When we left Calais, we were emotionally and physically exhausted.
Love has a tendency of doing this to you, as I’m sure you know.
When we left Calais a heat wave blistered northern France.
Cycling was intensely hot, incredibly tiring and deeply stressful for a myriad of reasons.
I will just relay the events of one particular day to give you a taster.
I call it:
‘Disaster Day Dans Le Soleil’
We woke up at 5am in a campsite to eat a banana and some biscuits. 24 degrees. We packed down the tent slowly in the fog of sleep and watched as the sun rose over the horizon and the heat began to burn the dew of the morning away.
We set off at around 8.30am, following a rough path next to a canal. By 10am we were drenched with sweat. It was pushing 30 degrees. The sun was on our side of the canal and the luxurious shade was on the other side of the water. When we came to a bridge we decided to swap sides to try to get our hot bodies into that blissful looking darkness.
The path looked a little rougher but we didn’t think too much of that at the time.
The shade was attractive enough not to notice.
An hour later and it was 35 degrees and we appeared to be in a very narrow, dense jungle. We were pushing our bikes and it was taking all our effort just to move them forward through all the thick vegetation. This vegetation mainly consisted of waist-high, two foot wide plants with plump, waxy leaves that stuck out horizontally. These exotic, strange-looking plants grew right in the centre of the rock path. There was also the joys of huge quantities of stinging nettles and head-high sticky grasses. On one side of us was dense forest leading god-knows-where and on the other side was the canal, looking more enticing by the minute. But as we slowly trudged further and further down the jungle path we began realising our surroundings were fantastically infested with all number of biting insects. They seemed to be attracted by our sweat. We had come too far to go back. We didn’t think we could even turn our bikes around with so little room. It was taking all our strength and patience just to push the bikes forwards and frequently slap our bodies wherever we felt a sting. We had to keep going.
The heat seemed enormous and overwhelming, constantly growing in intensity.
We finally passed through the jungle path after much swearing at plants and insects. The path then turned into a new kind of hell without a bridge in sight. The ground, now with no plants to bind it, had turned to a sort of smooth, white clay. It was the slipperiest stuff I had ever encountered on a bike. I fell over – bike and all – three times. Each time grazing a different part of my body with pedals or cassette. One time I had to grip onto the wooden bank to avoid falling straight into the canal.
We finally got off the hell path and found a small village at midday. We picked up the usual bread, cheese, avocado and tomatoes. I was already getting very tired of this diet. We found a park and ate joylessly in the shade for a while, inspecting our bites and rashes. I lay down and looked up at the trees moving against the flat blue sky. Haydn said maybe we should carry on if we were going to get to where we had planned. I tried to stifle the tears back that I could feel bubbling in my chest. I really, desperately did not want to get back on the bike. We tried to leave and set off cycling again but once we were back to the main road I just sat on the curb and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I was just hating it. It was so hot I felt completely delirious. So did Haydn. All I wanted to do was sleep. We went back to the shade of the park where we had eaten lunch and decided to sleep there longer until it got a bit cooler. From here it just got hilarious.
I woke up from sleep desperate for a wee and quickly scanned around for anywhere I could go. There were a big group of young Polish men hanging around a bench near by so I stumbled up still half asleep and grabbed my Sheewee. I tried to hide behind a tree, fumbling around, still feeling like I was in a dream. I got the angle of the Sheewee wrong and completely soaked my cycling shorts with piss. I felt so humiliated and suddenly intensely angry about this whole experience being such a disaster and how much I was hating today and wondering why on earth I was putting myself through this. It felt like a strange nightmare or a punishment. A very hot, extended, self-propelled punishment. A punishment that I had worked my ass off for two years to scrimp and save the money for. What by the great beard of Zeus was I doing here in this mangy park in some obscure, beyond average town in northern France with mild heat stroke, covered in insect bites and wearing soaking wet piss shorts!
I lay on the ground and my chest started heaving with sobs. What are we doing Hayds? I kept asking him through my sobs – Why are we doing this? He rubbed my back and just said one word. One word that made all this mess, all our efforts and mistakes and pain and discomfort seem to have a purpose;
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