t closed properly – what do you reckon?”

“There, there were too many things…”

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

“We both made mistakes. My pannier…my dry-bag was wet inside because I thought it’d be a good idea to open it while it was raining. Hmmm.”

Epilogue

2130. In the tent. Under the shelter. Perfectly blending the human and the natural. Camping within a human-made bricks-and-mortar structure, yet open to the world and still exposed. No sign of a let up in the rain. As Agnieszka remarked earlier: “This is a definition of being in the right place at the right time.”

And it is.

We’ve been kind of lucky, or have we made our own luck? or have we just made the best of whatever’s put in our way so that it’s felt like luck?

Doesn’t matter, really.

For many other people, having to bed down under a shelter to avoid getting piss wet through on the way to no-specific-destination may not be a definition of ‘fun’ or ‘luck’.

For us, we’re made up.

Maybe we’re getting better at reacting and proacting, so that we’re getting less likely to put ourselves in unfortunate situations. Since entering France it does seem like the downhills have been longer than the ups; the ups have had more tailwinds than not; and every corner has presented us with a solution to a potential problem.

Yesterday, as the heavens opened in Anceins, where we figured we’d have a wee stop and a check of our route: a shelter available to do all of that and wait for a dry moment to get back on our way. Yes, it did piss it down as we stopped to make camp in the evening, but it gave us a long enough break in order to do so – keeping saturation to a minimum (there was still a lot, though).

This morning, our breakfast stop allowed us to, yes, breakfast, and air our things well. Later on this evening, as we chased the blue skies, entering Le Bouillon, we lost the chase and the heavens opened again – just as we turned a corner to see a bus shelter, where we stopped, had a yummy yoghurt made from Normandy milk, and amused a cheeky gang of sisters and a brother.

Then, as the downpour ceased, we got on our way – till it threatened again, where we are now: this very place we thought we’d hole up in until it ceased again. Then thought: “Fuck it, let’s eat and pitch here!”

Which we did.

Indulging in more fabulous French food. Wow! It is so surprisingly fabulous to a degree I hadn’t imagined. Every food and flavour sings in your mouth and demands your undivided attention. It’s a truly Zen thing. When you eat, you eat; and you enjoy it and live it for all that it is.

And wow!

The food here just makes you happy. Enough to make a grey moment light. In fact, vanquish it forever. We passed what I guess would be the equivalent of a Polish milk-bar earlier and thought: “That would probably be a four-star restaurant in terms of food quality in England.” And it’s not done for any other reason than it makes eating a pleasure, an event, an unpretentious event that just puts a smile on your face.

And the environment as well.

And the riding – has it been designed for cyclists? or is there a bit of France for everyone? or Normandy at least?

One thing I do know is: Normandy, we love you, and, by extension, France, so far we love you, too. Your tastes, your smells, your sights, your sounds – and your riding and camping. You’re a dream I don’t want to wake up from.

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The Bare Essentials

La Chapelle-Hareng to Touquettes: Tuesday 08 August 2017

10:50am. Bernay. We’ve backtracked a little – 8km – before we really begin our day, to ensure we’re able to shop and stock up on supplies. I guess I can now understand that when Napoleon is supposed to have said ‘the English are a nation of shopkeepers’, this may have been used pejoratively: outside of the towns your chances of finding or passing a shop on the off-chance are limited. That’s not to say they’re not there, but stand out they don’t.

Was OK yesterday as we had a grand breakfast by the peace-tree in the forest, a decadent crêpe in the ridiculously picturesque village of Le Bec-Hellouin, and had the comfort of knowing we had some Warmshowers’ hosts awaiting us within a reasonable enough distance if we didn’t find a shop along our way.

Today, and for the next few days, wild camping’s on the cards, so each shop takes on an extra significance. Little things you take for granted at home, but don’t consider until you can’t.

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Like water.

You need it for coffee, you need it to cook, and you need it to drink.

Oh,

and you need it to clean.

The pots.

Yourself.

“But that’s different water.”

Er, no, it isn’t, and if you haven’t got it or you’re not carrying enough, you’ll have to sacrifice one or more of those things.

And they are all non-sacrificeable; to the same degree.

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Maybe you don’t have to clean as much as you need to eat, but, really, don’t you? that’s also pretty much non-negotiable; at least, from where I’m sitting, anyway.

So, for now, we shop. Well, Agnieszka shops. I stand with the bikes doodling words whilst she shops. It works better for our diet, I’m sure, but it would be nice if I could do it more often; or we could do it together; but, Finkel and Einhorn!

Grey and drizzly at the moment. Could be a damp camp. We’re both glad our meander is Southward. We’re not afraid of a bit of rain or cold, but the absence of them does make life a little simpler; a little easier.

From here, we plan to head South, following a river about as far as it goes to Anceins, about 30k away. Looks like it could be a nice route. From there, as we should still be good for another 20, we’re heading towards Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, via Touquettes. Sandwiched between those two is a huge patch of green, likely to be a forest, where we hope to pitch our tent.

Looks like another nice day’s riding in prospect, and about 57km covered towards the South.

For now, breakfast 😀

French food – you b*st*rd!

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Normandy, we ❤️ you.

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The Breath Within a Verse

Forêt Domaniale de la Londe-Rouvray to La Chapelle-Hareng [Part 1]: Monday 07 August 2017

5:50am
The silence as night turns to day. The call-and-response harmonies of the owls are silenced for another shift from the Sun, and they return to their hallowed chambers of repose and security, secure from the terrors we diurnalites welcome with glee. How we take for granted the joy of passing into day and into the hours where there is less darkness for the imagination to illuminate.

The daylight shift tentatively begin stretching and warming their vocal chords. The lazy chatter from the far-from-yet fully roused winding themselves up. Only the cockerel sounds like he woke as a Jack released from its box (only, we all know they have a cheeky warm up about 90 minutes before the curtain’s due to rise). The soothing lethargy of the other members of the Dawn Chorus, though, is still coming together as a spring being gently wound, harnessing the energy required to release the most joyful ode to life.

6:30am
The night-shift has truly gone. The day-shift is returning, amongst it I am one. That 40 minutes of silence, a deathly hallowed pause, I felt the life that filled it, the energies it binds: full of all we are and what we’re meant to be.

Life goes on eternal. Shift and change. Repeat.

With no more rhyme than reason
That is the form we take
One note amongst the man
One breath within a verse

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Chill

Rouen to Forêt Domaniale de la Londe-Rouvray: Sunday 06 August 2017

11:19. Rouen. Chill morning after a beautiful day and evening. Rested, relaxed and ready for a pretty chill day’s riding, with no goal except finding a nice place to camp on our way to our next Warmshowers’ hosts, who we plan to make our way to some time tomorrow afternoon.

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🤣The View that Wasn’t Worth It 🤣

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Terra Firma

Dieppe to Rouen: Saturday 05 August 2017

11:23am. Hotel Windsor car park. Dieppe. France. 

Back on the mainland. With just our feelings to guide us.

Again.

For now.

And I found and replaced the pannier screw that had absconded prior to the Thursday morning getaway.

Away we go 😁

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I ❤️ France.

This part, anyway
On this day.
In this area
Beautiful.

Great to be alive 😃

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Poseidon’s Caprice

Warlingham to Dieppe: Friday 04 August 2017

9:04. We sit outside a Co-Op, just inside Croydon, picking up some supplies to keep us going till we set rubber on French soil again. Dieppe is today’s destination, all being well. A long stretch: sounds like real bicycle touring, doesn’t it?

We’re cheating.

In order to be able to catch our ferry at 5:30pm from Newhaven, we have to train from East Croydon to Lewes, where we’ll then ride the remaining 12k-or-so. So we’ve got a double-decker sandwich of one train journey and a ferry ride between three slices of riding. Phew, metaphors are tiring; probably more tiring than today’s small skips.

Did well yesterday, though, after ten non-touring days. Around 60km in total, and six hours saddle-time. Navigating our way out of London was hella fun, but intricate and time-consuming to the max (four hours to get from St Pancras to Warlingham); exactly the same distance as our ride into Leicester in the morning – more than double the time. Would you Adam and Eve it? 🙃

But, a fun ride. Feels nice to have done a proper ride through the capital: making our way from its beating heart, through the districts, through the outskirts, until we exited Greater London into the beautifully green and rurally feeling setting of Warlingham. So many flavours in one afternoon. Really got to feel the place much much more than any of my other visits there.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only way to experience the world is on a bicycle.

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Perfectly pleasant little bike-skip to East Croydon Station. Perfectly deflating train journey to Lewes – such tolerant, patient, understanding people amongst the passengers aboard 🤔 Hope the coffee I’m waiting for outside this café is able to reflate. Also hope it’s the last train for a while.

One more unavoidable encounter with public transport in a few hours: the ferry.

Newhaven’s a little under 60 minutes away. It’s 12:27 now. We’re supposed to check in at about 15:30, even though it isn’t due to leave until 17:30, so plenty of time. Of course, have been stung more often than once by last-minute hiccups announcing themselves at the worst possible moment – we all have – but, barring a pannier – the pannier – falling off … or a puncture … or getting lost, we should be fine.

And the chances of these things happening are slim slim slim.

“But there are chances.”

Shut up, brain!

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17:34. Sitting on board. Finkel and Einhorn sit below, sandwiched between a multitude of other people’s steeds. Not all tourers, but Ortleibs were conspicuous by their ubiquitous presence on the racks of those with racks. Other riders were clearly off to France for some road-riding; others for touring; others bike-packing. I heard Spanish and Italian amongst us – and it felt good to be part of the weirdo bike brigade boarding together in formation as bemused drivers gazed on.

Before we got on, I heard one rider say he’d done this crossing a number of times – and you just chuck the bikes in a place and leave them. Then I got distracted and missed the bit where he mentioned how they are secured and you leave them with great peace of mind.

That’s because he didn’t say it!

Yup, all leaning on each other – at the mercy of Poseidon. Einhorn is on some Spanish guy’s bike, Finkel’s on Einhorn, but a lesser known bike leans on him.

Solidarity two-wheeled wonders! Look after each other as we would look after you.

I hate leaving my bike unattended; and with the rear panniers and dry-bag attached, too. That’d be some stuff to lose. But we’re all (ahem) in the same boat, so hope this goodness of strangers prevails.

Four hours is a long time. Bagsy first one down when we near Dieppe!

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Tracks

Melton Mowbray to Warlingham: Thursday 03 August 2017

13:37. Moving again. 30km. Melton to Leicester. Perfectly pleasant ride, given the fact we hadn’t ridden fully-laden for eleven days, and, despite one gentle ride at the weekend, had been fairly inactive – and softening.

The getaway was nice and smooth
until the moment we came to put the panniers on the bikes.

Yesterday evening, whilst packing as much as we could, I noticed an unfamiliar-looking screw on the bedroom floor. It may have dropped out of something when we were unpacking.

It’s an innocuous looking thing that may have dropped out of the spare bag of nuts and screws that we keep just in case. I’ll just pop it th…

Ah, the pannier with that in is in the garage. I’ll just pop it in here for now.

“Shit!”

As I went to attach the front-left pannier, five minutes away from departing exactly when we wanted. The bottom rail that holds the pannier onto the bottom part of the front rack: hanging loose at the hook end. I didn’t need to look at what kind of screw was missing.

I knew.

“Motherfucker!”

Let’s get a screw from elsewhere on the pannier and use it as a replacement for now.

“Motherfucker!” It’s come loose, but it won’t come out. May as well check all the others while we’re at it.

Good job we did.

“Motherfucker!” They all need tightening. On every pannier.
Ortleib: kings of the pannier – never heard about this before. Is it a thing?

It must be.

One Heath-Robinson patch up with a piece of string and we’re rolling. A little disconcerted at the thought that the panniers are not as infallible as I’d thought, but what can you do? And it seems like gravity does more of the job than the hook, so…

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“It’s raining.”
“It’s only drizzle – not worth bothering about.”
“True, but there’s no let up in the clouds. We’re just going to keep running into it.”

We did. Not more than three minutes later, the drizzle became a downpour.

“I’m stopping.” To poncho.

“Where is it?”

“Motherfucker!”

In one of the more accessible panniers.
Yes, that front one now bound up a little more with some twine.

Still, we got it off and got in to get ponchoed and waterproof-trousered

And had a quick snack: we’d been riding for practically an hour, so why not?

The rain’s stopped. Of course, England and its bloody showers.

But we got to Leicester well on time for an easy wait for our train.

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Now we sit. Uneasy. Uneasily waiting to meet our bikes again at St. Pancras. Hastily chucked into the bike hole on this train. Glad you don’t have to pay for that indignity on British trains. Hold tight Finkel, hold tight Einhorn: we’re thinking of you. It won’t be long.

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And they stood
all the way!?

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Oh, I’m so proud. They grow up so quickly these days, don’t they 😁

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A Little Bit Different

Melton Mowbray: Sunday 30 July 2017

13:19. A. week has passed. A life has been honoured.

The bikes remain in the garage.

The funeral was on Thursday. Short, sweet and fitting. Memories were shared. Grief was shared. Love was shared. Bread was broken. Life was celebrated. Laughter was raised.

Life moves on.

Life continues.

The bikes came out again yesterday. Pannierless, we wrestled nothing – wobbling along the first 500 metres like a pair of drunks trying to disguise their tipsiness.

But, as the town became a village, and the village became a country lane, control and familiarity were regained, and it felt great to push the pedals round and round, pump some blood around the body, and clear the cobwebs gathering dust.

It had been less than a week since we arrived, already much hardened by our three weeks on the road, and it’s amazing how quickly you can soften up given a week of relative inactivity.

Can’t be sure when we’ll be back proper Tracing-Horizoning again, but we’re inching along the red-tape maze and it feels like the end is in sight. Don’t count your chickens an’ all that, and I already feel like I’ve cursed it, but, yes, I sense we’ll soon be back on the road and making our way Southward again – approaching from the North rather than the East, as originally thought a little over two weeks ago.

Since we set out on this whatever-it-is-we’re-doing, time has seemed so much bigger: minor moments filled with so much new that 24 hours can feel like a week, a month, a year, which is fantastic, and does make you pause for thought when you consider how repetitive a stationary day-to-day life can be if you allow it.

When travelling, I look at yesterday as if it came from another time. I guess we’re used to looking back at events and assuming there are blocks of mundaneness in between, unworthy of remarking or reflecting on – though maybe we should reflect more on why those unremarkable days exist and whether we want more or fewer of them.

Again, despite being stationary for a week now, last Sunday feels so far away: a week full of things not for the action movie silver screen, but the stuff of poetry and verse. A period full of empty: being touched by things I can’t identify or recognise, but that trigger all kinds of responses and reactions.

It’s grief, it’s love – it’s life, in one of those raw moments when you feel and recognise it for what it is; and that is as valuable as hanging off a suspension bridge by your teeth on a fraying elastic-band, or something.

And now it’s time for the life of those living in the human form to move forward.

But again…
…a little bit different.

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