We’ve finally stopped talking about it and set off on our bikes! Our departure was smoother than expected, although a little nerve wracking- cycling with a fully loaded bike is a completely different experience to normal riding as the weight on the front makes it more difficult to balance. For a minute I didn’t expect to make it down the road without wobbling off. Joe’s parents were around to wave us off, and made this video of our shaky start:
Thankfully we got used to it after a few miles. The first day cycling to Newhaven was surreal- it just felt like one of our normal London to Brighton rides. It felt a bit more real on the ferry to Dieppe the next morning. The first few days in France have unfortunately been accompanied by torrential rain for the most part- not the luckiest of starts. It’s ok though as it meant we could test out our waterproof gear early on and a stop in Amiens meant we could buy anything that we’d overlooked (or lost already, in the case of Joe’s helmet, which he left in the campsite office on the first night in England)! It does mean we haven’t been able to fully appreciate the French countryside though as it’s been so rainy.
The first week has been all about getting used to our new routine- (the bikes, the tent etc) and learning to plan properly. The Somme valley is surprisingly sparse when it comes to handy village shops, so we’ve learnt to stock up on food and never assume that we’ll cycle past a well placed boulangerie around lunch time! I have quickly learnt that Joe needs to eat around three times the amount of a normal person whilst cycling, and failing to keep him sufficiently fed results in him cycling sadly like a snail. Now whenever I look over at him he’s usually devouring a pain aux chocolat.
We’ve already been attracting a lot of curious attention (I suppose as our bikes look so strange). We stopped for lunch one afternoon and when we returned to them we found them surrounded by a gaggle of French pensioners who bombarded us with questions about where we were going and why on earth were we cycling all the way?! I suppose we must look quite odd in all our gear too. (Most of the cycling clothes Joe bought for the trip are bright blue- he peels off one bright blue layer to reveal another. He even bought himself a shiny new bright blue helmet to match). A lot of people seem to want to help us out though when we explain what we’re doing, giving us tips on which roads to take and where to stay etc. A very lovely lady even gave us some delicious free crepes today when we stopped at her creperie to use the wifi and have a snack.
Last night we stayed on a farm just outside of Avesnes sur-Helpe near the Belgian border, using warmshowers.com for the first time (hopefully the first of many- we’ve found camping to be expensive in France, and expect the same thing in the next few countries so will have to wild camp as much as possible and arrange hosts every few days until things get cheaper). It’s a brilliant online community of cycle tourers who basically welcome you into their homes if you’re passing through their area and give you a place to sleep and shower.
We had no idea what to expect, thinking it would most likely be a place to put up the tent in the barn and a shower, but we were completely blown away by the friendliness and generosity of our host Samuel and his family. They chatted to us pretty much all evening, cooked an amazing meal (with everything we were eating grown on their farm and even home made cider to wash it down) and gave us a bed to sleep in (the best sleep I’ve had in a week)! They apparently host travellers all the time like this, despite working tirelessly six days a week on their farm and at the market selling their produce. But it just seems to be a way of life. Poor Joe had to do pretty much all the talking as they only spoke French so he was pretty mentally wiped out by the end of the night. It was great practise for me though, following most of it as best I could and interjecting with very slow questions when I was sure I knew for definite what was being said!
Now we’ve just crossed the Belgian border and it’s already extremely hilly!
Having the best sandwiches of our lives in Chimay and preparing for a few days of adventure into the unknown.
Taking one last look at the sea from the north coast of France
Our mechanical knowledge is already put to the test.
Mr Blue at snack time.