I rolled down the last English hill on Saturday lunchtime with fish and chips in my belly, and dark clouds hung over Dover as I looked back from the ferry. Eastwards, all was clear and blue. I’d had enough of foul weather, and was looking forward to some French sunshine.
My ride through France began inauspiciously, cycling straight onto the motorway, on the wrong side of the road. I slipped past an approaching police car as I slunk down a grassy bank and towards the town of Calais.
The last few days have been largely aimless. I spent a couple of days just using my compass to navigate and pointing due east. But after a while I tired of going round in circles: even if you know which way is east, you can’t very well go there on a bicycle if there’s no road!
Disaster struck on Tuesday. I was progressing well, and had found myself on a good road that should take me most of the way to Strasbourg on the German border. A strange squeaking had been coming from the back of my bike all morning, so I had resolved to stop in the early afternoon and give everything a good going over with some oil. But then I realised that the sound was coming from the mudguard, because the two supporting arms of my rear pannier rack (which holds all my luggage to the back of the bike) had both snapped! My two heavy panniers, tent and various other bits, had all spent the morning resting on the rear mudguard!
I tried a bodge-job temporary fix by splinting the broken supporting arms with tie-wraps and tyre levers, but I didn’t have much faith in it lasting very long. I put as much weight as I could in the front pannier bags, and limped a couple of miles back into the last town I’d passed through. I found a bike shop fairly quickly, but they didn’t stock any replacement racks, but recommended I go to a big city, where I might find one. Unfortunately the nearest sizeable city anywhere near my planned route was about 45 miles away, and it was already mid afternoon.
I had planned to get as close to Reims as I could, camp, and head into town to find a bike shop early the next day. As it happened, there was nowhere suitable to camp, and I ended up riding all the way into town. I blew my budget completely out of the water with a hotel room, but as tired, dirty, and smelly as I was, I felt I deserved it.
I found a new rack in the second shop I went to in the morning. But I’ve learnt my lesson, and have since given up some unnecessary items, and distributed the weight over my bike much more evenly, in the hope that it doesn’t happen again.
The most challenging aspect of the ride at the moment, apart from intermittent technical problems, is the heat. I have no idea how hot it is as the moment, but I saw 31 degrees on a thermometer a couple of days ago. The midday sun is almost unbearably hot, so I’m currently taking some much needed shelter in a shady spot in a park in Verdun. I should reach Strasbourg tomorrow night, for a much needed day off, before I set forth into Germany!