This first post describes my journey by bicycle from London where I have lived the past few years to my father’s house in Paris area.
It’s fairly descriptive and already long, so while I was planning to talk a bit more about my thoughts and feelings about this or talk about who I am and my bigger journey first I have decided to start writing about what came to me the most easily, which was that trip. A later post will talk more about the above. Bear with me !
First day to Southease (65miles…-9!)
I’ve decided to cycle out of London not by the most direct route from my front door, which would pass through the East of the city, but starting from Gospel Oak overground station, to have a chance to leave London seeing Hyde Park and some other central locations where I have made some good memories one last time. I do have to cycle from Seven Sisters to Gospel Oak still. I was planning to take the overground to avoid adding 5 more miles to an already ambitious 60mile itinerary from Gospel Oak to Southease near Lewes, where I’m staying tonight, but somehow though I got up early with no difficulty at the time I normally have to for work, I started lingering and was not ready at the time I was scheduled to leave to get the last overground with my bike before peak time… As I am taking my time to finish getting ready I realize I’m in no rush though and actually appreciate taking in one last time the peace and quiet of the kitchen and the view of the back garden of the flat share I’ve lived in for the past year.
I end up leaving on my bicycle a bit after 8.30am and head to Gospel Oak, then pass through Primrose Hill where I pause to contemplate the City in the fog, circle around Regent’s Park and go through Hyde Park. After Battersea I go through Wandsworth, Clapham Common which has a nice bike path I’ve never been on having lived mainly North of London. After this stage it gets quite busy and a bit complicated to follow the app I use for navigation, Maps.me, and I’m looking forward to really get out of London.
After Mitcham and Wallington I’m happy to arrive in Coulsdon where I start to see signs for “L’avenue verte”, the cycleway between London and Paris. However I’m not planning on following it except between Dieppe and Forges-les-Eaux later on. I’m now in the Farthing Downs with nice -fairly- rolling hills and a good view.
It’s lunch time but I decide to push on beyond the M25 as I told myself I was going to avoid stopping before that point, as I still have some good distance to cover in the day. Not long after the park I’m on a steep downhill before crossing the bridge above the motorway ! I still have to keep going for a good pit stop, which I find near Bletchingley.
After that it’s small countryside lanes for a while until I arrive in Copthorne. From there to Turners Hill I’m on a two-way road with no shoulder which is quite busy and I then take the wrong direction at a big intersection… where I just have to keep going as it’s packed with traffic with no back road to turn around. At this point the daylight is fading fast and I realize while putting my front light on that in a hurry yesterday I didn’t check it before unplugging it… and it did not fully charge, or so I think when I see the charge indicator lit on the red. I’m getting quite tired too, and being now on the road to Balcombe instead of the road to Ardingly which is the most direct to go to Lewes area on the bike I decide I may stop in Haywards Heath where there is the possibility of taking the train to Lewes if it takes me a while to get to Haywards Heath as I’m not sure my front light will cope and it will be dangerous on such busy roads where it’s hard to focus. I hit a big traffic jam on what would be a nice easy downhill after Balcombe and there is no space for my bike to keep going left of the traffic unfortunately. Roadworks and so on. After a steep hill back up I’m in Haywards Heath and decide to get the train to Lewes. That’s cheating, but I’m really tired and I knew today would be challenging especially as I have not been able to train on my bicycle properly beforehand. 3 stops gets me to Lewes, but calculating on google I’ve only really avoided cycling 9 miles. I still have 5km to go on fast and poorly lit roads (for bicycles after dusk, anyway) to the YHA in Southease after arriving in Lewes where I stock up on food. I arrive at 9pm at the YHA… exhausted but happy I made it. Although I “cheated” on 9 miles the most important was for me to get out of London on my bike, which I did.
Second day to Forges-les-Eaux (Ferry to Dieppe +52km)
After a good night (and an epic shower!) at the YHA South Downs which is quite big and where there is a secure bike parking I’m up early and after some time packing I’m back on the road to reach the ferry terminal 5km away at Newhaven. There, I hesitate before ending up lining up for the check-in booth with the cars. Some staff want to have a look through my bike bags and panniers but give up seeing how crammed they are! It’s true that with yesterday’s food stock in addition to everything else I had at the start I’m carrying quite a few things. I’m carrying my tent and my sleeping bag too that I won’t use, as I’ve booked an hotel for tonight last minute when I saw how biting the cold was at the end of the afternoon yesterday. I was initially planning on camping.
Back to the ferry ride, it’s 4h long that I spend reading and trying to use the ferry wifi to sort out a few things. It’s not very strong though and after a few unsuccessful attempts I nap for a bit. I’m trying to prepare myself to set foot in France, as I have been quite bad at switching to speaking French a few times before. I arrive at 3pm local time in Dieppe, but still need to disentangle my roped bicycle from the ferry deck before setting out. The arrival in Dieppe is quite striking as “Notre-Dame de Bon Secours” church looms from the cliff above the ferry terminal. It’s very sunny and warm too. After finding my way out of Dieppe I’m on the Avenue verte after St Aubin le Cauf. I’m really happy to be out of the traffic after yesterday’s experience, on a long distance cycle path where there aren’t many people. It gets boring after a while though, and after a couple hours riding at a good pace my ankles hurt and I start finding hard to keep up, especially given the numerous mandatory Stops when the path crosses a road. Generally, just as I manage to get back into a nice groove I have to slow down and stop. At last after getting back on the main road just before Forges-les-Eaux I reach the hotel a bit after 7.30pm, having managed 52k in 4hours which is not too bad given my usual pace on a loaded bike at the moment.
During today’s ride I realize 2 things: One, my front light indicator is actually wrong. It did get a full charge this morning during breakfast and subsequent packing but when I turned it on around 6pm the indicator was red again. The light worked perfectly until the hotel though. Second, wild camping along the Avenue verte would have been very tricky as along the path are only flat fields with nothing to shelter, the only trees being the ones lined on each side of the path for kilometers and kilometers on end. I did see a lots of signs for bed and breakfasts and guesthouses along the path though which might be more convenient – and cheaper than bigger cities hotels – for cyclists on the cycleway before Forges. They should be indicated on l’Avenue Verte website but it was difficult to reach that page last time I checked. Tomorrow’s Warmshowers host though will tell me than one of his previous guests just camped on Forges football pitch ! It’s nice to note that most hotels in Forges and nearby have a secure bike parking.
Third day to Monneville (65km)
From Forges-les Eaux to Gournay en Bray and onwards I cycle on the secondary road which is not too busy and most of the time there is a shoulder or something similar, or enough space to be overtaken by cars in any case. A funny thing is from far away the road seems to go through very tough and long hills…At that point given my lack of calves I’m thinking I’m going to have to push the bike fairly soon. But riding towards what seems like the bottom of the hill I’m on flat ground for ever… until I reach a really small low gradient hill I coast through. This was going to be the theme almost until Gisors. I have my lunch near Neuf-Marche where a part of the city is cut out from the rest by medieval time ditches. Funny to see, a shame I did not stop to take a picture as I rided past them. After Gisors I pass through the small town of Trie-Chateau which is really cute with an old town gate and buildings from various medieval architectural styles.
Just after a beautiful sunset I watch from countryside roads, I’m in the area of Fay-les-Etangs where Googlemaps starts sending me on double or single tracks across fields. It’s a nice change from the road, but I find it a bit random I’m only sent through them now at the end of the day when the light is fading fast and I’m trying to hurry to make it to Monneville, where I’m staying at a Warmshowers host !
Fourth day to Gometz-la-ville (80km)
After a very nice evening at a Warmshowers host and his family’s home in Monneville where we exchanged about travels past and futures and bike adventures, I’m back on the road a bit after 9am. It’s my first Warmshowers experience and it’s been really nice. I was initially a bit anxious about doing WS for the first time even though I’ve done Couchsurfing and had similar experiences before, and in general it’s always been great to exchange with people in this way, but now it’s difficult for me to explain in detail how great this was. I will probably get better at expressing feelings these experiences can bring along the way. In short, Warmshowers is a network of cyclists and hosts -who in general are cyclists themselves- helping and exchanging with each other. Warmshowers can involve a long distance cyclist staying with an host (sometimes including a shower after a long day riding!) or some persons on Warmshowers prefer to help with obtaining/storing cardboad boxes for passing international cyclists for example. That Warmshowers is focused on cyclists is really a bonus as hosts and guests can exchange tips and routes. When I finish my long distance trip I hope to be able to have my own accommodation or some kind of similar setup not too long after so that I can welcome guests on WS and participate in other exchanges, too.
Regarding today’s riding, the first few hours in the morning have been smooth riding until Poissy, where traffic started to hit. Unfortunately I have only taken one picture today, of my return to urban-like environments after countryside roads and cycleways. Riding out of the Vexin hills was good as I had quite a lot of energy this morning, and the landscapes were, if not extraordinary, agreable to cycle through.
After getting out of Poissy and especially arriving in Marly-le-Roi, that’s another story though. The bicycle lane Maps.me is showing me is hard to follow and the signage is quite bad, which translate to me arriving on a busy national road by the wrong side to reach the path I’m following. After that, I pretty much end up walking for 3 km on the pavement along an awfully busy road with no space for bicycles to be overtaken. While doing so I scan both Google and Maps.me for back roads sending me back in the right direction to no avail. There are a lot of one-way streets or roads and more generally this environment is not cyclist-friendly at all. After exiting Marly it gets slightly better to Saint-Cyr l’Ecole, but more often than not it is a succession of hills on fairly busy roads with no space for slow cyclists, narrow two way streets or roads, and the occasional bicycle lane badly indicated and cut or ending not long after having started. I keep going through Guyancourt where the cycle lane is getting more permanent after sorting out directions at a complex roundabout with pedestrians/cyclist tunnels. At this point my front disc brake which has had problems for a while but has not whined too much yet since my last long distance ride in the Quantock hills, start fucking up seriously. 20Km to go, but I’m getting really tired and have to put more force for the front wheel to roll as the front brake is rubbing. I do stop and have a quick look, but it looks like it will have to wait home for a proper fix. I’m having a welcome respite after Chateaufort, where I can coast downhill a funny side street closed to cars, and follow a secondary road to Gif-sur-Yvette with a nice gradient and along lovely countryside. Gif-sur-Yvette is less funny, clearly. Maps.me shows me roads bicycles are not allowed on and getting back in the right direction isn’t easy. Gif-sur-Yvette is neighbouring my hometown so I should know it fairly well but I’ve never cycled or drived there. I was expecting tough steep streets but I end up on the Rue de l’Abbaye which is a steep, narrow, and busy road. I walk my bicycle again until I end up in a square along woods. Then, Googlemaps send me on narrow cyclist and pedestrian paths across residential suburbs until I make it to another cyclepath to Gometz. Pfou ! Turning onto my father’s driveway feel really good as I’ve really been hobbling along those last 20k and have been dreaming of filling food and a bath for most of it !