In this scene, which is not included in the final version of Peloton of Two, Catherine Pringle is standing on the deck of an overnight ferry as it approaches Roscoff harbour. She has just spent a sleepless night below deck after her first exhausting day on a tandem. (The hours awake in her bunk did at least give her the chance to finish and publish her first article about the tandem journey around France.)
Catherine watches, with some trepidation, as the ferry approaches the rugged coastline of Brittany. She is exhausted, hungry and not at all ready for France. Hardly surprising, then, that she makes an embarrassing mistake:
Standing at the railing on the ferry’s upper deck, Catherine watched the coastline of Brittany grow steadily closer. Through eyes that were half-closed against the driving rain, she could see nothing but granite. It rose from the water’s edge and arranged itself in a series of low-set cliffs that stretched in both directions along the coast. Further out to sea, on both sides of the shipping lane, it stood clear of the waves in an array of bleak little islands. And in Roscoff itself, cut, dressed and mortared, it was the building block of choice for much of the town. Everything in her field of vision seemed harsh and grey, the few exceptions being cottages where the stone had been painted a brilliant white.
Despite the rain, and the certainty that there would be no shelter from it on a tandem, she longed for the day’s ride to be under way. The ferry had been the setting for an almost sleepless night, a ten-hour struggle to pacify a pair of overused and exhausted legs. She had breached a contract with them, a lifelong agreement that standing and walking, sometimes in not very sensible shoes, was all they would ever have to do. The shock had been massive, and she knew it was only a matter of time before they took their revenge.
Turning her back to the weather, she opened the Twitter app on her smartphone and compressed her limited ambitions for the day into the hundred and forty character limit: The sooner I’m ashore again, the sooner I can begin the journey towards my next sleep. #cycletouringishell!
As she finished typing, she began the process of managing Nick’s expectations. ‘I don’t know how much I’m capable of today,’ she said over her shoulder. ‘I’ll do my best, but please, you have to ease up on the pace a little.’
He didn’t respond and she wondered if he was still brooding about their first day together on the tandem. Over and over again, the rolling Devon countryside had exposed her as a breathless, weak-limbed dead-weight. It had been obvious right from the start that she was nowhere near ready for France, but there was a ferry waiting for them at the end of the ride and, as Nick had made clear again and again, it wasn’t going to wait. Unforgiving terrain, she accepted as a new occupational hazard. It might even have been bearable if there hadn’t been an unforgiving partner pushing her as hard as he could. He had been making a point, trying to shock her into realising that the journey was a serious physical commitment. There was something else too, an edge that had come back in the baggage of his South American trip. Her wobble at Base Camp had threatened his carefully controlled plan, and his behaviour was a warning not to try that again.
She turned and saw him standing side-on to her, elbows on the railing, his head hidden completely by the deep overhang of his rain jacket’s hood. She decided that maybe she was being uncharitable – with the wind and rain sweeping along the deck, it was more than likely that he just hadn’t heard her. Either way, Catherine felt it was up to her to make sure they stayed friends. She leaned close, looped an arm around his waist, and squeezed hard, giving him her best, attention-seeking hug. In her sweetest voice, she said, ‘Honey, we will stop for breakfast when we get off, won’t we?’
Disconcertingly, he tried to wriggle his way out her grasp. Leaning forward to see around the rim of his scarlet hood, she understood why: she had attached herself to a complete stranger. He was the same height as Nick and was wearing the same brand and colour of wet-weather gear. But the likeness stopped there. He was big and broad, with a full, dark beard and beefy cheeks. He stared at her for a moment, completely bewildered. Then his face melted into a wicked grin. He winked, and replied, ‘Another breakfast sounds fine to me, love. But we’re going to need a table for six. The missus and kids will want to come too.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ she said, flushing deeper than the colour of his rain jacket.
She unhooked herself and stepped away from the rail. Nick had somehow slipped away while she was sending her tweet. He was a dozen paces along the deck, using a long lens on his Nikon to catch an early shot of Roscoff’s seafront.
She rejoined him, and said, ‘I was just asking that handsome Geordie over there, who I somehow mistook for you, if we were stopping for a quick breakfast in Roscoff.’
‘And did he say yes?’ Nick replied with a smirk. He leaned past her and took a couple of shots of the man, who had reached the protective custody of his wife and children.
‘I think he’s up for it. So, the pressure is definitely on you to come up with a better offer, one that includes a substantial petit déjeuner. Otherwise, I might be about to peel away and join an alternative tour.’
‘I thought you’d stick with me for just a little longer than the first day in France.’ He smiled, just enough, and added, ‘But if you’re determined to go, I won’t stand in your way.’
‘Don’t press me, even as a joke. I’m feeling extremely fragile this morning.’
‘The plan is that we stop a few kilometres inland at St-Pol-de-Léon. We can eat all you want there. Now let’s get going. I want to be at the head of the car deck queue when we dock.’
He strode away along the deck and disappeared into the stairwell, leaving her with little choice but to follow …