The Agony and the Ecstasy

June 8, 2016:

We went from ecstasy to agony in the blink of an eye. As we fell fast asleep in our tent, happily exhausted after our best day yet, it started raining. “Not again!” I groaned. But, as it was just a pitter-patter, I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. Then the lightning and thunder started, and within minutes, it was pouring like nothing we’ve yet experienced. The lightning wasn’t just a streak in the sky, but lit us up like day. And the thunder wasn’t just a single deep rumble, but a jump-out-of-your-skin crack and seemingly endless roll. We actually wondered if we might get struck by lightning.

We didn’t, but it rained furiously until around 4:30 in the morning, when it turned into light showers interspersed with harder rain. Only then did we really get to sleep. We had hoped to get up at 7:00am so we could be out of camp by 9:00am, but after the thunder and lightning kept us up half the night, we opted to sleep in.

We’re learning that while we have many hopes for any given day, we shouldn’t have expectations. Our new lives are so weather dependent that we can’t set ourselves a rigid timetable.

At 9:30, we finally gave up waiting for the rain to abate, and started our daily routine of packing up our home. And that’s when I realized that I hadn’t buttoned everything up as well as I’d thought the night before. One of my bags had taken on water. So had my shoes. And our toilet paper! (Most French campgrounds are BYOTP.) Ugh! It was going to be yet another wet, soggy day.

Our moods are even more weather dependent than our timetable! Despite waking up warm and dry inside our tent, it was so demoralizing to think about getting up and facing yet another wet day…and my heart sank into an instant depression when I found I hadn’t closed things properly.

Water ponded under trailers in campground due to last night's storm
Water ponding under trailers in campground due to last night’s heavy storm

I spent a long time trying to wring out my wet stuff (luckily, nothing critically important – except the TP), and wipe out the inside of my very wet bag, while Mark braved the rain to make us our all-important coffee.

And suddenly, the sun broke through and we felt…well, ‘euphoric’ might be too strong a word, so let’s go with ‘joyous.’

Sunshine, glorious sunshine! At last!
Sunshine, glorious sunshine!
Eating breakfast under the awning outside the sanitaires (campground bathroom)
Preparing breakfast under the awning outside the sanitaires (campground bathrooms)

I am becoming a sunflower, continually trying to turn myself towards the sun. I never considered myself a sun worshiper, but maybe I need to rethink that. Apollo, I pay homage to you! Is there anything in my panniers that I may proffer as a religious offering?

We finally hit the road around noon, headed for Calais. Nearly everybody we’ve spoken to has warned us away from Calais because of the “immigrant problems.” But, our coastal route led us directly through Calais, and besides, we needed to find a bike shop to replace Mark’s chain. Most of the towns we’ve ridden through don’t even have little grocery stores, much less bike shops.  Would Calais be big enough to support a bike shop?

On the outskirts of Calais, we stumbled upon a small TI office – much more helpful than the one in Boulogne. The young lady behind the counter spoke English and did everything she could to help us out. She told us exactly where in the center of Calais we could find a bike shop. After commiserating about the rain a bit, she even gave us a bunch of paper towels as emergency rations when she found out our TP was a casualty of the rainstorm.

Finally, we discussed the immigrant issue a bit. Based on the news we get in the USA, we might believe that illegal immigrants are boogeymen hiding behind every tree in Europe.  We could be accosted at any time, or worse yet, kidnapped by ISIS! …And yet, we haven’t (knowingly) come across a single refugee. Would Calais be different?

The TI office told us that most of the time, the immigrants are very well-behaved. Occasionally, they get angry and stop trucks. (To get provisions? To hitch a ride? Unsure.) They certainly wouldn’t mug simple cyclists, much less kidnap us.

After leaving the TI office, we rode to the center of Calais.

Calais Town Hall
Calais Town Hall
Plaque in Calais paying homage to Thomas Jefferson
Plaque in Calais paying tribute to Thomas Jefferson
'Hotel a Insectes' (Insect hotel) at park in Calais
‘Hotel a Insectes’ (aka ‘Insect hotel’) at park in Calais

Around 1:00 pm, we easily found the bike shop. Unfortunately for us, they close from noon – 3:00 pm for the afternoon siesta. Drats! Mark peeked in the shop window to see if they looked like they would actually be able to repair bicycles, not just sell or rent them, and he saw parts hanging on the wall. Definitely a repair shop! Woohoo! And then he spied a person inside. Mark knocked on the window and got the employee’s attention.

Would they be able to help us repair Mark’s bike this afternoon? Yes! The mechanic will be back at 3:00 pm and he should have it ready by 3:30 or 4:00. Wow! Immediate service! So we went a few doors down the street to enjoy a leisurely plat du jour.

Enjoying plat du jour in Calais while we wait for Mark's chain to be replaced
Enjoying ‘plat du jour’ in Calais while we wait for Mark’s chain to be replaced
Sante! (Cheers!)
Sante! (aka ‘Cheers!’)

We checked back in around 4:30. They were still finishing up. About half an hour later, we were on our way. We still had 2/3 of our mileage to do for the day, plus our daily grocery shopping, and it was already early evening, so we hustled to get out of town.

Bicycle art in the bike shop
Bicycle art in the bike shop
Mark, with very kind mechanics Maxime and Fred, at Calais bike shop
Mark with very kind mechanics Fred and Maxime at Calais bike shop

Our planned route took us past the port and the very close to the infamous refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais. The first sign of the camp as we approached the edge of town were a marked increase in dark-skinned young men (no women) ambling in twos and threes down the sidewalks of the suburban edge of the city. I hate to admit that I got a little nervous, as they were completely non-threatening.

Right in the transition between suburban Calais and the rural countryside is the outer edge of the immigrant camp. The only way we knew we were actually upon it was by the security presence: bored policemen standing around their vans, placed every quarter-mile or so along the edge of a flat, barren field. And this is what we were supposed to be afraid of? The bark is definitely worse than the bite on this media story!

Police outside migrant camp
Police along perimeter of migrant camp
The "dreaded" migrant camp. Depressing, maybe, but not threatening.
The “dreaded” migrant camp. Depressing, maybe, but not threatening

Just a kilometer or so beyond the refugee camp, Mark suddenly stopped. His chain had locked up tight while shifting, and his rear wheel no longer turned. Mark happened to break down in front of a house at the edge of another long field. The homeowner came out and despite the language barrier, jumped in and helped us dislodge the chain. As we looked at Mark’s bike, we realized that the newly installed chain was way too short! Mark didn’t have use of nearly half his gears!

Mark's derailleur definitely not hanging correctly because chain is way too short
Mark’s derailleur definitely not hanging correctly because chain is way too short

We were probably 8 or 9 kilometers from the bike shop back in Calais, which was closed by now anyway, so we had no choice but to continue on to our campground, and hope to find a bike shop in Dunkirk tomorrow. We had a strong headwind, but luckily, not many hills, so Mark was able to ride with his limited available gears.

And we thought America was king of convenience: Drive thru laundromat outside grocery store at edge of town!
And we thought America was king of efficiency: Drive up laundromat outside grocery store at edge of town!



4 thoughts on “The Agony and the Ecstasy”

    1. I may need to build a shrine to Apollo in the back yard when I get home! Or maybe I can figure out how to attach one to my bike now, when I need him most!

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