May 21, 2016

What can we say? Now that we’re here, we feel clueless. We spent years dreaming about cycle touring and getting our finances in order. We spent a year working our butts off to organize our lives so we could leave for 6+ months: quitting jobs, getting a visa, buying our gear, finding people to handle our affairs while we’re away, cleaning out the house so our friend could move in to house sit, setting up bank and credit card accounts that we can manage from abroad, and dealing with unexpected health issues and the subsequent health insurance billing hell.

But we spent virtually no time planning the trip itself. We knew it wouldn’t make sense to create an itinerary, since we’re going for so long and there are just too many variables (Julie’s pain in the a**, for starters). We know we want to be footloose and fancy free, available to enjoy whatever opportunities we stumble into.

So, beyond finding our first Warm Showers host in Paris, just south of Charles de Gaulle airport, we had no plans. Being carefree is one thing, but we should have at least looked at a French map and decided which direction we wanted to leave, no? Getting out of Paris on a bicycle is no easy feat.

And how do we find campgrounds in France? Uh, good question! Thank god for Berengere and Matthias who turned us onto a website that lists most of the campgrounds in France, who told us that the French word for camping is “camping” (whew, that’ll make it easy to remember!) and who got us headed to the nearest cheap campsite in the greater Paris area. Although she contained it really well, we’re sure Berengere was scared for us as we launched from her house into the great unknown.

Having four panniers and a handlebar bag apiece, plus a big duffle bag (called a “rack pack”), every time we need something is like popping a jack-in-the-box: Sproing! And suddenly, an explosion of gear, clothes, food, electronics, toiletries, and everything else we’ve brought with us is scattered in a vast circle around us. Poor Berengere! Despite our best efforts, we overran her family room and crept into the dining room.

Running errands in the rain in the suburbs of Paris
Running errands in the rain in the suburbs of Paris

We knew we needed fuel, but we had no idea how to translate “white gas” into French. We ended up with kerosene (not recommended!) and used that for a few days until we found an open gas station and filled our bottle with unleaded gasoline. (Many stations are closed because protesters are blocking fuel tankers from making their deliveries, but we’ve been lucky so far, finding fuel when we need it).

Pulling up to the gas station to buy fuel for our camp stove
Pulling up to an open gas station to buy fuel for our camp stove

In Paris, we bought all the groceries we can carry, enough for 1 – 2 days: We thought we purchased the ingredients for a pasta dinner and a chili dinner, only to find that we’d forgotten some of the ingredients or that we misread the French labels and ended up with not quite what we had hoped. So, we preface all our entrée names with “cowboy”: cowboy coffee, cowboy chili, cowboy pasta. I don’t think we’re quite ready to invite fellow campers over for a gourmet meal. Going Slowly (our greatest inspiration) would be proud of our efforts, if not our results.

When we arrived at our first campground, we spent an hour trying to remember how to put up the tent. While our tent, a Mountain Hardware Skyledge 3, has many capabilities, it is relatively complicated to set up and is by no means foolproof. The poles can be erected upside down. And backward. And yes, we managed to do first one and then the other. The tent, the fly, the poles and the ground cover all snap into various locations on a buckle at each corner of the tent. And we tried every permutation except the right one before we finally gave up and pulled out the instructions. When all else fails, read the instructions. Thank god it wasn’t raining! In about a month, we’ll finally be experts and be able to put the tent up in 3 minutes flat.

Do we have the tent poles right this time?
Do we have the tent poles right this time?

And navigation…Where to start with our navigation woes! Mark tested our navigation methods in and around Sacramento, but somehow, none of the problems we’re experiencing here ever surfaced back home.

We have a Garmin GPS and we’re also relying on Ride with GPS and Google Maps. The Garmin is supposed to be able to work without internet, so that was to be our main navigation tool. It’s rather cumbersome to use, but critical since it can be used offline. However, the first day, it tried to take us onto the French motorway. Uh…No!

Garmin GPS: A love/hate relationship
Garmin GPS: A love/hate relationship

So we decided that we should Ride with GPS, a bicycle routing website and app, frequently used by cycle tourists around the world. (It’s what Berengere and Matthias used, for example.) Except that it keeps trying to take us on single-track and mud roads through farmers fields! So then we tried to add Google maps to the mix, but it has barely helped. Aaargh!!! It has been very frustrating, but our navigation trials and tribulations have definitely added to the adventure, to the stories we’ll have to tell, and most definitely to our animal miles.

The learning curve is VERY steep, but we’ll persevere. Because we’re in FRANCE! On our BICYCLES!

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Cycling in the French countryside

10 thoughts on “Clueless!”

    1. We’re team lumaca…we can’t outrun slugs! Seriously, though, while we’ve been rained on seemingly incessantly, we’ve been safe.

  1. Hi Mark and Julie, just heard on the news last night that the weather in Europe this year is very unusual. Lots of rain in Paris. Hope once you get north a little bit things will let up. I like reading your blogs,knowing you are frustrated but confident you will master
    the your technology. Mom

    1. There’s been record-breaking rain in France and Germany. We sure know how to pick ’em, don’t we! But, it’s all part of the adventure. :-0

  2. Bonjour Julie et Marc:
    I would say I really enjoyed your discussion of getting started on your trip but you might think I harbored animosity after reading about your trials and tribulations!! But you do write very engagingly and give me the sense of being there. Merde! So many things to account for in a foreign country that we just take for granted here. But you’re DOING IT! and that’s the main thing, having a great time and adjusting and helping each other out. Thanks again for the update.

  3. I feel awful telling you that I laughed until I cried when I read this post—-and, honest, I know how frustrated you must be. But, knowing that you both are like, the smartest people I know, I can laugh because I know that you will sort yourselves out(as a British friend of mine would say). Meanwhile, you are really entertaining! And you are in FRANCE on BIKES—hard to beat that!!

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying our misadventures. 🙂 Somehow, most other bike touring blogs either gloss over the difficulties of starting out, or they’re written by people more perfect than we could ever hope to be. Hopefully, any other travelers who see our blog will take heart that there is no way to ever be fully prepared for such an adventure…It wouldn’t be called ‘adventure’ if it was easy, would it???

  4. What an adventure!! Love the stories, Julie!
    I read that Cristo doing an art project (walk on water!) on a lake between Milan and Verona from mid-June to mid-July…so if you REALLY get lost… 😉
    Can’t wait for the next installment! Have fun!

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