France might be trying to break us…

We’ve made it to France, after cycling through Belgium and The Netherlands, and there are times when I’m cycling I couldn’t be happier.

France-riverside

The sun is shining, there is a slight breeze, the birds are tweeting and I’m drifting along, passing the beautiful rolling French countryside, yellow fields of oilseed rape, green forests and gently flowing rivers. The air feels clean. We have a picnic by the side of a river, the sun is warming me as I lie there taking it all in. It’s a perfect moment.

I hope this lasts forever.

Then in a matter of minutes this all changes. The ground opens up and the fiery pits of hell are there to welcome me. Quickly it becomes the most horrific experience I have ever had to endure. An eternity of suffering.

liedown-france

Our first few days in France were tough. Perhaps more mentally than physically.

The first night we planned to camp. After finding a nice site on the Internet we were good to go. It was a short cycle, so by lunchtime we should be have been set up, relaxing in the sun.

We made good time and arrived at said campsite. Only it wasn’t there. A brand new housing estate stood in its place. Ok, so clearly the campsite does not exist. Time for Plan B.

Plan B involved cycling to the nearest hotel another 10 miles away, which we find thanks to our handy GPS. Sadly we’ve discovered our GPS likes to underestimate the distance by roughly a third, we always add a few miles on, so as not to be disheartened.

Around mile 2 of this additional 10+ miles I start to experience all the joys of being a woman at that special time of month. I shall spare you the details, but right now I’m in pain and not happy.

Eventually we arrive at the hotel on the outskirts of beautiful industrial estate, next to and equally visually appealing motorway. I don’t care, there is a bed, shower and Wi-Fi. I’m firmly back in my happy place. We use our camping stove to whip a delightfully tasty meal of tuna and pasta sauce. I devour it in an instant.

france little chef

Lesson learned – let’s make plans

Having learnt from our initial mistake we spend a few hours making accommodation plans for the next day. We cross check our choice of camp site with several websites and even look on google maps hoping it’s up to date. It seems to be, we’re happy it exists.

We also plan another 2 nights of our journey, content with our choices we sleep soundly.

The majority of the next day I’m ecstatic. It’s truly beautiful and I feel so lucky to outside cycling my way through this stunning countryside, we are cycling through the Somme region. The flat lands of Belgium and The Netherlands are far behind and despite the testing hills I’m happy with the stunning change in scenery.

Now France is a little bit camping crazy. There are signs everywhere. So when your approaching your destination and you’ve not seen a sign, you start to worry.

Arriving at the destination we find yet another housing estate!

Slightly broken we stumble towards a shop and in our best French, which basically involves badly pronouncing words from a phrase book to a bemused shop assistant, to try to find some accommodation. Thankfully the shop assistant is able to speak a little bit of English to help us on our way.

She points us onwards to the next town just 4 miles away, where two hotels await us.

To our despair the first is closed and the second is full. Three accommodation strikes in one day, our luck is out. Rob is ever the optimist, but even this has dampened his spirits.

I start to think, ‘What the f**k am I doing?’ Most people go to a 5* resorts for their honeymoon, and I’m again without a place to stay for the night with very few options left.

After a moan, a snickers bar and a regroup we decide there is actually only one option. Find a field and covertly camp.

france cyclists

I was a little bit jealous of these guys on their tiny lightweight bikes

Unlike Scotland, wild camping in France is illegal so we are taking a bit of a risk. The Lonely Planet actually says you risk the wrath of a farmers shotgun if caught. We convince ourselves this is scaremongering, find a secluded wood and set us and Donkey up for a night of camping.

We cook tuna pasta (again) and settle in for the night. Only slightly jumping at every noise we hear in case it’s a disgruntled farner wanting us off his land.

This isn’t so bad, we are in a beautiful setting, close to nature. But our bad luck was not done with for the day. Settling into bed, I hear a noise pffffft noise. Nope, it’s not a trump from my beloved husband.

I ask him, “Rob does that sound like air escaping from somewhere?”

We’d bought two fancy pants inflatable sleeping mats. Lightweight but comfortable and they reflect your heat back, to keep you toasty warm. Amazing inventions.

Well, amazing when they work. The one I was laid on had a faulty valve and collapsed immediately. The cool of the floor leaking through, making me cold to the bone.

We spend the rest of the night squashed onto one of them. Which is less than half the size of a single bed. It isn’t a comfortable nights sleep.

France-wild-camping

We survive the night undetected by any trigger happy farmers and set off on our merry way in the early morning.

There are lots of hills in France and whilst I swear my way up them as my legs feel like they’ve been set on fire, coming down is bliss.

There is no greater part to my day then when Rob says the word, “Coast.”

We even hit a high of 29mph on a downhill that day.

WTF??!!

We come to a town and see lots of the lovely camping signs. It’s only lunchtime but as its a nice day and we’ve hit our daily target we decide to call it a day.

But it is a familiar story that awaits us. All three of them have closed down. WTF??!! Where have all the campsites gone?

Onwards to the next town. Where not a campsite or a hotel await us. Then the next town. Still nothing.

We continue riding. Our energy levels low and our spirits even lower. We cycle in silence.

Then a miracle! Out of nowhere I see the word motel!

Forgetting all the 10 words of French I know, I run in and ask if they have room. They are actually closed as it’s a holiday in France, but they take pity on us and let us have a room.

Never have two people been so happy to be in a room with a bed and a shower. A day without such luxuries made me so appreciative of them. Quickly we have gone from the depths of despair, to smiling like a buffoon at the sight of a kettle in a motel room!

We are back on top of the world, ready for whatever is thrown at us next.

Honestly every day is filled with these moments. I’ve never done anything that can change my emotions so quickly. There are many times a day I question our sanity for taking this on. Then there are many times a day I question why we didn’t do this sooner.

Oh, and just when you thought our bad luck had finished….

The next day ran without a hitch. Fate decided it was not ok with this, so the following day we broke Donkey (our tandem bike)….

14 Replies to “France might be trying to break us…”

  1. Great read as always. I can relate to the highs and lows in less than a second.
    We are currently travelling in Borneo with our 14 yr old son and he needs a pair of shoes for trekking. He is also very tall and consequently has very big feet. Malaysians have small feet. Nuffield said. I couldn’t believe I was in Borneo and was trapped in a shopping mall instead of enjoying the wildlife. We missed the bus to see the orang utans so it looked like more shopping was in my future. I was very cranky and dripping with sweat “Screw the budget, let’s take a taxi” I said. Minutes later we were on our way and saw three of the orange beasts once we got to the forest!!! A great day indeed
    Keep up the great job and keep the rubber side down!

    1. Thanks Liz.

      Sometimes there are just moments that call for a “screw the budget’ and it sounds like you made the right decision!

      Finding the motel was ours, I think we’ve had paid anything to have a warm shower and it was so worth it.

  2. Well if you survive this I have no doubt your marriage will last! And I am sure your kids will be far more impressed with Mum and Dad than if you honeymooned at a resort. Hope there is more coasting in your future! Proud of you guys xxx

    1. Thanks Sarah.

      There are many times a day when I question our sanity in doing this but I do know that we’d be bored after a day in 5* star resort.

      We’ve got a downhill tomorrow, yipee to a day of coasting…hopefully.

    1. Thank you Felix.

      That is the very site we used that sent us to the not one but two housing estates, we’ve begun to a trip check now on other sites too 😉

  3. Oh, I know your woes! Only ours have to do with evil headwinds and rain. Perhaps try knocking on some doors and ask if you can camp on someone’s property. I hear people take pity on us cyclists.

    As for the fancy pants air mattress, mine too is failing. Each night I wake up with sharp pain in my hip and have to re-blow up my bed.

    Keep at it and remember that it’s our hard times that make the best stories. Looking forward to following along!

    1. Oh Jen the headwinds are horrible, like going uphill with no break. We have felt your pain too.

      We got a new mattress, it’s like heaven, now I just need it to be a bit warmer so I don’t have to wear all my clothes and it would be perfect.

      I keep telling myself that the hard times will soon be a distant memory and a great story and so far they are.

      Glad to be in this with you.

  4. Hi!

    If you are anywhere near Cheissoux 87460 you are very welcome to spend a night here,pretty basic though.

    1. Judith this is so kind of you, we’d love to take you up on this but we are now very close to the Swiss boarder….next time 🙂

  5. it does sound like hell.
    I once experienced the joys of being a woman in a small jungle town in costa rica. as I desperately rushed down the road to find a store that was open and sold tampons in this one horse town, I heard the bellowing voice of a local Rastafarian dude calling out to me from across the road. “where you from girl? they ain’t got no sun there?” this was no time to have to explain why I am so pasty pale.
    good luck. maybe now you can get two lighter bikes.

    1. Sometimes it really is such a joy Heather. Just adds more trauma to a already difficult day. The locating of tampons is sometimes a whole day activity too.

      We can’t give up on our beloved Donkey, we’ve started so we’ll finish on the beast.

  6. I know that none of this was actually Ha! Ha! funny, but I couldn’t help smiling as I read this post. I can absolutely totally relate. Although we did not have accommodation issues like you did, the highs and lows and ups and downs from 1 second to the next are just so much like what we went through while walking the Camino. One minute the world is stunning, the next minute because I tripped or a blister burst I wondered what the hell was I thinking?! But we did it, we finished it, and it was ALL worth it! One day you’ll look back and only remember the good. At least that’s what I tell myself! 😉

    1. It’s funny now Patti…at the time well not so much.

      It’s amazing how something can change so quickly, literally in a second, it goes from amazing to awful.

      It’s amazing that you finished and 350 miles is no mean feat, massive congratulations.

      The good stuff makes it all worth it and the terrible stuff makes a great story 😉

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