23 Jun 2013

Day 1: London to Lille

My last proper holiday was in August 2012 meaning I've been well overdue... similarly, I still had 23.5 of my 27 days of annual leave to use up before September, as we are only permitted to carry over up to 5 days and the rest will dissolve into the ether.

But the last few months have been gruelling to say the least, since March to June is the time where we have a number of statutory documents to produce and several events to coordinate. This has left me somewhat more than exhausted.

Sunday morning rolled around and of course I could hardly bring myself to get out of bed and into the shower despite the excitement of finally getting away. We eventually left at 11am which was insufficient time to make our scheduled Eurotunnel crossing at 12:30, more than 100 miles away from London in Folkestone.

Sure enough, we arrived at 1:15 and the automated check-in kiosk moved me to the 1:35 shuttle. The Eurotunnel is a service I can't really fault since the tickets have a ±2 hour leeway on all bookings, recognising the fact that it simply isn't possible to foresee traffic conditions, dragging my fat arse out of bed on time etc.

On the English side you go through French passport control which is nothing more than a formality (or joke, depending on your point of view)—we weren't asked to remove our helmets, and when I was fumbling to open my tankbag for the passports he told me to forget about it and go.

And go I did, since by then I had only 5 minutes before the departure to get onto the train. I needn't have worried, however, since I waited nearly 30 minutes to get on the train, along with 2 other bikers, as one of the earlier trains had a problem in the tunnel and blocked up everything.

Safely stopped in the train, on the side stand and in 1st gear with the front wheel against the kerb, we finally got underway just before 2pm and came out the other end 30 minutes later plus one hour for the French time change at 3:30pm.

Zev contemplates the shuttle journey.

In position, no tie-downs required. Honda ST1300 rider suspiciously kept to himself the entire journey, clearly we were too common for socialising.

Trust the Dutch to throw in a 'hoe kunt' when explaining how to get help.

Coming out the French side of the Eurotunnel you are quite literally ejected straight onto a motorway and often greeted to the wrath of North Sea winds threatening to blow you into the next lane. I had preprogrammed the route into the GPS and specified no motorways or toll roads where possible and it dutifully guided me along France's excellent N-road network toward Lille.

The N-roads are generally 90km/hr (110km/hr where they are divided with 4 lanes) and thread through all sorts of towns and villages. Taking theses routes means effectively doubling the journey time compared to slabbing it on the Autoroute (motorway). However, rather than hours of hedges and concrete barriers, the N-routes provide a scenic way to see some local culture and makes you feel more connected with the country.

We stopped to fill up in Hazelbrouck. Two bikers came racing up the road, nearly colliding into each other, then skidded to a stop and began to scream at each other. Not sure what to make of that and, judging from the faces of everyone around including the woman behind the counter in the petrol station, neither did they... Then, just as quickly, they hopped back on their bikes and tore off.

Fuel stop in Hazelbrouck, somewhere between Calais and Lille.

As good a seat as any...

We arrived at Tom's around 6pm, a good two hours later than expected. Living in a traditional northeastern French building with steep and narrow circling flights of stairs, he kindly helped carry our panniers up 3 flights to his flat. We were shortly joined by two of his friends for a delicious grilled dinner and plenty of conversation over ales. We couldn't have asked for a warmer welcome to France and finally got to sleep around 2am. Thank you again Tom!

A warm arrival.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight