The Ocean, and D-Day

September 18, 2012 at 8:05 am

I'll have to remember this when I get back to San Francisco and host a touring cyclist: they will eat you out of house and home. I'm currently at the breakfast table of my first hosts from They have been incredibly kind and generous. They left for work this morning and set out a bunch of options on their kitchen table for breakfast. I'm quite sure I could eat all of it.

I last wrote from St. Georges du-Vievre, about 10km west of the Seine. That night, I didn't bother stocking up on food because I assumed I could just buy some in the morning. The campground was 100m north of town. The office was closed, but there was a note saying to make yourself comfortable. I set up camp, made some food, and played a little guitar before going to sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I was awoken by water dripping on my face. Startled, I began to investigate and found that my rainfly was too slack and was resting on part of the bug netting on my hammock. The dew was condensing, wicking through the rainfly, and dropping onto me. In my socks and boxers, I crawled out of my hammock and stumbled around in the dark trying to fix the situation. It took me a good 10 minutes in the cold to fix everything and my body temperature had dropped quite a bit by then. No matter, it just took a little while to warm up in my sleeping bag.

I awoke to a prolonged ringing of bells from the town church. That's when I realized it was Sunday, and I would not be finding food quite so easily. Luckily I had some eggs, bread, cheese, and fruit for breakfast. I also had enough day-food to get me where I was going.

Seeing the ocean came as a surprise. Partially because I had gone the wrong way and wasn't supposed to see the ocean, and partially because it was the first time I'd seen it in France. I stood and stared at it for a good long time, and realized that over the past five years, seeing the ocean has become a very natural thing for me, living in California. Looking out at the ocean made me miss my friends.

The beach at Houlgate.

First sight of the Atlantic at Houlgate.


Later in the day, I was dealing with the fact that I was going to have to eat my other three eggs for dinner when I happened upon a pizza truck in a touristy area. I bought a big vegetable pizza, ate two slices, and threw the rest on the back of my bike. I literally sang as I rode away, delighted that I'd have a nice dinner.

Pizza in Normandy

This is how excited I was, I took a picture of it.


My campsite that night was just east of the Normandy beaches where the allied forces pushed into France on D-Day. I wanted to stop and leave the next day unhurried for a tour of the beaches. As usual, tent camping was reserved to a small portion of the campground. I followed to camp host through a small grassy alley between two campers which opened up a bit. There was a row of plots, each about 20' long. About 6 in all, these were the tent camping spots. Luckily there were to small trees I could use for the hammock. I said good night, wrote a postcard, drew a picture of the grounds, and went to sleep.

The next morning held probably the perfect weather for a tour of the D-Day beaches. It was dark, brooding, and blustery. The Allies landed on a huge swath of territory, so I rode for many kilometers and took side roads towards the beaches now and again.

This is what it felt like:

Birds on the Normandy beaches.

It felt stunning.


I rode through the rain for a couple of hours. It felt cleansing and good.

As anyone who has talked to me about this trip beforehand knows, I didn't plan very much. There were only a few things that I knew I wanted to see. Omaha Beach, where the Americans began their invasion, was the first of them. So when I arrived, I was overjoyed at the success of having made it there from Paris.


Omaha beach, where the Americans landed.

Not just a beach.


There is a visitors center at Omaha Beach which is apparently very moving. They show movies and allow access to a cemetery with over 9000 graves for those departed in the invasion. Unfortunately, I'm traveling alone on a packed bike. There was no way I was going to leave it alone for that long. I tried twice to walk it into the cemetery and was asked to turn around both times. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the area, which covers some 200 acres.

After my visit, I took mostly main routes to my host house. That's where I am now, and I'm already going to be making a late start. After this cup of coffee, I'm off again.