Finally, the time has arrived. We leave tomorrow morning after what seems like an endless period of anticipation, planning and (a bit of) training.
To be honest, neither of us are that sure how the mad, crazy plan of two fairly conventional 50-somethings living in Jersey really started.
Over the years, we had harboured the notion of giving it all up, climbing on the bike, getting the ferry to St Malo and just disappearing into the sunset; we had discussed it many times over a glass of wine or two. At this stage you could maybe call this a romantic fantasy; we had a mortgage, two daughters at university and desperately needed to hold down our respective jobs.
We have been tandeming for about seven or eight years. Whilst I am a keen road cyclist, Louise has never really get on with her own bike and the ladies bikes bought over the years and still cluttering up the shed are a testament to this.
With the vague notion of some tandem travelling in the future, early in 2015 we bought a new tandem, a Claud Butler ‘Touriste’, which we rather unimaginatively named ‘Claud’. We also picked up a few bits like some decent Ortlieb panniers to try out.
During 2015, we embarked on a couple of mini tours around Brittany, most notably a six-day excursion in April which was marred by constant and sometimes torrential rain. This gave us a real feel for how it could all work and provided some valuable lessons for the future, like don’t buy cheap kit.
Even when Mick’s application for voluntary redundancy was approved in September 2015, we had still not decided exactly what we wanted to do. He would be leaving work at the end of March 2016 and still kind of assumed would find a new and different job.
It was our final tandem trip in October 2015 that sealed it. It simply dawned on us that we had a rare opportunity which may not present itself again for many years; our parents were generally in good health, our children not planning families, our mortgage was manageable and we had a modest sum of money to cover the costs.
We decided we would go in mid-May for six months, Louise would give up her job and resign at the end of February, I would not get another one and we would just get on that boat and not look back.
After somewhat of a ‘phony war’, we began planning in earnest in the early part of 2016. We developed the route (see page elsewhere in this blog) through brainstorming different places we wanted to go in Europe and then piecing together a broad plan. We booked the boat to St Malo for Monday 16th May, which happens to be after the last Manchester City game of the season (we are both mad supporters of City and they will come up in this blog from time to time, so apologies in advance!).
We have researched kit, looked into routes, worked on Claud, tried to sort the house for when we are away and set up a blog and a social media presence (which was more difficult than we could have ever imagined and is still ‘work in progress’!). The preparations have picked up pace the closer we have got to the date and have included full-kit training rides and final tweaks to Claud.
In terms of accommodation, we will be staying in a combination of hostels, hotels, campsites (but not camping!) and Air B&B. We have more or less booked the first 10 days, which is a combination of the above, and have a couple of other ‘anchor’ bookings (e.g. in Amsterdam), which we can cancel if we need to. It will be interesting to see how we can balance the need for flexibility against the natural inclination to secure somewhere to stay in advance.
It is not the intention for this to be an exercise in cycling everywhere; we fully intend to use trains and boats when we need a rest or need to make up some distance, though getting Claud on the train will be an adventure on its own.
We have had some great help and support along the way, notably from Tony Williams at Flamme Rouge (see link below) whose training plans, advice, guidance and technical support have been a real help, not to mention stepping in to rescue some of Mick’s botched maintenance attempts! Help has also come from people we have never met, such as Colin Calder from the Tandem Club, who has pointed us in the right direction with our blog. Even our call for a couple of new Flamme Rouge water bottles (out of stock until next month) for the trip brought donations from team members George de Sousa and Simon Boyle.
Everyone we have spoken to about the trip over the last few months has been supportive; no-one has said ‘don’t do it!’ and the general reaction has been one of envy and ‘go for it’. We have also been really touched by the good wishes and thoughtful farewell gifts from a number of our friends. Our European-themed farewell party at the end of April was a good chance to see as many people as possible to say goodbye (and for them to try out Claud!).
This last week has flown by, Mick has been working (having picked up a 5 week contract with an excellent Project Management company) and both of us have been fitting in the last jobs and, importantly, saying goodbye to friends and relatives before we go.
Today has seen the final knockings; We have packed Claud up, met Mick’s Mum for lunch, watched City (just about qualify for the Champions League) are now home and ready to go.
We leave for the boat at 07:00 tomorrow (picking up some provisions on the way) and the weather in France is looking good for the first couple of days. First part of the journey will take us to Mont St Michel and we will be thereafter following an established cycle route to the Normandy landing beaches via Bayeux for the first stage of our adventure.
That’s the plan anyway, let’s see how it unfolds. The one thing we are certain of is that it will end up being completely different.
Hope you continue to follow us on what is likely to be a roller coaster ride!