Wowsers, that was a long 3 days, but very satisfying to see just how far I can pedal if I challenge myself; 337 miles or 539km is quite a long way, and I’d definitely not have been able to cover that in as short time at the beginning of my tour. As well as wanting a challenge, the distances covered were partly motivated by deteriorating weather and campsites closing for the season, as well as a desire for a pint of ale in an English pub!
Here are my routes and stats for the race across France:
- 09 October: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/922997851
- 10 October: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/925771589
- 11 October: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/925771692
From a personal point of view it’s fantastic to have proven to myself what I’m capable of if I put my mind to it, and a great confidence boost for future activities, both at work and life in general. When I get back home I’ll need to carry on regularly pedalling and exercising to maintain at least some of this level of fitness and motivation, to keep in trim for future adventures, and to keep the weight off; it’ll be tricky reducing down my daily calorie intake whilst I’m not using as much energy.
–> 09 October – to Verdun (193km)
I broke two personal tour records today, one for longest distance pedalled in a day, and the other for biggest distance climbed; 193km and 1,784m respectively. Thankfully the climbing was spread out over the course of the day and not all at once, and I was also grateful for the lack of headwind, which would have made it extremely hard going. It’s still a bit surprising to realise that’s well over the height of Ben Nevis climbed in one day’s cycling.
It was 06.15 when my alarm went off and I rolled out of my tent. The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour and a half, so I breakfasted and packed up in the dark, before pedalling off as it started to get light.
I don’t think I really got off my bike all the way to Verdun, as I had a long way to go, and needed to keep focussed on the turning the pedals. The weather was perfect for cycling, with the sun coming out but it not getting hot, or windy.
It was very hilly up until Metz, which was a long ride in itself, however still feeling fit I decided to push straight on to Verdun. I crossed the River Moselle, then after a big climb it was fairly flat up until the outskirts of Verdun, across a lot of farmland, passing many a tractor.
To get into Verdun involved one last big climb, as the sun started to get lower, then a round-about route to get to the city centre and avoid the dual carriageway. One downhill section had a few hidden speed bumps, a particularly vicious one of which threw a pannier off Smaug, resulting in much cursing and probably the biggest pause of the day as I reattached it. I hate speed bumps, and would far rather see speed cameras in use. If you must have speed bumps at least make sure they’re painted white to stand out so road users can see them and not damage themselves or their vehicles!
After passing through the outskirts and resisting the temptation to grab a McDonald’s, I crossed La Meuse to the city centre, pausing to watch a few rowers out on the river for an evening training session. I pedalled through the city to the campsite on the Western side, passing through the huge fortress walls and by lots of statues and monuments.
Verdun was the sight of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, with 400,000 German casualties, and a similar number of French, as the Germans sought to break the French lines. The city has been the centre of many conflicts between France and Prussia/Germany over the centuries, and you can almost sense the ghosts of these battles as you wander its streets, especially when the weather is a little dreary.
Les Breuils campsite is one of few that remains open into October, on my route back through France, and I was very happy to arrive and pitch my tent after the longest ride of my tour to date. At 193km I hadn’t quite broken the elusive 200km mark I’d like to get to one day; that’ll have to wait for another day. Feeling famished I headed back into Verdun to grab some dinner, before enjoying a medicinal beer and whisky as the campsite bar.
Tomorrow’s target is Soissons, which is another 100 miles away, however the route should be a bit flatter. According to my calculations, which have in the past been a little suspect, I reckon there’s about 230km to go to get to Dieppe; hoping nothing breaks on Smaug between now and the UK!
–> 10 October – to Soissons via Reims (184km)
I was once again getting up in the dark for a pre-sunrise start, pedalling out of Verdun by 08:00 on my way South West towards Reims.
The D roads I’m using are quiet anyway, however at that time of the morning I didn’t see any other traffic for a while, as I rode up and over hills, and through more farmland, with only cows, buzzards and crows for company. Lobster had decided to go back to sleep for at least another 2 hours, claiming these early starts are most uncivilised affairs.
The road did eventually flatten out, leading to about 40 miles of easy riding, aside from an off-road section down a few farm tracks to cut a corner off. There were a lot of farmers out with shotguns and dogs, looking for grouse or other game birds hiding in their fields; they waved rather than shot at me thankfully. The off-road section was muddy, flinging up lumps of sticky clay to cling to my bike and panniers, and causing me to skid about a bit; fun but it was nice to get back on the road again and not have to double back.
I followed the Voie de Liberte (Liberty Road) for much of the day, which is a commemorative way marking the route the allies took for the D-Day landing in June 1944. It passes by a lot of military cemeteries, giving a poignant reminder of all the lives lost, on both sides, during the Second World War.
I passed straight through Reims, which looked nice in the sunshine when I stopped for a banana and haribo break, however events conspired against me shortly after leaving the city. I encountered my first ‘route barrée’ sign on the outskirts, which lead to a diversion of just a few kilometres, however a more significant ”route barrée’ a bit later on added about 20km to the day’s ride, and a whole load of hills I wasn’t expecting. I was rather unimpressed at the additional mileage, which might be easy to cover in a car, but definitely aren’t on a bike, however at least the countryside and small French villages were pleasant to cycle through. My amateur ‘twitching’ skills also came into play with lots of bird life to look at, including herons, buzzards and other birds of prey, and at one point lots of Lapwings dancing around in a flock.
My estimated 100 mile day rapidly became a 115 miles day as I pedalled onwards. Up one particularly steep hill 3 dogs decided to wake up and bark at the passing cyclist, which somewhat startled me, however at least they couldn’t chase me due to being behind a fence; in Turkey, Greece or Bulgaria it’d be a different story.
Halloween seems to be popular in France, with decorations already going up despite it being nearly 3 weeks away. I’d never seen a ‘Halloween Man’ before, a bit of different take on a Snow Man; the one above was colourful, surrounded by pumpkins, but looked a bit sinister! Nice idea though.
I made it to Soissons for 18.00, feeling very tired but accomplished after 184km of pedalling; it’s amazing what your body will put up with after five and half months on the road. I found the Municipal du Mail campsite on the South side of the city and checked in just before reception closed, before heading to a local shop to find some dinner. After food and checking tomorrow’s route it wasn’t long before I fell asleep; seem to be following the ‘Eat, Sleep, Cycle…repeat’ routine at the moment.
–> 11 October – to Neufchatel-en-Bray (161km)
I expected today to be my last long ride in France, for this tour anyway, as long as there weren’t any further diversions due to ‘route barrée’ encounters. I awoke to another cold and damp morning, pedalling off from Soissons at 08:00 and heading for Neufchatel-en-Bray.
Again I stuck to D roads, enjoying the quiet, rather than use the Route National to Compiegne which may have been slightly shorter, but would have been a lot busier. Before reaching Compiegne things started to look very familiar, and I realised I was crossing the route I’d taken on my way down from Nordkapp to Tarifa, back in June. It felt a bit weird cycling some of the same route again, especially now the weather is so different. I passed the campsite I’d stayed at in Vic-sur-Aisne, which had been a great night’s stop, then continued South West, this time ignoring the turning that would take me towards Paris.
After negotiating Compiegne, and a steep hill out of the town, more D roads followed through cold and misty countryside, passing wind farms, buzzards, tractors and fields of potatoes. The road climbed steadily but generally not steeply most of the way to Neufchatel-en-Bray, resulting in tired legs by the end of the day again, however I ended up only 34km from Dieppe and ‘La Manche’.
Saint Claire Camping in Neufchatel-en-Bray is another that is due to close in a few days time, so I’ve timed my return to the UK quite well. Given the number of caravan and camper vans present it’s obviously used by a lot of people touring Europe, and on their way back to the UK or up the coast to Belgium and the Netherlands. After pitching my tent I chatted to a few other travellers; bit strange hearing lots of people speaking English again, with a variety of accents.
I headed into town to get a pizza for dinner, plus a few supplies, trying to decide how and when to tackle the last stretch to Dieppe. There are two ferries a day at this time of year, one at 05:30 and the other at 18:30. Both these times aren’t very convenient for a cyclist, as I’d end up cycling in the dark either in France or the UK, or having to overnight in the waiting room at the ferry port in Dieppe. In the end I decided to make an adventure of it, aiming to get up at 01:00 for a very early morning ride to catch the 05:30 boat to Newhaven. I was hoping this would be a relatively straightforward ride, as there’s an Avenue Verte (cycle path) all the way to Dieppe, which meant no cars to deal with, although it would be very dark! Pondering the wisdom of my plan I set my alarm and tried to get a few hours sleep before having to get up for hopefully the last time before reaching the UK.
There endeth 337 miles in 3 days; think it’ll be a while before I cover the same sort of distance again so quickly.