La Vélodyssée - An Atlantic Cycle - Part One

I hadn’t always been a cyclist. And I definitely wouldn’t class myself as a proper cyclist even now. In fact, I was once so poor at cycling that not so long ago I had to be rescued by my friend’s dad on a route that could have been no longer than five miles, because my legs had gone. Looking back that’s pretty embarrassing. With that memory, at the time, relatively fresh in my mind, i’m not quite sure what encouraged me to quit my job and head off on at 1200km cycle down the western coast of France, but i’m glad I did.

The Velodyssey, as the English call it, was a trip which helped me prioritise what it is that I want from life. As serious as that sounds, all it really means is I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk forever (which I don’t) and that I prefer the countryside to the city (I live in Madrid, but it’s a compromise that i’ve happily taken after my six years in the magnificent, yet tiring, London).

I very much doubt my old boss will ever read this, so I can say quite frankly I hated my job at the time. Although, if he does read this I doubt it would come as a surprise. It was January, the weather was cold and cruel and I needed something to look forward to. Something big. My bother lived in Madrid at the time so I set out thinking how I could aim to get there as my end point. After googling this and yahooing that (it was obviously all google; why would anyone switch internet browser halfway through a search of this magnitude) I found that there was a cycle route which would take me from the northern most point of France, down the western coast, to the northern most point of Spain; La Vélodyssée. This was it!

 
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I realised that I would need to save some money, plan ferries, trains, get a bike, buy camping gear and research my route. That, couple with my friend’s wedding happening in mid June and also wanting to cycle in season (but not peak season), I pin pointed my departure date as the 19th May.

Those four and a half months went by extremely slowly and it was a matter of grinding out the days at work until I handed my notice in to time it perfectly with me leaving for France.

In the meantime there was the small matter of preparing for the trip of a lifetime. I didn’t have a bike, which wasn't a great start. So I bought one off a good friend of mine for £20 and I was all set, or so I thought. That bike became my run around for the next few months as I cycled from Dalston to my then place of work, Hammersmith. I was trying to get some miles in my legs so that It wasn’t a complete shock when I was cycling for four weeks straight. Thing didn’t quite work out with that bike though, which is something I’ll get to shortly.

One consequence of this trip was I found out I don’t hate shopping altogether; as long as the shop’s called Decathalon. Everything I needed for such a trip could be found under one roof, at a relatively cheap price.

I was to do the cycle with a friend from uni and we’d purchased a 3 man tent (from Decathalon) with the foresight we’d give ourselves a bit of space each night. Although anyone who camps will really know that the dimensions of man seems to be considered a lot smaller when talking in terms of camping equipment. There was barely enough room for one of us, let alone three.

The equipment we got for the trip was pretty basic too. I borrowed some camping gear from my parents, such as a stove and cooking bits. The rest was ‘equipment’ we picked up as and when we saw it, like a mini torch from Tiger, some cycle clothes from Wiggle and some ‘nutritional’ packs from Sports Direct. We were good to go.

As the cycle trip loomed everything was falling into place nicely. My bike had become a problem though, not only was there question marks over how it would hold up on a 1200km cycle (the wheels of my bike were extremely thin), there also wasn’t any obvious part of my bike where I could attach my rear pannier. So I was keeping my eyes peeled for a new bike.

Three weeks before we left for France, my need for a new bike (and shoulder) was confirmed when I was knocked off my bike cycling to work. Both me and the bike needed some serious work, although at this point I was more concerned about if I would be able to cycle in three weeks time. I’d fractured my shoulder and torn my rotator cuff and my movement in my arm was pretty limited, so it wasn't looking likely.

My arm improved in the couple of weeks I had to make a decision and, it just so happened, the most comfortable position for me to keep it in was holding onto handlebars of a bike. I’d borrowed a bike from my brother’s friend, attached the panniers and had decided that I was going even if it wasn’t advisable.

 
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On the morning of the 19th May, we set off from Paddington Train Station to Plymouth to catch a ferry to Roscoff. We got there nice and early and had a few beers anticipating the journey ahead. An hour or so before we were due to board the ferry a third friend rolled up and joined us. He’d been toing and froing about whether to come and the morning of the trip he decided he was going to come too. He borrowed his mum’s bike, loosely attached a pannier and had strapped onto it a duck down pillow.

Within the hour that pillow was somewhere on M275, placing the first straw on the camel’s back.

We set off on the ferry, excited to arrive in the port of Roscoff the next morning, to start our cycle through France.