We were all warned that the ferry's wake up alarm was an apocalyptic style run for your lives blast but turned out to be more of a browse of the birthday cards in Clintons! It didn't make getting up any easier though. I returned back to the 'wet dog room' (sorry fellas, it was!), got my kit on and made our way off the ferry. I knew once back on the bike, we would all wake up but the French border control probably wasn't expecting an invasion of zombie cyclists at 5am on a Thursday morning!
Dieppe was still sleeping but anyone peaking out their window must of thought a mobile discotheque (dropped in some French there!) was cruising through thanks to the white and red beams lighting up their coastal home. We were all to meet a few miles ahead to stock up on a couple of bars/jelly babies but it is hard to eat at that time in the morning. Your body is only getting over last night's dinner and it's schedule is not ready for a full breakfast yet (could just be me speaking there!). Was dying for brew but we had a cup burglar somewhere! We stocked up on the bars and had a full bottle left over from the day before but it was around 30 miles till breakfast. Thankfully this whole section was routed on an old railway track turned cycle path named Avenue Verte (translated as the Green Road we believe!). As the light started to return, the group started to fracture probably due to hunger and fatigue or just being cold and soaked no thanks to the relentless drizzle which engulfed the whole morning. I found myself riding mostly with David (I hope I've got that right - there were 30 names to remember in 3 days whilst I heard on the grapevine I was known as 'Ben the Blogger'!). I tried my best to chat to everyone at some stage on or off the bike but I do apologise if I missed anyone out, these events go by much quicker and makes it more of an experience if the social element is strong. I was aware I was an outsider tagging along but for me, it was an interesting insight into an industry I do not have much experience in. My background has always been coaching and education so it was refreshing seeing how a team from a different sector comes together and the bonding process that involves. Obviously in every corner of society and life, we have friendship groups and preferences and even though the groups on the road were probably more determined by experience and speed, there was no division off the bike between the team, a credit to their company especially with the amount of effort they each put in to get to Paris (damn, spoiler!).
The surface for this never ending cycle path was unreal in comparison to some of the roads back home. It was only broken apart from well notified road crossings, you had to look closely to spot the old platforms turned shelters or small houses. We were trying to work out though who uses this cracking piece of cycling infrastructure? Yes it was very early in the morning and we literally saw handful of people along the way but there were no built up towns we could see and it was mostly farms that lined the way. It is quite featureless in retrospect, if you imagine following a train line, there's hardly any bends or hills although we were very slowly gaining in elevation so at times it was a mental battle as well as a physical one against the hunger. Breakfast stop was planned for a town called Forges-les-Eaux but since we are a sucker for a good deed, at the request of Arun, we stopped at a crossing point to make sure people went the right way. But god we were starving! We asked ourselves what would Ed Stafford would do in this situation? Well he would tick off the three keys to survival. Well I still had water in my bottle, covered there. Shelter? There was a tunnel near but couldn't use it as the riders coming through wouldn't see me so that was out of the window! Fire? Well the rain hadn't subsided and everything was wet, plus it would of made a surreal segment to this ride! One thing we did forage for was food and we don't mean roadkill. The bushes close were full of blackberries...well they weren't when I left them!
Breakfast was a heaven sent, stuffed my face with 3 croissants, a ham and cheese omelette baguette, chips and 3 hot chocolates! Can anyone else beat that?! By the way, how's your luck?! Ours weren't great that day, 10 metres rolling out of the cafe, puncture #2! We finally joined the last group to hit the road which turned out to be the busiest section of the day. We were told by many back home that French drivers were more courteous than the British but we found the lorry drivers in particular to be hit and miss. Some gave you a wide berth, sometimes too wide if that's a thing. Others would cut in back way too early and the end of their trailer would be too close for comfort, not sure these drivers understood my bad choice of the English language but it was fully deserved. Turning off this highway into the back lanes, we picked up Mark on his very respectable old school Raleigh equipped with the shifters on the down tube (tried them once, difficult to get used to coming from the shifters on the bars). He knew he messed up a little because he jumped ahead of the group he was with and then his battery died on his phone along with the route! So it was quite lucky I picked him up as he doubled back on himself to find someone to follow. I quite admired his innocent approach to cycling. His experience on the Raleigh was limited and some of the cycling clothes he was wearing he had brought new on the Wednesday morning before we had set off. Lovely guy to chat to but the horseshoe was definitely turned upside for me today. At a junction waiting to turn right, Mark had clipped out on the left but leaned to the right. This meant falling into me knocking me to the floor resulting in a few light grazes for my troubles. I actually found it funny but I could tell Mark was feeling guilty but no need, we've all had clip out episodes which haven't gone down well so no hard feelings mate, just clip out behind me next time yeah?!
After a quick stop in Gournay-en-Bray, I headed out on my own. No offence to anyone but it was nice to have some time riding at my own personal pace taking it all in that I was in France on my bike for the first time. The route veered back to the old railway track, we had to be careful though because this section was mostly hidden by the canopy of the trees lining the way to Beauvais which meant a lot of fallen wet leaves had covered the smooth surface we had been accustomed to earlier. We decided to up the pace though and managed to catch up with a group in front which included Jennie and the BikePimp! Only memorable feature of this second half of the ride was an eerie looking theme park which had closed for the season, just something unnerving about the quietness and calm it presented as we rode past. Arriving in Beauvais in the dry (bit late for that!), some of the riders out front were already feet up, beer in hand watching England take on USA in the Rugny World Cup, that was clearly their incentive to get to Beauvais first! We opted for a fresh cuppa nicely titled Big Ben Breakfast tea. It was a great brew but it it had been on a different day, we would of queried the € 4.80 we were charged! Beauvais turned out to be a quaint little town, we were recommended the cathedral by Arun and it didn't disappoint, truly breathtaking, We're not one for churches and cathedrals but standing in the middle of this awe inspiring piece of 13th Century piece of architecture with the organs supplying the soundtrack, it really does strip you back to a moment of innocence. Sounds deep for a cycling blog but it was truly something to experience and be reminded why we were doing what we were doing...