South of Abbeville, Northern France

Le Mans to Abbeville – about 210 miles

Last night was the first night that got really cold. I’m usually not bothered by it, but last night it kept me awake. One more sign that we’re nearing England and the end of the trip I guess. It didn’t help that I was troubled by weird dreams, mixing my inability to communicate in foreign languages with weird, half-forgotten childhood memories. That’s the thing about these extended trips – you’ve got a lot of thinking time while you’re on the road. In between negotiating towns or stopping to eat or fuel up you’re left with a lot of time just for introspection. You tend to square things away in your head, arrive at conclusions about yourself, your life and the people around you. Then when you’ve dealt with that stuff, all the demons from your past start making their way to the surface. Your mind starts digging up old shit that’s been buried for years, just to have something to play with. It’s probably healthy, psychologically speaking, but man it fucks with your dreams.

Packing up the bikes was fairly standard by now and after porridge and coffee we were on the road by ten. Two hours seems to be the time it takes us to wake up, eat and pack, and I don’t really see the point in working too hard to reduce it. Back on the road, and we had to find our way back to the chosen route, since our shenanigans the night before had taken us off course. Easy enough though, and a combination of luck and the navigational skills we were slowly picking up soon had us winding our way through little villages on our way north. The villages were slowing us down but I wasn’t too bothered.

We were 300 miles south of Calais and the plan was to treat ourselves to lunch and a beer (attempt number two) and just keep riding ’till we were within 100 miles or so of the ferry. We had pizza and beers in a really nice little village called Conches, just south of Rouen.

I’d noticed as we were heading further north that the villages were taking on a real ‘storybook’ kind of look.  The streets were narrow and winding and the locals relaxed in the sun smoking cigarettes and chatting. Since we’d crossed the river in Saumer and passed a huge white Chateau, everything had felt quintessentially French. Maybe that’s what makes northern France a good spot for a short weekend ride – it conforms to your expectations, in the best kind of way.

Back on the road and I was having one of my introspective moments. I’d missed some big occasions during the trip – a best mate’s 30th birthday, his engagement to his girlfriend, another best mate deciding to move to Costa Rica indefinitely, his leaving party. Hearing about all these things over the phone and not being involved was disappointing. It was interesting though that it never made me think twice about leaving to travel ’round the world. Missing out on landmark events in my friends’ lives is unfortunate, and there are some people that I’m sure I’ll miss when I’m away, but the world is out there to be seen, and I aim to see it. Maybe the nomad’s life just suits me…

Skirting around Rouen and jumping on to the motorway meant I had to start focusing on the present again. It was straightforward enough though, until we hit Dieppe – a labyrinth of roads and water. I circled around it for a while looking in vain for the road marked on my map, until Maria pointed out a ‘toutes directions’ sign. We followed that and a few other roads intuitively and eventually got back onto roads marked by the map and en route to Abbeville. We’ve been travelling with a very small scale map – 1:900,000 – so sometimes roads that seem to lead straight into a town are actually connected by small bits of other roads, or just change their name at some point. It’s ok if the towns are well furnished with signposts, but that’s not always the case.

We decided that it was getting too late to go all the way through Abbeville and look for camp on the other side, so at about 6pm we started looking for good spots. I had this naively romantic idea that on our last night of wild camping we’d find a perfect spot instead of just settling for any old place to throw up the tent, even if it meant searching for longer than usual. A small price to pay for a comfy piece of ground, a good view of the sunset and a blanket of stars to lie under. About five minutes into the search I stopped at a small side road to see if it looked promising. I wasn’t too keen, since the track seemed to bend around and run back parallel to the main road, but Maria wanted to have a look. The track ran as expected, but a few hundred yards later a smaller path branched off to the left, ran up a hill and ended at a rectangular grove of tall trees cresting a hill and giving us exactly the spot we wanted.

With the sun going down in front of me, the stars just starting to shine at my back and a soft floor of ivy to lie on, and a bottle of wine to wash the whole scene down, I can definitely see the appeal of staying on the road for good…

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