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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First week in England

We get to Dover after three train rides and one ferry ride. Loaded bikes always feel like a burden when they become luggage. We are tired, it's dark, unfamiliar and people drive on the left. I almost get clobbered when looking left to cross the road. We have no cash and no place to stay. I am surprisingly calm about this fact. Our first attempt at a B&B is unsuccessful. The place emanates a strange smell. So does the owner. He wants 50 pounds for a room. Yes pounds, not dollars. We ask him if there is room for our bikes and he points to a fence in front of his place and says.
- Chain'em up right there.
- No, I tell him.

We keep going. It's Saturday night and the town is filling up with partiers. I haven't seen that kind of decadence in a long time. We see this one guy puking. After finishing, he puts his fist in the air as if he's won something. His friends do the same. But things always get better. We find a bank machine and just down the road a nice place for 36 pounds. The owner is super nice and he accommodates us in every way. We are glad to finally be in bed.

The next day, after the tourist office, the shit weather starts. Fog and torrential downpour. We head out of Dover on a steep hill that takes us past Dover castle. The fog is so thick that we can barely see it. We go up to see how much it costs to visit the castle. 13.50 pounds. Skip it. We are happy to be back on our bikes despite the rain. It feels a bit like a novelty but it won't last. We keep yelling to each other.
- Keep left! as we are constantly drifting to the right.
England is littered with narrow country roads. It's very beautiful. Sometimes the trees cover the road completely making long tunnels that can stretch for several miles. These tunnels give protection from the sun and wind. But today the sun is nowhere to be found. The drivers here are not as aware as French drivers. People do give you a lot of room but they drive extremely fast. Even in small narrow roads. I feel less safe than in France. The bike paths are poorly marked and the map we bought has too small of a scale to show country roads. We have to double back several times to find our way to Canterbury. On the way, we help out a cyclist who has got a flat. He tells us that the country roads used to be well marked in the old days but that all the signs where removed during the second world war. This was to make it harder on the Germans in the event of an invasion. The signs were never put back.

We finally get to a campground. Or caravan park as they are called here. 17.50 per night. Highway robbery. It is a typical European family campground. People and kids are running around and tripping on our storm line and it's pissing me off. At one point, the owner gets annoyed when he sees us light our stove on the grass.
- You're going to burn my grass! He says.
Despite that, I have my hand underneath the stove to show him that it's not hot. We eat and go to bed but not for long. A storm starts up belching out 30 knot winds. We have to spend a good portion of the night holding the armature of the tent so that the tent poles don't snap.

The next morning we head to Hythe. We are unrested and not too inspired. In Hythe, we look for a washroom. England isn't big on public washrooms. But we do find one in which I walk in and right back out. There's no way I was sitting on that. The problem gets solved eventually. We stop in a little park. Michèle goes information hunting and I stay with the bikes. I look over and see an old man trying to light a cigarette. He's too old and weak and it's too windy. He can't do it. I go over and light it for him. He's from Dublin, he says. We chat a little and he asks me for some money so he can get a tea. I give him 90p. As walks off he bends down to pick up a coin.
- You can't stop the clock from ticking, he says and vanishes from sight.
We head to the next campground. 21 pounds ... no comment.

For today it's more extreme weather. It's a beautiful day but from my windsurfing days I would say that it was blowing about 45 knots. We are unable to move forward. Well, just enough to get us to the next nightmare campground. Life here is expensive and we are really questioning our decision to come. The campground is full. Thank god for that because just down the road we find a really good deal on a hotel room. This came about in a strange way. I go up to the manager and ask him if he has a room and how much it is.
- How much do you want to pay, he says.
Strange question I say to myself. Since we stayed in Dover for 36 pounds I tell him:
- 36 pounds.
- No, he says, how about 60 pounds?
Apparently the rooms are 130 pounds. I thank him for the great deal and tell him that it's still out of our budget.
- Meet me half way, he says.
- 30 then?
- You said 36, how about 45?
- 40?
- Done
After spilling my beans into the universe, it's straight to never never land. In the morning, I feel cheap when I ask if breakfast is included. It isn't I'm told.

We move on to Rye where we will be picked up by John Hancock, one of Michèle's distant relatives. He shows up with a huge minivan. Good thing because our bikes are huge. That night whilst having dinner the rain outside takes on biblical proportions. Unrelenting for hours and hours. If we would have got stuck in this rain we would have probably gone back to Montreal. John and Janet are some of the nicest people we have met so far. They do everything to help us out. Food, a bed, maps and drive us around so we can do some shopping. I think that they really understand what we are trying to do and want to participate in any way they can. We thank them for that. Several days later, we say goodbye and John takes one last picture of us disappearing in the mist. We got lost again several minutes later.

Armed with a new map showing country roads, we make our way to a contact we obtained from WarmsShowers.org. We're having nice weather now. Thank god. On the way, I see some of the biggest oak trees I've ever seen. Massive! Some branches extending at least 10 metres. Now a relaxing ride. We cycle up to these two old guys to ask directions. One of them is wearing a tweed jacket and waist coat and is smoking a pipe. We tell him that we're heading to Northchapel. He point in the general direction.
- You'll make Northchapel by days end, he says in an old school English accent.

Just past Northchapel we arrive at Parkhurst Cottage. This is the house of Helen and Jim. Our WarmShowers contact. Over dinner, Jim tells us some funny stories about accompanying his mother to an ashram in India. There, he ended up doing absolutely nothing whilst everyone else was meditating. It was fun hanging out with them and we wish we could have stayed longer.

To be continued ...


  1. Great Post...

    Try the pubs for toilets (the public bar).
    Pretend $ and pound are at par then you will find prices are like Canada.
    Weather is changeable: "rain before 7 fine before 11" is the saying. Hope it changes for the better!

  2. Wow...I certainly admire your tenacity in all of that crappy weather. It harks back to Rusty and me on the West Coast Trail.

    Sounds like you're having a blast! Great to hear.

    You must have some pretty sweet cycling asses by now....

    Lots of love,

    Kevin, Brent and Nuoc

  3. It's funny that you mention Russ and the West Coast Trail! Yesterday I was trying to push my bike over a stream (shallow but it still freaked me out) and all I could think of was Russ and the quivering poles.

  4. Bon courage a vous !


  5. Merci, Seb! Nous avons besoin d'encouragement. Avec les deluges de pluie qu'on a eu, peux-tu demander a Noa de nous construire une arche?

  6. hahaha je viens juste de lire ta blague !!! On pense a vous ! meme mes parents qui me demandaient encore l'autre jour comment poster des commentaires ! (par contre je sais pas si ils vont etre capable)...

  7. Hey Christopher, Thanks for your comment from the 11th of September. You're right about the $ and pound - we just try to forget the conversion or else we shudder. When I mentioned the "rain before 7 fine before 11" quote to a North Englander, he replied, "If you mean before 7 in the morning and after 11 at night, then yes, that is about right."