A Van with a Plan

WRWR Relay Day 12 – My Day 2 – Gillingham to Boulogne Sur Mer, France

10th March 2019

Up early to get on the road over to the Travelodge to meet the rest of the girls riding over to France. We arrive just in time and meet Hayley Bell for the first time.

No time to chat as we are straight on the road to our first stop at Sittingbourne Speedway track. Annemarie was supposed to leave us at the Travelodge, but I pursuade her to come with us to the speedway first for a coffee.. a decision we both will regret.

The weather is atrocious with very high winds from the off, there are met office wind warnings for gale force wind speeds, but we are undeterred!!

On route we pick up several more bikers and the going is extremely tough. At one point we are riding so slowly that I am literally blown into the outside lane of a dual carriageway, luckily there is nothing coming along beside me.. whew! I’m not sure why we were riding so slowly, other than fear to be honest, but the lack of forward momentum was so dangerous that I decide to overtake everyone and pull up waiting for them to catch up. I then tag onto the end of the group.

Up ahead I see this and think to myself.. no way jose, I’m not going over that in this, I’d rather go home.

But luckily we turn off just before it, down some small back roads with the winds gusting between the hedgerows and on into a muddy track that is absolutely lethal.

Eventually we arrive at the speedway track, not a very impressive venue, a few cargo containers and a tea hut in a muddy field. There are quite a few people around and the coffee is hot so not too bad. Getting the bike parked was a bit of a nightmare, but with the help of a tall american lady I get her sorted out.

There is much talk regarding the weather and reports of 120kph winds over in Calais, there is some suggestion of postponing the crossing until tomorrow. Annemarie is anxious about riding home so decides to leave almost immediately.. I am so sorry I asked her to come with us and am quite worried about her getting home safely.

Someone then suggests we arrange for some vans to come and take the bikes to the Eurotunnel terminal as the wind is so bad.. this seems to be the plan. Some people are determined to ride there, I am in two minds but definitely do not want to cross that ‘sky bridge’ we passed on the way in. I am assured by one woman, who appears to know the area well, that we do not need to cross the bridge so I am thinking to ride it, but Sylvie is not sure as she has a brand new bike so we agree to have the bikes vanned over.

Just after Annemarie has gone I am approached by a woman who would like to take some photos of me and my fatboy… ‘oh ok, what is it for?’ I ask, “Hog Tales” the harley owners club magazine.. ‘well in that case yes I would be delighted’. We make our way back to my bike, whilst attempting to remain upright, (I kid you not, the wind is that strong), and a guy with several cameras around his neck takes numerous shots of me and the bike.. I ask if I can have copies and the woman takes my email address, so am looking forward to seeing them.

Here is one Sylvie took of me posing…

Next I’m approached by a young guy who would like to interview me for the WRWR record so we go back to the tea hut where he asks me some questions and his girlfriend films us… I’m getting famous!!!

This is also the guy who is arranging the van to take the bikes to Folkestone, so I’m glad I did the interview for him and really pleased Dykes on Bikes London is being seen participating in the relay.

There is also the helmet… I bought a new helmet especially for the relay and have drawn the days I will be riding on it with the intention that all the women I ride with will sign their names on the first leg they join then when I have completed however many legs I decide to do I will donate the helmet to the WRWR archive. I already have Sylvie, Annemarie and myself so I immediately ask Hayley Bell to sign. There is a group of women photographing helmets on a table in the tea hut so I offer to add mine to the pile…

I then go outside and have a quick chat with the american woman who helped to move my bike to park it up. It turns out she is one of the WRWR organisers from San Diego California and she has flown over for the weekend to help out with the arrangements.. wow what a star… now that is committment!! I ask her what bike she rides and she says she has 10, which she reals off in quick succession… I chat with her for a few minutes wishing her a safe return home and make my way to find out about the van.

Sylvie says the van is here so we have to ride down to the end of the muddy lane. When I get to the end there is a large furniture van and the guys are just unloading a very steep ramp. Nope, I’m not chancing them dropping my bike, I think even 6 guys would have a problem getting it up such a steep slope so my mind is made up, I’m going to ride. I tell Sylvie I will see her there and make my way over to the M2.

The wind is still tremendous, so reminicent of my recent travels in Utah…. but I am an old hand at this now so manage ok, until that is the gps routes me across country and the slow back roads are making it very difficult to control the bike, especially around some of the bends. Then the road is closed due to a fallen tree, the police have cordoned off the road and there is a crane in place trying to lift the tree. We are told to detour around and this is an even narrower, slower route with one section completely flooded, it is so deep the engine is giving off steam as I ride though. Round the next bend I have to take the right side of the narrow road to avoid a sea of thick mud and almost collide with a dirt bike coming the other way, I think he almost shit himself, but I manage to swerve around him in time.. whew, (is this enough drama yet Stolkie??).

I eventually join the M20 and with just 6 miles to go pull into a petrol station to fill up and have a coffee.. what a relief!!

As I exit the loos in comes Sylvie… ah ha… thats great. They are devanning the bikes here so that means we can ride into the terminal together… yay.

There are now about 5 bikes and we say our goodbyes to Hayley and the guys with the van to make our way the last few miles into the Eurotunnel. Once we have gone through and got our train notice to show which train we are booked onto we ride into the car park and line up with the other WRWR bikes already here. Into the terminal outlet building and straight to Starbucks, of course. There is a large group of women already here and a couple of male companions. Although it is a Womens relay and only the women riders ‘count’ some have brought male companions with them. We soon make introductions and get chatting with each other. I take the opportuity to get the helmet signed for the Gillingham to Boulogne Sur Mer leg.

Must be time for a group photo…

Sylvie and I get to see the baton and sign the hidden roll of honour revealed from within so that we can add our names.

Then, not long after this, one of the male companions suddenly starts making a speech, as if he is the ride leader, telling everyone what they should do re boarding and leaving the train, riding in France, etc. I am more than a little surprised and quite annoyed actually.. ok he is obviously very experienced, however, this whole relay is about women bikers, doing it for themselves so why does he think he’s in charge.. honestly some blokes just have to take over!! A week or so ago, Joanna, the french ambassador (each country has one or more to deal with arrangements for the legs in their countries), was asking who was leading the group from England when they get off the train in France so that they can make arrangements for the French to meet up. As no one else had come forward and I have been on the Eurostar a number of times I offered to take on this small role, so I had asked who was leading the group on to the train and Mr I M Incharge had told me his wife was doing it and off the train in France aswell… oh well, thanks for letting me know and stepping forward when Joanne asked, NOT, and now here he is doing all the talking!! I’m really not bothered about leading at all, but come on this is just not right. I did make some loud comments and one woman said well there are quite a few inexperienced/nervous riders in ‘our group’.. oh so there are separate groups now, I thought we were all riding together and why does that mean someone with a penis has to take charge?? Yes, I’m well grumpy, but she did kind of nod in agreement.

I make may way outside to my bike and everyone comes out as our train is due. I hope this isn’t the way it is going to turn out, if so I think the male companion thing should be stopped for future years, if there are any.

So Sylvie and I join the group led by Mrs I M Incharge, closely followed by Mr I M Incharge of course. There is a huge queue and my bike is burning my leg off as usual.. why don’t they just filter, there’s plenty of room.. I say to Sylvie, shall we overtake, she nods so I just pull out and ride through the cars.. lo and behold, they have all followed us… one up for the dykes hehehe!

We are called onto the train and line up all in one carriage… as per usual

Sylvie and I get chatting with a few of the women, and they are talking about who will have the baton so I ask when it will be our turn, Sylvie and I.. oh we are told ‘they’ have already decided who will carry the baton so we will have to ask the French.. seriously, we are part of the UK leg, we should be carrying the baton, even for a short time, obviously the French will each want to carry the baton and its not very fair if riders from other countries then want to take their time.. not a happy bunny!!

Next Mrs I M Incharge comes over to me and asks me if I have a gps, yes says I, so do I know where we are meeting the French, ‘I’m not sure as you are leading now so I’ll just follow’ ‘well I was going to ask if you would lead as I haven’t ridden in France before’ ‘oh, ok… where are we meeting?’ She gives me the details and I put them into my gps.. which wouldn’t find it at first but with Sylvies help we get there in the end. I strongly suspect my comments have found their way to the Incharge’s ears and that is why I am being placated.. however…

We exit the train and as we already passed through both UK and French passport control at Folkestone we can ride straight into France. I pull into the first petrol staion to make sure I’ve got everyone and then make our way into Calais. Suddenly, at a large roundabout half the group takes the wrong exit road, but it is a few minutes before I notice. Surprise, surprise it is the Incharges who have led them a different way and when we arrive at the meeting point Mrs I M Incharge can’t wait to tell me they arrived before us… do grow up!!

We are very warmly greeted by the French who seem to have come out in force. They are all very friendly and obviously excited about the whole relay. We get some coffee ordered and its time for a few photos, of course..

Outside there is this medieval tower… how many times have I been through Calais and never thought to stop and look???

After coffee we are back on the road, this time with the french leading.. I see a man in a flourescent orange harley waistcoat and think, I hope this isn’t another take over bid.. but no, one of the french women comes over and asks if it is ok for him to sweep, ie ride at the back? Yes of course, I certainly don’t have a problem with that.

We have about a 40 minute ride to Boulogne Sur Mer and our hotel. Most of the group are either staying at the IBIS or a Gite about 10kms outside of Boulogne. We were asked if we wanted to eat at the Gite but Sylvie and I had opted out so we broke off from the group to go directly to the hotel. Quite a bit of faffing about to get into the car park, but at least it is secure. We get our rooms and agree to meet up and find somewhere to eat. Just as we are about to leave, the Incharges and most of their ‘group’ arrive at the hotel so we agree to wait for them… mmmm

Eventually about 6 or 7 of us head off to find a restaurant, but nearly everywhere is shut.. gosh I am so exhausted after the terrible windy day.. the ride from Calais had also been very draining as it is still very windy. At last we find an indian restaurant open and have something to eat, which was good. I am so tired that I leave as soon as I have finished eating and take myself off to bed.

What a day!! But here I am in France and very much looking forward to tomorrow when we will ride to Le Mans.

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