The Romance of Bicycle Touring

May 22, 2016

After riding 40+km on Friday, May 20, plus several km running errands during our first days in the outskirts of Paris, Julie knew she had to take a day off. Her pain in the a** was really flaring up, plus the jet lag finally caught up to her and she was nursing a migraine.

We could have remained at the campground east of Paris, but to be frank, it wasn’t very nice. It was out in the middle of nowhere, we had no internet or electricity, the bathrooms/showers weren’t very clean, and we didn’t have enough groceries to see us through the next few days of rainstorms that were forecasted.

With the campground hosts’ help, we spent a lot of time trying to find a better campground within “pain in the ass” riding distance, to no avail. All of the campgrounds nearby were exorbitantly expensive, as they cater to the Paris Disneyland crowd (€50+/night). Furthermore, we finally decided we wanted to head northwest to the coast of France, not east towards Germany.

Unfortunately, the area we were headed in, Picardy, is very rural and there are few hotels, fewer campgrounds, and virtually no Warm Showers hosts for days (at Team Lumaca speed) from our current location.

Long story short, we backtracked, and ended up at a divey motel in Saint Mard, just a few kilometers from the Charles de Gaulle airport. Right back where we started from! But, divey motel was better than divey campground. And we limped in just before the rains started. Whew!

Rural France. Riding a paved and nearly traffic-free country road is a beautiful thing!
Leave all messes behind!
No messes allowed here!
In the middle of a tiny village so quiet it seems like a ghost town
In the middle of a tiny village so quiet it seems like a ghost town

The room was so small we could barely squeeze ourselves plus our panniers in. Rolling our bicycles in was completely out of the question. At least we could lock them up in the stairwell directly outside our door.

Bicycles stored under stairwell at Saint Mard Balladin Hotel
Bicycles stored under the stairwell, right outside our motel door

Julie took her migraine meds and went immediately to bed. That night, we hate to admit it, we ate at McDonald’s, right next door to the hotel. Between Julie’s pain in the a** and the rain, we didn’t want to go far to look for food. (Note: While the McDonald’s stores are much more elegant in France than in the USA, the food isn’t. Yuck!)

It rained hard throughout the night, with lightning and thunder cracking at periodic intervals. The next day, Sunday, the rain continued on and off. Julie’s head felt better, but her butt definitely needed a day off. And the rain certainly didn’t entice us to hop on our bikes.

So, here we were, five days into our trip, still at the Paris airport, sitting in a divey motel room, eating McDonald’s. This wasn’t quite the romance of bicycle touring that we had imagined! Definitely disappointed, and somewhat embarrassed by our lack of progress, we nevertheless were relieved to be out of the rain…or were we?

On Monday morning, approximately 6:00am, the rain became instantly so thunderous that it woke Julie up. It sounded as if it was cascading down the exterior stairwell in torrents. She considered opening the door to check it out, but didn’t want to risk it. When it didn’t let up, she eventually got up to make sure everything was okay…only to find that our room was slowly flooding! Of course, we couldn’t call the front desk because we speak no French, and they no English. We used the few tiny hotel towels we had to try to sop up the water around the door while we prepared to leave. Thank god our panniers are waterproof, or our stuff would all be soaked!

Flooded room at Balladin Hotel in Saint Mard
Motel room flooded.  Using motel towels to try to sop up the water seeping in under the door.

Turns out that not only was it raining, but the water tank on the roof of our building had burst. That explained the sudden torrent. All the rooms in our building were flooded. So, even though it was still raining (outside as well as inside), we decided to sally forth and begin our bike trip in earnest!