Day 1: Portsmouth to St Germain-sur-Ay (77km)
The Tour de Manche (tour of the channel) is a new bike route that only opened last year. People hearing that I was about to cycle the channel gave me perplexed looks (does she know it’s a body of water? Has she got a pedalo?) their furrowed brows only deepened when I admitted I was packing my wetsuit. But no, I am not swimming the channel bits. Having hopped on the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry this morning, I intend to relax my muscles after each day’s cycling by swimming in the sea. This week I shall be following the north shores of Normandy and Brittany. Next week I shall catch the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth and then cycle home along the south coast of Devon and Dorset.
Navigating out of bendy roads of Cherbourg I took more left and right turns than I think I did across the whole of Canada. After 15km I was out of town and ascending yet another fiendishly steep climb while mentally tossing out clothes and kit from my pannier. Three tshirts? A body warmer? What was I thinking? Monty weighed a ton. The Devon-esque lanes were a fearful reminder that this time next week I will be wheeling this hefty load across Dartmoor. How on a earth did I cycle across Canada with all this stuff? (Answer: I didn’t. I posted it to Montreal!)
Today is National Grass Cutting Day in France. Or so it would seem. For all day I heard the buzzing of mowers and the air was coloured by the green scent of the fresh grass. I cycled up and down, up and down the windy lanes of Normandy. Cycling here needs to be done with one’s mouth firmly shut in order to avoid a lungful of bugs.
It was gone 3pm by the time I stopped for lunch. It was like being in Canada again: out comes the tent to flap in the breeze and, for the first time this season, I get an avocado stain on my bike shorts. Ah yes, the bike shorts. Nearly all the kit I have with me is the same as I had in Canada. Except the bike shorts.
One pair, to be fair, should have been chucked out well before Halifax. For the elastic had gone the way of a grandmother’s knickers and the lycra resembled a gone-over swimming costume. The other pair however (which were near new in Vancouver) had great sentimental value. Though they had been bleached by the sun I kept wearing them. That is, I kept wearing them until both my dad and my girlfriend independently informed me that they could read the label and see the curve of my butt cheeks. Hence new shorts.
The afternoon led me down a long disused railway that had been converted into a gravelly bike path that slices between the shaded trees. My pace had slowed on account of the gravel and the fact I’d been up at 5.20am to catch the ferry. It wasn’t until the church bells chimed 6.30pm that I turned off into St Germain-sur-Ay and commenced my hunt for the campsite. It was gone 7pm by the time I found it, hidden several miles away, and I arrived to find the office closed. Nobody in sight. Well, I wasn’t going anywhere else so I pedalled in to find the tent spots. Caravans. I pedalled further. More caravans. I pedalled round a corner. More caravans. Pedal on. More caravans. After about 5 minutes I found a washroom. It was locked. After 10 minutes I found another washroom – with one toilet cubicle unlocked – and a nearby tap. The other problem was I hadn’t the foggiest idea where I was. Lost in the labyrinth of empty caravans I took a bearing off the sun (yes, really) which was now firmly in the western sky and traced my way back to entrance. And then back to the washroom to find a rough patch of caravan-free grass on which to pitch my tent.
Finally, by 8pm I lay on my back and listening to a chiff chaff calling while the seed heads fluttered in the evening breeze. The hues of the sky dulled. The clouds blew over. Sleep came easily.