The Actual Ride Actually Begins

September 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I left Paris yesterday. In the morning, I woke up and bought some pastries and drank some vitamins. Then I took the wrapper from the pastry and wrote down two cue sheets. One from R.'s apartment to the RER station and the other from the RER station in Cergy-le-Haut along the Seine.

Cycling through Paris wasn't exceptionally difficult. Unsurprisingly, my San Francisco cycling survival skills kicked in and I felt right at home. At the station, I got my bike downstairs and onto the train. The RER has bike cars, but not in the way that Caltrain does. Instead of a safe dedicated car where you can tie up your bike and have a seat, there's a 10' x 10' cube in the back. I stood here next to my bike while one guy smoked a cigarette and another took a leak in the corner. They did not seem bothered that I was standing there.

At Cergy, I detrained and found my first route. The bike tour actually began. And then immediately I felt strong wind and realized that people are right: you should not cycle west out of Paris.

I met up with the planned cycle route and followed it faithfully. Eventually I came to Giverny and Monet's house and gardens. I thought a lot about my stepmother who is a painter and hugely inspired by the impressionists. I took some photos here, none of them good.

This is one route I borrowed from a book, the Lonely Planet guide to cycling France. The cue sheet was perfect, except at the end. I missed a turn and wound up on a major route for about a kilometer before enough trucks has buzzed by me that I figured even if it was right, I wasn't going to do it. I turned around and found a side road where I could take a look at the atlas. I realized that the turn I missed would cause me to miss exploring a giant ruined chateau on a cliff. Alas. I stopped in the next small town to sleep under the cliff where the chateau loomed.

The campground was pleasant and stupid, sort of like a big dumb dog. It was really verdant, with all grass plots for tents, which you basically never find in America. Every spot was lined with bushes and I managed to find one with two trees where I could pitch my tent. Why was the campsite stupid? It was really wussy, with a big gate that closed at ten o'clock. It was better suited to the caravan campers who spent the evening looking for television satellite feeds. But it was pretty and safe and I rested well.

Before going to sleep, I made a cue sheet for the next day's ride. I wanted to avoid Rouen, so I found side roads around it. When I woke up, I double checked my route and smacked myself in the forehead. For whatever reason, I had drawn a U up and over Rouen rather than going west straight past it. I managed to draw up a new route that included a huge length of bike path.

I stretched and ate and had my first cup of real coffee in days. It was fantastic.

My cue sheet was better than the day before. I am getting better at giving myself hints that are useful so that I don't need to take out the atlas. I included a lot of D routes, which are basically side streets. They're a bit harder to follow, since they're rarely labelled in towns. But the payoff is worth it, since the roads are that much prettier and the traffic lighter.

I picked up the bike path in the town of Quit Beef. It was a really really glorious moment and I actually threw my hands up, standing, staring at the path.

A beautiful bike path in France.

The Quit Beef Bike Path

I went out of my way to take this path, but I was rewarded for the effort. It was flat and beautiful for about 30km (I have no idea how many miles that is). I was able to ride with my headphones in without a helmet and just smile. I saw some cool things on the path, like these:



It was hard to give this picture the proper perspective to show just how high this overpass loomed. Really high.


NBD. Just a castle.

I expected to stop riding after the bike path ended, but I still had energy. I continued on up a really long, draining, and busy hill that in restrospect I'm glad I won't have to do tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow I'll make it to the beginning of the Normandy beaches and camp. The next day I'll proceed along the beaches, think a lot about war, and hopefully have the energy to meet up with my first Warm Showers host.

À bientôt.