We spent Thursday night at galahadwarhorse's. Gally was, as usual, incredibly generous in the matter of beds, dinner (a gigantic pasta bake we ate ALL OF), and getting up at half past five in the morning to see us off. Soon after leaving, we were on the 7AM FastCat from Portsmouth to Le Havre.
As the other members of the trip had taken the earlier overnight crossing, we had arranged to meet them for lunch in Pont-Audemer, home of the best creperie in the world. Howard and I got there first, and were already most of the way down a bottle of local cider when the rest of the group arrived: Bike Normandy's Jeanette in the lead, our friends Doug and Genie, and three strangers, Ian, Sheryl, and Bob.
John, the other half of Bike Normandy, was back at the gîte, having broken his leg earlier in the year, so I volunteered to tail-end for the next part of the ride. We set off in a convoy, but were soon separated by our varying speeds and the vagaries of traffic. We passed through towns and villages half-familiar from previous trips, enjoying long straights, sweeping bends, views of fields and forests. At every roundabout and junction, I gathered up a rider who had been left to point out the way. After a coffee stop and petrol fill-up it was back to Bike Normandy HQ, and although I had loved the day's riding, I was also looking forward to a delicious meal, silly conversation, Calvados, and most of all saying hello to both John and Della, the Bernese Mountain Dog.
I was quite smug about the fact that I'd used six euros' worth of petrol since filling up at Petersfield the previous evening, while Howard needed to put €14's worth in his tank. Then I used as much again chasing him home from the petrol station.
There were some thoughtful faces at breakfast on Saturday following the previous evening's cider and Calvados consumption, but we set off in good time to do the Racetrack - Howard's favourite bit, with good tarmac and confidence-boosting bends. The first time round, I had the enormous pleasure of following Jeanette's perfect lines through the corners. Then we all had another go; then we pulled in to our coffee stop almost, but not quite, ahead of a heavy shower.
I donned my ridiculous orange waterproof trousers, £5 on eBay, and we set off again. The trousers worked their magic: the rain stopped, the sun came out, and it warmed up. After lunch I spent much of the afternoon riding in a tight four with Jeanette, Howard and Doug, taking pleasure in the way we stuck together with nobody under pressure to ride too fast.
We stopped for drinks and ice creams, and the threatening clouds crept closer. I decided not to bother with waterproofs since we were only an hour from home, which turned out to be An Error. At speed, we could stay ahead of the weather, but whenever I was called upon to mark a junction it caught up and I got soaked. I was one of the last to arrive back, to be greeted by a very smug Doug who had got in first and already had a shower and got changed.
Sunday was the day for my favourite road, the Hillclimb. First, though, I stopped off at a village where a car boot sale was in progress, and bought a children's book called Amik and his Little Wolf.
I had a couple of practice goes at the Hillclimb, which has beautiful uphill bends ideal for scooters. Then, to the incredulity and amusement of all, I did it again, downhill then up, with Howard on the pillion.
We all made the most out of the next stretch of riding, since it would be the last of the fun stuff. Lunch was in Falaise, where most of us were tempted into an ice cream; mine, the 'Safari', was chocolate and speculoos. Then it was time to part, one group headed to Le Havre while Ian, Sheryl, Howard and I travelled to Caen.
I was very sad to say goodbye to the others, and to France, though playing ping-pong with Howard on the deck of the ferry cheered me up a bit. It was a brilliant trip, and what was especially nice was the feeling that I'd bonded more with my bike since the previous year, and was getting a better performance out of it. My increased speed and confidence were remarked upon.
I arrived home shortly before 11PM, and woke the next morning to an email from Bike Normandy confirming the dates we'd booked for next year...