The £6 hotel breakfast was pretty tame. I've decided to hunt down the person that invented those tiny cereal boxes and beat them to death with a full sized cereal box. I cleared out of the hotel at 10ish, had an unsuccessful poke around for a French phrasebook but did manage to pick up a map. It has a scale of 1:200,000 which is much more suitable for my kind of trip as it shows ALL the roads. Now confidant that I could find may way around the paced eased a little - if it becomes much more sedate I wont be leaving France. I got distracted the budget grub from a Lidl, which seem to be as common as the damn "Golden Arches". Though it pains me to set foot inside, McD's is a guaranteed water stop.
Out of the city in the right - direction for a change, the roads straighten up. People seem happy it's Friday as I'm getting more than the usual number of toots/waves. A guy pulls up on the other side of the road and runs over to say 'Hello'. He spoke no English but from what I gather he has built his own bicycle trailer and is fascinated by mine. He's impressed that I have cycled from England. I tell him I'm heading for Bulgaria via the Danube - which is true. I feel a fraud saying I intend to cycle to India, it seems so unrealistic. In my mind be fore the trip I pictured myself breezing throught Europe and on into the Middle East. Turns out it's much easier crossing Continents tucked away behind my laptop!! Who knew!?
The road to Avesnes-sur-Helpe was poker straight, I took a picture of it. The section in the picture seem to go on forever, much like the stereotypical pictures of roads in the US. It turned out to be about 4.6Km. With plenty of time on my hands I calculated it to be approximately 1/2600 of my total distance...bugger!
I cruise downhill for ages and pause at the bottom for a "biscuit stop", thinking the extra calories may come in handy for the seemingly endless hill I now have to climb. I consider checking my map but swiftly reject the idea. Knowing full well it isn't going to offer an alternative route via babbling streams and radiant poppyfields with naked Sweedish girls riding horses....and thus I climb the hill.
A while later I come across a campsite sign, and after getting some directions - which amazingly, I understand, I arrive at the site. I eat, fiddle with the bike, stare at my maps and go check out the toilets and showers. I chuckle to myself as I imagine bringing some of my friends to such a place.
"What the fuck do I do with this!?"
"I'm not touching my arse with that, I need quilted goddamnit, quilted!!"
It's the trough style which requires squatting over and cleaning is done with the hand... My own immediate thought is "sweet, I dont have to dig my own". I take a shower and make a mental note to be better with the suncream - feeling a little 'crispy'.
Distance: 69 Dudes!!
Having found a super cheap camp site I decide to take a rest day to allow my body some recovery time. I spend the morning chilling/snoozing and fiddle with the bike again. I have been getting stuck into Jack London and enjoying it quite alot. I go to the bar in the village thinkning it would be good to meet some locals and perhaps practice my French. I write my journel in the bar while drinking strong Grimbergen, which is like the Dark Leffe. The locals are most friendly. When people leave or enter the bar everyone is greeted individually with a handshake or a kiss - much the way we might at home. The greeting is extended to me and makes me feel welcome. A farther and little girl of 6 or so leave the bar, the little girl kissing everyone goodbye. I'm surprised at the affection/politeness shown to a stranger, a trait long gone back home thanks to media fuelled "paedo paranoia". The landlady helps me with my French and even gives me some tiny phrasebooks.
It's nearly closing time when the farther of the sweet little girl comes back to the bar for a few Whiskys. In between tears he talks with the Landlady for some time, I feel awkward and motion to leave. The bar is closed up and the man asks if I would like to go back to his for a beer. He speaks some English, his name is Franko and he's 52, he has many piercings and most of his body is decorated with tattoos. We drink warm Leffe while he tells me about his wife taking his daughter away. The conversatoin moves on and he shows me the certificates and trophies he's won for his body art. He shows me his portpholio. Flicking through, the first few pages are filled with his designs, some of which are quite impressive and very intricate, though as the book progress's more and more of the designs feature the Swastika. I turn the page hoping things dont get worse...they do. Photographs of him wearing nothing but the most meagre of thongs, in order to best display his body art. For some reason I keep turning the pages, like the horror move you cant help but watch. On this next page his attire is the same only now he's holding a gun in each hand - and I'm not reffering to his biceps! Another photo shows a "Chopper" esque pose with arms crossed over his chest hold two pistols. I continue page turning to pictures with a more S&M quality, half PVC clad heavily tattooed women are the focus of this page. One shows him wrapped head to toe in a kind of cling film suspended horizontally from a wooden A-Frame, he finds this one very amusing and tell me he looks like "un saucisson"
Yes Franko "propper sausage!!"
I inwardly sigh with releif as the pictures once again feature his designs. We drink more beer and the conversation moves forth. He asks me if I'd like to hold his Python, foolishly I say "yes" before considering the possible implications of what might follow. Another sigh of relief as he reaches to a glass tank behind me rather than toward the zipper of his pink denim shorts. It's a beautiful animal, about 5/6ft in lenght, I can't really tell with wrapped around my arm, it's alot heavier than I expect. I'm not a huge fan of caging/domesticating such animals. But as I'm the guest, and he is the tattoo clad, thong wearing, gun toting neo-nazi...I decide not to bring it up...
We continue to talk while he finishes his bottle of Whisky. He becomes quite upset once more and decides we shall smoke a joint and then he shall shoot himself, being abit of an emotional retard myself I dont feel fully equipped to deal with our dilemma. None the less we continue talking his emotional state subsides. We go outside and meet his neighbour. Floro is 22 and designs and makes his own clothes, he is sporting the baggiest set of "baggies" I have ever seen!! I figure the quiet village is an odd place for a 22 year old, but hey, I live in a tiny tent what do I know!?
They want to come and check out my "rig" so we make towards the campsite, but the owner wont let them in the site and would like very much for me to go to bed. I dont protest too much as it's getting late and I've a reasonable amount of drama for one night. I bid Franko and Floro goodnight, amazing the night ends without great incident. Franko asks that I wont forget him and gives me a tiny lizard carved from horse bone by his Polynesian farther.
"Somehow Franko, I don't think I'll forget"
Rest day done I hit the road once more, and have possibly my best days cycling yet. My route the the Ardennes was magic, I hoped for a campsite to come along so I could justify stopping, but it didn't. Never before have I experinced air with such green freshness, I fill my lungs best I can to make the lost of it. I ride through the pretty Belgian towns of Chimay and Couvin, I take the cliché pics of me by the boarder signs. Done many times before I know - but not by me okay! There's a motorcycle race on in Couvin and bikes are everywhere in many shapes and sizes. I have a pang of jealous as I miss the noise and the speed, but spitefully conclude that I get fitter as they get fatter. Also the planet appreciates my choice of transport for sure. I meet my first fellow touring cyclist, he's 62 and doing a tour of France, already 4000km down I'm impressed and very jealous! He's making his way to Strasbourg so we may meet again. He stops at a campsite, I consider stopping too but while 5 or so hours of daylight I press on a while longer. Dropping into a valley I hit my new top speed 61kph or 38mph (for you Joe), I pay for it going up the other side mind. The drivers are very courtious I often get waves toots and shouts of encouragment when slogging up the hills which fails to get me pushing the pedals that bit harder. I find a little campsite by the river in Monthermé. A french couple and their 6 year old daughter are doingg a cycle tour from Charleville to Belgium, great to be starting so young!! I speak to Mum and Jess aas I sit by the river and then catch some luch needed Z's.
I make Charleville in quick time as the French family point me in the direction of the nice flat river route. If the danube is anything like this I'm in for a treat! It's a pretty town with a grand central square, I sit by the fountain and take 5. I can't find any interent so dont linger too long. I do stop by a patisserie - it's becoming abit of a habit! I sample a Compolo, a speciality of this particular bakery and is hands down the best cake I've ever hand!! My cake/pudding vocabulary is far too inadequate to descirbe it's greatness, but put Charleville on your holiday list if your a cake fan!! I get another 30k under my belt and stop at an Aldi to stock up and lunch. Sitting on the floor in the carpark tucking into my jam sarnies I get some odd glances and chuckles. If there is one advantage to riding along with your underpants drying in the wind it is that you deveople no shame. Anyway, next time you see a scruffy fellow sitting on the floor outside your local supermarket say "hello", you may just make his lunch break. Better yet take him home for dinner and a night on your sofa - he's probably in need of some fresh vegetables and a good nights sleep (much like myself). You never know, it might be me on the return leg of this very journey! I sit by the canal to write my journel and eat my tea - a big tin of fruit salad for some much needed vitamins and E numbers.
Do great drama today. 27°C cloudless sky, my "panda eyes" are coming along nicely thanks to constant sunglasses. I stop in Verdun to find some internet and update the blog. It takes me forever, I hope it's something I get quicker at, as I'd like to make it better but for now just updating take quite along time. Verdun is another pretty town with the most amazing Mango flavoured ice-cream! I fail miserably at finding the youth hostel so head out of town in the direction of a campsite I spotted on my map. The campsite doesn't materialize "thanks Michelin for your peice of shit map". I consider stopping at a picnic area but it's very exposed and theres a good two hours of daylight left. I have a "wild poo", eat my dinner and push on feeling quite tired. I'm rewarded for my efforts with some easy downhill cruising in gorgeous golden evening glow. Scouring the landscape for suitable camping spots returns very little - not much cover to slip behind, or dense greenery in which I would have no hope of pitching a tent. A random campsite sign appears so I head in that direction - I seem to be copping out of wild camping more and more at the moment. The lure of a shower is too much too resist, definately the luxury I'm struggling with most! It's a really quiet site, I chat briefly with a couple of Dutch touring cyclists. darkness comes and I head for bed. Over the road there's a loan bull in a field with a bell around its neck. It's drives me mad and I've only been listening to it for a few hours - can't imagine how the bull feels!! I wonder if the farmer is blind, why else would a bell be required for one bull!!? I cant find my earplugs so dont get the best night sleep...
I manage to get on the road abit earlier today 10:00, I time it well as the local Patisserie van arrives just as I'm leaving. I snatch a cheeky Pan au Chocolat for some extra va-va-voom, because it would be rude not to! Seems to do the trick as I break my top speed record with a 66kph on the speedo. The lanscape is flattening out abit and with a slight tailwind I'm getting through the K's abit quicker. I have a nightmare getting through the City of Metz which is clearly not well equipped for bicycle travel. I make a deal with myself that I will lunch once out of the city, this is foolish and only serves to deepen my mood. Those that know me well have all seen the sulk that swiftly follows and empty stomach. Jess knows it so well I often get "James! Are you hungry!?" hahaha - what a child I am. Another victory for Michelin as the labeled campsite does not appear. I'm now getting used to the concept that if I push on, one always seems to turn up.
Rest day. Little too mention. Oh two weeks in today!! yipee - still going!!