I’m here in Neuilly-sur-Eure in the north of France after finally leaving the UK and 3 days of exhilarating cycling from La Havre; involving more rain and wind than Scotland and England combined and the final demise of my bottom bracket. After visiting a bike shop in the town of L’Aigle I now have a new bottom bracket and am ready for a swift descent towards the village of Salvagnac (near Toulouse) to stay with my friend Phil and his family.
Here’s a video I just put together showing some of the trip so far along with some music recorded so far. First batch is due for release whilst I’m at Phil’s.
I’ve been finding it hard to stop and take photographs. I’m being quite greedy and just enjoying the experience and sucking it all in. I’ve also been on a tight schedule and haven’t been playing and recording the guitar much either….I hope to remedy these 2 things now that my schedule becomes a bit more relaxed.
To blog, or not to blog?
So before I set off this issue arose at Alastair Humphreys’ site. His argument was that first time expeditioners should not blog. I could see his point and decided to not blog and write about the trip; instead provide updates with photos, video and music.
Since setting off I’ve had a number of messages emploring me to reconsider and one from Al himself explaining his post was overly-aggressive.
So I’m still undecided. However whilst I’m in France I will write a traditional blog. Partly as a test and partly because the lovely Lynn who runs Freewheeling France website has put links to my blog and I did a Q&A with her a couple of months back.
At the end I’ll post a big summary of the journey through France so far as taken from a facebook bulletin I send to my friends and family and which I wrote earlier today.
So the journey down through Scotland and England was very much a test run for the equipment and the setup of the bike. When I reached Guildford I made a fair few changes based on the ride down.
So…..new tyres, front rack, front panniers, new sleeping bag, got rid of a few things and that thing you can see on the trailer……custom made by my brother David and it is quite simply AWESOME:
On my second day of the trip in the UK I was made custom tent pegs by the couple (Roger and Lilieth) whose woods I camped in (I stupidly forgot my tent pegs)…….and on my second last day in the UK David finished making this custom cradle to hold the guitar safely (it also doubles as a table).
Another favourite modification is my bike board inspired by Jason McAnuff who is cycling down South America at the moment with a trailer like mine and a bike board.
If anyone missed these awesome videos made by Simon Hart Richardson and Jim Farrish whilst I was in Kendal, Cumbria:
http://vimeo.com/20674196 (4 parts)
To all those who I’ve met along the way who have helped me:
Roger & Lilieth, Jim & Linda, Simon & Simon’s mum, Jamie, Gemma, Dave & Rosie, Claire, Ciaran & family, Craigy (aka Calculon), David & Jess, Corinne, Doug, Adam, Kate, Mum & Dad, Bruce & Anne-Marie, John & Chris, Gaelle and the lovely french bike mechanic who fitted my new bottom bracket when all was looking bleak.
and here’s the update:
This is going to be short and sweet as I’m using a French keyboard which makes no sense whatsoever and actively encourages me to use exclamation marks! more frequently than full stops!!!!
So yes, the UK is a distant memory now as I make my way through France. After stops in Manchester, Alderley Edge, Oxford, Guildford and visits to London, I made my way to Portsmouth for the overnight ferry to La Havre. At 8am the following morning (tuesday) I was cycling on the right hand side making my way out of La Havre. I hate cycling in cities and was glad to make it out and over the Seine onto flat, quiet, country roads – an absolute joy to cycle on.
However the romance was short lived. My map of france is very broad and doesn’t show all the best roads so I was purely using my compass to head south east towards the home of my sister-in-law’s grandparents.
This was all going grand till I ended up in a fairly large town called Pont-Audemer. I knew all I had to do was to follow the direction of the river that flowed through the middle. Of course I was forced off course through le centre ville. So instead of focusing all my attention on putting myself on course I did my usual catwalk through the high street, fully aware of the turning heads…..”yes that’s right I’m on a bike, with a guitar and I’m from Scotland!!! how ace am I ?”. Of course whilst engaged in my swagger and show of awesomeness I took a right at a roundabout when I should have gone left. Which as a result diverted me back in the direction I had just come from. Not aware of my mistake I freewheeled downhill out of the town past the local college and high school; …..”yes that’s right I’m on a bike, with a guitar and I’m from Scotland!!! how ace am I ?”
So I kept going for a good hour until I started to notice signs for towns I had encountered around lunchtime. Even at this point I was convinced I was right and presumed the french had got their signs wrong and kept going. It wasn’t until I reached an information board with a map on it at around 5pm that I realised what I had done.
Totally embarrassed I turned around and vowed to correct the mistake before turning in for the day. Cycling past the school and college again I realised these must be a different set of kids so the ol’ swagger returned: …..”yes that’s right I’m on a bike, with a guitar and I’m from Scotland!!! how ace am I ?”, even ringing the bell a few times. By almost 8pm I set up camp for the night thoroughly knackered after almost 12 hours on the road. I forgot to mention it rained for most of the day too.
The next day I had no navigation problems but the rain was more prevalent as was the wind. From 3pm to 5pm I was cycling in torrential rain with my full waterproofs on, but they coudldn’t cope. Going up a hill I could see that my bottom bracket (the bit that my pedals rotate around) was a complete mess swaying from side to side; and then my chain locked and I had to unclip from my pedals to avoid the bike and trailer falling over. I decided enough was enough and pulled across into some woodland to pitch the tent. Cycling on the grass through the woods my chain broke. Then I threw my tent up in the rain but the inside got soaked.
Sitting in the tent that night I realised there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to cycle the following day and would have to freewheel/push. Thoroughly dejected I sent a text message to my french friend Gaelle to make a formal complaint about her country. In response I got the weather forecast for the next few days and a list of all the nearby bike shops and their addresses. Luckily there was one on my route about 30km from where I was camped. If I can just get through tomorrow I thought.
With most of my clothes soaked including my waterproofs I improvised by wearing tesco’s re-sealable zip bags inbetween socks. I re-alligned my derailleur to try and compensate for the bottom bracket and set off. Luckily the forecast rain did not come, but the wind was immense. I idled along making gentle pedal strokes to avoid beaking the chain again. At around 3pm I reached the town of L’Aigle and found the bike shop. It was staffed by an older monsieur. I showed him the problem and asked if he could fix it. After poking around at it he stood up and said “peut-etre” and pointed inside, “le velo?”, le monsieur nodded. I disassambled Betty and the trailer and took her inside. He took her into his workshop and then the banging and the noise started. I idly waltzed around the shop looking at posters of the tour de france on the wall and perusing racing garments, checking the prices as if I was going to buy something. Then I just sat down checking the clock. 20 minutes had passed and the noises increased. Looking at the accessories and components around me I realised the shop was practically entirely devoted to racing bikes; I wondered if I’d accidently brought my beloved pet to the butchers rather than the vets. The minutes passed by as I felt more and more like a relative in the waiting room of a hospital whilst some crude surgical procedures were being carried out on a loved one in the room adjacent.
Eventually the noise stopped and I could hear wheels being turned and gears being shifted. Le monsieur wheeled Betty out. I could see she was smiling. On the edge of my seat I asked if it was working. Then le monsieur broke into a smile: “Oui”. Jumping out of my seat I bent down as le monsieur lifted the back wheel as I cradled my new bottom bracket and spun the pedals around to see them rotate perfectly with no deviation. I stood straight up and smiled the biggest smile, “superbe, merci beaucoup!!!”.
I think that moment had to be the best moment so far. In retrospect I’ve been struggling with the bottom bracket since day 1. I think it probably broke when my chain broke going through whitburn and have been delaying fixing it by adjusting the derailleur to compensate. Cycling out of L’Aigle towards my accomodation for the night was a revelation. Pedalling felt effortless and way more efficient. My first major crisis averted, I’m looking forward to the next one!!
So I’m staying with Christine and John Ladd, the grandparents of Jess my sis-in-law who are pure entertainment and I think would quite gladly have me stay for a week, however I’ll be setting off tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of France to get through to get to Phil’s near Toulouse and my dad is visiting on the 15th so need to get there by then. With the new bottom bracket I can’t wait to get back on the road.
Thanks for all your messages, really nice to know people are thinking of me, makes me feel a little less alone out there.