A very French epilogue

Almost three months have passed since returning from the cycle adventure of a lifetime, riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from the Mexican border to Canada, but with quickly reentering a world of deadlines and a much extended 9-5 way of life, the experience continues to only really sink in now. So time and thought-consuming was the shift from the wilderness to the office desk that one stunning last trip prior to this, actually never made its way onto the blog. Today this must change.

So we returned back from Calgary almost two weeks earlier than planned. We never really knew how long the 2500+ miles would take us but had thought to stay in Canada for a holiday (an actual holiday) should we get there early. Well, very differently to how we imagined it, the weather forecast for the Banff/Lake Louise area was dreadful, cool and heavy rain for a solid week and accommodation was shockingly expensive (and that’s not just in comparison to New Mexican road side motels). That was it, flights changed and back home we went.

The only issue was that I had already promised a very close friend of mine, her boyfriend and two of their mates, to be able stay in our cottage in Glynde. ‘Absolutely, totally not a problem, don’t worry – we’ll work something out’ was our initial message to them. After six weeks of not even knowing where we’d end up sleeping each night, a crowded house still seemed like a luxury.

But then we thought ‘hang on a minute’, when will be the next opportunity to get time off to ride our bikes together for more than just a weekend? ‘Probably not before the end of the year.’

Living just up the road from the port in Newhaven (with a ferry service to Dieppe, France, twice a day) our decision was made – a weeklong road (bike) trip to France and back. ‘What’s left in those legs?’

Perhaps the biggest difference to riding the Divide, apart from the change of bike type (and hence terrain), language, sea views, abundance of amazing food and allowing ourselves a ‘credit card touring’ rather than bike packing approach, was not actually having a real plan. We were hoping to cover a few hundred miles, spend some time by the sea and sample pretty much everything French patisseries have got to offer but that was about it. We were excited for that sense of freedom.

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In terms of kit, we were positively surprised just how many of our bags and packs actually transferred onto our road bikes. My Blackburn Outpost Handlebar roll, just about fitted between my bars (albeit with a different, much smaller dry bag and I had to fiddle with the position so it wasn’t in the way of moving my gear shifters); my Outpost Seatpack and Top Tube Bag fitted without any issues. Rich used the frame bag he carried our tent in during the GDMR for clothing and had a simple dry bag set up in between his handle bars for other essentials.

We took the evening ferry, leaving Newhaven at 11pm, with the idea to get a few hours of sleep on the boat and to start riding into the day straight off the ferry. This was such a romantic thought. However, the reality was a bit more uncomfortable, as of course, we didn’t get any sleep. Wedged on the floor, between the cafe tables and chairs, with just a thin blanket, neon lights and crappy music coming from the slot machines which were left on all night. Surely, a reminder for all those ‘cheap’ folk like us to better book a cabin with our tickets next time.

Still, spirits were high for our 5.30am start and we headed inland in a south-westerly direction. The bikes and position took a few miles to get used to after riding on MTBs all summer but god, did they feel light! By lunch we must have covered about 80 miles and that’s when tiredness really started to creep in. Unfortunately I’m terrible without sleep (probably the biggest boundary for me to ever try self-supported endurance racing) and at one point I had to lie down on a bus stop bench for 20 minutes in order not to fall asleep while actually riding my bike. I blame the jet lag also!

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We quickly reminded ourselves that we don’t have to get anywhere in particular and instead found a gorgeous-looking converted stable/B&B online which was only about 30 miles away somewhere near Camembert. Some quick small-talk to the owners in my poor French (mainly evolving around ‘nous sommes très fatigues’ and ‘nous prenons le petit déjeuner a 8 huit heure si possible, s’il vous plait’) and asleep we were for over 10 hours!

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With refilled tanks we decided to head back up towards the coast the following morning towards Mont Saint Michel. Another century later and our spot for the night was L’Hotel de France in Pontorson just 12 miles shy of Mont Saint Michel.

The next morning we took it really easy, ditched the Lycra and only rode just over 33 miles along the coast, much of it actually following this year’s Tour de France route, with the iconic yellow, green, white and polka dot colours as a constant, very welcome reminder along the way.

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Mont Saint Michel was amazing to see, albeit not reachable by bike (this is now being restricted and guarded by police, due to bus traffic and a very narrow road/bridge and footpath only leading to the castle). Never mind, we locked up the bikes and walked over. After six weeks in the wilderness I can definitely say that the amount of people made me feel slightly uncomfortable but it naturally made for a fabulous people watching spot, most amusingly people wading through the low-tide mud surrounding the monument, which is meant to have medicinal benefits.

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That evening we ended up in the coastal town of Granville which was of particular interest as it offers a ferry day trip to a magical little island group called Chausey (part of the Channel Islands). There was no point taking the bikes with no roads or proper paths on the island but the weather was beautiful and perfect for a swim. What a stunning place!

The next day, the route back to the (UK-bound) ferry for the last two days was decided by a lovely text I received from an old friend who’d seen my post on social media and turned out to be holidaying/staying just 80 miles away in Boulon, near Caen with her young family. Lisa, Emma and families, if you read this, it was fantastic to see you, thanks for the coffee and cake!

While we were welcome to stay in Boulon, we instead carried on to a slightly grim but cheap (by this time we were well and truly running out of money) hotel in Caen just to cut down the milage for the final day.

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And a 103 miles it was to reach the ferry before 5pm. While we knew this was perfectly possible, it did feel a little stressful and small things like Richard suffering a puncture about 20 miles in or having to check the route several times, didn’t help the pressure.

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But of course we made it, with enough time even to have a quick bite to eat in Dieppe and wondering how we’ve just added another 400+ miles in those past six days to what has already been an amazing summer of riding.

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We’ve certainly not sat still riding-wise since returning. Rich spending much time on his mountain bike in nearby Friston forest and riding ‘just for fun’ (as if it wasn’t all fun!?), I rode from the south coast to Manchester over two days a few weeks back and try and keep my 30 mile commute up at least once or twice a week.

Let’s see which exciting weekend trips, be it on road/cross bikes or MTBs, we can squeeze in before the end of the year and there’s always time to daydream and to start planning the next big adventure, right!?

2 Comments

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  1. The first picture is fitting !… it’s a “Paris-Brest” pastry. Invented a while back, made to look like a bike wheel, to commemorate the bike race of the same name. Delicious but very heavy, good for cycling I guess. Made me hungry !

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