Sun, beaches, bottomless drinks, relaxing by the pool… Nah I’ll take cycle camping around France for a week in the cold and the wet any day. That is exactly what I did. Some of you may of heard of the Avenue Verte connecting London to Paris via cycle paths and secluded country lanes ( many of you may have done it as well). Well, we missed out the UK part, after many recommendations from friends, we decided that the UK bit sounded stressful and, well, just a bit boring compared to France.
Friday night we left for Newhaven (by car) and spent the night living it up in a premier inn. The next morning it was straight into the ferry on our fully loaded bikes. We weren’t the only ones though, there seemed to be a couple of fully supported trips heading off on the same route as us. Of course, they were in full Lycra gear and were making us feel lazy when they boasted that they would be in Paris within a couple of days. We, on the other hand, hadn’t planned on getting to Paris until Tuesday.
Once off the boat fueled up with a veggie breakfast and lots of coffee (gave up on the veganism over that week) the fun really started. One thing I will say about the trail is although on the most part it’s well signposted, it was easy to lose track of where you’re going when you get into the towns and villages. Sure enough, this happened from the get-go. After 40 minutes winding around Deipe off we went. The first day was a smooth 30 miles of old railway track. After our first night in the tent, a pizza in town and one puncture we were ready for the next day and the inevitable hills. Not that the hills were massive – it’s no Alps, but when you’re fully loaded and unprepared the rolling French countryside hits you pretty hard. I now fully understand why we build our Bristol Bicycles with triple chainrings for when the going gets tough.
The whole route was really varied from railway tracks to muddy fields. Within the same day, we could be following a river and then pootling through woodland. This makes it feel as though you have traveled a long way even though it was only a measly (by other people’s standards) 300ish miles there and back.
Little top tip with bike touring: never look forward to an easy day. On the final ride into Paris we had done a long trip the day before so it was in our heads that it was an easy spin into Paris. So, confident in this we decided to have a celebratory beer halfway through… Biggest mistake of the trip! The rest of the ride was hard work. We had to follow the River Seine into the center of Paris. When God created the Seine I believe he went a bit over the top with the bends. It’s fair to say that when we got to our air B&B (I know it’s cheating) we were knackered and after eating yet more pizza we slept like a log (or is it slept like logs? Both sound wrong)
When cycle touring as a holiday it is not all about speed and miles, so take a day off! And where better to do that than in Paris. You will thank your self for the day off, it gives you time to recover and have fresh legs for the trip back. Fully “refreshed” after 20,000 steps around Paris we hit the road yet again. Well, technically we hit the train but that’s not got as good of a ring to it. Another top tip for touring is don’t feel guilty about cheating. After the headache of cycling into Paris, we made a very quick decision to get the train out of Paris. I must remember to learn the French for elevator as hauling your fully loaded touring bike down an escalator is not fun!
Once back on our bikes the riding started to get interesting. Rolling country roads soon turned to rutted tracks which quickly escalated into muddy fields. My bike was made for these kinds of tracks and with plenty of clearance and no mudguards I had no issues and the wheels kept spinning. On the other hand, my dad’s bike, although it’s a lovely Temple Cycles touring bike, has mudguards meaning he was forever stopping to scrape mud off his bike to allow the wheels to spin freely.
(For this you have to know my dads name is Paul…)
One more night in the tent and yet more rain, so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel on the final night… it’s a holiday after all! Having pizza in a restaurant is great, but I’m not sure it beats pasta from a camping stove. One of the best new gadgets I bought for this trip was my Jet boil stove (well, a cheaper Planet X one). They’re great for quickly boiling water for that post-ride cuppa. Or even making everyone’s favorite camping convenience food: pasta.
Back on the ferry and the holiday was nearly over. It’s always a sad time as the end of a trip draws near. I had plans for future bike trips spinning in my head. Determined to make this summer the summer of bike tours the trip had fueled me even more. Getting this tour under my belt gave me a bit more experience to talk to some of you more hardened tourers in the store. It was only a week but it felt like much longer. Being greeted by rain and wind felt like a true British homecoming. Here’s to a summer full of smaller and perhaps bigger adventures on my bike!
PS, the French for escalator is espalier mechanique (who would have guessed?)