Wow what a weekend. What a great bit of the countryside Northern France is, What a challenge it was. They said it couldn’t be done, it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the lycra clad imagination, but then anything worthwhile usually isn’t easy, but it lived up to the expectation in every way. Of course we knew it would be a challenge, that’s the point. Of course there was never any doubt in our minds that we would get there but rolling up to the Eiffel Tower on a Sunny Sunday afternoon was still a relief/surprise/pleasure.
The 2017 challenge was the unlikely brainchild of Matt, the Matt who willingly took on the Ferndown Firewalk when I asked him, who semi willingly took on the Solent swim and then who reluctantly took on the London to Brighton cycle ride. The Matt who described himself as not a cyclist was suggesting that we up the ante from the 60(ish) miles of London to Brighton to the full monty of Poole to Paris and the prospect of cycling 260 miles over 4 days was planted. Its been a long journey to get here. We’ve both become a lot more knowledgeable about bikes in general, we both ditched the cap on our cycling helmets (that’s only for mountain bikers dontcha know) we both learned about cleats (me more painfully than Matt), we both started admiring groupsets, and we both started to train. If I’m honest I’m a bit obsessive about things and so I threw myself into the training a bit more than Matt did but each to their own. (and in fairness Matt threw himself off his bike to skip the last week or so of training).
And so Day one found us heading for an early ferry from Poole to Cherbourg fully loaded with bikes, Jelly babies and various other bits of nutrition and on our way to Paris. Matt was I/C arrangements and so had booked Ferries and Tunnels as well as all the overnight stops. He also had a route planned that we shared with Mrs W our support vehicle (Skippy2) driver. He had also booked Club lounge seats for the outward crossing and boy were they great, we had to evict a couple who were sitting in our booked seats when we got there, all the seats are pre booked and they just wanted our window seats, but we were a three and they were a two and while they would have preferred to stay there we needed to sit together and there weren’t three other seats together.
I was going to say that the hardest part was starting (but it probably wasn’t) after four hour ferry crossing and early doors start it would have been really easy not to then get in the saddle for (what turned out to be) a 4.5 hour ride. But as they say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and so why wouldn’t a cycle of a quarter of that start with a turn of the pedals. Day one was intended to get us off the peninsular and onto the North coast of France. The ferry docked a bit late and by the time we had got off we were behind schedule, nevertheless we covered the planned route and made it to all our RV points and our overnight stop before they shut up for the night. That first day was a nice relatively short leg that introduced us gently to cycling on the right, the French countryside and their love of all things hilly and at the end of the day we had a third floor flat that was home to us and the bikes. (Carrying a bike up three flights isn’t a lot of fun but it doesn’t hurt as much as carrying it down in the morning)
Day 1 Stats for the stats nerds: Distance 81.7km Elevation 556m Avg Speed 18.3kph
Day 2 was always planned to be our longest day at 130 km. It was also our first experience of cycling a long consecutive day (something that neither of us had done much of in training). The plan was for an almost coastal road crossing Normandy and reaching Honfleur. Not the most direct of routes to get to Paris but our route planner had an affinity to Honfleur and decided it was worth the detour. What should have been obvious and very quickly became apparent was the nature of roads near to the coast as having plenty of steep hills. Day 2 though has gone down in my record of the weekend as the best day. The scenery was spectacular, but what really struck me was the history that is so ingrained in the region, the sense of pride held by an area that saw some of the worst of the conflicts of world wars, that humanity could turn such beautiful areas into swathes of senseless slaughter. We passed a cornfield that had poppies growing in it and we visited Omaha beach to stare at the vast open space that still looks desolate and dangerous. It was extremely moving and it puts a sense of perspective into life. It also added a short additional loop that was not only a few KM but a serious uphill one. Not for the first, nor for the last time on our trip we had a navigation issue on arrival but that was soon resolved and we checked into our second overnighter, once again the bikes were ushered into bedrooms and wrapped up for the night. Honfleur was planned to be our one night out and despite a long day in the saddle and a late arrival we did venture into the town to eat out and had a lovely seafood meal and a walk around the harbour. It’s a lovely place worthy of a visit.
Day 2 stats for the nerd stats: Distance 130km Elevation 711m, Avg Speed 14kph
So onto day 3, as we started to head inland with the longest ride of the trip over (and a little over half of our total distance covered) it had felt as if it ought to begin to be a cruise toward the end of the trip, with two shorter days left we had hoped to finish earlier each day and relax. It wasn’t to be, as we headed inland the hills seemed to get steeper and more frequent. We made good time and racked up miles, we saw some beautiful scenery as well as some lovely French houses, but still we didn’t arrive until about 5pm. On this night we were booked not an air BnB owned by Sebastian. It was fantastic a lovely property with all sorts of gadgets and an air of organisation verging on obsessive. By now we were three quarters of the way(ish) and an early night beckoned.
Day 3 Stats: Distance 87
km Elevation 334m Avg Speed 14.7kph
Day 4, Up really early as we had a fairly long day planned but also wanted to get into Paris so that we could spend some time and then leave for the return Eurostar. It was going to be the second longest day of the trip but with an 8am start pretty doable. There was also the fact that Matt’s brother had decided to travel across to meet him in Paris. His trip had got off to a slow start when the coach he was on missed the Ferry on Saturday night and had to overnight in Dover. He joked with Matt about it becoming a Top Gear challenge to see who could get there first the coach or the bikes. We got off to a great start, on the road at 8am we had a glorious and fast first hour. we racked up a little over 20km in cool, slightly damp weather and there was no traffic at all. Matt and I hadmanaged to talk about all sorts of things in the course of about 17 hours in the saddle, and we discussed which had been our favourite days so far. Day 2 had been mine so far but if day 4 continued in the way it started it was going to be a tough choice. I needn’t have worried, it didn’t! and the course of events relegated it severely. We were going so quickly that we got to RV point one before our support had left the overnight stop, not an issue we were rolling well, could do with a water top up and some jelly babies but at his rate RV point two wasn’t far and we could wait. And then it started to go wrong. A sat nav malfunction sent us off onto some “unpaved tracks” that eventually cost us about an extra 20km and meant that we were severely overdue at RV point two and beginning to get really tired. Added to that a cleat came off my shoe in the middle of some town traffic and generally we were both not in great frame of mind by the lunch break. we needed tomake up some time and so lunch was a quick break, running repairs then back on the road.
The plan was that the support vehicle would park and ride just outside of Paris so this was our last chance to stock up on nutrition and water before we parted ways. All of our spares were in the car so we now needed a smooth run. Luckily we got it but our navigation remained a little unreliable, our devices were all running low on battery and it took us a while but eventually we rounded the Arc de triumph and got our firstglimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Parisian traffic on a bike isn’t as much fun as the countryside and it even threw in a hill as we neared our final point and then we were there. Since my last visit and probably for security reasons the Eiffel Tower these days is fenced off and it was a bit of a disappointing surprise but hey goal achieved and we stood by the tower for a few pics, Job done. And then it got a bit worse still. With Skippy out of town we had the challenge of getting the bikes out of Paris, there was nothing left in either of us to ride another kilometre much less the 20 or so back to the car park, we had half planned to take them out by train, but that didn’t seem to be working out and so plan b was a taxi. Some forums we had seen had suggested that the larger cabs would take bikes but we couldn’t find one that would so plan c was for someone to go by train back to the park and ride to collect skips and come back for the bikes. That took about an hour and it was getting on for 7pm by the time we eventually left Paris. (an hour behind schedule). We had had a text saying that the euro tunnel trains were running late so an hour behind didn’t feel like a big deal. It was! Despite using the toll road back to Calais, we missed our tunnel reservation by about 45 minutes and the next available slot for a vehicle with bikes on top wasn’t for another 9 hours. We did manage to change to a ferry crossing due to depart in about an hour and we made it with about 1 minute to spare, I’ve never seen such a slow passport control line and then to get pulled over for vehicle check didn’t help. We finally got home at 3am Monday, I think that despite the elation of the achievement I’m still ranking day 2 as my best of the weekend.
Day 4 Stats: Distance 124km, elevation 701m, avg Speed 14.9kph Temperament – Elated Top Speed 52kph
PS thanks to Caroline who did a great job driving Skippy, getting supplies plying us with athletes cheese and bread each day.