Pull my phone from gilet pocket and tap WhatsApp.
Aborted. Legs and head both gone. Heading back to Dieppe, should be there by 1pm. Three course lunch and beers?
Put phone back in pocket.
Turn around and roll back down the hill.
Not even half way up the climb from Grandcourt towards Blangy-sur-Bresle I’m calling it a day half way into the December RRtY ride. I love this climb usually, the way the road softly weaves around the contours of the hillside until abruptly turning into the hilltop forest that spills over the sides. Not today though. The legs are struggling and my head has wavered once too often in the last thirty kilometres. I’ve done the sums, I could still get round but it’s not going to be any fun and it’ll end up being a slow painful sprint for the ferry. I haven’t been riding enough recently for this. I could keep going as far as Blangy and grab a baguette sandwich from the bakery and a coffee from the cafe on the corner by the church and see how I feel after fuel and a short rest. Once I’m in Blangy though I’ve not only further distanced myself from Dieppe but added at least one extra hill if I still don’t fancy continuing. It makes sense to turn around here – drop back into Grandcourt, the easy climb up to Fresnoy-Folny, follow the internal autopilot across the plateau for the flattest thirty kilometres I can find back to the coast. The realisation I’ve ridden here so often the last five years that I know more than one way to Dieppe without referring to a map other than the one in my head.
A couple of friends popped round on Boxing Day and after a game of Scrabble and half a bottle of gin had decided to join the daytrip to France, but not for the full 200. I’d left them after sixty kilometres in Arques-la-Bataille playing cards and ordering a second coffee as I headed off up the hill towards St-Nicholas-d’Aliermont. I’d said if I was going OK I’d meet them back in Dieppe sometime between three and four, or if I didn’t go well I’d see them on the ferry. It’s not gone very well at all so looks like I’ll be spending even more time relaxing in a bar with them before the evening ferry home. As I rode away from Arques through woodland the darkness thinned and diluted to a luminous lilac-grey as I reached the ridge that I would stay on for the next fifteen kilometres. The only way I knew the sun had risen was because the Garmin flicked from night to day display when the satellites informed it local time of sunrise had passed.
Unfortunately those kilometres were all false flat, a slow creeping ascent that sapped my energy and desire to keep riding. Before turning east and sliding off the edge of the ridge I stopped and sat in a bus stop to eat the remainder of the pain aux raisins I’d bought back in the town. I thought maybe I could get a coffee in Londinieres sitting down in the valley but both the bars were shut when I got there, permanently by the looks of it. Damn, that’s a shame, it’s something of a tradition to stop for coffee in Londinieres if a ride passes through. It was the first place I ever had coffee on my first Normandy day trip years ago.
The lilac tint of dawn had faded to a lifeless blank grey, the views around me flattened by the mute light, shapes softened, greens and browns subdued. It’s not inspiring weather but it’s not unfavourable, relatively mild and still. My legs still weren’t working very well as I left the main road for a narrow lane through rolling farmland but I had a handful of optomistic kilometres when the road flattened, spinning along at pace comfortably and speeding down the flowing descent from Fresnoy-Folny. Then I hit the long climb out of Grandcourt.
The first sixty kilometres were great, initially heading west across a few river valleys before turning back towards Dieppe to then venture east. From the port we wiggled through the dark streets, Christmas lights sparkling from shop fronts and lamp posts, and climbed to the outskirts of town. We dropped down to the Scie valley and followed the river south for a handful of kilometres then turned up onto the empty blackness of the plateau between it and the next valley, the Saane. A still and silent dark surrounded us, no difference between land and sky, just the road ahead made visible by our lights. Sweeping down to the river Sâane we turned south again as far as Sâane-Saint-Just before returning towards the Scie north-east back over the hills. Sitting in the warmth of a cash machine lobby in Bacqueville-en-Caux George pulled chorizo and wraps from his bag for breakfast, or at least to keep us going until the patisseries started to open. From there we rode on to Arques-la-Bataille where I knew there should be a couple of bakeries and a couple of bars that should be open by the time we arrived.
“Trois grands cafés, s’il vous plait.”
Back in Dieppe the streets that were empty this morning are now filled to overflowing with shoppers and the Saturday market. The smell of cheese and rotisserie vans. I am craving savoury food! I track down the others and we have lunch on the quayside before retiring to a cosy bar on the road back to the ferry port. Travel Ludo is retrieved from a framebag and we settle in for the rest of the afternoon.
I still plan to do Randonneur Round The Year on French soil, I’ll just need to start over when I’ve regained some fitness. I wonder if DFDS do a loyalty scheme?