Day -3: And So It Begins
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
The day has finally come to pack our bags and head east
Despite all the best laid plans, at 8am on the 19th July it was time to leave and we were nowhere near ready. We hadn't packed, and we hadn't made any sort of arrangements for the first step of the journey - getting from the UK to France. Matt and I had both been away for the last couple of weeks, with the compounded inconvenience of not only being away from home and busy with work, but also negotiating a 16 hours time difference between us. From returning back to the UK, we had 4.5 days to get ourselves unpacked, sorted and repacked. It was a tall order but we were pretty sure we could do it. We had however completely failed to take jet lag into account. Our first day at home together quickly descended into a sofa day as we struggled to force our bodies into their new time zones after long days of travel.
“We had however completely failed to take jet lag into account”
The next couple of days had become a manic rush trying to catch up on all the household and life chores that had stacked up on the doormat while we'd been away, get the house ready for the house sitter, buy all the bits and bobs we'd said we'd 'just get later', sort out all remaining paperwork and finally pack. We'd eventually got around to starting to pack the night before, while my visiting Mum and Dad were busy in the garage glueing black and yellow fur onto our top box, transforming it into Dougle The Bee.
We started packing methodically - while having quite a lot of space compared with other Mongol Rally cars there still wasn't a huge amount of space to store everything in and live out of, and because we were going to be living entirely out of the van and not in a tent we wanted to make sure we did the best pack we could. Two hours later the methodical pack had been thrown well and truly out of the window, and in an effort to just get everything in the van and get going we were just hurling bags and boxes into the back of the van wherever they would fit.
Van packed and the house semi tidied, and it was time to say goodbye to our cat, Jake. In true cat style he wasn't interested in emotional farewells - he knew something was up and was focused entirely on making sure he wasn't about to be thrust into a cat carrier and shipped off to a cattery. We made do with a forced cuddle and kiss, waved goodbye to our housesitter Jo, and finally hit the road.
We didn't get far.
At the petrol station we realised that we only had one set of van keys, and not only had we forgotten to pick up the other set; we had absolutely no idea where they were.
After what felt like a very long rummage around the house for the spare keys we were off, waving goodbye to our cat and our home for 8 long weeks.
“We only had one set of van keys, and not only had we forgotten to pick up the other set; we had absolutely no idea where they were.”
Otherwise uneventful, our journey to Folkestone took us past a Range Rover on the hard shoulder with flames puthering out of the windows that had been blown out by the heat. It served as a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the adventure we were undertaking.
We made the EuroTunnel terminal in good time, and even managed to squeeze in a last trip to Leon in anticipation of the weeks of dubious food options ahead.
To the Continent!
The journey on the tunnel flew by in the blink of an eye. I'd barely drifted off before we were emerging at Calais, ready for the next leg of our days travel. Onto the French motorway and we barrelled along at a solid 60mph, being overtaking by pretty much every other vehicle on the road. Even at our relatively slow speed we were eating up the miles and before too long we had passed through France, into Belgium and were almost at the German border.
We pulled over for a comfort break and to stock up on supplies for the night. Our plan was to stop for the night at a campsite in Germany near Cologne, but it was getting quite late and we had yet to phone up and book anywhere. We couldn't get hold of any of the campsites that we had found on line, so just pointed the van east once more and kept on trucking.
It was long since dark by the time we reached the area that we had planned to stop in. We tried three campsite, but each of them was closed for the night and we didn't want to just pitch up somewhere in the van at such a late hour. We kept on driving, looking for anywhere suitable to stop and wild camp. We found a likely looking spot on the map, relatively close to a main road, but far enough down country roads that it should be pretty quiet. Pulling in to check it out it looked perfect - a gravel hard stand by on the corner of a country road backing onto a large gated field surrounded by dense trees and undergrowth.
Within minutes we had parked up and had the van transformed into it's sleeping configuration with all essentials stacked up on the front seats, the mattresses down covering the storage units and blackout curtains up front and back. Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, we cracked open a can of beer each to toast our successful first day on the road. There was plenty of rustling coming from the undergrowth by the van, and although we never did manage to see what animals it was that were in there we marvelled at how unafraid of humans the mystery animal was.
A potential reason for the lack of fear of humans of the hedgerow animals became apparent after toilet and teeth brushing excursions into the field behind the fence. It was a huge expanse of flat field filled with grass and wildflowers. It actually looked pretty perfect for parking a van in for the night, if only it wasn't for the fence and gate. We wandered over to the gate to see if the sign on it might give us an idea of wether if would be ok to drive in or not.
The answer was a resounding NO.
Pictograms of explosions accompanied a sign explaining that the field posed the risk of mortal danger due to unexploded munitions. On balance, we decided it would be better to keep the van on the hardstanding outside of the field and suffer the slightly reduced levels of privacy. It did at least explain the boldness of the rustling animals; I'm sure they didn't have too many visitors due to the exciting nature of their chosen environment.
We didn't last much longer that night, and were tucked up in bed barely an hour after parking up ready for our first night in the van.