On and Off

Île de Ré and Back [Part 3]: Sunday 20 August 2017

23:09

Camping
On the coast
Sky is beautiful
Sounds are beautiful

Moods are tetchy.

We’ve noticed, accurately or not, that the wind on this coast veers between two extremes: complete calm and gusty-muthafuck. Tranquility in the morning. Gusty-muthafuck from about sundown (until we-don’t-know-when).

We’ve decided to camp here.

The tent’s swelling in and out like it’s on an overamped ventilator. The noises from outside are impudent thieves belligerently flicking off Finkel and Einhorn’s covers, secure in the knowledge they’re more than enough for our flagging wills.

And we’re tetchy.

Not being able to get a good night’s sleep should help.

In this game, you have to be understanding at all times – and we are fine – but sometimes: one of you will want to go on; one of you may want to stop; one of you will have overlooked something; one of you will absent-mindedly break something.

Sometimes, shit happens.

Which is great for sensitising yourself to the foibles of others while synergetically becoming sensitive to your own – and accepting them all as part and parcel of it all.

We had a couple of incidences today. We rolled over the first, as you do, as just a symptom of two souls who had not had coffee yet. And we were more than ready to acknowledge and apologise when we were the ones at fault at further incidences along the way.

Which is great.

And this evening’s sourness while putting up the tent was probably nothing, too, but coming on top of the further adjusting to the realities of keeping these wheels rolling, could we be approaching times when the shine starts coming off and the negatives speak more loudly?

Now we are doing this
and discovering how we feel within it.
We still speak, act, move in the same way.
We both speak, act, move in our own ways.
How long will they remain?

~~~~~~~~~~

Oh, I don’t know. It’s just been an on-and-off day today. Sadly, it seems like much of the off is going to continue through the night, powered by this coastal wind.

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Pit-Stops

La Roche-sur-Yon to a Corn Field 12k beyond La Tranche-sur-Mer: Friday 18 August 2017

12:20. Another large E.Leclerc in La Roche-sur-Yon, to the South of the city this time, as that’s the direction we’re headed, but it’s still massive! Bit of a ridiculous size for us to do our shopping for the day, but it was exactly on the way, with little inspiring us to deviate – in this weather.

Pissing
it
Down

Temperature’s pleasant enough – 21º – so the bare minimum of layers is possible under the proving-ever-so-useful poncho, which will enable us to dry out more quickly when the rain does cease.

If

Our second point of call today will take us to La Tranche-sur-Mer, and a campsite there to meet a guy, Robert, who’s going to give me a hand with, and a second opinion on, tuning my front derailleur – thanks for putting us in touch, Sue.

I’ve been given a great step-by-step by the ever-supportive Rob from Rob’s Bikecenter, but it’ll be nice to have access to a stand and some more tools should I discover something unexpected.

It’s also a lovely ride to and along the coast there, and doesn’t add any k to our way, in terms of Bordeaux, so why the hell not make contact with another kindly soul?

And, from his last text, I get the impression the weather’s going to pick up.

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Your Own Voices

La Paulière Field to Le Riot du Plessis (Le Plessis Bergeret): Tuesday 15 August 2017

1125. Outside a supermarket on the edge of La Verrie. Have already decamped, rode to a boulangerie, breakfasted, aired, stretched in a park – and are ready to make our (hopefully) chilled way to a forest some ten kilometres shy of the city in which our rest-day hotel dwells.

Despite the overnight light rain and the upon-waking-up shower accompanied by a symphony of ominous clouds which got us up and decamped in 50 minutes yesterday, it was our first day in prolonged proper heat since we left Vienna and began our English odyssey – and I guess I was a little rusty at hydrating properly. I’ve got one of those thirsts today that can never quite be quenched, like when you’ve had one-too-many the previous evening. So, with midday and our serious riding of the day on the horizon, the clouds all broken up and wispy, 25º on the thermometer, the Sun beaming on me, and a sheen of sweat cooling the torso, I’ll have to keep an eye on that today.

1535. La Ferrier: not our destination, but pretty damn close and, personally speaking, also about the limit my body’d like to  go today – particularly my bum.

It’s been, I forget now, thirteen consecutive days on the saddle – and that hotel and that rest-day are looking pretty damn attractive right now.

Don’t get me wrong: loving the ride today, and much prefer camping to the alternatives, but sometimes your body, or something else, has got different priorities and, after only 190 minutes riding and about 47km covered, my body and bum are telling me: “Rest!”

Tonight is another night under canvas. Hope we are able to find a place in that forest we marked as our target for today. Hard to tell exactly what ‘forest’, ‘landuse’ or ‘meadow’ mean on maps.me, but we’ll see, and at some point needs just tell you: “Stop being fussy – and stop! Here’s perfect.”

So we will end up somewhere …
… and it will be just right 😀

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1710. A lake. Human-made or made for human? Don’t care: chilling. On our way to where we are going, passed it. “Shall we stop there and chill out by the water?” Yes. 40-ish minutes of horizontal immobility and eye-shuttage later, and I’m doodling.

We’ve been chilling.

Because all of what we’re doing is so pleasurable and so fulfilling, it may be seen as one long holiday; it isn’t; it’s work; and we also sometimes forget that, lost in our reveries or our silly conversations as move from here to here.

Enforced getting up and out there so early this morning has allowed us this time to just stop; we’ve done the bulk of our riding for the day (hopefully), and just have to get from here to tent-pitch time. That’s a time to chill, too, but it’s more a drifting towards total switch-off and sleep than just doing nothing, which is a significant, and only just now appreciated, difference.

Would be nice to camp here and though, with our experience of France’s nonchalance, tolerance and indulgence so far, I guess it’d be possible, we may feel just a little bit too exposed to foot-traffic at random times to be able to switch off completely for the big sleep … and, er, satisfy certain more solid bodily functions in the morning, though it’d be great to just wake up and be in our breakfast spot already, even though we’ve barely got enough food to see us through to sleep this evening. We only carry just enough to see us through until the next time we are able to restock on fuel and it must be holiday fortnight or whatever in this region at the moment, as most towns are like ghost ones: the roads are pleasantly devoid of serious traffic and an open shop or boulangerie or café is a bonus rather than a taken-for-granted.

It’s nice, again, to see that the French still respect the weekend, still respect general time off rather than selling it all out to the needs of that ‘all important economy’ thing that everyone talks about with such significance, but very few, if any, could actually define. And it doesn’t seem to be doing France any harm – at all! The standard of living is clearly high – and clearly higher than those countries with which I’m familiar that are slave to this economy thing. The quality of life is, well, incomparably higher again; from what I’ve seen, anyway. And they’re trying much more effectively to not let economic progress or development savage too much of their natural surroundings. That’s not to say some isn’t savaged, but not on the don’t-give-a-shit-scale as England or Poland.

And, returning to a theme which I’m feeling and noticing – France is just France: how it is. England always seems to be trying to be something, trying to define itself – why can’t it just be? It’d be happier if it did, and feel so much better, too, than when it’s trying to put on airs and graces, and be like something it’s seen elsewhere. It’s there elsewhere because it evolved elsewhere. You don’t become chic and cool by pretending to be someone else, you do it by throwing away your complexes; by being yourself, but not at the expense of others, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people being themselves, and I love them for that, but when I see areas, villages, or towns clearly trying to dress themselves up in a way French towns, villages or areas instinctively do, I now know why it always comes across as feeling contrived and somewhat oppressive within my home shores – because it was trying to impose something.

If you want to be influenced by something positive, please do – there can never be too much positivity, but be influenced by the spirit that brought it to be; don’t just copy, in the hope that imitation will bring the same results. It may appear to do so, but it’s heart will be missing – and that is from where life flows.

Of course, I am spending all or most of my time in the best of France, or what France can be – why would I spend my days following roads I found distasteful? – but the fact that such a spirit exists and lives and thrives means there is no reason why this positive should not be ubiquitous, at the expense of the negative; rather than vice versa as so much of our mediated worlds lead us to believe.

Live life. Celebrate life. That is all. It’s easy, it really is, but for some reason we think it’s complicated – and that others enjoying life is to be envied, to maybe fear, and therefore to be curtailed. It isn’t. Just join in, or follow your own heart and passion, and you’ll soon find that other’s lives will bother you less and less as, simultaneously, you become part of a greater world of lives lived. And it’s a beautiful thing, it really is. You only have to do it and not heed those doubting voices with their vested interests – because those voices are not your own.

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Perfectly Plotted

Alençon to Les Cassieres: Friday 11 August 2017

12:31. Alençon. 21ºC. Temperature’s shot up, the Sun’s out, and the clouds are scattered. Hopefully a nice day in prospect. Pissed it down during the night. Hopefully it pissed itself out and we’re not racing the same cloud that’s been around over the last three days.

We’ll see.

As long as we get to keep most things dry by the time we camp and decamp, it’s not much of an issue. Nice to be able to strip off the extra top and bottom layer upon exiting a finely functional Ibis hotel: nice spacious room, great shower, great breakfast selection, very friendly and helpful staff. A toilet-brush would’ve been nice – Ew! – and we could’ve done without one guest persistently trying to toast the inappropriately shaped baguette in the toaster, and subsequently failing on a number of occasions, allowing us and fellow guests to breakfast in the fine atmosphere of burnt toast. He got there in the end, by maybe the fourth attempt. By which time I think he had a point to prove, both to himself and us fellow guests.

And now our journey South continues. Very shortly we’ll be leaving Normandy, which has captured all our senses so very much – the attack of pleasure upon them all that it is. Will all of France continue to cast such a spell? People say, “no,” but experience will tell – and we are looking forward to it, so…

Today we head for Sillé-le-Guillaume – 36k, and toward the tiny tiny village of Les Cassieres, which is less a destination than a direction, as it lies just beyond a forest or wood in which we’ll hopefully make camp.

Away!

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“These are not unspoilt, unmanaged forests, but they are being managed very well, so the bits that are being, let’s say ‘unmanaged’ for the time being, or left to regrow, are left to their own devices, and look unspoilt, so, yeah, I’d say: ‘Very well managed.’ They seem to rip out carefully selected parts and use them for whatever, but then just leave the others to develop pretty much as maybe they have since time immemorial. Of course, there are the more familiar pine-tree forests, which, I would say, are not that native to these parts to be so ubiquitous, but there are still these really old-school looking forests, which are still pretty hostile and wild. So managed, yes, of course, but a balance appears to be being kept. It would seem France knows how to do these things.”

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15:40. Plop! The fish are feeding. The dragonfly are acrobaticking. The island spinney rests before us. France, you are yet to cease throwing up splendid surprises as we make our continuously merry way through you.

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A little bit more ascending than descending today, but none has felt at all unpleasant. The extended downhills have been great, and the vistas at almost every turn of the head are the love of life. After descending out of Mont-Saint-Jean – yes, we had to ascend to get into it first – and pausing for a wee drink and an apple, before making our way to and through Sillé de Guillaume, to stop somewhere for dinner, before, again, making our way towards Les Cassieres and bed, we climbed amongst some beautiful unspoilt-looking forest.

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“Giver of life”

As Agnieszka put it to herself (she thought)
as we rounded a corner.

A lake. Beautiful.

Benches, too!

“Dinner?”

Dinner!

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What a spot! I’d say: “What a find!’ but I now think that France has plotted all these things for us, on a special mission to leave us with a magical impression and destroy any negative preconceptions an indoctrinated English person may care to have. If it has done so to such cynical ends, I thank you, anyway. If it hasn’t, which, of course, I truly believe to be the case, then, “thank you, again.” It really is a pleasure getting to know you.

And, as we have exited Normandy and entered Pays-de-la-Loire, what else does this country have in store?

The nature and everything: nothing feels off limits. It’s like: it’s here, it’s there – enjoy it! Great, just great. That shouldn’t be the exception, as it is in many other places we have visited – and it isn’t here. Another reason to just be; and just be happy 😁

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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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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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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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