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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)….