“Do you have your passport on you?” It was 4 a.m. on Friday morning outside the YMCA in Redhill. I felt like the Deputy Head checking on pupils before the school trip to France. I was wondering if I should be doing this when I reached Martin. A look of horror crossed his face. A phone call got his wife out of bed to find his passport and bring it to him.
Peter, Sam and I stayed behind while Graham led the other riders towards Newhaven. Fifteen minutes later, with Martin’s passport safely in his back pocket, we set off in pursuit. We caught the main party on the climb to Turners Hill. Without further incident, we reached Newhaven in good time for the 8 a.m. ferry. Everyone was enthusing about the special atmosphere cycling through country lanes as the sun rose.
While the cyclists were lounging around in the early morning sun, Pam had run into an unexpected problem with the ticketing. Her ticket showed 17 passengers and no van. Eventually, the clerk agreed to issue a return ticket for the van and Pam handed me the passenger ticket for the return. The separation of the van and passenger tickets turned out to have fortunate consequences for the return journey.
Most of us took a cabin (a bargain at £14 for a four berth cabin with en suite facilities) and, after breakfast, we settled down to catch up on our sleep.
In Dieppe, Norman and his motorbike were waiting to greet us. A short ride out of their town brought us to L’Avenue Verte, a 40 km cycle path along a disused railway line. The path finishes a few kilometres north of Forges-les-Eaux, where we stopped for the night. It was hot work
cycling in the sun but the whole route was flat so the heat created little problem. A hot shower and few too many beers were followed by an excellent meal in a nearby restaurant.
We had agreed to leave at 8 a.m. the next day but, by the time everyone had gathered and the photographs had been taken, we did not leave until 08:30. Shortly outside Forges, we split into two, as previously agreed. I led a slightly faster group which was selected by increasing the pace and seeing who came with me. Six riders ended up in the front group; Graham led the remaining nine.
The route for the next 90 kms was on country lanes going through small villages and two small towns.