The last few days of a 3,409 km round trip.
It would be unbecoming of me to make cheap comments about German racial stereotypes and so I won’t go there. This is an anecdote about me not the Germans. It just so happened that I had these experiences in the one and only German campsite I stayed in. I camped in a small village on the outskirts of Saarlouis called Siersburg. I had rung the campsite to ensure they were open for business, the Frau Inhaber had marginally better English than I have German and confirmed that the campsite was open and had vacancies. I arrived to be faced by a 2 metre steel fence and locked gates. I could find no way in. Eventually I phoned Frau Inhaber who could not understand my problem, she eventually said I must take the drive next to the gates to her in reception, in a tone that felt like ‘dummes Englisch’. I tried to make light of the situation but she was having none of it. While waiting for her to deal with the people in front of me I found an ice-cream cabinet and picked out an ice lolly. That drew a response, ‘we don’t do self-service’. When I got to the counter I asked if I had been told off. I got no response that time. After paying my Euros and having been told a list of rules (lots of campsites welcome their guests with lists of things you can or cannot do) Frau Inhaber said I must have one of these, as she thrust a shower token in my hand. Not the best welcome I had had.
Next day was a ride to Luxemburg City. I had adjusted my route to reduce the number of hills I had to climb on my travel app Komoot using my tablet. The next morning I discovered that I did not have enough data to update the route on the phone. The first task was to find a way to attach the tablet to the handlebars so I could make a start. Eventually I got a decent signal and was able to go back to using the phone. Even with the changes to the route the 70 km journey still had lots of ups. I was very tired when I landed in Luxembourg CIty and resolved to have a day off, booking two nights in the Parc Belle Vue hotel. I am so glad I did.
Health matters, contact point C: Devotees of this blog will be concerned about my big toenails after I allowed them to be crushed in ill fitting shoes and pedal straps. The update is that my right purple toenail has gone, to replaced by a pink immature nail from underneath. No soreness or pain, it just ‘came off in me ‘and gov, ‘onest’. The left is still very purple. For pics of my damaged toe use this link. The toe problem was solved in Ventimiglia after I bought a 50€ pair of Italian designed and built black trainers, fastened with valcro. Not only were they very comfortable, they were stylish too. They did the job well, unfortunately the sole fell off one and they are now in the bin!
I had a very enjoyable time in Luxembourg City. It is a good looking place built as it is on a large tree filled gorge that devides the city in two. The old centre is traffic free and the streets are filled with eating, entertainment and people at leisure. This is a place to return to and give more time to on our return trip. I took the opportunity to review the remainder of my route home and set myself a target to be home by Monday 17th July. A tight timetable with no room for other delays or days off.
Tuesday and I am back in the saddle after a hearty hotel breakfast and a kindly donated lunch. My 100 km ride took me out of Luxembourg, through a bit of Belgium and back into France. The ride finished in a little town called Sedan. I got there early and spent the afternoon looking for a place to eat. Sedan seemed a poor, neglected area and had only one very meaty eating place. It did have two Friterie’s, I chose Jacqueline’s. She provided me with a huge tray of fries and an obscenely large dollop of mayonnaise. I scoffed the lot and didn’t sleep very well that night. The campsite was tastefully decorated to be in keeping with the town:
Health Matters, contact point A: I have to admit to being a bit blase about my hands, which hadn’t caused me problems until the last week. So much so I didn’t bother to replace my cycling gloves after losing one somewhere in France. I think I was particularly upset as I had spent time the previous evening carefully sewing up a seam, and then it was gone. A bit of me thought they were a cycling fashion accessory rather than an essential item. That is until a tough day’s riding left me unable to open either hand the next morning and unable to find a position where they didn’t hurt during the next day’s ride. I bought another pair as soon as I could. The issue was resolved as soon as I put them on. Cycling gloves are essential.
A handsome amount of kilometres covered on route to Maubeuge (123 km to be precise). Although the day started in heavy rain and at one point I ended up on the N10, a very fast dual carriageway. I felt very vulnerable and had to adjust my route, which is much harder to do in the rain. I was able to take refuge in a small village café at one point which helped me get back on track; and I was charged 8€ for two cups of instant coffee and a piece of toast! I camped in a holiday camp that evening. My meal of pizza, chips and a big salad was accompanied by a magician entertaining an enthusiastic crowd. Fortunately I had inadvertently positioned myself so I couldn’t see him. I have a notion I didn’t miss much.
Next stop was a campsite a few kilometres south of Lille. The ride started so well. The route took me along the working canals of Nimy Blaton and Nimy Peronnes, then it all goes wrong. The route took me over a cycle/pedestrian bridge which proved very hard to negotiate with panniers and Bob.
At one point I managed to drop the bike and snap one of the struts on my bike rack. This is pretty fundamental and when I discovered it my mind began to race; what to do? I asked myself if a local workshop could carry out a repair; how near is the nearest bike shop (Google told me 45 km away in Lille); can I get a taxi to somewhere where I can get help? As it happens this time I sat down and stopped to think. The most important question seemed to be what is the extent of the damage? Off came Bob and both panniers and it was apparent that although the strut had snapped it seemed content to rest on a bit of the bike frame and only needed to be held in place. I found I could do this with three cable ties. The lesson from this episode? Sit down and think things through. The repair was thoroughly tested as my route took me off road on stony tracks through the Belgium countryside, and it held well.
You would have thought that was enough problem solving for one day. Oh no. I got to Lille and found a bike shop who replaced my bike rack for me. While waiting I idly surfed the net and used up battery on the phone. It didn’t last the 10 km I had to do to get to the campsite. Once gone I had no way of finding my finish point. What to do? I put the phone on my battery pack to recharge and I walked to a hotel nearby to ask directions. I was given a visitors guide but it didn’t help. The phone didn’t charge so I wandered around changing my mind; should I find the campsite, should I find tourist information, or should I find a local hotel. Still the phone didn’t charge. After several changes of mind I found a cheap and basic travel lodge type hotel for the night. I had not learned my own lesson. Had I sat down and thought things through I would have realised I had not switched the battery pack on to enable it to charge. When will I learn?
Countries without borders: There is something very modern, civilised and reassuring to be able to cross boarders without boarder guards, long queues, and passports between countries that were at war with each other only seventy years ago. The contrast with fortress Britain at Dover is stark.
I had a great ride the next day from Lille to Calais. I made such good progress that at lunchtime I changed the route to take me to the ferry and Dover. On the ferry I found a Back Packers hostel very close to the port for only 18€ bed and breakfast, I booked a place on line. It turned out to be a business based around an old pub (that sold Old Speckled Hen) and the proprietor, an old Italian guy who used to work on the ferries, cooked me a delicious pasta dish. It turned into a great night. It was lovely to be back in ‘old blighty’.
I chose the most direct route from Dover to Cheltenham through central London. It proved to be a long tough ride to the campsite in Abbey Wood SW3. It was very hilly, a lot was off road and even more that took me in cycle tracks alongside a very fast, busy and noisy A2. That would have mattered less had Kent County Council not put traps at the ends of their cycle tracks that made it a real struggle to get the bike and Bob through. I got to Abbey Wood by about 4pm, put up the tent, and went for some traditional English nosh provided by Raj at the Taj. It was a great curry.
The route to Noke (near Oxford) was fabulous. It included an early morning ride through London
along cycle tracks and river and canal paths, forest tracks, the Phoenix Trail and an increasingly familiar terrain. I got to my parents home at Noke by 2.30, in time for some of my mother’s asparagus soup and an emotional reunion with Kath. I had a lovely evening meal with close family before setting off for the last leg; Noke to Cheltenham through the beautiful Cotswolds. As Kath is still unable to drive my best mate Chrisman! gave her a lift home. He also took Bob and most of my kit in the car. I felt liberated for that ride. It was the turn onto very familiar roads at Brockhampton when I fully appreciated I was near journey’s end. Back home for lunch, a cool beer and a long afternoon sleep, the two of us in the sunshine of our back garden.
The new me – so what have I learned from this fantastic experience?:
- I have learned the importance of having decent cycling gloves, shorts and shoes on long rides.
- I have learned how important that Katharine woman is to me, she is my companion, my emotional support, my stabiliser, my conscience, the source of my strength and resolve, she is my very best friend and being without her has bought home how much I love her.
- I have learned that when cycling with a trailer I need a post in order to be able to perform an outside pee. Now if that is a bit of a puzzle to you, you have misunderstood. The post is to lean the bike against, not to pee on.
- I have learned that it is possible to break through that itchy phase when growing a beard.
- I have learned that problems can fly at me from left of field and take me completely by surprise; could anyone have anticipated leaving Bob on the railway station platform, not once but twice? Then there was the time when an excellent day’s riding turned into a major headache after the phone suddenly decide to empty it’s battery in Lille, and stubbornly refused to recharge making it impossible to find the campsite, even with the aid of an inadequate tourist street plan, forcing a night in a hotel? Or the time I dropped the bike negotiating a foot/bike bridge over a canal and breaking the strut of my bike rack holding the panniers in position? Or losing a pannier with all papers and money inside? It all helps to keep me focussed and stops me from getting bored (although I would have preferred not to have worried about such matters)?
- I have learned that I have a higher degree of determination and resolve than I had anticipated.
- I have learned not to need to have milk in my tea and coffee and that I can go a long way on a bag of mixed nuts and raisins.
Over and out: Well this is it. The journey is comp!ete. Kath tells me that she is pleased to have me home again after a six week separation, and I believe her. The pins have been removed from her wrist and the plaster has gone. Her hand is swollen and uncomfortable, she has limited use of her fingers and lots of exercises from our physiotherapy department. She is lacking confidence, worrying about another fall but she is on the mend. We are hopeful she will be good and ready to do the tour again at the beginning of August, this time by car. This will be an intimate and private holiday – not the subject of a blog, that will have to wait for our next adventure.
I am feeling fit and well and very satisfied with what, under the circumstances, we have achieved this summer. I can confirm that I lost a stone and 4lbs in weight in the last nine weeks, less than previously reported, and apparently I look like Chuck Nolan from Cast Away with my new slim look and beard. I can’t see it myself, although I don’t always recognise the old bloke looking back at me from the mirror!
Before I finish I want to say a big big thank you to all of you who commented on the blog or kept in touch in other ways. Your support has been immensely helpful to me.
Thank you and over and out. Dx
For more pics use this link.