The Scenic Route
France – we’re sorry for taking you for granted.
Because you live next door and have always been there, we’ve never appreciated how brilliant you actually are – and how lucky we are to have you by our side.
It’s taken 10 days of cycling the length of you to realise this – you will be taken for granted no longer!
It’s hard to imagine another country that could conceivably claim to have the most beautiful or best: wine, food, coastline, mountains, history, culture, architecture, artists, cities, countryside, fashion, language and climate of anywhere in the world.
It’s no surprise that France is the most visited country on the plant.
Some say French people can be rude – but the hospitality this week has been as warm as any we have experienced.
We rode along the French Riviera, past the household names of Nice, Antibes, and Cannes before cutting inland and skirting Marseille to head north.
Once leaving the coast it was a hilly ride over the foothills of the Alps. A memorable evening we rode into the sunset and camped in a forest near the road.
We were visited in the night by some curious bush pigs who snuffled around near our tent before scurrying off into the woods.
From leaving the coast it was a three day ride to Lyon. A combination of roads and cycle paths took us alongside the River Rhone and past the famous Tour de France climb of Mount Ventoux.
We have a tight schedule to cross France due to meeting people and catching ferries etc so couldn’t afford to fall behind our itinerary. This meant a few long days to get to Lyon.
Although we’ve been going 11 months and are in decent shape, riding into a headwind never gets easier.
On a long 195km day, we were battered by a strong wind from the north all day.
The physical side of a headwind is challenging as it makes riding much harder, but on a long day like that it’s as much the mental challenge that makes it difficult.
Knowing we had to ride 195km into the wind all day can be demoralising.
You find yourself going through the emotions in turn:
First is optimism. “Hopefully the wind will abate – I’ve got a good feeling about it”
Then comes worry. “… we’ve only done 40km and it’s been hard work… we still have 155 to go… it’s going to be hard.”
Then anger. “Why is it so bloody windy???”
Then frustration. “Why is she moving so slow? Why is he always stopping to go to the toilet?”
Then we realise we always get angry at each other when we’re hungry, so we eat.
Then acceptance. “It’s going to be windy all day, we just need to dig in and keep moving”
Then a state of delirium, where everything starts to get funny for no reason.
The emotions rotate, and we never have the same emotion at the same time, so thankfully when one of us is in the “anger phase”, the other might be in the “acceptance phase” and can talk the other round.
It was a monster of a day, and by the time we arrived at Warm Showers (cycling network) host Vincent’s house – we’d been cycling into the wind for a new trip record of 11 hours 4 minutes…
It was so long, Katie’s speedo reset itself after 10 hours thus giving our riding time as one hour 4 minutes – and Ewan had to stop and recharge the Garmin as it had ran out of battery!
Here’s Katie arriving at Vincent’s in the dark.
We had a brilliant night with Vincent and his wife along with their (no joke): one dog, four chickens, six kids and nine cats.
Alongside camping and staying with friends we’ve re-activated our Warm Showers profile, which has been mostly dormant since the USA.
French people have welcomed us with open arms, we’ve spent nights with different people all over France.
In addition to Vincent, we stayed with Mattieu in Lambesc who was an inspirational lad:
“Six weeks ago I had some bad news and started drinking… One day I woke up and decided to stop drinking, and start cycling.”
“I could only manage 20km, but did it every day and I am now up to 160km which is my longest!”
“Now I am planning a world trip similar to yours. I still have a long way to go but am really happy with my progress”
Mattieu has turned his life around and lost a staggering 20kg in six weeks through cycling and improving his diet. Great job!
We met Greg and his girlfriend Julie near Macon.
Greg had cycled 44,000km round the world over the course of five years. We spent the evening drinking wine and swapping stories, including Greg’s memorable trip through Africa where he had to get a written letter from a priest and the police, to convince locals that he wasn’t a terrorist (regardless of the beard he had at the time).
Simon was an eccentric lad who had recently completed a six-month bike tour around Europe:
“I came back from my trip a more spiritual person. I spent lots of time sleeping in the woods and the forest.”
“I didn’t want to buy food, so I found all my vegetables in the garbage bins of supermarkets.”
“…. The food you are eating right now is from the shops… but these apricots are from the dumpster – do you want some?”
Think I’m full actually mate cheers.
Christophe and Catherine near Auxerre were a lovely couple who cooked us a phenomenal meal, all grown from their own garden.
After three windy days, we made it to Lyon.
Lyon is a beautiful city with an impressive cathedral overlooking town. It’s supposedly the “food capital of France”, so we took the opportunity to try the most notorious French cuisine – snails.
They were surprisingly tasty.
Lyon to Paris was riding almost directly north, as opposed to our usual westerly direction.
Riding north the climate changes noticeably. From the warm sunny south, it gradually gets cooler and the evenings were even a little chilly.
On our final day into Paris we woke to a misty morning. Visibility was poor but it made for some fantastic views.
Throughout the day the clouds closed in and become more ominous, until 50km out of Paris the heavens opened.
We took a beating in the rain for the first time in months. It was a fittingly epic entrance to the capital, coming into Paris with the lightning flickering and thundering overhead.
Late on the evening of the 25th August we rolled in on the banks of the Seine. We arrived to find parts of the city centre closed, due to a ceremony taking place outside the town hall.
It turned out to be a ceremony commemorating the Liberation of Paris, which occurred on the 25th August 1944.
On this date 73 years ago Allied troops marched into the city, and together with the French Resistance, liberated Paris from Nazi rule.
Walking through the famous monuments and squares of Paris it’s almost unimaginable to think that relatively recently there were tanks rolling through these same streets.
On the way into Paris we passed monuments to WW1, WW2, Napoleon (statue below) and various other commemorative plaques remembering those who “Morts pour la France” – “Died for France”.
I wonder how many people over the centuries have died in service to this nation.
Arriving in Paris, with all its landmarks and history was a fantastic moment. We stopped off at a few of them to get a picture before heading to sister of a friend Alice’s house to clean up.
We’re so close to home now, only three more riding days until we’re back into London on Saturday the 2nd September.
We have a “Special Edition” blog planned for when we (fingers crossed) safely arrive home in London next week, so wanted to take the opportunity at the end of this, our penultimate blog, to say a few thank yous.
Thank you to everyone who has read any of our posts, or has followed our trip via our website, Facebook or Instagram.
It’s been great to be able to share our travels with people and hopefully inform, or give a different perspective about some far-flung places in the world.
Thank you to everyone who has texted, emailed or commented on any one of our posts. Whenever we receive a new email or comment we always share them with each other, and they are really motivational.
Our comment system on the blogs doesn’t allow us to reply to comments and create threads, but please be assured we read every one and they mean a lot to us.
Thank you Jan, Pete, Deborah and Sandy – our parents, for sending and receiving many miscellaneous items in the post, coming and visiting us at various points and generally being supportive of our somewhat unorthodox travelling style.
Special shout out to Sandy, Ewan’s retired doctor father who has been our personal NHS 24 helpline, being woken up multiple times to help us with various medical mishaps.
Final and biggest thank you to everyone around the world who has shown us incredible kindness and generosity at every point in our trip. It’s been humbling to experience such fantastic hospitality in all corners of the globe – we wouldn’t have been able to complete this trip without you.
If there’s one thing we’re both determined to do when we return home it’s to “pay forward” the kindness we’ve received to our friends, family, strangers and hopefully some bike tourers, struggling along into a headwind, or the driving rain.
Doing the maths, the final mileage travelled on the bike when we arrive in London will be around 22,300kms. We’ve taken a picture on every 1,000km completed and it’s fascinating to look at the pictures and reflect on each, remembering the good times and the bad.
In three weeks time we’ll both be back at work, Ewan at Diageo and Katie in a new job as Marketing Manager for cycling races which seems fitting.
For now we’ll just enjoy the final few days – and hope our bikes, that have been making some very strange noises for the last few weeks, will take us the final few kilometres to London.
For our UK based readers – we will be riding from Brighton to London on Saturday the 2nd September and are inviting friends/family/readers to join us for the final day of cycling. Meet at Brighton Pier at 9am for a 10am departure.
If you can’t/don’t want to cycle, we’ll be arriving at the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace around 1730, then heading to drinks at Shakespeare’s pub opposite Victoria station where we have booked out a private area. They have secure bike storage.
If you’re busy on the 2nd – join us for homecoming/engagement drinks on the 29th September in the Jam Tree in Clapham from 6pm.