How we got almost blown off the top of the Pont de Normandie

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Pont de Normandie


Thursday, Nov. 2nd - Camiers to Honfluer by way of Le Havre

Camiers, France -- Thursday, November 2, 2000. It's raining. But we knew we had to push on, and sometime the rain has been letting up in the afternoon. So we got right back on the autoroute. This time, however, the rain kept on going, for at least an hour. The only saving grace was that there was hardly any traffic. A few cars, and a few trucks to pass, but still at 70 miles per hour in the rain, you had to be careful. Luckily the Ducatis have so much acceleration, even at those speeds, that once you commit to passing a truck, you can easily do it.

But the wind was something else. Behind me on the bike I have packed only two items: a duffle bag that is waterproof, and on top of that a backpack that is not. Each day I have carefully wrapped the backpack in a brown plastic garbage bag, then tied two bungee cords to secure the two bags to the bike. At the end of the last few days of riding in the gusts, the plastic garbage bag has been almost shredded.

On most of these rainy days, our gear had worked perfectly. Our riding suits and rain gear worked so well that the only cold air that got in was a bit around the neck. Even though it was cold and rainy, we were warm and toasty inside.

But today for some reason, Eric's suit was letting in water; he couldn't figure out where. But his trousers were soaked, then his boots starting letting in water and his gloves got soaked. I knew he couldn't ride for too long in those conditions.

We were headed to the scenic fishing village of Honfleur (pronounced "On-flur"). For years this has sat isolated across from the harbor city of Le Havre at the mouth the Seine River where it empties into the English Channel. But in 1995 a bridge opened up over the river to connect the two towns -- the Pont de Normandie.

We knew there was a bridge there because it was clearly marked on the map. OK, what's one more bridge. We know they can get a little gusty but you just have to be more careful.

What we didn't know was how high this bridge was. Oceangoing freighters go under the bridge in order to carry their loads further inland toward Rouen. In order to get this high, the angle of climb to get up to the top was incredible. That in itself was no problem. But the wind at that height would be something else.

We first saw the bridge from about a mile away. Our reaction was the same -- "OHHHHHHHH, SHIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTT!!!!!" By then, though, we were on the highspeed road leading up to it -- with no exits.

 

Luckily we didn't have much time to think about what lay ahead. One minute later we were right there.

There were two lanes going each way up and over the bridge. The wind was howling in from the Atlantic, blowing from right to left, absolutely perpendicular to the bike. The gusts were easily 50 miles per hour, if not more. I scrunched down as low as I could under the windscreen but that didn't help much. The dufflebag and backpack on the back of the bike made for a fat "profile" which the wind easily caught ahold of. I was holding on for dear life, and really scared. What had I gotten myself into?

As we climbed up the incline to the top, I moved one lane to the left to pass a big truck that was creeping along in front of me. As I passed to his left on the "leeward" side, the wind stopped completely, blocked by the truck. Hey! This could work, I thought. I'll use him as a shield the whole way. But he was going way too slow climbing up to the top, and there was traffic behind me; I had no choice but to pass him. As soon as I moved in front of him, the gale hit me again. I leaned into it, to the right.

As I approached the top of the bridge, I knew there must be a tremendous view, but there was no way I could avert my eyes anywhere from the road ahead. A gust came and blew me over to the left. Luckily there was no car in the left lane. The same thing happened to Eric behind me, and he almost hit the left guard rail.

I remember saying to myself, "I am going to make this, there's no way I'm going to let this bike get blown over." Apparently will power was enough because soon we were on the down side of the bridge, onto land, and the wind abated.

Then we saw the turnoff to Honfleur. Ten minutes later we had found our hotel.

If we had seen a picture of that bridge, no way would we ever have thought of going over it.

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