Tuesday, August 29th
I slept without the rain fly on my tent anticipating a warm dry night. In fact it was cold and damp and I woke up at 3 to raindrops and half awake I threw it loosely over the tent and climbed in back to sleep.
At 7 I emerged to find the campsite submerged in a dense mist hanging in the trees and it there was a chill in the air.
I made breakfast and coffee then vended a hot chocolate for 50 cents from an ancient machine next to the bathrooms which had the palette and symmetry of a Kubrick or Wes Anderson set. It dated from the time when it was acceptable to paint everything pink and yellow.
Not many people had woken up and there was a peacefulness in the quiet and the mist.
I stopped by the chateu on my way out. It too was draped in mist and the statues and fountain looked like pieces from the set of a some period drama or a never made Joy Division video. Classical music was playing from a speaker somewhere. One guy walked his dog. It was the kind of France I liked, far away from the grey seaside towns and sad campsites I’d found myself in for most of this ride so far.
I wanted to take a look at the sea and the cliffs and took a slightly long winded way down to the water after stopping at the super market. I’ve eaten far too much bread in the last few days.
I stopped on the beach at what I think is mers-Le-bains, one of a handful of small seaside towns along this slice of coast which had views of sloping cliffs and rows of beach huts with colourful roofs. I wandered the shore a little then took the steep climb back up through the town.
I noticed a cycle route was sign posted along the coast so followed the steep roads along to the next town – Criel-Sur-Ner, crossing paths with three French cyclists I’d noticed earlier outside a hotel.
The next big stop was Dieppe. I rejoined a busier main road inland and pressed forward. I stopped in a roadside park which contained a number of apple trees. It was here I booked my ferry home – late the following evening from Caen. It didn’t feel especially momentous, just ineveitable. What remained now was one more night in France after anther 50 miles, and an overnight on the ferry tomorrow after 60 miles or so from Lillebonee – the town I was aiming for tonight.
I paid for the ferry on my phone, ate more bread, and continued.
Dieppe was a busy town. Rows of cafes and restaurants on a long promenade facing a marina docked with expensive looking boats. As I navigated the centre an impatient driver honked at me. I stuck my middle finger up and realised that one of the most satisfying activities in France is swearing at drivers like this as they hopefully glance up in their mirror.
I avoided the promanade and found a cafe in the centre outside a large cathedral with tables arranged roughly across the square. I ordered a large coffee and contemplated where to spend the night as a woman at a table a few seats away starting hysterically laughing or crying to herself. She walked away making the same sound. I left soon after.
I decided to stay in a hotel in Lillebonee. I felt conflicted about spending my penultimate night of the trip in a hotel and not a tent, but it was cheap (€30) – at least compared with the average American motel and I needed to charge the batteries which kept my phone alive and enabled me to navigate. Currently these were all dying. I’d attached my USB solar panel to the front of the bike but this couldn’t be relied on as the power dipped in an out at the slightest shadow cast by a tree or car. It also seemed like there weren’t any campsites close to lillbonne, and I was too out of practice wild camping to begin now, so I gave in and booked the room. The hotel was called Hotel de France. If the creativity of the name was anything to go by I didn’t hold out high expectations.
It was hilly leaving Dieppe. Steep but short climbs which were punishing on my baguette filled body. But on the edge of town a cycle path began out of nowhere. A long surfaced track raised above the road. It was a relief, but came abruptly to an end as workmen were cutting down trees in the middle of the path.
Thankfully a few twists and turns took me to another path – or a continuation of the same one. It ran for at least 20km through fields and forest. Every few km were benches and places to lean bikes and relax, later on was a pump and even hammocks for weary legs. It would have been a great place to camp but it was too early in the day to stop.
Eventually, and ineveitably, this cycle path came to an end, and I rejoined the roads. Following a number of extremely narrow and fast roads which I assumed only farmers used or knew about, hoping that nothing was coming in the other direction.
Little towns came and went but it was mostly open countryside.
I stopped somewhere Which had a supermarket and bought too much sugary junk to get me through the last 20 miles. Worst of all was a packet of smurf shaped Haribo which I immediately regretted.
I found Lillebonne and the hotel de France a little before 7. Lillebonne was a bigger town than most I’d seen in the last 30 miles which seemed more functional than attractive but would be a fine place to spend the night.
I checked in, my room was on the third floor and almost had a view.
The last few days blur together in my mind. Miles of countryside and coast. Some pretty some not. No particular landmarks, few conversations, and aside from the night camped by the chanteu, not many particular strong memories. I’d been focused on getting to the ferry and back home. I’d enjoyed the cycling but at this point it was feeling like a means to an end rather than its own reward. I felt a little sluggish which I put down to the excessive amounts of croissants and baguettes is consumed, and now I felt a little like I was cheating by staying in a hotel.
Sometimes it felt like cycling required no explanation at all. In America it just made sense to me. Here I found it a little harder to find a ‘why’, but I was trying hard to not lose all sense of purpose and enjoyment as my focus has shifted from cycling as a way to explore, to a means of couriering myself and my possesions homeward.
I sat in the courtyard and drank a beer and spoke to Finn on my phone and enjoyed the last hour or so of daylight outside the hotel. I bought a pizza, watched YouTube videos. and couldn’t sleep. A person in the room below banged loudly on their ceiling, my floor, and at some point I eventually, to their relief and mine, I drifted off.
Tomorrow: the final 60 miles or so to Caen, and a long night on a ferry.