Day One: Leaving Calais

Riding away from Calais, after weeks of deliberation, of not knowing if I would, could or should depart I felt ready. I am proud of how I have helped, in awe of those I have met. My soul a little broken from those I have met who are refugees, the hopelessness of their situation of the situation we all find ourselves living in where there are millions of displaced people with nowhere to be. No right answer. Now is time for me to go a little. I don’t feel guilty walking away right now, I have that privilege, I am free and I value it. For now, I am less useful than I have been, I have more to learn. I have more to see. I also want to ride. I can, I will and I will be stronger for it, more informed and better to help again before too long. The privilege that is freedom.

 

 

The first ride is a familiar one, away from the caravan park that I have called home for 5 months, living with fellow volunteers, next to a beach on the flat plains north of Calais. It is a beautiful day to leave on. Not because of fate, because I waited for the sun to come out before I left. With a steady head wind, I rode the familiar route to Gravelines with a friend from time in Calais, one who had helped give me the nudge I’d needed to go out and follow my dream to ride the world. A good egg, one of many I’d met in Calais.  A final farewell. On along to Borbourg I stopped to take some time and reflect and to look at the signed high viz jacket given to me by the volunteers, friends I had left behind. People who I would never otherwise have come across but who have given a richness and diversity to my social network. People who I have learnt a great deal from through our similarities and our differences. Amazing people who give up so much to help, each for their own reasons but mainly because in their minds it is the right thing to do.

 

Bourborg is an attractive town, simple, functional, non-commercial, cobbly. It  was hosting a weekday market, selling clothes, veg, fruit, shoes, meat.  The necessities, not the luxuries often associated with markets at home in the UK, The South. The scenes here resonate with an article I’d recently read, produced by the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39284234. Le Penn posters are dominant in these parts. I can understand why.

 

Riding from Bourbourg to Lille is one I have done before, I love it. It meanders through flat French countryside, for the most part the roads are empty. Suddenly, you find yourself on a switch back, turning to overlook the French countryside below you. A few turns latera and you enter Cassels. A beautiful, cobbled town, wide streets a beautiful cathedral, wonderful views. All the better for the unexpectedness of its existence. I have stopped here before, I didn’t this time. There are plenty of coffee shops for those wishing to sit and watch the town pass by. Leaving Cassels is downhill on bobbly cobbles.  I had to stop to tape my portable cooker to my front pannier.

 

Turning off towards Steenvorde the road becomes smooth. Smooth roads lined by green and yellow fields take you to and across the border to Belgium, bike paths and car free roads, short sharp climbs and pleasant towns line the path.

 

It was fitting to ride out through Steenvorde, past signs to Norrenfont, both of which host small refugee populations of mainly Eritrean refugees which are supported by our warehouse in Calais in collaboration with other local organisations. Norrenfont was one of the camps who we provided bikes to following the #WrenchesforRefugees campaign. I had visited it the day before I left, taking a weekly supply of wood provided by Calais Woodyard and food provided by RCK.

 

After passing through Lille and failing to find a sheltered, non-exposed bivvy spot l continued to the next town, Tournai where there was a youth hostel with a bed for me, and a banquet hall for Galapagos, Darwin.  img_20161205_085825

Strava route

While I have left Calais, the need for volunteers and donations at this time has not.

If you are interested to learn how you can support the ongoing work the main organisations I have been working with are Help Refugees / L’Auberge , L’Auberge des MigrantsRefugee Community Kitchen, and Utopia 56,  

They would all very much value your help. Particularly at this time, RCK and Utopia 56  who are very much on the front line in providing support & food to those without homes on the streets of Calais.

Cycling solo, East. The new plan

So  a little later than planned, starting in a different continent and riding in a different direction, or rather the same direction as I rode this summer, I have started. Je suis parti Calais pour monter mon velo.

There is a lot to say about Calais, the refugee crisis, volunteering. Something that I will talk about later. For now, the experience I have had these past months has influenced my perspectives on the way I live my life, the law, the media, stereotypes, people, work, money. A lot. I am not radicalised, I am still me. I still think hard work matters, education matters, information matters and that there are so many different forms of right and wrong. I still like riding my bike. But I think it will influence how I ride on in the future.

So, the new plan. To not really have a plan, for now. I think I will ride for longer interspersed by time spent volunteering, working, learning new skills and meeting new people. This means less plan and also more stuff. After a day of climbing uphill I am already reconsidering whether I really need a pair of jeans and shoes.

To start with, I am riding East/South East. From Calais to Donaueschinge and the start of the river Danube. From there, I think I will ride as far as Belgrade  along the river before turning south and heading to Greece to do some more volunteering &/or working. Makes sense to make the most of being able to work in the EU while I can.

Life is like cycling without a route, discovery of places I didn’t know existed

Cycling, without a route I often get lost, but I often find places I didn’t know existed. I have always made it home, in the end, somehow. Life, my life, is like cycling without a route. Recently I keep finding myself in incredible places i didn’t know existed. It means I am going to be later than planned getting to where I thought I’d be next, but that’s ok, I will get there, somehow, probably.

In other words; this summer I stumbled into the TCR, a result of which I quit my job with the view to travel the world by bike, acting on a list of mantras, goals, ambitions, dreams and ideas created on my bike. I have made it as far as Calais, France. I am going to be here  a bit longer than planned. I will continue on my cyclo-adventure by bike, but I want to help here for a bit first.

 

Help Refugees

Part of my time out/world tour was to spend some time helping others. I have spent the last month with Help Refugees  and The Refugee Community Kitchen  in Calais, close to the site of the recently closed, Jungle Refugee Camp.

 

I thought that I would probably be leaving on the 9th of December, returning to the UK for a month to finalize preparations and say some farewells in advance of my flight to Hong Kong on Jan 6th, to begin my round the world bike trip.

However, I have found somewhere that I didn’t know existed. Somewhere that I think can help, I think i am helping. I have been presented with an opportunity that i don’t want to cycle away from, not yet anyway.

 

Following the closure of the Jungle Camp, the collective of organisations under the Help Refugees/ L’Auberge umbrella will be staying here. Building on the incredible work done in and supporting the refugee community here in Calais this grass-roots charity continues to provide support to refugees here in France. It also provides humanitarian aid further afield, with containers of aid being prepared and sent to Greece, Syria and Lebanon in coming days and weeks.

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DSC_1519.JPGI am proud to have taken on the role of Logistics Manager for Help Refugees, so Snowy and I will be staying in Calais for a while.

I would love your help in this, be it awareness of the cause, fundraising (eg for containers), helping in our warehouse, donating pre-loved items, setting up new industry relationships, contacts of organisations/people who we should help or could help us, providing food, fixing bikes, anything else.

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Thanks for your support.

 

 

The List: Mantras, thoughts, justifications and goals

The List: Mantras, thoughts, justifications and goals

1)     Freedom, I am free, I am healthy, the world is my oyster.

2)     Money and wealth is relevant. Working in London I earn, but I spend. I could live on a lot less for a year and accomplish a lot more.

3)      I want to help. I want to volunteer my time to those who need it. Perhaps in the long term. I can also continue to raise awareness and money for good causes through cycling.

4)     I want to form my own opinions about the world we live in, through my eyes and the stories of others I meet.

5)     I want an adventure, the world is vast, why wouldn’t I explore it? On a bike, I can see the faces of people I pass, the dirt on every mile I travel, smell the crops grown, native plants, smog. Columbus could do it, why can’t I?

6)      I should learn other languages- English is not enough.

7)     Now is a good time, practically, from a professional & personal perspective.

8)     You have as much to lose by not going as you do by going, probably more.

Taken from blog Moving to Two Wheels, a bit more than the morning commute.

TCRno4s136: Entering the time warp, the first 24 hours

Night/day one

My route took me through the night to Laon. Time flew, literally within what seemed like minutes hours had passed. The roads were good and quiet. During the course of the night I met a few fellow cyclists who evidently had similar routes, we would generally chat for a bit before going our separate ways (or speeds). It was nice to see lights in the distance of a fellow TCRer, or a plastic wrapped TCR rider having a kip. There was one occasion where I saw a rider going the opposite direction, I’m still not sure who was going the wrong way. The only (definite) wrong turn I took was after a brief chat with the TCR Volvo early on, in the excitement of the distraction I stopped looking at Prof calculus…

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I was pretty disciplined with eating and drinking through the night, making an effort to take on something every 10-15 miles, to try and ensure that I kept my fuel supplies, preventing fatigue for as long as possible. I am not entirely sure when Belgium became France, benefit of being an EU member in an open border Europe is that is doesn’t really matter (ironic lol).

At some point I had my first dog chase, luckily I was faster. About 3am I had a stop, put on an extra layer. Waved at a pair who passed. As daylight broke I was approaching Laon, everything was still beautifully flat. I eased off a bit for a cruise into the city hoping to sync my arrival with the opening of a boulangerie , as I rode into Laon I was approached by two local cyclists who were out to welcome weary TCR riders to their home town, they rode with me to the local bread stop, (although I probably could have followed my nose (mmmm fresh bread!) where I found coffee and fresh baguettes which I used to make egg sandwiches with some of the 6 eggs I had brought with me from London (protein is important too).

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At the time of breakfast, I had made good progress and was in the front half of riders (ish- un exact calculation based on dot cluster). I was feeling pretty good so got back on the bike, with the aim of reaching Toucy (156 miles away) by bed time. I then rode up the hill to the Cathedral, not the road to Toucy. I then did a tour of Laon’s suburbs, which were also not the road to Toucy. I finally started climbing the correct hill out of Laon, this was the road to Toucy,  and noticed a bush that looked like it would be a great place to sleep.  About 90 minutes later, 3 and half hours after arriving in Laon, I emerged from Bush, to continue the ride.  Not the plan, but that was ok, I knew there would be lots of times over the next few weeks where plan B would be used. Although, admittedly I didn’t realise how far down the alphabet I would get.

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Day one; part two, Laon to…

 

Following on from Bush nap, I was feeling groggy but it didn’t take long to wake up. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful road, golden stubble fields, grass verges, blue skies, rolling hills and other cyclists. Basically exactly how the guidebooks describe cycling in France. The rest of the day is a bit of a corn coloured blur. Cycling seemed easy some of the time, slow some of the time. I must have stopped a few times to make some more egg sandwiches using the baguette and eggs I had with me, also snacking on mum’s flapjack.

 

I stopped in a tiny village, Dravegny, around lunch time, it wasn’t a scheduled stop, I think it was a subconscious controlled you should drink some coffee now stop. It was a tiny bar, essentially in the living room of an elderly couple. The bar was dark, cool, decorated with a random assortment of crockery; the sort of thing you would expect to see described as “quirky” “eccentric” or “hip” if it was in Shoreditch, London.  In this case it was functional. I ordered what would become my normal order, a large glass of milk, large glass of water, a large coke and two short coffees. I then used my head torch to go to the toilet because I couldn’t find the light switch and the couple had, clearly coming to the conclusion that although odd I was trustworthy, had disappeared into the rest of their house. By the time I left there were a few onlookers, who seemed a bit bemused by this lone cyclist with a bread role and some eggs strapped to her bike. I’m not sure, but I don’t think this particular part of my route was used by many other riders. I got the feeling this village wasn’t one frequented by non-locals very often, it was lovely though.

I carried on for a few more hours stopping just before Chateau Thierry to have lunch, about 2.30.   In broken French I tried to explain the bike race to the patrons who were interested in where I was going and surprised by the size of my food order. While I was eating a local cyclist popped in, after seeing my bike, to have a chat. He had been in the town watching the other riders and was a TCR fan. He explained the TCR in better French to the patrons, who to be honest looked even more confused and disbelieving having heard what I was doing from a native French speaker. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there were a lot of riders in the town as I hadn’t made great time over the past few hours. I rode through Chateau Thierry, which looks like a lovely spot to stop in, and out over the river Marne, which looked like a lovely spot for a swim. Given that I was behind schedule I reluctantly rode past without a swim.

Some more corn fields, some sunflowers, blue skies, combine harvesters, hard boiled eggs and flapjack crumbs later I arrived in Provins. This was a nice moment. Provins is pretty. It is somewhere I can’t remember going before. It is somewhere I remember plotting my route through to have a look at. So I stopped, took a photo, appreciated the old cobbled town and mentally added it to the list of places to come back to, to drink wine and relax in, in the future. Although these little “appreciate the moment”/beauty stops plotted into my route added time to my journey and contributed to the slower than hoped finish, they probably also contributed to me being able to finish as were physical and mental breaks.

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Back on the bike once more I decided to ride as far as the next town and find a bed for the night and some food.  Before too long I found a hotel/restaurant, unfortunately it was closed, as were the next two (one of which on closer inspection was just a closed restaurant).  I stopped and asked a man, he shook his head, “l’hotel?  Non, ils sont tous ferme”

“où est le prochain hôtel?”  looking bemused he replied,“je ne sais pas. Ou allez-vous?”

“à la Turquie”

“oh” “non, je ne sais pas”.

I carried on riding, slightly nervous that I had just left a town with some horrendous recent history, perhaps a zombie apocalypse? Why else had all the hotels shut? It was July. In reality, I had stopped in the small commune of Pont-sur-Yonne close to both Provins and Sens both with surplus accommodation options.  If I had thought this through a little better I would have powered on to Sens rather than faffing around. Indeed, before too long (though by this time it was close to 10pm) I arrived in Sens and found a hotel. The restaurant had shut but some people at the bar offered me half a left over pizza, I devoured, along with flapjack crumbs, an egg, some milk, and a beer.  Looking back, I feel like this was much further into the ride than a mere 24 hours. Riding the Transcontinental is a bit like being in a time warp.

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TCRno4s136: The Start, Apidura bags are go!

TCRno4s136: The Start, Apidura bags are go! 

 

The square was buzzing with cyclist clad Apidura bags; a mix of sizes, shapes, ages, both Apiduras and cyclists. As a newbie to the world of ultra-endurance cycling it was nice to see the diversity of people taking on this challenge. Already, from interactions on the journey to Geraardsbergen, the registration, briefing and final supper it was clear this was a random bunch of friendly people drawn together by a single combined factor, the desire to ride across Europe, alone as fast as possible. This was probably more reassuring for Mum, who had travelled with me from London, armed with homemade flapjack, most of M&S’s picnic section and a pretty extensive first aid kit. Post ride I was to find out that she had spent the hours after the send-off in a pub with a fellow TCR rider’s spouse and that accompanying me had indeed helped.

My hours preceding the race were spent with some slightly hectic last min prep, meeting other riders, a final feast, some more slightly more frantic last minute prep, rushed good byes and of course attempts to capture the event on film. I was lucky to spend the final supper with fellow Chevs rider Z, and the soon to be (relatively speaking) female race winner Emily Chapell. Emily and mum swapped flapjack for a book, so mums flapjack evidently is the fuel of champions.

At some time after dark the Mayor’s bell was rung, signalling the start of the race.  We set off across the square, past the flame bearing supporters; I concentrated on navigating the cobbles and crowds as a tactic to avoid crying at the start, it was all a bit overwhelming, in a good way, an emotional overload. The starting lap of the muur was sociable, easy pedalling, chatting to other riders a few of whom I had interacted with via twitter pre-race, twitter profiles are people too. The climb was a little hairy; I was glad to be at the back as it was narrow, bumpy, crowded and lined with flaming torches, with a few wobbles and the agility of a mountain ox I made it up; alive and smiling.

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Within minutes of the Muur descent, after pausing for the obligatory map check stop on the corner, I set off. For about 10 minutes I was in a bunch of cyclists, then my Garmin, prof Calculus, directed me to take a left turn and  I was solo, one girl and her bike taking on the world, well kind of.

 

 

 

 

Prisoners’ Education Trust: What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ Education Trust 

 What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ education trust (PET) is a charity I am supporting and hope to raise awareness of and funds for through my bicycling adventures. This is an introduction to the work they do and a reflection of my thoughts. Views are my own.

The What

Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) is a charity that believes education has the power to enrich, change and develop people throughout their lives. Offering prisoners access to education improves their self-esteem and enables them to choose a more constructive way of life making it less likely they will reoffend.   It is a charity that I am aware of due to the personal contribution of my Dad, who was one of the original trustees; his involvement stemming from being an in English teacher in prisons in the 1980’s. It is a charity that helps individuals, their families and communities. It is also a charity whose aims have far reaching implications for our society.

The Why

The number of people in prison is rising at a staggering rate, 92% from 1993 to 2015, making Britain host to the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 147 people per 100,0001.  Despite the growing prison population, there is a declining number of staff employed in public prisons. There has been an increase in prison deaths, violence, sexual abuse, fires and incidents requiring the emergency services.  Yet, there remains a staggering high rate of re-offending by those released from prison; 46% of people reconvicted within one year1. From the outside looking in, it seems like a broken system.

The Who

It is very easy to forget about those who we don’t come into contact with in our lives, easier still when the group of people are prisoners.  Many of us have been the victim of petty crime. Some of us have encountered more serious offences that may have had significant repercussions for us, our friends, and loved ones.  The goal of PET isn’t to excuse prisoners but to use education as a tool to prevent reoffending. It helps prisoners to learn and better themselves with a view to becoming positive contributors to society. It provides the opportunity to offer a second chance in life, often to people had a pretty rotten first chance to begin with.

 Many prisoners are victims of abuse as children, or growing up in care.

  • 1% of Children in England are in care, yet this group make up over half of children in secure training centres and 38% of children in young offenders institutions1.
  • 53 % of women and 27% of men prisoners report abuse as child1.

As a group, prisoners in Britain are also likely to have a limited education compared to the general population. A considerable amount of research associating education with crime rates with causal associations between the two dating back to the 1970’s2. It is reported that 42% of prisoners had been expelled or permanently excluded from school while 51% of people entering prisons were assessed as having the literacy skills expected of an 11 year old1.  People with no qualifications are four times more likely to be in prison than those with some qualifications3.

PET provides a number of case studies on their website, providing an insight into some of the people this trust has helped. I was particularly touched by the stories of Frank4, Ben5 and Karen6.

Looking Ahead

While a high proportion of people in our prisons may have been deprived of, or neglected to utilise, the opportunity to learn earlier in life, learning and education are things that can be revisited. Going back to the Brownlee report prisoners who had attended vocational training in prison are more likely to secure employment after release. Further, prisoners who were funded to study by PET were less likely to reoffend7. Thus, by providing education and training to prisoners, PET hopes to aid the rehabilitative process for prisoners, helping them to return with a positive influence to their society.

My ponderings

I attended school, participated in extra-curricular activities, and went to University.  For me, it was an easy journey, well metaphorically speaking. Literally, I sometimes made it difficult for myself, often racing the school bus on the way back from my paper round, throwing my bike and paper bag over the garden fence and running to make the bus stop on time. On those days that I did miss the bus my mum would drop me off at another bus stop on her way to work, normally sacrificing her breakfast in the process;  sorry mum. That was my education though, it was available, all of my friends went to school and when I slipped up, or started to loose motivation, my parents were there to prop me up and to ensure I didn’t fall through the gaps.  On top of that, I was lucky to go to good, safe schools, with above average results, access to sports facilities and use of Bunsen burners.

Would it have been so easy without that family support? Probably not.

Over the past months, since deciding I would like to fundraise for PET, I have come to better understand the work they do and how they go about it. I have also thought more about why it is important and had the opportunity to meet some individuals who had personally benefited from PET and hear their stories.  Listening to these conversations and reading case stories I have been struck by those accounts where, in line with what you would expect from a Hollywood tear jerker, the provision of education has lead directly or indirectly to a transformation of individuals committed to reform, a crime free life after prison to the benefit of themselves, friends and family.

 I have also found myself pondering the other edge of the sword of in relation to my own life, could it have been me? Could I have found myself in a position where through a moment of stupidity, lack of concentration, distraction or perhaps as a consequence of alcohol I found myself the cause of a crime and on the wrong side of the law? How would I cope?

Thank you for reading, please feel free to share.

Fundraising Page for PET

Some References/Further Reading

  1. Prison Reform Trust Bromley Briefing Summer 2016
  2. Ehrlich, I. (1975), ‘On the relation between education and crime’, Chapter 12, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
  3. Stephen Machin & Olivier Marie & Suncica Vujic, 2010.”The Crime Reducing Effect of Education,”CEP Discussion Papers dp0979, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  4. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/frank-harris-ive-always-been-a-taker-but-now-im-a-giver-
  5. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/-bens-story-
  6. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/from-prisoner-to-case-worker-karens-story
  7. Ministry of Justice. (2013) Justice Data Lab Re‐offending Analysis: Prisoners Education Trust Open University Grants, London, UK. Retrieved February, 23, 2016, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270089 /open-university-report.pdf