Lodon to Desvres – about 75 miles (click here to view map)
As we should have expected – but didn’t – we got up later than planned. The preparations and stress at work had us relying on four mugs of coffee plus a Revive so we really needed a lie in. Suffice to say we loaded up the bikes in a bit of a rush with no time for faffing around. Just as well we had packed pretty much everything already.
Having watched Mondo Enduro, Terra Circa and Long Way Round, I almost expected a glorious send off, crowds waving, friends almost in tears, saying they’ll miss us. Instead we locked up the garage and wobbled down the alleyway behind the houses to the street. Wow the bikes were heavy! We were carrying most of the gear we would be taking on the RTW, except the spares and winter clothes. But we hadn’t done the test run everyone says you should do, so I was glad we were just heading to the ACE Cafe for breakfast for now!
Breakfast was big and yum ACE style! But I could hardly eat it, I was so exited. Felt almost like this was the big trip already, and we wouldn’t be back for years! Bit nervous too, though. The German in me was screaming that this was far too under-prepared and we hadn’t taken any of the eventualities into account! What if…! So I ignored her and tucked into breakfast. We bought a few Ace stickers for our panniers, in an attempt to feel more like proper travelers, and headed back out to the empty front yard.
No big Charley Boorman style fanfare either, and I was glad for it. Just a quiet, yummy breakfast and no-one there to see me heave the heavy bike off the side stand, fuelled up with coffee, ready to lug her to the other side of London. Following the advice from all the other motorcycle traveller books we’d read, we had packed the heavier stuff lower down and tried to distribute the weight evenly. So it wasn’t really too bad, and we got used to it after a while.
Couldn’t really weave in and out of traffic the way we’re used to though, so the South Circular became even more frustrating than usual. Aidan is leading the way. We established a while back, that we preferred it that way round 🙂 Just before Catford a bus driver pulls up next to him and tells him Catford is completely blocked, we should go round it. And with his passengers no doubt already late and frustrated, he spent a few minutes explaining how we could skirt around, through Brockley and get back onto the A2. Real nice of him 🙂
We finally make it onto the A2 and out of London…. Freedom!!! By this time we are quite late, but we want to stick to A-roads anyways. Glad we did, as they led us straight into Rochester. Looks like a pretty town (must come back to explore one day when we fancy a lil ride out!). But this time we have to press on to catch the ferry (the cheaper ticket doesn’t allow you to take the next one, unless you pay extra of course).
At the next roundabout we can choose the M2 straight into Dover or keep following the A2. Oblivious that there is a choice to be made, I point grinning at a sign pointing towards “Rain” (presumably a town…?). That also happens to be the A2 so we follow it. I’m not sure whether Aidan thought I insisted on following the A2 or whether he’d laughed at the sign too. To be fair, it was a big busy roundabout so no place to sit around giggling away at the poor people living in perpetual rain. Aidan told me later, that he had been busy trying to devise a way of coaxing stubborn me into taking the motorway after all.
Soon the A2 became tiny and we were stuck behind a van going at a snail’s pace! But we had no time to enjoy the pretty places it went through. Our rush was now starting to turn into panic. Luckily the van driver couldn’t hear me cursing at him inside my helmet like that was suddenly going to make him do 100mph! So at the next sign we turned round onto the M2 after all, and gunned it as fast as traffic and the laden bikes allowed down to Dover.
Got there just in time. A quick call from the check-in to the boat confirmed that our places hadn’t been sold to any other bikers and we could ride straight on. Real nice not to have to wait around 🙂 The ferry trip was boring. Me and Icebear went outside for the obligatory waving-good-bye-to-the-white-cliffs picture and after that we all curled up with coffee from our thermos and a book.
Before we knew it the loudspeakers announced our imminent arrival. We stuck the overpriced GB stickers onto our panniers (I’m still not sure if you are legally supposed to have one of its not imprinted on your number plate), and rolled off the ferry. Got a little lost in Calais, trying to avoid the toll roads. Well, it didn’t matter, we didn’t have to get to Paris to visit our friends till the next day anyways and the occasional stop to check the atlas and compass kept us more or less on the right track. Or at least within range of our little A5 printed maps. So we just took it easy, cruising around on tiny D-roads, like the 215, full of gentle forgiving bends, straddled by picturesque towns at here and there, on through golden wheat and barley fields. Went past a sign pointing towards “Champagne” and “Guines”. I’m surprised Aidan didn’t head straight down that road!
At some point though, contrary to any logic, the road name changed, and we found ourselves riding completely out of range of the little printed maps in our tank bags. To make matters worse, whenever we managed to wiggle our way back towards roads we recognised, (relying on a compass and a very shady sense of direction) we found big yellow signs barring the road, with a series of complicated diversions set up. It was as if whatever god of travel there were had decided that our first foray would be a serious test.
Eventually, the sky clouding over, we had to admit we were hopelessly lost and getting really tired too, not being used to riding all day long. And some more basic needs were becoming more pressing too: we needed cash, petrol, water and wine! But none of the little villages were big enough to sell any of these. A bit of cruising around, doubling back on ourselves finally had us find a little town that provided all of the above. Desvres was small, hilly, cobbled, and host to some sort of anarchic and colourful rally festival – the cause of all the diversions, and our woes. Our bikes filled with petrol and our panniers filled with wine, the world seemed a brighter place, despite the fact that dusk was moving in quick. We decided to head on a little further and then start looking for a spot to pitch our tent.
We suddenly found ourselves on the road we were supposed to be on from Calais, so now Aidan was worried about deviating too far from it in trying to find a camping spot. We had read on various forums that the French aren’t too keen on wild-camping, as there are millions of campsites around the country and one should be good and proper and sleep there. I can’t remember if wild camping is actually illegal in France or not. Unlike the travelers who had written those blogs, we simply don’t have the cash to pay for a campsite or hostel, let alone a hotel every night. There are of course also those bloggers, who said they did nothing but wild-camp. But their voices seemed rather small as we were busy looking for a really hidden spot that we could get the bike to.
We found a tractor trail leading between fields to a small forest. There was a red ‘no trespassing’ sign which I didn’t bother reading and Aidan ignored. So we wobbled towards the trees (after riding into the camping field at the 2012 HUBB meeting our first ever “offroading” experience 😉 ). As soon as we killed the engine, a young guy in a little silver Peugeot turns up and I frantically try to piece a french this-isn’t-what-it-looks-like excuse together in my head. But its not working and I am envisaging all sort’s of mad scenarios of being chased back onto the road by a mad little french car bouncing all over the dirt track. So I pretend to be busy with the bike trying to come up with a plan.
Meanwhile Aidan takes his helmet off and strolls over to the guy with a smile: “Do you speak English?”. Yes a little, and of course we could stay there for the night! Just pick up all your litter. By the time I realised Aidan hadn’t been eaten alive and made my way over, the guy waved with a smile, hopped back in the car and drove off. That was easy 🙂 Now I felt really stupid!
Exploring the little woodland to find the best spot to put the tent we realise it’s actually an off-road dirt bike track. No wonder the owner came over all concerned when he saw two bikes heading there at 7pm without his consent! Spot found, we just had to ride the bikes over. The track was muddy and we only had road tires. Aidan managed fine, so I set off after him. The bike starts slipping all over the place. I’m shitscared and stiffen up and cling on for dear life! I even forget to close the throttle and head straight for the bushes. Before I know it, the bike heads back onto the path and some dryer grass. I finally manage to close the throttle and come to a stop – upright! So that’s what they mean when they say you’re supposed to keep the throttle open against all instincts and you’ll be fine! I’ve consciously tried to replicate my first success since on mud and sand, but without success. Invariably instinct won, I slowed down and fell over 😦
We pitched the tent between some trees and tied a tarp to them as a roof under which to cook in the rain. Works really well so real happy with our gear so far! Aidan cheffed up some fishy pasta on the camping stove (that’s pasta with tinned fish and tomato sauce plus some herbs and spices) – simple but really yum after a long exhausting day. We drink sum wine, eat kinder chocolates for dessert and write our diaries. Aidan finished before, so he got his SLR and tripod out, and started playing around with those.