"It's not that far is it?" said my friend as I was trying to work out the best way to phrase the truth.
"No, not really, it just like cycling to central London 60 times. It looks like a 3 day ride, we can manage anything for 3 days, right?"
"Ok then, let's do it." She said confidently and so our first long distance bike ride was born. London to Paris. Un-supported and with, it turned out no, GPS or intelligent mapping system on our person, which sadly included our own sense of direction.
Luckily we had panniers though, and two rather handsome panniers at that, the Birkdale and the Duke to act as our companions for the trip. Each one was just the right size for our clothes for 3 days along with a large perfume bottle!
DAY 1: Post Work to Maidstone
We started the ride after work one Friday evening and biked along the Thames (so far so easy to navigate). We travelled way past where the tourists visit. Mainly because there isn't much there apart from the Dartford Crossing, but at low tide it is still beautiful. We pushed on along the B roads for around 30 miles until we were near Maidstone where we bedded down for the night with sorer legs than expected.
Day 2: Ferry
The next day was ferry day, we just had to get to Dover first. We cycled along the Pilgrims Way, a beautiful stretch of pathway that goes from Farnham in Surrey all the way to Dover without traffic. It takes you over the downs and far away, and it certainly felt like it half way up hill no.20, but luckily after a good 5 hills too many we saw the distinctive sight of a ferry port in the distance. The ride from here at least was downhill and snaking through the ferry port was certainly fun. The looks from lorry drivers along the way was worth it on its own.
After a 1 hour break on the ferry, with some treats from the rather disappointing ferry canteen, we continued on through Calais. Unfortunately this is where the wind started working against us and it felt like we were cycling through treacle. It was also at this moment that we began our first impressively bad diversion. We got terribly lost, in a wet, muddy wood as the sun started to set. It took us about an hour to find our way out of the woods and we were deflated, we'd only just started the adventure and we couldn't even find out way out of a wood, let alone to Paris. But after returning to the same tree 5 times, we stumbled across a route that took us out of the woods just in time before night fall. Once back on track we cycled/limped for another 1 1/2 hours before making it to our lovely french farmhouse booked for the night. Bernard had laid out some baguettes, cheeses and wine and they all slipped down very easily. Needless to say we slept very well again that night!
Day 3: They said it was flat. They lied!
"As soon as you get to France it will be as flat as a pancake." They said. Well, they lied. It wasn't flat, it was the worst kind of hilly, that steady incline that never gives up so you feel like you are struggling against the wind, without any clouds in the sky.
Day 3 was hard, our legs were hurting now, we both had a sense of humour bypass and every cafe stop seemed to be shut whenever we got there. Lunch of a warm, crusty french baguette with cheese helped, and as we started cycling through the battle fields of the Somme with glorious fields of poppies everywhere, our mood lifted. There is a striking peace to this part of the world, perhaps because you know what happened there, but passing through it, is certainly life affirming. It also helped that here the land finally started to flatten out.
It was flat afterall, you just had to get past the hills first.
Day 4: Paris!
Excited is not the word. After 3 tough days of cycling with one day in the rain the end was in sight. And not just any end, Paris, and Le Tour Eiffel.
And the land was flat, truly flat. We flew. The roads are glorious in France, flat, smooth, and wide with drivers that love cycling so much they treat every cyclist as if they are wearing the yellow jersey. And for a while we thought it too. We past fields of poppies, fields of eerily beautiful wind farms, little french towns with romantic french weddings taking place, we went through towns where the locals were playing petanque, it was quintessentially french and have I mentioned we felt like we were flying!
Then we started entering Paris. It's much bigger than you think, and we had to pass miles of suburbia with tower blocks and traffic before we started to recognise the Paris of the movies. After a narrow escape from ending up in the near mountainous Montmarte, we snaked through the traffic through the parisian streets getting lost virtually at every single turn.
Eventually the Eiffel Tower was peeping over the Parisian town houses and we just cycled in it's direction. Our last final hurdle was the Champs Elysee. That place is dangerous and should not be crossed by cyclists, pedestrians or even cars for their own safety. But we blindly carried on and cycled across avoiding certain death on several occasions. Once over we just had to cross the river and after three days, 350 miles and many many diversions we had made it. To Paris, from London and it was glorious. We bought a bottle of champagne and drank it under the monument with our bikes dumped unceremoniously on the grass.
The next day, after a delightful Parisian breakfast, we got a the Eurostar back home. It took us 2 hours!
We would definitely recommend it to anyone. The countryside is beautiful, the roads are smooth and talking broken french to the locals about cycling is priceless. Maybe just buy a GPS system to avoid the extra miles!
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