Day fifty seven: reintroducing hills

Ypres to Abbeville

Since the Alps, three weeks ago, my rides have either been down hill or completely flat. Along the Rhine, I enjoyed the wind behind me and a gradual decline for over a week. And then in Holland, they consider 30 metres or so, a ‘hill’. So I’ve forgotten what it’s like to climb. And today’s gentle hills, the equivalent to those in Sussex, definitely added something to the mix.

It was a long day, my longest in fact. 143 kilometres and it can be split into three stages.

The first – I felt great. I was staying in a fantastic Airbnb last night and my host, Hilde, was lovely. She had three daughters of a similar age to me, and was very motherly to me too. She set me off after having a fantastic breakfast with a packed lunch. Perfect for the big day ahead. As I rode south of Ypres, I went through the hills the Germans had tried to conquer and saw more and more cemeteries. It’s an interesting thought to think about how people live in a town and area that is so heavily associated with war – you are constantly reminded of it and it’s the main reason people visit.

The sun was out and I was really enjoying the hills. Heading in the direction of home, I started to get excited. I can’t wait to see my friends and family. The kilometres seemed to fly by as I was distracted by good thoughts.

Happy cyclist

Coming across a gravel track which I was meant to take, I decided against it – I’m not going to have my last week ruined by bumpy roads. My detour involved however a busy duel carriageway. It’s not just the hills I’ve been without. It’s traffic too. It was quite scary being so close to fast cars and lorries again – something I got used to in Italy but I really don’t like it now I’ve been treated to the peace of the cycle paths in Germany, Holland and Belgium. I also managed to narrowly miss joining a motorway, going around a large roundabout a couple of times to get my bearings.

No thanks

At 67 kilometres I stopped for lunch. I need to stop – I was tired by then. I had my sandwiches (thank you Hilde) and then made the mistake of having a soy milkshake which I’d also been given. This was something I was going to regret for the next two hours.

This brings me on to the second stage – much more miserable than the first. The gentle hills became one larger hill. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was the biggest of the day, which amounted to 750 metres of climbing. My legs felt heavy and the milkshake I drank, made me feel sick. Going up and down the hills wasn’t fun and to top it off, I was desperate for the loo. Though men in France think it’s perfectly acceptable to urinate on the side of the road (saw two doing such today), I do not. I was desperate though, so would have had there been some cover – but it was open fields the whole way and a car would come by every few minutes. Your stomach hurts when it’s like that and the old bumpy roads weren’t helping – plus I was thirsty but couldn’t drink. And the thought of 40 to 60 kilometres still to go…my head wasn’t in the best place for this stage.

On top of the hills with the wind turbines

And then finally, it must have been around 4pm, there was a café! I was able to go to the loo and refuel with a can of coke, water and crisps (goats cheese flavour – only in France), plus Haribo for the road (I do have fruit and veg in my diet but needs must on days like this). I had turned a corner. 40 kilometres to go and I was on the home straight.

The reward of hills: beautiful countryside views

My route however turned into a gravel track again, so another detour meant I took a slightly busier road into town, but smooth, fast, and mostly downhill. It was a great final stretch and I felt as good about it as I had the first couple of hours of the day.

I now have a strange, empty feeling that tomorrow is my last day cycling in France. The last day cycling abroad of my trip (I still have the stretch from Brighton to London to go). For my two month trip though, it seems appropriate that today, like in my first week, I have come across motorways (almost), gravel tracks and hills I was unaware of. This time though, with the learnings of before, I conquered them all. No lifts needed!

On to Dieppe tomorrow where my ferry back home is booked for Friday. Time to reflect on what has been an amazing trip – I know already I wish I could do it all again.

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