Day 1 – Hastings, UK to Gent, Belgium (216km)
Meet George and Vic at Brighton station. First train cancelled due to two pissed teenagers being dicks. That’s our time buffer gone. Meet Mark at Hastings station. Tailwind across Romney Marsh, heads down, smash it to Dover (didn’t need to worry about that lost half hour). Weave through a long tailback from the outskirts of Dover.
Dunkirk. George snaps a spoke. Detour to bike shop in De Panne to have it fixed. The rest of us have a coffee and pootle along the beach until we meet up with George further along the coast. Canals and cyclepaths all the way to Bruges. Dinner at Subway on the edge of town. After dinner entertainment provided by kids jumping off a high bridge into the canal.
Cyclepaths and cobbles into Gent. Find hotel. Check-in. Bikes in lifts. Bikes in hotel rooms. Comfy seats in the lobby. Food. Beer.
Day 2 – Ronde Van Vlaanderen and #TRCno6 (162km)
Breakfast on a sunny street corner in Gent. Canal path to Oudenaarde, then bits of the Tour of Flanders route – Wolvenberg, Molenburg, Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont. Cobbles in summer heat are just as horrible as cobbles in cold drizzle in early spring. I don’t need to ride these again.
Geraardsbergen to soak up the atmosphere at the start of the Transcontinental Race No.6. Drink beer. Chat to friends racing. The buzz on the town square raises a desire in me to race. Feel quite emotional. It may be the beer. Drink more beer. Ride up the Muur with a can of Jupiler in a bottle cage to cheer the racers on their way. Bumble back down the cobbles to the bar on the corner for another beer. Ride back to Gent. Spot an open bar on a street corner in the Gent ‘burbs. Another beer. Back to the hotel late. Another beer.
Day 3 – Gent, Belgium to Reims, France (242km)
Wake up and instantly regret the last couple of yesterday’s beers and late night. Nowhere near enough sleep. George and Vic have already left to ride to Calais, Mark is getting ready to get train to meet them in De Panne. I’m heading south solo. My head hurts and I’m bloody exhausted. This is going to be a long day…
Breakfast from a petrol station. Boring roads. Headwind. More boring roads. It might be the hangover and the headwind but I’m not appreciating Belgium. When do I get to France? Big messy roads, French places on signposts, must be nearing the border. Road number prefix changes from N to D. Oh, that’s the church we had a nap at on the Transcon last year. It’s getting relentlessly hot. And that wind can do one. Long straight undulating roads like only the French can do. Stopping for water at every opportunity. Field after field after field after field after field… Where the hell is Riems? The last few kilometres take an eternity.
Hotel F1 somewhere in a maze of streets on the outskirts of Reims. Reception closed at 21:30 so I check in via a touch screen in the lobby. Carry bike up the stairs. F1s are always a bit hit or miss but this one feels well dodge. I’m sure that guy downstairs is dealing drugs from that open window. Shower. Pass out.
Day 4 – Reims to Chaumont (190km)
Up and out early, climbing through champagne country. Long straight undulating roads like only the French can do.
Follow the river Marne for a couple of hours and then circumnavigate Lac du Der-Chantecoq. Stop for ice cream and water whenever possible. Start to climb away from the Marne but eventually drop back down to it and pick up a canal path to near to Chaumont. Run out of water.
Steep ramp up in to Chaumont. Can’t be arsed, get off and walk. Into the centre of town for a coffee and a beer. Supermarket picnic in the Hotel F1 on the south side of town. No drug dealing here. Decide to ride as far as Salins-les-Bains tomorrow and book an apartment in a nearby village for tomorrow night.
Day 5 – Chaumont to Salins-les-Bains (175km)
Wake up to thunder and rain. First hour or so is cold and wet. It’s actually quite nice after 2 days of searing heat but by mid-morning it’s warm and by mid-afternoon it’s stupidly hot again. Feels hotter than the last two days. There seems to be very little in the entire department of Haute-Soane and what is here is closed on a Wednesday afternoon. Constant up and down, very little flat, a rolling terrain. Warm water in bottles. Magical mystery tour of Gray looking for a shop, a bar, anything! What do people do in this town for food? Where is everything, where is everybody? Add it to the list of places I never need to come to again. Almost out of water. It’s another 30km before I find a cemetery with a tap. Thank fuck for that. Not quite so warm water is slightly better than unpleasantly tepid water.
First sighting of the Jura. Pass a campsite with a bar and a vending machine! WHOOP!! Coffee and cold fizzy pop and a Snickers bar. That’ll get me as far as the supermarket in Mouchard. Ingredients for dinner stuffed in a musette and a snack for now. Slow spin into the foothills to the apartment. Absolute luxury compared to the F1s of the last couple of nights. Make a cup of tea. Shower. Bung all the kit in the washing machine. Cook dinner. Hang up the washing. Bidons in the freezer for tomorrow. Cook a second dinner. Pass out.
Day 6 – Salins-les-Bains to Morzine (149km)
Gnocchi for breakfast. There are a lot of hills to get over today. Quickly stop for a coffee in Salins-les-Bains. First climb is a beauty. Gentle ascent through woods to a meadow plateau. After three days of sunburnt crops it’s a lovely change to be surrounded by mountain flowers and fields of green. Pedalling seems easier. Another coffee in Champagnole before the next climb. Riding in the hard shoulder of the N5 (but it saved a good chunk of kilometres). A loop of a town looking for food. Another climb. A seriously overpriced bottle of Evian. Switzerland. Hairpins galore and a stunning view of Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond.
Straight onto a boat across the lake and back into France.
Shit roads to Thonon-les-Bains. Really shitty road. A Juggernaut judders to halt alongside me, wheels locked up, the car behind him skids across my path. Fuck this shit!
Up the valley to Montriond. A long steady climb through a gorge. Start to recognise the road but don’t remember it being such a drag last time I was here. Overtaken by an old woman on an e-bike. Come on legs, not much further. Five kilometres to go. Head spinny might fall over bonky faint. Stop for an ice cream and slice of tartiflette. In that order. Soft pedal slowly up the road and find the apartment.
Cold beer in the fridge! Thanks Nick! Tip contents of wallet on floor. Fourteen euros. That’ll get me a take away pizza.