Paris, France to Deal, UK
Number of Kilometers: 14,968
Number of Countries Crossed: 16 (China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom )
The weekend in Paris being hosted by brother Liard sr., Ô Chateau Wine Bar and Matthieu’s good friend Vincent had ensured that any hope of arriving to London looking like athletes were swiftly blown off the road. Ahh to be back to the world of fine food, excellent wine and, since Stéphane (Matthieu’s brother) is married to an English lass from Lancashire, some very fine ales.
It was the final leg of the journey and it was supposedly going to be an easy “flat” ride to Calais. As such we opted for the cycle route option on Google maps to guide us to the port. This works magnificently sometimes and woefully at others, usually when you need it least. As we descended into the bay of Somme we couldn’t help to think of the poor souls that not only had to live in the cold, muddy conditions but also had to get through each minute getting shot at or being shelled.
It was tough, dirty cycling and by the third and final day cycling, our data running out whilst in the middle of a farmer’s field, we decided the best way to arrive in Calais for the agreed meeting with the Goulden family would be to stick to main roads through Boulogne and follow the coast. Over the seven and a half months crossing the world there have been surprisingly few occasions where we have made very bad decisions. How ironic that we would find ourselves on one of our final days cycling in the cold, howling wind and rain, into the night and over hills that were in some places steeper than anything we had cycled in the Alps. At least we arrived to give the Goulden clan a first hand impression of what life on the road was like.
The next day was big, very big. We were escorted onto the P&O ferry in the morning with priority boarding and met by the Captain of the ship. They had been very supportive of our request for help to allow us to “cycle” across the channel. Glad that our initial idea to make a world record attempt to pedalo had been vetoed by the Coastguard it was nonetheless made it possible by taking the bikes up on deck and putting them on home-trainers.
A big thank you has to go out here to James and his colleague who stepped up to lend us their own equipment when their employers Evans Cycles were not able to help. The Beeb were on board and put this little number together for the evening news:
Waiting for us at Dover docks were a contingent from Northbourne Park School, Oli’s old prep school. We came off the ramp and were greeted by rapturous applause and cheering. The school mini-bus escorted us up the white cliffs and a few miles (not kilometres anymore!) to the school.
The reception that awaited us was nothing less than magnificent. We led a group of 15 pupils on their bikes down the driveway lined with the rest of the school. Kids from the ages of 5 through to 12 years old were waving flags from all the countries we had been through and held up drawings of us they had made over the last few months. Gerbers went up as we approached and the school band played a fanfare as we came to a halt. It was overwhelming and almost had us both in tears. Along with many of the people reading this blog, the Headmaster Edward Balfour and the entire school has given us such great support during the trip and kept us going through the hard times.