These are some of the stories, adventures and experiences from the first two weeks, and 400 miles, of our England to India cycling expedition.
It’s been two weeks since we started our plant-powered cycling expedition from England to India and we’ve already had a whirlwind of adventures. Cycling in a storm was more difficult than we thought, French bread is better than we had imagined and people have been more hospitable then we could have hoped for. Our first two weeks have been a battle but despite the highs sometimes seeming outweighed by lows we’ve relished the start of our adventure.
As we waved goodbye to the shores of Dover we had an overwhelming sense of relief. To say that our last days on British soil were unpleasant would be an understatement: they were bloody difficult. Despite delaying our departure date by two days on account of Storm Gareth we still encountered ferocious winds which made the cycling incredibly difficult and at times completely impossible. Coupled with the fact we hadn’t done much long distance cycling before leaving, and the added aches and pains of our new bikes, our bodies had taken a bit of a battering.
England isn’t all bad
We hadn’t planned our last days in England to be necessarily notable and had envisaged cycling just to get from A to B in order to reach France. We did not however envisage those days being so difficult. If it had not be for our pre-booked minibus taking us across the Channel (or in fact under it) we definitely would have travelled at a slower pace or taken some time out for the storm to completely pass.
Our last experience of our homeland wasn’t all bad. On our last night before crossing the boarder we had one of our most memorable travel experiences to date. After cycling all day in strong headwinds, mostly alongside busy motorways, we were physically and mentally drained. Two hours after the sun had retreated we were struggling down a steep, windy, country lane and saw two pairs of luminous eyes. Gradually two humans began to become visible behind those eyes.
Being debatably lost we got closer and stopped to talk to the man and women, who were stood behind what we could now see were two dogs. We asked for directions and the women couldn’t have been more helpful, taking us along an off-road track and pointing us the right way. She must have realised the state of us, with our heavy bikes and low esteem, because she offered us her garden to camp in. We jumped at the opportunity.
It turned out this wasn’t the first time Janice had taken in strange travellers met on the street. She introduced us to her husband Chris and the next thing we knew we were all sat in front of the fire sipping beer with a Chinese take-away on the way. We exchanged travel stories and tales of outdoor pursuits long into the night before being offered a hot shower and crisp bed (one of the comfiest in the world might I add).
In the morning we ate an array of jams and toast before Janice and Chris wished us bon voyage. So, our last night in England was a damn good one. It’s no secret that J isn’t the biggest fan of the UK but there’s no arguing the fact that on this occasion we received some of the best hospitality we have ever experienced. It left us with a warm and positive feeling towards England just before we left for an unknown amount of time.
More winds and hospitality cycling in France
The wind and hospitality didn’t stop there. We arrived on French soil at about 6pm with a journey of less than 10 miles to our first french Warm Shower hosts. Confident we would be there in good time for dinner, unfortunately we didn’t take into account the weather. A journey that should have taken us 40 minutes ended up taking over two hours on account of Storm Gareth. This had us pushing our bikes uphill and having to peddle hard just to move downhill.
The route was incredibly hilly and had us almost defeated. It was thanks to gobbling down some sweets a friend had given us before leaving that helped us conquer the final parts of our journey. In Wissant we were staying with a family we had found on an app called Warm Showers. This awesome online community helps you find hosts who will let you stay in their home or camp in their garden for the night whilst cycle touring. Upon arrival we were invited in for dinner and beer which was a welcomed invitation.
The Wissant coastline is littered with the ruins of German bunkers from WW2 contrasting with the waters which are dominated by wind surfers. The following day exploring the little coast town fuelling up before another day of cycling.
If you saw our previous post you will know that we both had to purchase new bikes before leaving on account of neither of them being up for the distance (which we kind of knew anyway but just didn’t want to admit). J was very fortunate finding his dream bike online second-hand at a reduced rate. Since he and Betty (the name he gave his bike) have met they’ve got on like a house on fire; he won’t stop going on about how great she is to ride.
Roger (the name I gave my bike) and I don’t have the same relationship. Roger is a beauty to look and picked up for a great second-hand price, but things are just not the same. My last bike was a very different fit so I’ve had a whole heap of aches and pains from riding.
The day off in Wissant felt good when I wasn’t sat in the saddle, but after about 10 miles back on Rodger the aches and pains made a come-back with a vengeance and our journey to Forest-Montiers was not a comfortable one to say the least. Since then the aches and pains have faded and after a few tweaks Rodger is being kinder to me.
French attitude to food
Our hosts in Forest-Montiers welcomed us in and prepared us a meal that was nearly all sourced from their garden. They placed great importance on growing your own and even more importantly on not using pesticides. We were delighted to eat an array of fruits, nuts and a hybrid vegetable soup that had been made from a cross between a courgette and pumpkin. It was so enjoyable to see how passionate they were as a family about making everything from scratch and eating seasonal produce.
This ethos is something we’ve seen a lot of travelling across Northern France and it’s refreshing to see people really care about what they eat. Eating great food is huge priority for us. We enjoy exploring with our palate but need to make sure we’re consuming good stuff in order to lead our active lifestyles. It seems that the people we spent time with also share the same idea that eating good ingredients is the key to good food and is something to be enjoyed in itself.
In my opinion this is quite different to British culture where less people eat seasonally, and food can often be seen as a mere means to serve a purpose. Eating seasonally and locally can be difficult in Europe in the winter time but from a sustainable point of view it’s so much better and reduces your carbon footprint dramatically. Although for some it may seem like a step backwards, living off the the land, with today’s mass transportation of fruits and veggies from all over the world and all the pollution that comes with along it, this should in fact be the way forward.
We have now arrived in Fontainebleau; where we are going to be based for the next two and a bit weeks. Whilst here we are going to be helping Hilde and Pete with some gardening and general odd jobs. We found them on the Work Away website and they invited us to live with them and their two cats and two dogs (one of whom has taken a particular liking to J), in exchange for us helping out around the house. We choose this location on account of the woods nearby where there is an abundance of bouldering and rock climbing which J is itching to conquer.
Our next fortnight will be spent in Fontaineblue mostly gardening, writing, exchanging travel stories over good food and wine, whilst anytime in between will be spent outdoors clambering up rocks or getting lost in the woods. We have an excursion planned to Paris to bumble about exploring with our senses. We’ll be sure to soak up the sights and attractions plus sample some of vegan delights Paris has to offer.
Now I’m off to plant a fig tree in the garden, au revoir!