Whilst idly plotting some routes earlier I realised that the last two months I’ve done 200 kilometre rides in France, both of them logged as DIY by GPS audaxes. There’s still one weekend between Christmas and New Year when I can get the ferry to Normandy and do another one which has got me thinking about completing an Audax UK Randonneur Round The Year challenge entirely on French soil. It has ‘randonneur’ in the title after all.
Some words I digitally scribbled on Instagram at the time
04:17 and the Soulwax remix of Klaxxon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is squelching away in my ears. Not in a club though and the double in front of me is a vending machine espresso rather than vodka. I don’t remember big hills towering over Dieppe? Moonlit clouds play tricks with my tired mind. Autopilot out of town to the silent solitude of the dark. A puddle of light, strobing white lines. Behind me the sodium spill of town smudges orange across silver moon clouds. The comfort of quiet familiarity of the landscape even when I can’t see it. The moon drops behind a cloudbank and Orion hunts above my head.
I sit on a village square and pull half a cheese sarnie from the framebag. Five years ago this Saturday was my first Normandy daytrip, riding the same route, a 200km version of the Dieppe Raid ‘Tour des Trois Vallees’ that we found online. This Saturday last year I sat on this bench eating a first breakfast on my way to Copenhagen. The long way always leads to a longer way. Next week I’ll attempt to ride the length of France in a week. Today is a nudge to remind myself how to ride a long way. The first 200 kilometres in one go since the Transcontinental.
By the time I’ve ridden 75km dawn is breaking. Stop for coffee and a pastry. I’m joined by soft shadows and gentle echoes when I continue. The sun has risen. Patterned fields, abstract sky. Harvest season, the smell of earth, piles of beets, drying corn flexing in the breeze. Following lanes, chasing horizons, dreaming of tailwinds.
135km, aching legs, dehydrated hungry body. Making all the usual mistakes. 160km, in and out of Casino is under two minutes. Might have forgotten how to ride but know how to shop for food quickly. Lunch staring into the distance listening to the sea. A rider strolls up, bikepacking bags, a Normandicat musette. We chat, he’s local, finished ninth in this year’s Transcontinental. We chat some more, his first big ride since the summer too.
The last bit, some roads new to me thrown in. I’ve ridden the coast road too many times. I’ll join it somewhere but not yet. A tailwind! Views of the sea. I can see the ferry approaching. The lonely melancholy of out of season seaside towns. That last hairpin. The first traffic that hasn’t been tractors. A beer on the quayside. Just about remembered how to do this.
Dieppe to Dunkirk on the way to the Cyclocross World Cup in Koksijde.