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Memories of the trip so far: Week 1

I was a couple of minutes late setting off due to finding I could gain access to the square at the Royal Observatory where the prime meridian line is marked into the ground - perfect start line! Thanks to all those who waved me off, particularly MTB race organising legend Pat Adams.

The ride down to Dover was initially with my friend David for company, but after 15miles he turned around and I was alone. It was all very nice really for a long way, I even took an off-road track for a short while, but rain and headwind on the coast made me greatful to have company again for a few miles when MTB champ Debs guided me towards Folkstone.

Vin leaves Greenwich

Somehow that got me ahead of schedule and I got a slightly earlier ferry to Calais [France]. The clock stops on Guiness World Records during transfers, so I made use of time by eating lots of food to fuel a last push of 20 miles for the evening and cleared Calais.

The plan for day 2 was to head up the coast all the way to Holland before turning straight south, but driving snow on a strong headwind forced a re-think as progress was so slow. I only went up the coast to Koksijde in Belgium, host town to a famous cyclo-cross race, [and 2012 world championships] then stopped for coffee and turned south. The weather was abysmal, cold, windy, murky, damp and dirty on the roads. I felt terrible due to lack of sleep, the efforts of the previous day and the slow progress. Then I started to pass cemetary after cemetary of WW1 dead - it made me sadder still, but it reminded me that my woes were petty and under my own control. The scale of WW1 really hit me, so many people died in the cold muddy fields I was riding by. I was still passing cemetaries over a day later.

Day 3 started from Cambrai, like a stage of this year's Tour de France will. I got to Reims - the finish town for that tour stage - for a late lunch and pushed on to make 160 miles that day. Just before I finished for the day I crashed into a cat in the dark; poor thing misjudged me totally and dived into my front wheel. There was an awful bump and clatter moment but somehow I stayed upright and was still heading downhill at speed. My front brake disc was buckled but I was better off than the cat I'm sure. Day 3 had been below freezing, and days 4 & 5 saw no warmer temperatures with mornings down to -7C; I was glad I'd trained in Scotland over New Year! Cold was the big enemy but there was a strong tailwind to compensate. France got steadily more beautiful as I headed south. and on my final full day I loved almost every inch of the 140 mile route, even the hill at the end which had a wonderful descent through olive groves and vineyards. My last night in France was spent stressing over what to keep with me and what could be sent back with David who had been driving whilst I cycled. I've got it down to very very little, just one large Topeak rack-bag - I hope I got it right. The final 24 miles over to the ferry allowed me to witness an amazing sunrise and get used to the weight distribution with just 1 heavy bag on the back of the bike. I made the ferry with plenty of time to spare and I think the bag will be fine.

Onwards to Africa!