As I sit on my first cross-Channel ferry crossing in over twenty-seven years, it’s a little difficult to know where to begin writing about this trip that for so long was just a vague “I’ll do that one day” idea nestled in the back of my mind (plus I’m out of practice writing here as months of saving weren’t conducive to having much to write about – May excepted). But with the rather sudden and sad demise of the factory that was Work for me for two and a half years, the prospect of months bikepacking around Europe became a real possibility.
So here I am near the bow of a ferry looking out at a very grey day and multitudes of whitecaps – the remnants of Hurricane Bertha. As I can’t really see more than a mile immediately ahead of me (the French coast has entirely disappeared into the mist), so the next few months look – I have a hazy idea of a couple of places I’d like to go, but by which route I’m going to get there, what I’ll see & who I may meet along the way are complete unknowns. But my bike is loaded up, as below, with hopefully everything I’ll need (one can hope) & no doubt with things I’ll quickly find are just deadweight and can be given away or posted home.
Since work finished ten days ago it’s been a flurry of giving things away, moving what remained to London, enjoying the always great hospitality of cousin Trish & visiting other family, working through the at times daunting pre-departure to-do list, a couple of day-trips into London visiting NZ friends (some resident, some visiting) – the WWI commemorations are well worth seeing, completing the puzzle of packing a mountain-bike for three months away and then saying goodbyes.
After a Windows 8 (what was I thinking?) induced meltdown the night before departure, I finally set off Saturday afternoon by train to Canterbury. From there it was a pleasant thirty mile ride along National Cycle Route 1 to Jan’s (Trish’s sister) house just north of Dover. While mostly on very quiet roads, a little part of the route was off-road. For the largest part it was nice riding through the scores of Kentish apple orchards & the blackberries I found were by far the biggest and juiciest I’ve seen this summer – fighting the nettles were well worth it for the haul I got for dessert that night. Only when the route turned towards a stiff southerly was progress earned – that meant the last hour or so from Sandwich south through Deal (which I thought surprisingly nice – on the sea front anyway) was slow.
After a big cooked breakfast (in part, I think three months of cycling is just an excuse to eat a lot; unfortunately, my bike seems to put on weight quicker than I do) it was out into the gusts & rain – finally getting to try out my Ground Effect three-quarter length rain pants (very good so far) – as I made the few miles to the ferry terminal. An advantage of taking a bike on board is that you are the first vehicles into the cavernous deck – & therefore you get your choice of seat upstairs (there are no foot passengers on this route to Dunkirk).
Well Dunkirk is nearing, apparently – soon I’ll be heading north to Belgium, a country I’ve meant to visit for sometime. I may stick to the GR5A route all the way to Brugge, but the opportunity to make quite a detour inland to Tyne Cot cemetery to see the memorial of the only direct relative I know of that was lost in WWI is quite a draw. But, today may be a good wet day to sit eating & drinking copious amounts of waffles and hot chocolate.
Provided I set it up correctly & I remember to activate my SPOT Messenger – you can check my progress using the Map link in the top right corner.