Seeing France ? all of it!
Tuesday 4 March 2003
Path > la Jonquera to Gravesend via Beziers Clermont-Ferrand Paris Calais Folkstone in United Kingdom
I was on the bike early this morning, hoping that I might be able to last all day to get back to the UK. Of course I didn't know how far that was, but I knew that if I rode in a northerly direction for long enough, I would eventually get there.
The French border turned out to be only a couple of miles up the road, and I was soon marvelling in the views of the Pyrenees in the distance. It would be great to ride through them and check out Andorra, but with the time constraints and the possibility of more snow, I didn't even flinch when the turnoff came.
Their time will come...
The wind picked up and I was soon fighting the buffeting from the side. The scenery was pretty nice. The lakes that lead to the Mediterranean were on my right as well as a variety of castles and forts that must date back centuries.
But there was no time to stop for these either as I concentrated on trying to stay in my lane as the gusts of wind pushed me around.
I passed one of the GSE Racing trucks with a beep and a wave, and wondered if they were among the guys from Sunday night in Valencia and whether they were also running behind time because of it?
I stopped a Beziers for fuel, checked the map in the service station quickly before hopping back on and riding off. It seemed almost like a timed stop. How quickly could I fill up, copy down the details, pay and ride off?
Turning north, I aimed for Clermont Ferrand on the back roads. A sign that might have indicated road works sent me on a minor detour into a very small town. The traffic stopped and I tried to enjoy the scenery instead of letting the frustration build as I lost quarter of an hour.
The next town brought an even longer delay, so I decided to slug it out on the motorways. It's nowhere near as much fun but at least I might make it back today if things go well.
Even in the occasional drizzle, the mountains on the way to Clermont Ferrand were enjoyable. With some 80 km/h corners I was adequately distracted from the task at hand. I relaxed and smiled as the bike seemed to turn on it's own, going at it's own pace.
It seems that climbing through corners inevitably leads to snow, and at the top of my climb, the hills on both sides of the road were white.
I was making good progress, but it gets a little hard to maintain concentration when I've done over 400 km before lunch and have at least seven, eight or nine hours left to go. The trick is to break it down in to manageable ?bits', turning ?another ten hours sitting on the same seat' into ?half an hour before I get fuel' or ?mountains ahead could mean some fun corners'. I think overcoming the mind games is one of the challenges that I enjoy the best about riding long distances.
Hours later I reached the outskirts of Paris and considered my options again. I thought I recognised ?Lille' as somewhere in or near Belgium. It is one of the places that we headed through regularly on the way from Bonn to Calais last year, so I followed the signs hoping that I was right.
I stopped for a bite to eat and to check the map (again in a service station). Not because I was lost, but just to check to see if I was going in the right direction. The map didn't really help, because I didn't really know where I was, but I figured that Lille was out of Paris and I'd find my way from wherever that was. At least if I got out I wouldn't be in the traffic again!
The traffic was incredible! The cars rolled along occasionally with bikes whizzing between them at speed. After waiting in traffic for a while, I chanced my hand at lane splitting ? Paris style.
What an experience. With the luggage on the back, the width of my bike was much more than standard and some of the gaps were getting a little tight. I waited for the sound and feel of a car mirror letting go as I passed on more than one occasion!
The other problem was that I couldn't keep the 80km/h that the other bikes were doing in the confined spaces between the second and third lane ? especially with the trucks closing the gaps and different lanes moving at different times. My lack of speed was a problem for the bikes that would catch me ? I was holding them up.
So there I was after almost a thousand kilometres, riding through peak hour traffic in Paris at absolutely full concentration. Scanning ahead for twinges from cars that would indicate a lane change, calculating in front to ensure that the biggest bits of the bike would fit through the ever changing holes between the cars while covering my mirrors to check for oncoming bikes and moving out of their way when I could. It was an awesome experience to be so primed with adrenaline after such a trip.
The bike riders were great. Every ride that went by waved in some way. Not just most, but every single one made sure that they acknowledged me in some way. There was almost a sense of community on the motorways ? even the police on bikes did it as they split the lanes!
The signs changed from just Lille to some others that I recognised, including the airport sign for Charles de Gaulle, which I know is north of Paris on the road to Calais.
The sun had set by the time I pulled in for more fuel. My light must be annoying to oncoming traffic but I wasn't going to fix it now. At least there was enough traffic around to see the road.
With renewed enthusiasm for about the fifth time today, I rode on, now sitting at over 90mph just to get to the tunnel.
It turned out that there was a spot on the next train so I rode through to customs where they went over the bike. The English guy got me to open my luggage as we chatted about what I'd been doing over the past weeks ? he was pretty amazed with the amount of miles I'd covered.
I got back on the bike and started to head through, but one of my gloves fell from the fuel tank about 20 metres after the offices. I did a U-turn and stopped a little way from it, in full view of the bank of large windows with security officers inside. Their attention turned to me in unison and I pointed to the glove that I still had and then to the other on the ground.
A couple of armed officers left the building and one went retrieved my glove. It was a little tense, but then he made as if to run off with it!!! I played the game and through my hands up in mock dejection as he laughed and came over to give it back.
It was good to have a laugh at this time of the day ? I think I needed it.
I relaxed for half an hour as the train went under the English Channel, returning me to England.
It was cold as I left the train and tried to think of all the things I had to remember about riding in England ? left side, left side, left side.
Amazingly, I found the back roads to Walz place in light rain, but as soon as I turned on to them I found that I couldn't see with the headlight pointing up too high, combined with the rain and fog.
I slowed and waited for a car to pass me and used their lights to see. The problem is not just staying on the road, but unlike the motorway, the surface of the back roads can turn very slippery, very quickly with the rain and mud.
The car turned off and I accelerated to catch the next one using the light through a small village. Flash, Flash!!! The speed camera went off. That'll cost me...
I made it back to Mand and Walz place, unpacked the bike and got out of my riding gear. The cup of tea was just what I needed as I relaxed and the events of the day sunk in.
How many kilometres had I ridden? Nearly 1300km in one day. It had to be the most I've ever done in a day on a bike, and I got to see all of France from south to north.
The next trips may be a little bit slower and allow me to see some more and ride the great roads. But at least I know that I can still do 15 hours on a bike in a day. I've done it twice in the last two weeks!
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