First things first again…yesterday we set a new record for a single ride, riding 83km from Forges-les-Eaux to Cappy. We packed up camp and set off to ride up and out of our little valley town. For some reason, the body felt really good and my legs felt fresh, I have no idea why, so the hills didn’t feel too bad! We were back on the open road, along a highway with a strong headwind again and Wednesdays must be freight day because every second set of wheel that zoomed past us seemed to be a truck, each of which added its own wind rush to the wind we were already in a tussle with. On we went though and arrived in Amiens.
We saw Australian flags flying outside restaurants and when I went into the tourist bureau, there was a stand completely dedicated to Australia and the events going on to mark Anzac Day, including “Australia Week” in Villers-Bretonneaux, with events and concerts and a football match taking place across the week.
We had elevenses outside Notre Dame Cathedral, which is the “largest gothic edifice ever built” and apparently Notre Dame in Paris could fit into this one twice over, that’s how big it is.
We pedalled on and came upon…yaaaaay!!!…a canal path! We were back to cycling along the nice flat canals on a lovely smooth, flat, path and it was a lovely sunny day. Perfect! As different to the canals we cycled along in the South, this one had houses all the way along it and each one had its own access bridge and gate, coming off the path, some more elaborate than others! They also each had a little moat, so there was the canal, then the path, then another smaller stretch of water, like a moat and then the houses. Some houses had small boats and dinghies moored in their little moat too.
We stopped in a park beside the canal for a spot of lunch and then continued on and were soon at our intended pitstop campsite, after about 48km of riding. We wondered if we should stop or push on? It was only 2:00 and the canal path made for easy going, so we decided to push on to another campsite about 16km away and that would get us that little bit closer to our Anzac Day destination of Peronne.
Off we went, still riding along the nice path. We came upon a lake, with a large house set beside it in the distance. This is the story of this setting, as written on the sign beside the path:
In the cliffs above the ponds lived a giant. He was as big as a fir tree covered with linden bark and could smash rocks with his voice, roll stones with his breath and animals answered the call of his horn. He made children appear to enjoy this beautiful nature; but as they grew, the children became wicked…making the giant weep. He wept so that all perished in the flooded plain. The giant fell asleep, leaving this fantastic landscape behind him.
So there you go, that’s how the ponds came to be there!
We came to our next campsite and again discussed whether to stay or keep going. It was in a tiny little village and we were in need of a supermarket to get fuel for the Trangia and Steve needed food, so we decided to keep going about another 8km to a town that had three campsites. As we were riding out of the village, I saw another quite moving war memorial. This is the first one I’ve seen with a horse as part of the image.
Unfortunately we found that our canal path had ended and we were back on the road. Well…all I can say is we obviously took the long way around via the hills, tracks and dead-ends! We came to a path beside the canal that the GPS told us to take. There was a No Entry sign but by this stage we had kind of become slaves to the GPS because time was moving on. “There’s a No Entry sign,” I pointed out to Steve. “We’re going along here anyway!” came the reply in a somewhat “I’m over it now” tone of voice. We rode along a bumpy track and Steve looked for a way back onto the road, but the track leading that way had wire strung across it, obviously saying “No Entry!”, so we kept going along the original track, to find it came to a dead end! Hmmm, I wonder why there was a “No Entry” sign at the start!? There were some boys, about 8 years old, fishing in the canal and one of them came up to me and said something that sounded like he was asking if we needed help. I said, “Merci, je ne parlez pas Francais”, to which he looked sorry because he couldn’t speak English and I obviously couldn’t speak French so he wasn’t able to help. What a nice little lad though, again an example of the friendly people we’ve met, to come up to us and see if he could help. There was nothing for it but to backtrack and get back on the road and just keep heading towards the town that had the three campsites. So on we went…up some hills…then up a dirt track through a paddock (hmmmm, shades of doubt creeping in!), then down a really steep track through another paddock (is the GPS and the little green cycling man conspiring against us into one almighty practical joke!?).
After much bumping and teeth chattering we eventually came to Bray-sur-Somme, the town with the three campsites. We rode into the first one…closed! It didn’t even have a hint of looking like being open. Not to worry we thought, we have other options. We pedalled off to campsite number two, up a steep street, rode in and…closed! Again, despite the sign saying open April 1, it didn’t look remotely like it was in operation. Mmmmmm, this is getting frustrating! Back down the hill we go and off to campsite number three. I’ll let you fill in the blank here…are you sensing a pattern?…it was…all together now…closed! You’ve got to be joking! A town with three campsites and not one of them open! It was now 6:00, we were a bit tired and hungry, the prospect of somewhere to lay our head was looking less and less likely by the minute. What to do? We sat for a moment, pondered our predicament and then decided to cycle on to the next town, which also had a campsite and hope upon hope that this one would be open! On we went, (I saw my first pheasant fly out of a hedgerow) and we finally pulled into the campsite that didn’t appear very operational, but at least the gate was open! It turned out the caretaker was there and after some communication difficulties and a seemingly impregnable language barrier, we eventually understood enough of each other to be shown a place to pitch the tent. Aaaaah, finally we at least had somewhere for the night, in a very empty campsite, so the little village of Cappy was the place to give us somewhere to hang our cap! So we did a record ride of 83km, completely unintentionally!
This morning, after yesterday’s epic pedal, we only had 20km to ride to Peronne. “Off we go,” said Steve, “only 20km and we’ll be there, hopefully along a nice canal path.” Now, I don’t think I’m a naturally cynical person, but I do have something of an intuition gene, not to mention a sense of “we’ve been here before and…”, so whenever I hear something is going to be easy and straightforward, unfortunately I fear it won’t be! I said nothing though, and off we went, turned off the road and onto the canal path…bump…bump..shudder..shudder…drrrrr…crunch…the path was just a rutted, hole-filled track. Before too long, Steve in the lead stopped and said, “Well, we’re not riding 20km on this!” So we turned back and went to the path on the other side of the canal. It too proved to be a bumpy, lumpy, difficult to ride on, track. (Was I right to think there would be glitches in the plan!?) We found a place to get off the track and decided to try our luck on the road. This was obviously much smoother, but also came with hills. Oh well, been there, done that, got the t-shirt! After a while, Steve looked over towards the canal and said the path looked better, so we got off the road and after pushing the bikes through a gap in a hedgerow, we got onto the path beside the canal. This also wasn’t sealed, it was actually more like riding across a paddock, but it wasn’t too bumpy and at least it was flat. However…it came with its own supply of swarms and swarms of flying bugs! I mean thick clouds of them the whole way! We were wearing them, eating them, breathing them and I reckon you could have heard me snorting and spitting and gagging all the way to Paris, as I pedalled along trying to clear my nose and mouth of these pesky little critters!
Fiiiiiiinnnnaaallly, we came within sight of Peronne and for the last couple of km, the path became sealed and we zipped along to arrive at our campsite at 11:30, which was…go on, say it, you can say it…closed! However…it had one of those friendly signs outside saying we were welcome to choose a pitch and register later when the office opened at 5:00. You little ripper, we had made it, albeit not quite as easily, smoothly or comfortably as we first thought, but we were in Peronne! We pitched the tent and settled in.
Today was then spent catching up with Steve’s cousin Shaun, who’s from Tassie but is living and working in London and had also lived in France for a year, so he came over to meet us, which was lovely. He drove us out to Villers-Bretonneux so we could have a look at the town, the Commonwealth war cemetery and the Australian memorial. What a moving place. We again walked the lines of headstones, reading the names, ages and dates. I think the saddest thing that struck me was the number of soldiers who had died either on the day of Armistice or the day before and a few who died in the days after. It’s just so awful to think they had endured the horrors of war in the trenches and villages here, only to die just as peace was declared. It’s set in a beautiful spot, overlooking the fields. Today though, the site was absolutely teeming with television crews and media buses and everything was being set up for the dawn service. We heard speakers practising and the big screens were set up, so while we were taking in the place and its significance, we also had all of the preparations for the service going on around us. It was nice to have had the chance to visit it before the dawn service though, to see it in the bright light of day as well as being able to see it again at dawn.
So, with some plans that went to plan and some plans that didn’t and some plans that went to plan but we messed them up of our own making, we eventually arrived in Peronne a day early. So tomorrow we hope to see a bit of this city and its war history, before going to the dawn service at Villers-Bretonneaux on Saturday. Please let that go to plan!
Oh, and one other thing, we reached a milestone too, we ticked over our 2000th kilometre!
So what have I learnt, discovered, wondered, thought or experienced over 2000km? Here are a few things:
1. There are a lot of very friendly, lovely and gracious people around. We tend to only hear about the bad things going on in the world so it’s nice to be reminded that there are still wonderful, friendly people going about their day to day lives and welcoming strangers like us, because we’ve met a lot of them!
2. Canals and rivers are a cyclist’s best friend! Water doesn’t flow up hill, so wherever there’s water and a path, that path will be flat! (even if a little bumpy perhaps, but nevertheless, flat!)
3. Hedgehogs seem to end up as road kill. At home, one thing Tasmania is unfortunately known for is its road kill, we have so many wallabies, possums and wombats that are killed on our roads, that running or riding along country roads in particular, can be very upsetting. Here though, we really haven’t seen much at all in the way of wildlife, except for hedgehogs, but these have been deceased on the roads I’m sad to say. Poor little things.
4. Bugs hurt when they torpedo into your head on a highway in a gale force wind!
5. I like playing the license plate game. Here all the license plates are the same EU plates, just with a letter to show the country of origin of the vehicle, so I’ve had fun working out what each country is. GB is Great Britain, E is Spain (Espana), P is Portgual, B is Belgium, NL is Netherlands (we’ve seen a lot of those on motorhomes), I thought D was Denmark, until I saw a DK, so now I think that’s Denmark and maybe D is Germany (Deutsche). There is one I am still stumped on though…I saw an L. I can’t work out what that might be. Any thoughts? Lichtenstein maybe??
6. I’m constantly amazed at the legs’ ability to keep going day after day after day, even after long rides and hills and without rest. Somehow they just keep getting up each morning and keep on pedalling.
7. If you have a can of Ratatouille, you’re all set for any number of gourmet Trangia meals…curry, pasta, soup…the possibilities are endless from that little can.
8. If you have a tube of tomato paste, you have soup, a pasta sauce, a spread for sandwiches or rice cakes…the list goes on with that little tube! Creativity from the simplest supermarket items has become a new hobby!
9. Wind is not my friend ( have I mentioned that often enough yet!?)
10. As hard as it can be some days and as much as I’d rather be running, and certainly running more than I get to now, a bike is a super way to travel, to see things, have time to look at things and experience places at a scenic pace. It’s nicer without wind, it’s more comfortable without rain, it’s easier without hills, but all in all, it’s a fine way to travel.
That’s it…2000km on, those are my thoughts! Pedal on!