Hi, Day 4. It didn’t quite go as planned.
I was awoken by the noise of rain hammering on the Velux window in my room. My heart sank. The winds were already up and raging too. I stood up and immediately my knee started where it had left off yesterday. After breakfast I waited an hour as the Beeb weather app had set the rain was soon to stop. I wheeled out of the B&B at shortly after 9 to wet roads, no rain but high bloody winds for the 4th day on the trot. It started with a good climb out of the town and once out into open countryside (it is very open in these parts!) the wind was howling once again but thankfully was now from the West. This was a bonus as it was now coming directly across me. I just had to be careful not to be blown into the path of passing traffic. The next 15 – 20 miles or so were on a dead straight D946 through undulating countryside and it was literally a case of pedal up a hill, freewheel down the other side. Pedal up, freewheel down. Repeat for the next hour and a half. Eventually I rolled down into the town of Marle in Hauts de France and in some discomfort. Crossing the railway line and river, then, yet another climb up and out of the town (Normally, if you descend to a town with a river, you’ve got to ascend on the other side – they do it this way in Devon too!). By the time I’d hoiked myself and my bike up, my knee wasn’t in the best of shape and it was a struggle to put any downforce through the left pedal. I left the main road and turned west for a short while into the wind. With the knee problem, I could bearly make progress. I eventually limped the bike into the village of Autremencourt just as the rains returned. Seeking cover in one of France’s fine bus shelters, I took out the camping stove and made a brew. It was decision time. Do I carry on? Can I carry on? I resolved to dose up on Ibuprofen and continue forward some 20+ miles to the town of Laon and see how things were from there. An hour later, dosed up, I packed up my pannier and wheeled away. The route immediately took me west out of the village. The pain was so intense on pedalling, I immediately turned tail and headed back to the bus shelter. It was hopeless. All these months of planning. researching routes, accommodation, equipment. All the sponsorship I’d received. Here I was on day 4 only! Stuck with a shagged knee 3 miles from the nearest town. I had no option but to walk the bike back to Marle, the last town I had passed. I then had to work out how to get home. I phoned my Boss who is from Lille to sought some advice (and a little comfort and reassurance if I’m honest). He very kindly offered to contact his family to meet me if I could get a train back to Lille. They would even put me up for the night if necessary and hang on to my bike there so I could get home easier. I managed to get a train with the bike to Laon and a quick check on google meant I was less than 2 hours from Paris where I could get a Eurostar home. Time was getting on though and I envisaged getting to London and missing the last train to Devon. I also didn’t relish having to keep loading/unloading the bike from train to train and taking off/refitting panniers.
Eventually, whilst at Laon station, I researched a 1-way car hire to Roscoff in Brittany and then a simple ferry crossing to Plymouth. This seemed to be the best option. The bike would be safely deposited in the car and it was just a case of a 700km drive across France to Roscoff for an afternoon ferry the next day.
I left Laon at about 1530 and the car’s GPS navigated me straight towards Paris. Paris on the peripherique (it’s M25) at 530pm on a Friday evening isn’t for the faint-hearted I can tell you . Mind you, I did see some sights – Eiffel Tower in the distance, the Sacre-Coeur, Mont-Martre, oh and 2 Parisian tramps fighting on the hard shoulder – there’s always something to see in this country!
I made it as far as the town of Dreux and after consulting Booking.com, I found a motel for 40 euros. It looked quite pleasant on the webpage. Brightly lit, nice bar and restaurant. welcoming reception area. On arrival however (I should’ve twigged as this place was at the back end of a scruffy trading estate), it couldn’t have been further from the truth. I think the pictures must’ve been taken when the place was within its prime and not within an industrial area. The restaurant and bar were long closed down and bricked up. I was greeted by a dour french/indian gentleman whose white t-shirt looked like one of those ones you’d long discarded but your mum kept under the sink for taking the polish of your shoes with. A ashtray brimming with dog-ends lay on the counter with a smouldering cigarette resting on top slowly burning those filter tips underneath. The place was stinking. Exhausted, I reluctantly paid my 40 euros and was presented with a key. “Dix-Sept!” he barked (17 to non-frenchies). He then pointed to the stairs and barked his second and final instruction of the evening ‘a la gauche!’ (to the left). My immediate remark to myself was ‘Hmmm I wouldn’t recommend the charm school you attended!’
Anyway, into the room! Hmmmm well, it was about 8ft square with twin beds and a table (no chair) that measured about 18 inches by 10. High on the wall in one corner and quadrupling the value of everything within the room was a flat screen telly although the remote was long gone – I’m amazed the TV was still there! The bedding on one bed didn’t look too bad but a quick look at the other one was a different story. I dared to pull back the bottom sheet and look at the mattress. It looked straight out of a field hospital in the crimean war. What was on there was anybody’s guess. It’d keep a forensics lab busy for weeks!
I was at the stage now where the ridiculousness of the situation hit me. Eight hours ago, I was cycling through the french countryside. Now here I am in some sort of ‘$10 Bates Motel’, tired, sore and with a long drive in the morning. I laughed out loud to myself, said F-word a few times to emphasise certain phrases and duly fell into the cleaner of the 2 beds and tried to get some sleep.
An hour later, I was awoken by the noise of someone shouting at the top of their lungs. There was only one voice. Now, he was either mad and addressing himself, speaking to a individual who is dumb, or on the telephone. I’d like to think it was the latter. He was clearly annoyed and in a state of disagreement with the other participant of the conversation. He continued speaking loudly and then moved out into the hallway. Then, from where I can’t be sure, a second voice joined the proceedings. Whether the poor sod on the end of the phone was still part of it, I don’t know. The two voices were now at full tilt arguing in the hallway before, yep – a third voice appeared. 3 french men (I’m assuming they were men. You can never tell these days!), bellowing at each other in the hallway of a hotel at 1130 at night. Then, it got a tad physical as the noise of body-body contact could clearly be heard and then the paper thin walls began to shake as bodies and arms impacted into it. I’ll freely admit I was scared. It was the sort of place where the sound of a gunshot wouldn’t be out of place. I waited for the furor to die down and quickly packed my panniers and got out. At reception, Monsieur ‘White’ T-Shirt had finished his shift and had been replaced with what could’ve been his brother. Similar looking but with a slightly cleaner shirt! I made up some rubbish about catching an earlier ferry and left whilst congratulating him on what a delightful establishment he’s running here!
Leaving Dreux, I phoned my wife to let her know I’d made it out of ‘Le Bronx’ and was back on the road. I was going to try and find another hotel but was so tired I was just as content sleeping in the car. After about 40 miles, I found a lay by and managed a couple of hours’ sleep. The drive across to Brittany was arduous. I didn’t know the route at all and not trusting my judgement, I left it to the car to guide me. Between Dreux and St.Malo, I didn’t see one dual carriageway. I thought the N12 was going to be the obvious route but it was closed and I was quickly diverted well away from it.
Roscoff couldn’t have come soon enough and I was so so glad to get onto the ferry, get the right side of a pint of John Smiths and retire to a cabin to sleep. What a 24 hours it had been. Not the way I’d planned it that’s for sure but so, so bloody glad to get home!
Although, this trip was cut short due to injury. Plans are already afoot to return to finish what I’d started. I’m looking to return in April 2019 to finish the job. Whether I’ll start where I left off or do the whole lot again, I’m not sure. Gutted that I didn’t complete the ride but this experience has made me more than determined to nail it next year. Many thanks to everybody who has sent such kind messages of support and of course to those that have donated to the Brain Tumour Charity.