The Tour de France!
Day 1 Paris to Meaux – 30 miles
Finally I get to the front of the queue in La Poste and discover that my bike has arrived. Hooray! Thanks to all the guys at CAT and The Holey Trail cycle shop in Machynlleth for lending me the bike. With nowhere else to go I stand in the entrance and put it all together. Sadly no tool to attach the pedals and so I walk it to the nearest cycle shop, Laurent Cycles, who kindly fix me up and with a bit of oil and my excitement bubbling up, I am ready to go. I get my new IGN cycle and walking map out and head to the canal. The first 20km are along the canal and I zip along in the sun enjoying the sunshine, the signs of spring and the freedom of being self-propelled. The day slips past quickly and I am soon in Meaux and find a campsite for the night. This is going to be easy……
Day 2 Meaux to Dormans – 50 miles
Things get harder. I travel about 50 miles to Dormans and all I can remember is undulations, dogs barking, 3 killer hills, beautiful champagne fields and an aching bum. I am trembling as I finally lie down to sleep and hope for better the next day.
Day 3 Dormans to Reims – 40 ish miles
Spurred on by the prospect of meeting Adam in Reims, I pack up early and feeling surprisingly spritely I cycle without much stopping for 40 miles to Reims. Beautiful scenery, a simple combination of green fields, brown earth, yellow flowers and blue sky, and perfect weather for cycling – sunshine and a little breeze and it is a joy to be alive and moving forward. Meeting Adam is great , we have so much to catch up on and babble for hours. I have managed to organise my first couch surf of the trip (should have done it sooner) and we spend a fun night with Tristan and Lisa drinking champagne and eating cheese and hanging out.
Day 4 Reims to nr Laon – The Vagabond Cyclists on the run!
Adam’s enthusiasm and energy spurs us along. After a little fall when my wheel got stuck in an old tram line we are sprinting along another canal. Through some lovely woods and to the disappointing Caverne du Dragonne. We make it to Laon for a quick sirop du menthe and then find our way out and make camp in a nearby wood.
Day 5 - Molinchat to nr Ham an easy day
We woke up slowly with the sun warming us and continued the vibe with a lovely slow day. We began our habit of cycling about 20km, stopping for coffee and hot chocolate, then cycling 20km more and lunch of cheese, pate, apples, then 20km more and a beer and sirop de menthe and then a short cycle to find our bed for the night. We went through lovely little villages with every dog announcing our arrival and saw sleepy French village life and some interesting old buildings and churches slip by. We met and chatted to a lovely old couple selling pommes de terre and they kindly gave us some and some parsley and onions and send us on our way with a smile. It is so lovely to receive a warm welcome, to be able to communicate in French and to feel we are being helped along our long journey. Another night’s snooze in some woods by a fishing lake. Beautiful location and slightly better bed planning as Adam kindly collected some dried reeds and I got some dried leaves for a more luxurious pad. With a little fire we cook our potatoes and enjoy the end of another day.
Day 6 – 49 miles to Arras at speed
We are both re-energised and decide to take to some larger roads and get some big distances covered quickly. There are not too many cars and it saves on map reading so we soon speed along. Unsure if it is the roads, the coffee, my luxury bed, the new padded cycle shorts, the singing or Adam’s motivational chunterings that is the most helpful but it is great to be covering such big distances. It feels so empowering and the exercise feels great. After more sirop de menthe, an explore of Arras, Adam gets even more cheese (a worrying cheese and church fiend he is becoming!) and we get a new map and head out. We find a village about 6km away and sleep in the sweet smelling and beautiful bluebell woodland. Taking care not to squash too much we reason that it is natural to have wild boar in these coppices and do our best to behave like them.
Day 7 - Sunday day out
A cold and misty start and it takes me a while to get going. Adam is still full of energy and drags me along as we go through some weirdo towns and the scenery gets a bit less beautiful. The annoying slog hills get more frequent as teams of brightly coloured racing cyclists zoom past. It also seems the whole of France has taken to the road for a Sunday out. Sometimes my legs feel like they are pedalling through mud and I just can’t breathe but I push on an somehow arrive in Lumbres to hear the first stage of the election result. The slimy looking Sarkozy is in the lead.
Day 8 – Over to England!
A quick zip to Calais….. Well 45km of determination up slow, slog hills and both our legs are tired now. We reach Calais and catch the 14.05 ferry and are soon back in Dover where it is drizzling and grey – Hurrah for British weather. It does make us waterproof our bags though and realise we have been lucky the last week. It also helps to get us moving and after what feels like Mount Everest cycling out of Dover we find a national cycle network route and follow it successfully (until the signs disappear…grr) through the garden of England with hedgerows and life and barking dogs galore. After a brief and focused adrenaline rush on the A2 we make it to Canterbury, 55 miles today and it hurts but we feel light and happy too.
Sorry no photos, I can't get them off the camera.....