May 20, 2016
Our first day real cycling! We looked like the Three Stooges trying to get out the door, awkwardly loading our heavy panniers on our bikes and the route onto the GPS and then pushing our bikes up Berengere’s steep driveway. We were definitely feeling wobbly and uncertain on our heavily laden bicycles as we set out. But we were off!
We rode with overcast skies most of the day. The weather couldn’t decide whether to rain or shine. Berengere and Matthias had told us about Voies Verte (literally, “greenways”).
They are cycle tracks that riddle France, some paved, some not, that in this part of the country often run along the banks of canals. We were headed towards a campground east of Paris, which we could reach by riding a paved canal route most of the way.
Because of some GPS routing errors, we rode through a pretty rough part of town to get to the canal. We suffered our first minor gear failure at 1.5 km: Julie’s fender popped out of its bracket after riding over some construction debris. Luckily, it was an easy fix, and we moved on.
We soon entered the canal path, a beautiful, paved, wide pedestrian and cycling trail much like the American River Parkway in Sacramento that we love so much. Our particular entry point to the cycling trail was very industrial, although a welcome relief after sharing the narrow city roads with busy traffic.
The scenery along the banks of the canal shifted. There was a buffer strip of grass and flowers between the canal and the paved trail, and then another green buffer between the trail and the fences that separated the back yards from the greenway. The houses peeking out behind the fences became nicer and nicer, and the greenway became more meticulously tended.
We felt that at any moment, we could turn a corner and ride right into Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon.” Soon after the beautiful suburban neighborhood, the track made a sharp turn into the corner of a huge, verdant park that reminded us somewhat of Central Park.
Soon after “Central Park”, the trail came to an overpass, a crossroads in a small town with direct access to France’s train system. The sun was shining now, the temperature was perfect. At the top of the overpass, as we considered which way to turn, we met Sebastien on his bicycle. He is an avid cyclist, taking a month every year to cycle tour…somewhere. He has been all over Europe and would like to ride in California one day. He, too, is a Warm Showers host, and seemed sad that we hadn’t stayed with him. Maybe we’ll have the opportunity to host him in Sacramento one day.
After our enjoyable conversation with Sebastien, we took a quick detour off the canal to get a lunch of sandwiches, where we had a funny “conversation” with the shop owners. They spoke barely more English than we do French. We understood that they had tuna and chicken sandwiches, but then they mentioned a third type. I didn’t understand what they said, and then they said “jambon”, which any self-respecting foodie knows is ham. European ham is so much better than American ham! I got so excited. I wanted to learn this alternate word for “jambon”. You never know when we may stumble across it on a menu. With the help of a customer who spoke a few words of English, we found out they were actually saying it was “halal”, which, unfortunately for us, means absolutely no “jambon”. Oh well, the tuna and chicken sandwiches tasted great.
We exited the store to find an older woman watching over our bikes, which we’d locked up with all our panniers attached, just around the corner from the bakery. We didn’t get her name, but speaking perfect English, she said she’s originally from Holland and that her son is in the middle of a round-the-world solo bike tour. He’s been riding for a year! She cautioned us not to leave our panniers unattended. We will take her advice to heart and be better about not leaving our belongings out of sight.
As we prepared to return to the bike trail, we found out that Mark mistakenly lost our GPS route when he put the GPS in his pocket at lunch. Doing our best to follow an imperfect route that Mark was able to recover in the GPS, we rode a little further before we ran out of canal and pushed our bikes up to a busy surface road. Our GPS route had us continuing on some pretty major roads, including a double-roundabout (think peanut shaped), and tried to take us on the freeway. Oops! Finally, after several extra animal miles, we made it to camp.
Setting up camp was a comedy of errors, as we were pretty clueless. It took us an hour to set up our tent. Eventually, we got the tent up, showered, and dinner made. That was maybe the best Cowboy Chili ever!
Based on Google Maps, we were supposed to ride 29.9 km, but we went 38k instead. (This doesn’t count the 4+km we rode in the morning trying unsuccessfully to resolve our internet problems with Berengere’s help before we even left.)