“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” Ernest Hemingway
Last October, a local was showing me around her town on the outskirts of Paris. At one point we found ourselves on London Road and she explained to me that it was a popular cycle route that connected Paris to London avoiding major roads. Briefly, the crazy thought that I could take on such an epic journey popped into my head and then I reminded myself that I was neither a cyclist nor did I even own a bike!
However, I eventually let my madness override my sensibilities and earlier in June this year I completed the 400km route from London to Paris – losing only one friend to A&E and quickly teaching ourselves how to repair bikes on the way! It was an incredible experience and a perfect ending to my year abroad. Here’s what happened:
Day before we left: I was in Paris at work and aiming to get a Eurostar to meet the other two girls in London at 7pm.
4pm: A hospital in Newcastle called me informing me that Emma (the only “real” cyclist from the group) had dislocated her shoulder very badly opening the garage to get the bikes out and would not be coming with us.
6pm :With Emma out of the picture I did not even have a bike and decided that there is no point in coming to London as we were really depending on her cyclist knowledge.
630pm: (30 minutes before my train is due to leave) I get a phone call from Georgia – “Mate, I’ve just arrived in London with my brand new £200 bike. I don’t care if you don’t have a bike, I’ll give you a backy all the way to Paris if I need to. Get on your train and we’ll worry about it later!” – and that was that, I was on a one way ticket to London with nothing more than a helmet and some lycra in my possession!
Day 1: Fortunately I’m from one of those large Irish families that seem to have dispersed themselves across the UK and so I’m guaranteed to have a relation within a reasonable distance wherever I go. Just my luck, the cousin living in Croydon had an old bike he was trying to sell! Therefore, 6 hours behind schedule we set off on our 160km day one stint to Eastbourne on the hottest day the UK had seen for a few years! Being welcoming into Georgia’s aunt’s house with a cold bottle of beer and a warm bath was a feeling a won’t forget – who knew the south of England had so many steep hills!
Day 2: Fortunately we had a couple hours on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe to recover from the previous day’s trauma and we even got a chance to meet fellow cyclists who kindly invited us to join them for the 60km stint we had that afternoon. This certainly took the stress off us for a few hours in terms of navigation but keeping up with them was a challenge! Their bikes were all top of the range road bikes and they even had a vehicle alongside them carrying all their stuff and so they were very impressed when we told them we were doing the cycle independently with everything we needed in our panniers.
Day 3: After a lovely big meal and sleep we were both dreading the third day. Getting back on the saddle and preparing ourselves for another 100km was tough but it ended up being the best day yet. We cycled through hundreds of lovely villages and farms and saw all sorts. We were so distracted with what we were seeing that the cycle didn’t seem difficult at all. In the evening we stayed in a town on the river outside of Paris. The apartment was run by two Iranian men who had the most interesting lives that had taken them across the world and now wanted to settle and relax in Paris. We joked that they had built themselves Noah’s Ark as they had so many animals!
Day 4: Coming into Paris was interesting as we saw all sorts from the rich neighbourhoods to the “banlieues” which aren’t supposed to be so welcoming, it was a Sunday and so all the markets were up and running and everyone was out and about. Once we were in the centre we cycled around the Arc De Triumph and down the Champs Elysees before finishing at the Eiffel Tower!