Wednesday, August 30th
I sat outside a cafe drinking my second of two large coffees. Plump french men waddled the cobbled streets with baguettes and cigarettes in their hands. It was a sunny morning, there was a bustling market in the town selling fresh fruits and vegetables and meat, though I seemed to be sat at the end which sold bad fitting jeans and fake perfume from the backs of parked transit vans.
My ferry was at 11pm so I was in no particular rush though I got out of the hotel as early as I could so as not to wallow in the comforts of its bland but comfortable interior.
The first 20 miles were awful. I needed to cross the Pont de Tancarville, a large red suspension bridge over the seine river. A winding back road took me up to the bridge level were I was greeted with roadworks and closed signs. But I found a way on to the narrow pavement at the side of the bridge and edged my way over it, lorries and tankers passing by inches to my left.
This was a taste of what was to come as exiting the bridge I joined what intially felt like a quite road but seemed to be one of the main routes for these lorries to reach the port, presumably Le harve. It was a tense hour and a half. No shoulder on the road and a haze in the distance which had hung over the river and, I feared, made me hard to spot. Cars seemed to be going well over the speed limit. One blasted its horn at me for now apparent reason. I couldn’t wait to get off it.
Finally an exit came at a roundabout after a long drawn out climb towards Boulleville. Dodging one last lorry I breathed a sigh of relief and several exhausted expletives as I could finally relax on a quiet country road.
I continued a few more miles then rested at a large supermarket where I drank a €1 instant coffee and ate a ‘maxi’ pain o chocolat the size of a brick. The soulless interior of the supermarket felt strangely comforting after the tense morning I’d had on the roads.
I motored through the next 20 miles. A combination of more winding narrow country roads and a long section on a gravel topped track through a corridor of trees, and some attractive arched bridges. A lot of uphill. I passed two confused Germans. Amongst the trees it was hard to get a sense of perspective, altitude, or proximity to the sea.
I took a break at the side of the road and then, with four brief downhill miles, I hit the coast at Houlgate with some surprise to see the beach and sea once again. From here, at sea level again, it was plain sailing. I followed the coast around on a mix of roads and cycle paths and soon the port at Ouistreham was just miles away.
It all seemed very quiet and it was hard to believe an international port was going to emerge around the corner, but after one last push the port materialised, a lighthouse, and beyond, a large Brittany ferry docked, which would take me home.
It was just 6, so I carried on around to the sea front to to the beach, one of the five main landing areas in Normandy on d-day. Expecting a drab port the seafront was actually quite a lucky place to be for the few hours before sunset.
I ate ice cream, drank a beer, read a little, took a long walk along the beach, ate chips, looked at the D-Day memorial. Saw the sunset and watched people riding horses at the waters edge. I had a strange urge to listen to this British Sea Power song that I hadn’t heard in years.
There’s been several ends to this trip – when I reached the pacific, when I reached Vancouver, landed in Amsterdam, and when i’ll get back to Portsmouth tomorrow. I’ve learnt not to try and force myself to feel something momentous on these occasions, as it just doesn’t work like that. Instead, as it got dark, I got on with the process of getting on the boat home.
First a passport check, then I wheeled my bike down one of the long lanes where cars and vans had began to queue up. I was the only cyclist I could see. I put my bike on the ground, went and bought a coke and chatted for a while to a nice family next in a car next to me who’d been driving around France for a week with their kids. I explained where i’d been for the last year, how I rode my bike and carried my things, and how I ended up here, in a queue for a ferry on a Wednesday night in France at the end of August.
It was dark now and eventually I proceeded onboard, behind some motorbikes. I pushed my bike forward inside the hull and secured it with some ropes before heading up on deck to find my seat.
When I woke up I would be in England, almost.