Monday, 10 June 2013

One Last Thing

After last year's ride to Turkey, when I had had enough rest and celebration and finally decided to fly home with the bike, I asked the young man, Ali, at the bike shop in Calis - next to PJ's - if he could give me a box. He did better than that. He packed the bike in the box for me. I watched him and it didn't seem too difficult. So, on Wednesday evening I set about packing my bike for the flight to Geneva which I was still sort of intending to do. It took me ages, about an hour, but I managed it. There was a bit of room for packing in the form of a sleeping bag and mat and that would have saved some space in the bags. I then did some more route planning and actually booked a couple of hotels along the way.

Thursday morning, decision day, came and it was obvious to me that Plan B would be a non-starter. I just didn't feel up to it. Something wasn't right, whether it was physical or mental or a combination of both I knew I wouldn't be going out there again. So the bike came out of the box and I cancelled the hotel reservations. I was just about fit enough for the Thursday night real ale session. I hadn't had a drink for more than a week, unheard of for me, and made my way to the Anvil, happy to be back but feeling like I should be somewhere else. I was telling Nigel the tale and he remarked straight away that I didn't look like I was 100%. That made me feel a bit better - like I wasn't pretending - but I will always feel that if I had stayed a bit longer I might have recovered enough to continue. Every day I think about where I would have been if I had kept on going. I would have just reached Italy today - see what I mean.

So that is the end of my overseas adventure for this year. As far as domestic cycling is concerned, there is the Manchester to Blackpool ride in July and in September the Manchester 100 to look forward to. I haven't been on a bike since I returned home but I'm sure I will get my appetite back before long.

One last thing. Although I haven't anywhere near completed my intended challenge, any donations will be very much appreciated. These can be made into the account detailed on the "Donate" page. I will feel so much better if the little effort that I did manage can raise some funds and awareness for these very deserving causes, Joining Jack and Joseph's Goal. They shouldn't suffer because I couldn't see it through. They shouldn't suffer - full stop.  

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tea and Sympathy

Well, lots of tea anyway. There was a lot of confusion among family members because I don't normally do the sensible thing. After sleeping all of Sunday morning I was afraid to eat too much in the afternoon - just tea and toast all day, although I was very hungry and risked a boiled egg for supper. I then managed to bring the blog up to date, basically to let those who were interested know what was going on.

On Monday I was on the well worn path to Manchester airport to drop off the BYW yet again. The plan was for me to meet over there towards the end of this month but it doesn't, or didn't, look like happening. As Monday wore on - Mondays do wear on, don't they? - I gradually began to feel better and ate quite normally. Tuesday I was better again and today, Wednesday, I have been sufficiently inspired to look at flights to European destinations. I found an Easyjet flight to Geneva on Friday afternoon for a decent price. This persuaded me to research an amended route through Italy and Greece with options for accommodation and I then called at Halfords where a pleasant young man gave me a cardboard bike box, the type bikes are delivered to shops in. (Only real "bike" people will understand this).

The provisional plan is to get the bike in the box and fly to Geneva and make my way, as previously planned, to Athens. I will see how I feel tomorrow and will decide then whether to try again. Everything is in place.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Stage 4 - Orphin to Etampes. 1 Jun 2013

I felt a bit or bits of cramp as I lay in the sleeping bag at night and I had to get up and massage my legs, calves and toes for quite a while before I could settle properly. The cramps were signs of dehydration so I had a big drink of water which had the added benefit of preventing me staying in bed too long in the morning. That must have done the trick although I could never say I slept well. I must have had about 20 sleeps each of half hour duration and eventually emerged from the tent in the morning feeling a bit fuzzy. I wanted to get going as soon as I could so I didn't bother with breakfast. I didn't need an angry farmer giving me grief. I wasn't in the mood at all. I packed up the camp and set off under virtually cloud-free skies. It was pleasantly warm and there was little or no breeze.

I passed through Sonchamp and countless other little rural villages, St this and St that, and arrived at the town of Dourdan at about 1030. I was feeling weak and needed fuel so I stopped and had some breakfast on a bench just outside of the town. The going was tough for the next hour or so which was a shame. I rode down very quiet lanes through some beautiful wooded areas. The scenery and countryside were amazing but I couldn't enjoy it. I was struggling and my twisted logic convinced me that I hadn't eaten enough. I bought some sandwiches and orange juice from the Carrefour just before Etampes and found a nice quiet park near the centre of the town. I ate the sandwiches but felt something wasn't right so I decided to just sit there until I felt better. I passed a bit of the time writing up notes of the previous days progress until about twenty minutes after eating I was, let's just say, quite ill. I had unwittingly got rid of all of the day's intake of fuel and probably a bit of yesterday's too.

I sat there feeling sorry for myself and considered the options. I certainly didn't want to continue that day. I could find a hotel there in Etampes and rest for a day or two and see how it went. It would be unwise for me to eat again that day and I probably wouldn't really be capable of doing a decent ride for a day or so after I felt straight. I looked at two hotels and they were 75 and 80 euros per night. I could maybe take a train to a town further along my route and rest there for a couple of days but there was no guarantee I would be feeling better even after that time and also I would be further from home. I then heard a train slowing down and realised the station was quite close. That swung it. I made the short ride and checked at the station and found there was a service to Paris. From there the Eurostar to London or a flight to Manchester were the options. A flight would require packing the bike in a box so the train was favourite.

I took the train to Austerlitz station in Paris and rode to Gare Du Nord. It was surreal riding my bike through such a busy cosmopolitan city, across the Seine and past the Bastille Monument and through the Place de la Republique, after the quietness of where I had been earlier that day. Apart from anything else, there was a big Rugby Union match on and hundreds of supporters with flags and banners and tooty tooty things.

I asked at the station and found that the Eurostar to London would cost 279 euros - there was only first class available - and I was prepared to pay it. I mentioned the bike and the girl disappeared. She returned and told me I would have to put my bike in a box. I felt like putting her in a box but instead I went outside and asked a few people on bikes if there was a bike shop nearby. Nobody knew of one. My remaining phone battery was quite low so I had sent messages home requesting details of flights and trains. I couldn't check on my own phone. There was a cheapish flight to Liverpool the next day from Charles De Gaulle which became an option but the box would still be needed. I thought about staying in Paris and asked at a few hotels but they were all full, probably because of the rugby Union game. Then the skies darkened and rain began to fall. I made my way back to Gare du Nord and saw Calais on the destination board. Voila! I bought the ticket at an automatic machine, with a cheeky 25% senior discount, and set off for Calais at about 4.15pm with changes at Amiens and Boulogne. The changes were a bit awkward with a bike and bags on and off. The journey took four and a half hours and I slept most of the way.

I rode, thankfully, downhill from the station at Calais and managed to get my ferry ticket at the Terminal for the 11pm crossing and was first on the ferry before all of the cars. As I sat down I received a message from home that there would be a train from Dover at 7am next morning to Manchester with three changes. In one of the lounges I watched the end of the big French Rugby game and fell asleep again. I had an idea about offering money to any lorry driver who was going up north. Near me was a French chap and I gestured for him to look after my bags while I went and asked in the Trucker's Lounge. I couldn't go through with it so went back to my seat. The French chap then gestured to me to look after his bag and I nodded. When he returned he was puffing and panting and sighing and trying to get comfortable. I asked him if he was driving in England. He said "Yes, Liverpool." I was amazed at the coincidence and obviously asked if he could help me out. He said he only had a small car but he would give me a lift if the bike could fit in. He then said " I hope yer don't mind me driving fast. I wanna get there quick ter see me kids". When the boat docked at Dover we were the first ones down and we somehow squeezed the bike into his Citroen 206.

The boat landed at Dover at 11.30pm English time and Eric, the French Scouser, dropped me off on the East Lancs Rd near Kirkby at about 3.45am and I gave him a decent chunk towards the petrol. Young Tom came and picked me up and I was in bed fast asleep at 4.30. I woke about 1pm this afternoon feeling a bit better and I have improved sufficiently throughout the day to allow me complete the story, a little earlier than I would have liked.....or is it?

Stage 3 - Brionne to Orphin. 31 May 2013

I was quite tired so I decided not to go out for a meal and a few drinks in Brionne. I therefore saved a bit of money which was just as well because the "hotel" was more than I would have wanted to pay and my vague daily budget wasn't too badly hit. I had Weetabix and banana for tea, updated the blog and turned in.

In the morning I asked if breakfast was included and was not surprised to find it wasn't. I had more Weetabix and bananas and left the Auberge de Vieux DonJon with few words. After I had paid the chap put his card in my hand and I had great delight in placing it back on his table.

Early progress was good along the valley of the river Risle until I had to turn away from the river and was met by a wall of tarmac. There were a few hairpins like on proper cycling and I managed it at the usual (just above) walking pace. At the top I turned onto the D613 signposted to Evreux, yesterday's target destination. The beauty of this was that I wouldn't have to check maps for a couple of hours and could just crack on. It was a busy straight road and mainly flat, murder if it was windy and... you guessed it... it wasn't.

I made it to Evreux in about two hours and easily negotiated  my way through the town to head for Dreux. I wasn't feeling brilliant and decided to stop after Dreux wherever I could find a decent hotel or a campsite. Nogent was a decent sized town and I asked at a Tabac which is like a little pub/betting shop. I was directed to Coulombs which wasn't far away although the hotel was up a short  and very steep hill which I didn't need. A single room was 80 euros which was too much so I set off down the hill back towards the next town. A car was heading towards me with his lights on, and then another one and then I realised I was on the wrong side of the road - a bad sign.

The next town was Epernon and there was a hotel advertised on the outside of town. I rang them and found that a single room was 85 euros. I saw a sign for the railway station and figured there is normally a hotel nearby. I asked a chap at a pub near the station and he said the hotel I had rung was the only one. He said there would be decent priced hotels at Rambouillet which was the next stop up the line on the way to Paris. I was pretty tired and fed up and the prospect of Paris - London - Wigan flashed through my mind for a second. I plugged on through a couple more tiny villages, probably further than I should, until, enough was enough and I found a little wood off the road past Orphin where I set up camp out of sight of the main road. I had cereal again for tea and turned in at about 8.30.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Stage 2 - Le Havre to Brionne. 30 May 2013

First Real Day

So much for "getting settled" on the boat. I sat in the terminal until 10 o'clock when I was told I had to embark and then proceeded to stand in the car park for an hour with all the motorcyclists. They were good fun but the high-viz guys were painfully slow getting the boat loaded and it didn't leave till nearly 12 o'clock midnight.

I had a seat booked in a little quiet room with about twenty places. I was really tired so I didn't even walk around the boat. The seat reclined but not enough so I unrolled my sleeping bag and mat and kipped on the floor. I couldn't get comfortable and didn't sleep particularly well. I was awoken an hour earlier than I had expected by an announcement to "get to your vehicle" so I must have dropped off OK. I grabbed my clothes bag and toiletries bag and took a chance that the toilet would be free. The assembly area outside of the room was full of people who had been ready for ages just dying to queue up. I wandered through them in my vest and (long) pants and found the bog was empty. I did what I had to do and then got ready and was soon on the deck loading the bike for the day.

I got out of Le Havre reasonably well. It is quite a big place and it was really busy being morning rush hour and with the ferry traffic as well. I rolled along the footpath slowly early on in the same direction as all of the ferry traffic. The signs in the town were good although the skies weren't. Later on there were choices to be made and I had to keep stopping to look at the map. There were no road names just occasional numbers which scuppered me a bit. My planning was generally the names of the roads so you live and learn. The heavens opened and I was in the middle of nowhere so I couldn't shelter and got soaked. I waited in the first available bus shelter and had a bit to eat. The rain eased and I set off. I was wet anyway and felt I needed to make progress. There was a decision to make at nearly every junction and I got a couple wrong but there were a lot of options and I wasn't particularly worried. I knew where I was going - just not going the quickest way. I bought some water - flavoured mmmm- and bananas at a Carrefour and got on a decent stretch of road where I knew where I was going so I made decent progress for a while, although it was raining steadily and not pleasant at all.

I was feeling a bit tired and there were early signs of saddlesoreness. The day's destination, Evreux, was still a long way off so I had a decision to make. Get stuck in and get there or stop somewhere else like Brionne. There was also an option to stop at Brionne for some food and rest for an hour and then finish the job. There would be enough light. There were further complications because two of the three phone batteries were flat and the laptop was on its last legs. As I slogged up a hill the decision was to stop at Brionne but then on the downward slope it was carry on to Evreux.

Brionne won. I'm in a hotel which is just about acceptable but my host can't or won't speak English and it is too expensive. After settling in I had trouble getting the wifi (French call it weefee) going. There was nobody about when I looked around. Later I rang "reception" and it must have transferred to yon mon's mobile. He said he would sort it tomorrow. I said it was very important, me being an eminent author with thousands, OK hundreds, let's say 5 or 6, hanging on my every word. He paused and said "5 minutes" in excellent English. Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and a there stood a tiny, about 4ft tall, and extremely thin young lady with a similarly thin but 6ft plus young man. They tried all the usual things I had tried and the girl tried to attach to the wifi on her own phone without success. I then suggested the obvious, i.e., "reset" or "recharge". The young man disappeared and before he came back "voila!" I always wanted to say that in real life. So, old Tom out-geeked the French geeks. I've done some washing and sorted the electronics out. I need to organise tomorrow's route (without using road names) and will probably then have an early night. I may be camping for the next couple of nights so may not have internet access. I will keep notes and will update the blog when I can.