The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Here Comes The Rain

By Ren Withnell

It rained in the night. Dammit. Along with fears about whether or not the bike's going to make it, how I'll get on with the gf for 3 weeks and any other potential disasters I really didn't want the rain. But it's here. And there's diddly squat I can do about it. I wonder what the gf will make of it. Oh god I hope she doesn't get all down and depressed about it. She's not pleased, but she's put on her smile and waterproofs with the attitude of it's here, deal with it. We agree the campsite is not the best, the showers and toilets are covered and dry but not in a nice warm building. Ambleteuse is also a bit devoid of life. Oh well, she's smiling and that's all that matters, if she's OK then I'll be fine.

While the gf completes her morning ablutions and starts to pack I take a longer look at the blasted headlight deflector. What I need to do is find a way of pulling the metal part back up and holding it up. I scratch my head. I mess with it. I take the bulb out. I put it back in. I jiggle the deflector. I look at how hard it would be to remove the fairing. I ponder and drag on my e-cig. I look around in the bags and under the seat. Aha! Inspiration, I've a bit of string I can tie to the deflector then onto the fairing somewhere to hold it up. Genius, I'm a goddam bodging genius. It's not pretty but there she sits, the deflector, just exactly as designed. I push the bulb and rubber back into place. The gf smiles, somehow I doubt she's quite as impressed with me as I am with me.

I go under the seat again to get the gf's phone that's been on charge overnight. It does not appear to have charged. I check the connections and the lead, it's all OK. It just seems it won't charge from my adapter, or the lead is only for data. I knew she'd not be happy but I didn't expect tears, I thinks she's a lot more tired than she's pretending to be. It's very important to keep in touch with the kids otherwise she'll worry herself insane. I understand, luckily due to a disaster last year with phones I've brought my old phone as spare. It takes a minute or two but this option seems to help greatly. Still, she curses herself for not checking such an important thing.

the fazer with side bags and the tent under a grey sky in the rain
A thoroughly miserable and wet start to the day. Urgh.

Having no plan is a good thing and I prefer it that way, but it leaves a certain vagueness as to where to go next. I sure as hell don't want to go through Paris so I avoid that route which means I'm on a similar route as I took last year. I'm disappointed with myself for not venturing to pastures new but it's cold, wet, miserable and I'm still unadjusted to riding on the wrong side of the road. It doesn't really matter to be honest, I'm full of myself for sorting the deflector, nothing can stop us now.

Quaint French villages come and go. A small boulangerie, maybe a little supermarket, houses that are not dilapidated but worn and weary, many faded pedestrian crossings and a medieval church. They look interesting and new at first even through the rain. Then after the fifth one they look similar. After 20 more they all merge into one soup of soggy little dwellings with names I can't remember or pronounce. The road between is tree lined and twists and turns far too gently for excitement, it's far to wet to push hard through them. Farmland lies sodden in furrow or crop behind the trees and nothing is happening either in town or out.

There's very few cars, but those that are out are in a mad rush. I can barely see the road through my sodden and misty visor, my fingers are soaked and numb. Yet I'm passed in great haste from time to time by manic drivers who all must be late for something important. I curse them as they splash by. I'm thankful that today my waterproofs are working, I hope the gf's are too otherwise she will be thoroughly miserable. This is not fun. This is not what I had in mind when I dreamed of being the great traveller. This is misery.

th gf wearing her helmet and smiling despite the heavy rain
Despite the rain and the misery the gf is still beaming a smile under her helmet.

In the city of Amiens I spot a tabac. Tabac's are curious places, they vary from the British tiny newsagents through to a cross between a bar and a café and sometimes even a betting shop. This one is all three. A long counter sells tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages, chocolate bars and of course cigarettes. There's tables and chairs and at the far end large TV's show horse's racing with buggies. Considering the rest of France appears shut all the men must be in here, placing bets via a console and watching the monitors. We are looked on curiously, not in a friendly manner.

One tea and one coffee, over 5 euros! It's not cheap here, in fact so far France has not been cheap at all. This ain't no tourist trap either, this is just a local hang out. I'm staggered at the cost and vow to stop bitching about "Rip Off Britain". I consult the rain soaked map while we drip on the floor, sipping our not very good drinks. I've been in tabac's I've loved and been welcomed like a liberating soldier, here I feel unwelcome and unwanted. Even the counter lady is gruff and unhelpful. I make sure to leave a large deposit in the toilets before we leave. Even the cockroaches run from the smell.

I've often heard it said it can't get any worse. It can, and if it can sometimes it will. A thought strikes me as we enter another be-puddled and dripping town. The string I've used to fix the deflector is nylon, Nylon melts if it gets hot. Headlamp bulbs get hot. I park to stretch out my stiff joints against the washed out gravel path and take a look. The deflector hangs down. Damn. It's too wet and too cold and my fingers are too stiff to do anything about it. I shall just have to return to pointless worrying. The bike is covered in grit from the roadside. It washes out in the rain and the Fazer looks like she's been off road. I worry about the chain.  

We need respite, we need shelter. I'd also like to get online to see what's the story with the weather. A "Quick" offers us this, sort of a French McDonalds. Inside we drip and strip whilst the staff mostly sit and chat around a table. Otherwise we're the only customers. I order hot drinks and the cheapest burgers in my best French, the girl understands when I finally point to what I want. In a few minutes it's brought over to us. It's empty. France is empty. It's Monday daytime and the whole place seems shut. It's actually quite eerie. I'm so used to 24/7/365 UK.

As best I can I ask one of the young female staff. She understands but it takes a while to tell me. With signs of praying and crosses the gf works out it's a religious thing so I look online, it's Pentecost. Pentecost is barely even mentioned in the UK, in France the place shuts Sunday and Monday. Wiki tells me they're still quite religious here but luckily for us that does not include fast food chains. I imagine the girls feel quite differently about it. Perhaps it's not so bad working when it's so wet outside. I warm up, I don't want to leave. The weather website tells me all I can expect is more, much more rain.

I'd like to report that Amiens was nice, that Soissons was interesting and that French villages are full of character. I can't. I can report that they're all wet, they all look pretty much the same and I don't notice them, I'm too busy trying to see through my visor at the poorly marked road junctions and crossings that France offers. As the distances to Reims start to fall I know where I'm going, Epernay. I stopped there last year and I am definitely not in the mood to start looking for a campsite now. I'd be lucky to see a massive campsite let alone any signs for one.

The rain lightens as we get off the bewildering junctions and motorways that make up Reims. As Epernay comes into view the rain now is merely rain, no longer an 8 hour downpour that we've suffered through. I find the campsite easily to my relief and inside the small reception a young girl with a huge smile greets us, we both immediately feel warmer just from her welcome. She also speaks a little English. I didn't think much of the site last year but the gf is pleased with the boating lake close by and there appears to be some warmth to be found in the shower block. Even though the rain is still falling things are looking a little better.

the gf standing next to the fzs600 and tent at the campsite in epernay
Tent up, everything set up. The gf and I are still in all our waterproof bike gear in the hope of staying dry.

The chirpy girl in reception suggests the local supermarket will be open till 2000 and if we hurry a 10 minute walk will see us there in time. The 10 minute walk takes almost half an hour and the shop is well and truly shut, it's not even 1945. Epernay is shut too. The walk is interesting in terms of looking around Epernay but fruitless in terms of food. All we can manage is an undersize Snickers each from a vending machine in the campsite. Lucky we had them burgers earlier. There's nothing left to do but have a shower in the slightly warm but cramped shower block and go to bed.

large empty car park in front of a closed empty carrefour supermarket in epernay
The large, wet, empty and very much closed supermarket. "What are we going to eat?!" "Hell...I dunno..."

It's been a hell of a day. However I'm not down and the gf doesn't seem to be either. We're surviving, pushing through and living in hope that the weather must at some point change. It must. Surely. 3 weeks of rain. Imagine that. Now, about that bloody headlamp deflector, I need a piece of wire, not string...

inside of the tent with the sleeping bags
Our bedroom for the night. Luxurious, sort of.

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.

Reader's Comments

kath brooks said :-
Love these tales Ren and Sharon
1/1/2000 12:00:00 AM UTC

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