Day 3. An unpleasant blockage. (Tuesday 30th Sept)

Today Total
Distance 77 miles 169 miles (272km)
Height gain 1474 metres 2829 metres (9281ft)
Calories 3100 7200

Today was my first proper cycle on French soil, actually not strictly true as I cycled around the island of Morea in French Polynesia, but excluding name dropping exotic colonies, this was the first time!

I decided not to keep to the conventional coastal route to Paris but take a large detour towards a town called Arras, however what I wasn’t expecting was the hilly nature of the countryside. I know the Somme area quite well and there are a few hills but nothing like here. It was very pretty, so much so that it’s actually been designated a national park…. Caps et Marais d’Opale Natural Regional Park.

All was going reasonably well…. if I don’t think too much about the hills…. until I reached Auchel then something quite bizarre happened and something that probably would never happen in the UK. They closed the road (D341) most of the way to Arras.

At first I thought, no problem, I’ll follow the detour, but the first detour took me on a long climb to the top of a hill. Unfortunately at the top of a hill it quickly became apparent that the only way ahead was forwards down part of a motorway. Back down again…. then I used the Garmin GPS I had. To the top of another hill and then down a road which turned into a dirt track which I could not cycle down. Then my GPS after another steep climb took me to a road where bicycles were not allowed but by now I’d had enough, I cycled down it anyway…..

GPS showing the almost constant climbs.

After about an hour I found a way out through a random housing estate in the town of Divion but then came across another blocked road. This time I followed the detour but it was another biggy and took me up yet another steep hill via the small but pretty towns of Fresnicourt-le-Dolmen and Servins, but here I finally decided to do what the French do and ignore the diversions… nothing, no road works or anything.

(© google maps)

In the end, thanks to getting lost and diversions taking me down roads I could not go, the last 20 miles to Arras took almost 4 hours with all of the hill climbing taking its toll. After 80 miles I had to call it a day. Although looking at the map the detours may not seem too bad but it had been demoralising, not being able to get to a point I could basically see. It also added about 10miles further to the days cycle…..

For more detail on route click HERE.

(© google maps)

Day 2: Bodging it! (Monday 29th Sept)


Today Total
Distance 29 miles 92 miles (148km)
Height gain 470 metres 1354 metres (4442ft)
Calories 1300 4100

On day 1 I cycled a relatively long 63 miles (101km) which considering it was the first time I’d cycled with the bike fully laden was quite good. I light of this I was amazed that today my legs weren’t feeling too bad, so I set off early in the hope of getting a morning ferry to Calais and getting a few miles in on the other side of the channel. I was also amazed that I wasn’t feeling too bad as I didn’t manage to find a cheap hotel so at about midnight I settled down on a bench on a cold damp village green somewhere just out of Canterbury and slept there.

The GPS I’d bought for the trip had cunningly avoided all the major roads and in doing so took me through some beautiful but really hilly scenery. Sadly the bumpy, hilly roads took their toll on the bike again and it was starting to rattle a bit. But the toll on the bike was slightly different to what the toll of driving though Dover might be as shown on the “Welcome to Dover” sign which appeared to have the words “drive safely” written in blood! However, although the gears had survived, as I reached Dover I discovered both of my panniers had broken, the clips that hold them to the frame had both snapped meaning that every time I hit a bump they would fly up in the air like an old man’s comb-over catching the wind. And when I rounded a corner they would fly out like a child at a wedding pretending to be an aeroplane. Granted, this must have looked funny to someone following, but for me it was dangerous. So in Dover I quickly visited a few bike shops to see if they could help, but no, I appear to have bought very specialist panniers! So I had to improvise….

After buying random bits of metal and plastic ties I was stopped by an old man who said “hey, it looks like you’re about to do the tour of France on that thing” now I’d pay to see that, a tour de France on a butchers bike! But figured from his statement he’d probably never actually see then “Le Tour” and I headed to the ferry port and managed to get a ferry leaving a wet Dover just after lunch. I wouldn’t recommend cycling though as you have to cycle to and into the ferry with all the big lorries and coaches who don’t give you any space at all and are more interested in speeding as fast as possible to be at the front of the queue. That\’s bad enough but then I had the embarrassment of lots of truckers laughing at my bike as I cycled up the steep ramp onto the boat.

But in no time I was in Calais, but instead of cycling on I found a hotel which bizarrely allowed me to take my bike to bed with me! After explaining the problems with it he told me to take the bike into my room…. but just don’t tell the cleaners… So then I set about bodging the panniers… So all you need to fix your broken panniers is two metal corner fittings, a couple of screws from a spare bike light fitting, some plastic ties and two tools which aren’t suitable for the job but with brute force and ignorance plus the weight of me and my big feet it might just work….

Et voila, lots of little bits of metal…. two sliding grips with plastic tie loop and two metal stays to stop the sliding grips going the wrong way. Granted, every time I need to take the panniers off I need to cut off the plastic tie, but I bought 100 so I should be fine!

So lots of work on the bike today but just 27 miles to show for it, although if I added the ferry distance that’s about 47miles…. Sadly this means I’ve lost about a days cycle so far which could make the difference between getting to Andorra or not as I still have no feel for how long it will take… Pants.

For more detail on route click HERE.

(© google maps)

Day 1: Canterbury Tales. (Sunday 28th Sept)


Today Total
Distance 63 miles 63 miles (101km)
Height gain 884 metres 884 metres (2900ft)
Calories 2800 2800

I had intended setting off on Saturday 27th September but just as I was about to go I discovered a problem with the gears on the bike. Although the gears are rubbish I figured it was better to have rubbish ones than none at all so I did my best to try and fix them although this was not the best time for something to go wrong.

So after much prevaricating and much later than I should have I set off from Sunny Leytonstone at a little after 12:30pm on Sunday 28th September. Sadly as Leytonstone was rather inconveniently built in North East London this meant I had to cycle 7 miles in the wrong direction to Tower Bridge just so I could cross the river.

Eventually I was heading in the right direction and soon got possibly the biggest wake up call for the trip and barely just 10 miles into the trip. London to Dover was meant to be the easiest part of the trip and by far the flattest but this was based on what I thought and not reality as I then hit Blackheath Hill. Not massive by any stretch of the imagination and a hill easy enough on a normal road bike. But reality hit as I barely made it to the top, and then after little more than two miles further I hit Shooters Hill. I simply could not get up this one. There were guys on mountain bikes in their highest gears just about making it but their bikes were barely 10kg, not only could I not heave the stupidly massive 40kg bike and luggage up the hill my first gear gave a horrible crunching sound.

After doing all the fixing I could do with the gears given the tools I have, I seemed to get them working and I set off again through a remarkably and irritatingly hilly Kent where every road appears to go over the top of every hill! After taking in the lovely castle at Rochester I had another long hard hill climb out of Chatham. This time the gears held but the occasional crunching and slipping of the gears is not promising, particularly after about 40 miles into a 1000 mile journey.

The slipping and grinding affects my two lowest gears so if I lose them its game over as the wheel unit can’t be replaced in France as I’d have to order parts from the UK. So I’ll have to nurse the bike as much as I can but every time the gears crunch it is really worrying.

Anyhow, I made it to Canterbury a little after dark and have decided to stop here for the night, not really by choice, it’s more because my legs are knackered and anymore will put too much strain on them but I have cycled 100km on a brick! I hope my legs will get stronger though as there are far harder cycles to come with much greater distances.

Anyway, the take home message for me today is, don’t cycle a 40kg bike with luggage and crap gears, and most definitely don’t cycle it across the whole length of France!

For more detail on route click HERE.

(© google maps)