Friday, 6 October 2017

The Manche to the Med - Day 16: Heading for Home...

Heads were somewhat delicate this morning - and there was a sense of sadness as we packed our stuff for the last time. Whilst this adventure has seen us on the road for 15 days, it seems to have flashed past in a blur. Suddenly it's done and we're heading for home.

We take our final breakfast in France - croissants, bread and cheese, we ask the lady in charge what would be the best route back to Narbonne - we need to get back there to meet up with our coach transport back to the UK. She tells us the cycle path is the easiest and safest route. We don't fancy the bumpy canal path again but decide we should probably heed her advice.

Pick up point
It's bright and sunny as we pedal off. Traffic is light but the main road looks busy. We stick to the cycle path where there are many cyclists already buzzing back and forth. Soon we're on the canal again, bumping and rattling along, slow but steady. It doesn't seem quite as bad as it did yesterday and we arrive on the outskirts of Narbonne by 10.30am. The roads here are very busy. We're on a dual carriageway and decide to pull over to figure out where our pick-up point is. According to the instructions we've been given we need to find a 'Hamburger Quick' which we assume is a fast-food outlet - There's no sign of that but we spot a Burger King on the other side of the dual carriageway. We cross the road and walk towards it, there's a man with a bike standing on the grass verge at the edge of the road. I walk over and quickly establish that this is the place. He was dropped off here a week ago and has been touring the local area and canal paths.

All aboard for home

We've got a four hour wait now until the European Bike Express picks up us, our bikes and luggage. We stand around; we sit, we go for a burger, we go to the supermarket just across the way. Still three hours to wait. I wonder if we should cycle into the city centre and find a bar or something - but we decide against it. It's a long wait but finally the transport arrives. It's a standard coach but towing a second trailer that stores the bikes and baggage. We're greeted by a small man who is too short to lift our bags onto the storage racks - Gary steps up to give him a hand. Then we're on the coach with just hand luggage. There's some confusion over the seats - we have allocated seats but someone is already sitting in ours. The little guy comes aboard and puts us somewhere else. Then we're off - we'll be onboard this coach for the next 23 hours or so. There'll be further pick-ups throughout France as we head to Calais for the ferry to Dover - then dropping people off through the UK - we'll be dropped at Leicester Forest East and then there's a 10 mile cycle ride home - 20 for Gary.

The European Bike Express
The coach gradually fills with more and more cyclists - mostly older, skinny veterans of the road, seasoned tourers by the look. They all seem to know each other and the coach staff, greeting one another like long lost friends. Gary chats to a couple of them, one has been touring in Northern Spain, another couple Burgundy, but no-one has done a journey to match ours.

The coach stops at various service stations and we are able to stretch our legs and make use of the facilities. Gradually we make our way North as night falls. I manage to get some sleep but it's patchy, I remember being woken as the coach picked up some cyclists at around 2.00am. Finally we reach Calais at about 6.30am on Sunday morning. I feel as comfortable as anyone who's just spent 15 hours squeezed into a tin can with 50 others wearing two-week unwashed lycra. Each time we get back onto the coach after a comfort break there's a noticeable sweaty 'hum'.

No sign of bluebirds?
On the ferry we queue for breakfast and tuck into pale, watery bacon, fried egg, tomatos, sausage and toast. I know it's rubbish but it tastes okay. Soon the White Cliffs come into sight - we think the tannoy should start playing the Vera Lynn song. As we get back onto the coach I sit down heavily, wondering what lessons to draw from our trip - or from the confines of the coach journey home. Only a few more hours to go though.

We are dropped off at the motorway service station at Leicester Forest East and load up our bikes for the ride home. The sky is threatening and before long we are pulling on waterproofs. There is a torrential downfall as we edge up some steep inclines through Desford - but it's nothing compared to the hills we've been up in France.

And so the adventure ends on a damp Sunday afternoon on the outskirts of Leicester. It's good to be back, safe and sound. In terms of madcap ideas generated on a Friday night in the pub, this one was right up there. I feel it surpasses anything we've done before, not least because we were on our own - no support to call on if we got into trouble. And because the journey through France, end-to-end, Channel to Med is not particularly common. We know plenty of people who've cycled Lands End to John O Groats - but no-one who's done the French version.

Thanks to everyone who helped and supported us on our endeavour - not least Kate for transporting us to Portsmouth with our our bikes and luggage - we couldn't have done it without you! John and Jane, whose emergency mint cake kept us going! and Val for the farty car video which made us laugh.

So that's it for now - thanks for reading these notes. Keep an eye on this blog for the next thing. Anyone fancy Spain?

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