It’s Monday 12th August, 1:30am and my alarm is ringing. Having only gone to bed at 11pm the night before, I should be the worse for wear. But I’m not. Like an excited 5 yr old on Christmas Day I jump out of bed, for today is the day, Day 1 of my European trip.
I have a 7:50am Eurostar to catch and it’s a 4 hr ride to get there. From there it’s a quick 40 minute hop to Calais then about a 100 mile ride to my first campsite just outside of Abbeville.
Every journey starts with the first step, and mine leads me to getting dressed, carrying the pre-packed panniers and tank bag downstairs to the kitchen, grabbing a quick cup of coffee before loading everything onto Sarah ( my BMW F650GS).
Final quick check, everything is securely packed, I am in my motorcycle gear and it is time to hit the road. With a fair wind and a supply of good luck I should return back to my sisters house in Dorchester on 26th September having travelled through France, Switzerland and Italy.
The ride down to the tunnel is uneventful, I stop briefly at Fleet services and meet up with two other riders on route to Harwich and a ferry to Norway. They are seasoned tourers and chat about all their adventures to date. I am amazed at how little gear they are carrying and begin to suspect that I may have massively overpacked. Should I have left the waffle iron behind I wonder?
They ask where I am off too, and seem amazed that for a first trip I should have planned such a long journey. Secretly I am amazed too, it is a long way and it is my first every tour, on my first ever big bike, having only passed my test four weeks previously and having never ridden in Europe before. What’s not to like!
It’s daunting yes, but aren’t adventures supposed to be that way. Stretch you, push and pull you in all directions, cause you to look deep inside yourself at times, produce highs and lows that will live with you for the rest of your life!
I hope so, I really hope so. I want to discover who I really am, what drives me, what makes me feel alive everyday. It’s a big world and I want to find my place in it, find where I fit in.
I continue on my way, each mile drawing me nearer to the tunnel, each mile unlocking a bit more daylight as night finally gives way. I leave the motorway and follow the signs for the tunnel and finally reach the entrance to the Eurotunnel. Now it’s the first official part I have my passport checked and then I am guided to my next stop, a holding area until you are called to board. I sit in the holding area for about half an hour, there are coffee shops there and the like, but it means leaving the bike unattended so I stay put.
Eventually, the call is made and I make my way round to board the train behind a line of other motorcyclists on their way into Europe and their own adventures.
On the train I chat with Kate, who is on her way to Nantes. She tells me about her trip last year to Japan that took her 5 months on her bike, also a BMW F650GS (I feel this is a good omen).
As she relives the trip, she comes alive, eyes bright as she recounts the good, the bad and the ugly. Travelling flows through her, you can tell, these trips are her chicken soup for the soul. I hope in the future when I recount mine I’ll feel the same way.
We arrive at Calais and the bikes depart in a long line. Many go straight onto the motorway and head off direct but a few, including me, stop at the petrol station just outside the tunnel exit.
I buy a coffee and a croissant, time to acclimatise to the French ways I feel and truth be told I want time to compose myself before hitting the road. I am nervous about driving on the right. Kate has given me tips and advised me to go slow to begin with, but there is a nervousness that is undeniable.
Finally the time has come and I hit the open road. It is not as bad as I thought, within a very short space of time I have successfully negotiated 3 roundabouts and not strayed into the wrong side of the road. I am a natural!
Thirty minutes in and the skies darken and the wind picks up, a foreboding of what is to come. At a road junction (see above picture) I stop to put on my wet weather gear, there is no denying rain is coming. I am amused to find by the roadside, an egg vending machine and a potato vending machine, and wonder how many people actually stop there to buy them.
The day quickly descends into weather chaos. I am hit by deluge after deluge of torrential rain with the odd hailstorm thrown in to boot to keep it interesting.
Four hours in and there is no let up in the weather, I am cold, depressed and wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew. Just when my resolve threatens to crack I see ahead a service stop ahead and dive in for warm coffee and something to eat.
My luck continues to mock me, though the coffee is warm and welcoming, my choice of sandwich is neither. I went for the known, cheese and ham, surely a safe bet I thought. But no, though the ham is wonderful the cheese turns out to be goats cheese. Re-enacting the scene from Big (starring Tom Hanks) I hastily scrap out as much of the filth as I can, but I am already scarred! The offending sandwich is deposited in the bin and I set off again, still hungry.
The rain has now eased and at last I am able to take in the views. I am travelling through Normandy. It is vast, roads run straight for tens of kilometres and there are endless farm fields, which every now and then give way to rolling hills and densely wooded areas. The landscape is epic and the views help revive my enthusiasm. This is what I came for, to get lost in the enormity of everything around me.
It’s beginning to feel like the long day it is and it is with a sense of relief that I spot the first signage for the campsite. I am tired and sore from a full days riding and ready to get off the bike. I turn off the main road and head down some kind of stately home driveway that apparently leads to the campsite reception.
After a very muddled conversation with the receptionist, involving lots of puzzled looks on both sides, I finally get to book in and head off to pitch my tent for the night. The evening has turned cold and I am in need of some warm food and a coffee!
The tent is pitched up in no time, countless practice runs have paid off in spades and I am soon unpacking my gear, ready to cook my evening meal and have my long awaited coffee.
With trips of this magnitude there will be things that you bring that will never be used and likewise, you will forget to bring things that will always be used. For me, the first forgotten thing turned out to be camping gas! I had the burners, just no gas canisters to attach them too.
In foreign fields, where you don’t know the lay of the land, the purchasing of camping gas can prove much harder than you could image. As I have now learnt, you can’t rely on your campsite for camping gas. I mean why would a campsite even think of selling camping gas, how absurd!
On my way into the campsite I had passed by an Intermarche, a small supermarket, and thought that might be my best bet. So reluctantly I got suited up and set off once more on the bike. No joy, they sold large canisters, enough to supply a house, but not little canisters. Feeling a sense of defeat, I bought some water, chicken salad and some peaches and resigned myself to my cold meal.
As I headed out of the car park I noticed that next door to the Intermarche was a garden centre and not one to give up a lost cause I thought I would try my luck in there. Success, of a kind, a tiny gas canister was to be had, not the size I was looking for, but enough to put warm drinks back on the menu.
I returned back to the campsite a happy women, warm coffee was good and the chicken salad was better than expected. I had survived my first day. I had successfully navigated across part of France without any major incidents, kept going through appalling weather conditions, dealt with issues as they arose and finally brewed a warm coffee. Life was good, the first step taken and I had never felt more alive. I slept well that night.
Love and hugs