Day 1 – Leaving London… As much as I had been dreading city riding I must admit that I loved the thrill of it. My feeling of safety was enhanced by three things: 1) being on a cycle route 2) being in a group 3) being visible (lovely fluoro!) Sadly, I got my nutrition wrong (eating two cold boiled eggs before setting off instead of a banana or sandwich). This gave me indigestion (and no sympathy from my friends!). We went east on Sustrans route 1 through the City and docklands, under the Greenwich foot tunnel, past the Cutty Sark then east to pick up route 21 south. The route goes alongside rivers and parks where possible.
Day 2 – Crawley to Newhaven
Great cooked breakfast to start the day feeling more than slightly incongruous alongside conference attendees. Cycled through a rather up-market golf course to “All I want for Christmas” on my friend’s unedited mega-mix. Undulating countryside and lovely villages. Southerners: do you really call these hills? Newhaven is a funny place but the hotel let us keep our bikes in our room. The port was seconds away.
Day 3 – Newhaven to Dieppe and Forge-les-Eaux on the Avenue Verte
A chance to refuel on the boat. This route has a longer crossing and less mileage. Also pick up food as soon as you get off the boat or carry it with you. You go uphill and away from the coast remarkably quickly. The track itself is a slow cyclist’s dream with pretty little farmsteads and orchards for mile after mile. For the night we booked a very French hotel (and it was a Sunday). They were serving a seven course menu (with a gizzard, a pea and other delicacies). My friend snorted in derision: we need carbs! A most embarrassing conversation followed during which we discovered a complete absence of stodgy beige carbs from le menu so we headed to town in search of the good stuff. A pizza van served us 14 inch pizzas and then we ordered extra sweet pizzas with Nutella, fried banana and sugar. It sounds disgusting now but all we could think about was the seventy miles between us and the most sophisticated city on earth (until we arrived!). No this is not the French way!
Day 4 – Forge-les-Eaux to the outskirts Paris
Cakes from the patisserie eaten at the local café bar which served us coffee (great collaboration between businesses). It would have been a great start if we hadn’t been attacked by alien slime. Puncture! Green slime everywhere. A certain swearing, “this stuff is crap” before finding a two inch long shard of green glass stuck in to the now-dead thing like a dagger. This stuff happens and we had to grin and bear it whilst the poor victim fitted a new inner tyre (don’t waste time patching). Clouds lifted and we pushed on past field through a winding landscape, mostly unpopulated and traffic-free. At one point a fast cyclist (city-type) doing the route on his own had stopped to answer his phone by the wayside. “Not now, I’m cycling to Paris”. He must have turned around as we never saw him again (poor sod). Eventually we came across a familiar looking church (painted at some point by Van Gogh). A good sign? Surely bohemia must be in reach? Soon after this false hope the path disappeared and I felt like I had entered a forbidden compound with guard dogs about to snap on my heels. I was running low on sugar. After a can of fizz I puked and felt much better. Weird. I noticed we were on a straight street with no gaps – a sure sign that we were in suburbia and this gave me a burst of energy knowing I could refuel at any time. We stayed in a transport suburb and ate at a Buffalo Grill. 70 miles done. We made it but still… I had a lot to learn!
Day 5 – Paris
Up a concourse looking to cut back to a route and the canal. Feeling conspicuous now in matching yellow t-shirts. Cycling in Paris was the best day ever! Drivers know that you are there and expect cyclists (giving you more passing room) and this makes all the difference. We headed to the Arc de Triumpe, Notre Dame for a coffee then the Eiffel Tower for photos. Spent up!