26 April 2012

France and Belgium Tour, day 4

The fourth, and last, day of our tour was meant to take us from Lens back to Dunkirk, where we would catch the ferry back to the island. It looked like a boring day on the map, going through pretty grim areas of northern France. But quite a few things happened.

We had ended up in a random hotel (appropriately named Lens-otel) on the outskirts of Lens. Bad planning the day before, together with some nasty weather and a late start, had found us going round in loops with nowhere to sleep. Although I would have fancied some more adventure, maybe even some wild camping, Lucy treated us to a comfy bed for the night. At 9 am we were back on our bikes, heading straight off out of town in search for the first boulangerie. The route we initially planned looked as below, although we diverted many times due to unpaved roads which were unsuitable for Lucy's skinny tyres.

Being a bank holiday Monday, we feared that not much would be open. But this was France with its fantastic boulangeries. We found the first one along the D937 road, a somewhat busy stretch of road, but with French drivers (that makes a huge difference compared to their British and/or Spanish counterparts!!!). Stocked up on food and carried on for a little while. Shortly afterwards we found an open-air market, where we took advantage of some of the free samples.

Monday market
We then carried on West, again along the D937, where we past various British cemeteries from WWI. Lucy informed me that they're not only Brits buried there, but soldiers from the commonwealth countries. Soon enough we were back in country lanes, where rain started and did not stop until pretty much back in London. With the cold and the rain we tried to keep up the speed a little so that we can get to the ferry port in good time. On one of the bends I nearly fell down due to a patch of grease or something very very slippery on the road. I was so glad I had thick tyres and a load of weight on my rear wheel. I timidly shouted "wooowww" to kind of let Lucy know that I almost fell over. But when I turned my head back I saw her falling in a split second. Her skinny 23 mm tyres did not have any grip on that, and so she had her first crash of the tour.

One of many British cemeteries

Somewhat reminded me of Arlington, in the US
Luckily we were travelling at low speed on this bend, and it was not too bad except some bruises. Not too far after this, a second incident struck. A French dog started chasing me. Not really knowing what to do I accelerated, but he kept up and threatened to bite. As I was about to kick him in the nose, he stopped. But then it was Lucy. She stopped when the doggy came up to her and got bitten. Again, luck was with us on the day, and the stupid dog could not bite past her three or four layers of lycra. That was a relief. We need to learn what to do when being chased by a dog, most definitely. After all this stress, we deserved a break in true audax style. Or even better, as we found shelter in a little chapel in the countryside.

Sheltering away from the rain and cold
The ride from here on followed quiet roads all the way into Dunkirk. Despite the rain and wind, I seemed to enjoy this section quite a lot. Lucy had to provide some help being in the front of our peloton, as with all the weight and the heavy bike, I could not travel very fast. Still, I felt that I was working quite hard, while she was just pedalling completely effortlessly. On this trip, the roles had been swapped around completely. I was being the slow one.

Our bikies in tour mode
The very last 20 km of our tour involved some strong winds and yet more heavy rain. We got soaked and cold, and had to stop once again for food. Another boulangerie did an ok job at providing more calories and some rest. From then on we worked hard against the wind to try and keep ourselves warm. As we headed to Dunkirk, the last bit we had the pleasure of a tailwind, which pushed us along all the way to the port. We made it back at 4:45 pm, although our ferry crossing was not due until 8 pm.

Although we did try to exchange our tickets for an earlier ferry, the staff were not especially friendly and informed us that it was not possible. Two Scots on a very fancy Honda Goldwing and a trailer had the same problem, so spent some time chatting to them. I also made a decision: when I am old and unable to cycle, I will get one of these Hondas. All those hours past relatively quickly with some French sausage that we had carried as "emergency fuel", together with some french baguette.

Drying out at Dunkirk port
Our ride was almost finished, but due to the rough conditions in the English channel, we also missed our fast train connection to London, and ended up on a very slow train which got us home at almost 2 am. More than 10 hours after we had arrived in Dunrkirk. It was not an ideal day on the bike, but looking back at it now, I think we did very well and am now looking forward to our next trip. Hopefully in the Scottish Highlands sometime soon. Also, my brand new Brooks saddle seems to be getting more comfortable day after day. Not sure if this is psychological or not, but after the first two days of painful saddle sores, I found it quite comfy past the 4-5 h mark!

On the ferry back to the UK
The stats for the trip:

- Overall km: 426 split into 111, 137, 70 and 109 km days
- We did not count the hours nor the other usual data, but at an average of 18 km/h we spent about 7 hours each day pedalling. 

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