Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Lumbering Up

It's 'D-2', and there's a lot left to do. This next trip has had a very peculiar and stuttering gestation.

First of all, it wasn't the natural choice for where to go next. We had enjoyed Scotland immensely last year, as we rode up the Outer Hebrides, in weather we could probably not hope to ever see again up there, but whilst we had several ideas in this country, my language skills and interests led me to be looking at Germany, Scandinavia or the Benelux countries if we were to venture outside the UK.

The thing is, Thomas Ivor has been learning French this year, much earlier than Katie and I did modern foreign languages at school, and it just seemed like the thing to do to take him to France and give him some cultural exposure. Since he is schooled in Devon, setting off from Plymouth seemed the most efficient use of his fortnight with us.

I spent a lot of the time working on our trip to Brittany in the abstract, testing the feasibility of our ideas, and was bundled into booking ferries when it became apparent that availability was going to run out; as it is, we missed out on the Friday night sailing. It is frustrating that whilst changes in the way schools approach attendance and holidays led to us being told that the previous allowance of two weeks out of school for an annual holiday being scrapped, it turns out that other children have indeed secured at least the Friday off, to get a head start on their travelling.

I ended up initially with a ferry booked from Plymouth to Roscoff, and nothing more; in the end, I did a rough and ready calculation on mileages and decided that Cherbourg was possibly a stretch (frustratingly, I think we could have done it without much bother, knowing what I know now), so booked a hopscotch route back from St Malo via Guernsey to Poole. The withdrawal of the Weymouth ferry earlier in the year with the arrival of a bigger vessel to serve the Channel Islands put paid to any hope that we could cycle back to Devon afterwards.

The trip, then, became a case of making a route up to fit between two fixed points and times, in a place I had scarcely visited, a language I do not speak, in the peak holiday season, with three children, one of whom, in Thomas Ivor's case, would be riding their own bike for the first time, on the other side of the road. Not much to go wrong there! Meantime, Thomas Ivor has talked non-stop about the expedition at school, including making an appearance in his class assembly as a French-speaking cyclist visiting a boulevard café in his Tour de France Maillot Jaune!


Our trip across the Humber in May was carefully devised to make good use of Thomas Ivor's half term visit to test his capabilities. A trip along the North Wales coast had ascertained that 25 miles in a day was quite possible, and thanks to rigging him up to a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor I was able to teach him to ration his effort. He does it better than me, now! It became apparent that he was well within himself to cover serious ground, but not whether he could do it day after day. The Lincolnshire to Yorkshire trip was therefore devised to give him some longer days, back to back, with a safety net, the car nearby, and no pressure to reach anywhere in particular. He performed splendidly, surpassing our expectations. 40 miles a day is well within his capabilities, though we have planned shorter days than that to give us some breathing space and time off the bikes.

Having only received his passport from Devon a week ago, suddenly we are into a more frenetic preparatory period than usual. The language barrier has slowed down the process of arranging overnight accommodation, but thanks to Warmshowers.org we have managed to find some French cycling families kind enough to put us up, and give Thomas Ivor especially some immersion in French language, culture and perhaps some food! On this side of the channel, we have been fortunate in recent days to have had some wonderful offers of hospitality and technical assistance.

Because we are heading for the apparently bucolic interior of Brittany, and staying away from major conurbations like Rennes, we are particularly concerned about the consequences of a 'mechanical' whilst in France, and making sure we manage to find food and supplies (milk and nappies!) en route. Whereas last year we had a daily option to 'bail out' and head back to the car by public transport if we needed to, this time, once we are on French soil, that's that - and we must cover off unfamiliar challenges related to language, currency and navigational.

Electricity is a concern. Finding it, and being able to plug into it without taking lots of extra kit, because we can't afford to increase our weights. I think I am going to source a solar charger, another big battery pack, or both, just to give us some more redundancy and to ensure that we aren't forced to curtail photography or entertainment for the girls just because of a lack of juice.

A sizeable delivery of bits and bobs yesterday (thank goodness for Amazon Prime!) will hopefully be followed by another one today from Islabikes, so I am off out into the front garden now, at just gone 0800, to service two bikes and make sure the postman doesn't leave the 'red card of doom'. Slowly but surely, this trip is coming together, but now the pace has to pick up pretty sharpish if we are to have wheels rolling from Exeter on Saturday morning.

Time to crack on!

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