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.

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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.