Km Unknown, Pont Tancarville, 15th July
9.08.06 by Buffalo Bill
This was the first bike lane that I was pleased to see, and happy to use, in 1400 km cycled in France. It is at the north end of the Pont Tancarville, which rears up and vaults over the Seine, near Le Havre. I had crossed from Upper to Lower Normandie, from Calvados to Seine-Maritime, leaving behind Km 83, and heading for home, or at least for the boat that would take me back to Blighty.
I get frightened on bridges. I get nervous crossing from one side of the Thames to the other. When I was working as a messenger, I would have to cross a bridge at least 3 times a week. Usually a lot more.
The London road bridge that gives me the most fear is Waterloo Bridge. It’s totally irrational. I am more at risk from the roundabout at the south end, from the buses and lorries that rumble up and down, but if I cross Waterloo Bridge when the wind is blowing from the south west, then I instinctively start to lean into the wind. The parapet on my near-side seems to shrink, and I can hear the river calling for my body.
I can’t use the Millenium Bridge at all. It was used for an Alleycat checkpoint soon after it opened, and some maniac pedestrian tried to push me off, despite the fact that I was riding slowly and doing my level best to avoid him. Since then, I have not been able to look at people walking across it, never mind set foot on it myself.
Most times it was ok, I would take the rare chance to view London’s horizon. It is rare that you get a chance to see a horizon in Central London. To see the whole sky, the city-scape. London’s streets are narrow, and you can only see a narrow band of sky, framed by the the walls of the buildings that stand on either edge of the road. The view from Waterloo Bridge, northbound, is my favourite, the river wide and arching away, riverbank adorned with Christmas lights, Modernist, Neo-Gothic and Classical facades dwarfed by the clouds, or winking at the stars.
The worst road bridge that I have ever ridden across is the Golden Gate Bridge, which crosses the channel between the Bay of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. The cycle-way is right next to the void, there are gigantic pillars that must be negotiated, taking the cyclist further out into the nothingness, and there is a large gap between the road and the cycle-way through which you can see the tortured, tempestuous waters of the channel. I rode across for the first time with my friend Erik Zo, the notorious messenger bag maker, and he was clowning around as usual, talking and cycling, telling me all about the bridge, the height, the length, the jumpers. I started to freeze up, and once I caught sight of the water, I was nearly lost, paralysed. I screamed at Erik to shut up and ride at least 10 metres in front of me. The worst was crossing it knowing that I would have to return and re-cross it to get back to the city.
The morning that I crossed Pont Tancarville, I had woken in a field in Normandie, with slug trail in my hair. Getting the hardened mollusc vestiges out of my hair was a bit of job, but fortunately I was equipped with extra-toxic French disposable surface-cleaners. I rolled into Honfleur, and got coffee and pastries.
Today was the last day that I would be riding in France, and I had already found what I thought I was looking for, Km 83, two days before on a hill above the Calvados coast. My head was not clear, my heart still broken, perhaps into smaller pieces than before, although I had escaped, got some miles between myself and all the problems that I had made for myself in London. But I had not been able to leave behind the one thing that, above all others, I had wished to break with. It had been with me almost every day, bringing more confusion with every new buzzing and ringing of my phone. Nothing had been resolved. No doubts had been banished. The broken promises had not been remade. And even if they were remade, surely they would only be broken again? And on and on and on it went.
As I rode away from Honfleur, snaking along the southern edge of the Seine estuary, I could see the Pont, rising in the distance. It is a huge bridge, bigger than any of the Thames crossings. I turned onto the approach road and started to climb. The carriage-way seemed to widen and flatten. I was scared. There was little traffic, but it was moving more than 5 times faster than me, and I became concerned that I would be concealed by the curvature of the bridge, be run over from behind by a lorry. I kept focussed on the road ahead, and tried not to listen to the river, the void calling to me. Long minutes passed before I saw the sign at the top of this article.
And I was across the Seine. Heading back towards reality.
This might be the last part of my journey in France , ‘Looking for Km 83‘