The plan was simple, ride to Paris, watch the Tour de France, ride home! On paper the Avenue Verte looks east enough, in reality there are some bits where the signage could be better…
The 23:00 turned into the 00:00 ferry and we were packed on board with what seemed like a peleton of supported charity riders. Sleep was not easy to come by and thunder and lightning in Newhaven gave way to torrential rain and gale force winds in Dieppe when the doors of the ferry opened and we rolled off at 05:30. Initial navigation through the warren of Dieppe proved hard in the dark and pouring rain, but we found our way out onto one of the many railway paths we would be riding over the next few days.
Apparently we were up too early for France and everywhere we passed for breakfast was shut, even McD’s! We eventually hit Forges-les-Eaux which had an open cafe at around 10:00 and drip dried ourselves while eating multiple croissants and drinking multiple coffees. So post breakfast and forty miles was done and we headed off again with the skies slowly clearing. Over the next few hours items of wet clothing were slowly removed as they dried out and we stopped for dinner and basked in the sun. Thank god for Google, neither Dougal or I possess any decent French skills and the Google Translate app was duly pointed at the menu and omelette was ordered, although strangely it looked like scrambled eggs when it turned up! Never the less, refuelled we hit the road again.
Tired legs and tired minds, mixed with poor signage somewhere around Bray-et-Lu caused a massive navigational cock up and we took a major detour that resulted in two big ‘up and overs’ to get back on track. It wasn’t all bad though as we took a spectacular descent into the river valley with big chalk cliffs with houses carved into them at La Roche-Guyon, where we ended up stopping for a ‘century selfie’!
It was early evening though and we were still forty miles forty miles from Paris. Another poor signage detour and we eventually made it into the outskirts of Paris. Light was really starting to go and we raced along the L’oise and joined the Seine. Navigating in the fading light we rolled in to Maisons-Laffitte, when I then realised I had actually been there on a family holiday a few years back. Finding the campsite was easy and we got there just before they shut for the night at 22:00.
A long day in the saddle, 137 miles ridden.
However I learnt a lot, like once you are totally knackered it’s amazing just how much further you can go, we just kept plugging away. It was the furthest I have ever ridden in a day!
Starting off from the camp site we headed into town for a coffee before finding the Avenue Verte again and heading for the city. A large part of the path is along the banks of the Seine and we pedalled along in the sun, enjoying the scenery. Enjoying it too much as it happened, we missed a turn off which required some back tracking to correct.
Back on track, or so we thought, but we couldn’t find the road we were looking for. I could see La Defense and because I’ve been there before I knew the route to the Arc de Triomphe from there. We cut through the back streets and skipped over a dual carriageway carrying our bikes! We rode up the Avenue Charles de Gaulle in the pouring rain and got to the big screens just in time to see the end of the women’s race preceding the arrival of the tour.
We met Duke at the 1K to go flag and watched the tour from there when it eventually put in an appearance. Happily the rain finally stopped too in the end. Having watched it since the early nineties on TV it was really cool to finally be there and seeing it first hand.
So when the race was done and dusted it was time to head back to the camp site. We rode to Notre Dame to pick up the start of the Avenue Verte and the return leg. All was going well along the canals and we headed out into the industrial outskirts as dusk was falling. Through St Denis and back onto the road I’ve got to say we felt really unsafe, it was not a nice place to be and we kept formation tight and stopped for no one. Glad to be back onto a bit we recognised we joined the riverside path again to be immediately thwarted by the park being closed for the night.
Thank god for the Garmin Touring Plus! Some zooming in and out and we were able to navigate a route through Paris on the road. Unlike anywhere on our island the drivers were very courteous, even in city traffic and we eventually made it back to the campsite at 23:45, another long day out!
52 miles ridden.
Today’s lesson? A paper map can be useful too.
So it was time for the long ride back, we made good time to start with and got a second breakfast in at Cergy. More language related fun as I tried, this time unsuccessfully to get decaff coffee. Fortunately another english cyclist in the queue next to me was able to sort the situation. I really must learn some more french!
The long section to Bray-et-Lu left us soul searching, strong headwinds meant we needed to make a few extra stops for food to keep us going as we seemed to be burning calories like mad, but with one eye on the clock we weren’t giving ourselves a proper chance to refuel. Choccy digestives and brioche on the roadside did the trick to revitalise bodies and spirits. A few relentless climbs and we rolled into Gournay-en-Bray where we needed yet more croissants and a can of frankly disgusting Mojito Tango which belched it’s way back for quite a few miles after!
More ups and downs and our legs were pretty much done. Into Forges-les-Eaux again and we were happy to know we’d be back on the smooth, mostly downhill railway path again. With an awesome tailwind at last after a temporary delay for a puncture stop, we got the hammer down and were happily rolling along between 18 and 20 mph. After a quick discussion with a bunch of knowledgeable Belgians en route we got to our stop for the night at Neufchatel-en-Bray. This left us with a nice ride in to the ferry in the morning.
100 miles ridden.
Lessons learnt? Keep your body fuelled at every opportunity that presents itself.
The weather was pretty decent again and we had an easy ride into Dieppe. Again the signage was dodgy at the end and although we got to the outskirts of Dieppe quickly the last few miles took a while as we ended up riding a path on the side of a dual carriageway and through a couple of industrial estates.
23 miles ridden.
So what worked and didn’t work?
Well the bike was awesome as ever! I can’t rate the Kinesis Tripster ATR highly enough! I love this bike, it handles everything you throw at it. The Avenue Verte is a mix of off road and quite roads and lanes. The off road is not enough for an MTB, but too much for a pure road bike, a hybrid / cross bike / touring bike is the best tool and the ATR is all of those rolled into one!
I used my Apidura bar bag for the sleeping bag, frame bag for tools and food, top tube bag for the dynamo gubbins. Because I ended up taking the tent because of the rubbish forecast I ended up using my Ortleib backroller panniers in stead of the Apidura seatpack as I needed just a little more space.
The Exposure Revo light and hub is a great way of ensuring that you have light when you need it and during the day you can use it to power the Cinq5 Plug III and backup battery to keep you GPS and other electronics charged up.
Other stuff that deserves a mention: The Alpkit Jaran 2 tent, only weighs 1.9KG, packs down really small and has an entrance and porch for each person to stash their gear. A true 2 man tent too, easily fitting two adults on full size sleeping mats. I used the Alpkit Numo sleeping mat and Pipedream 400 sleeping bag too. It all packs down small and is ultra light with it, but still warm. It really chucked it down and was windy the first night and the tent just shrugged it off.
And a final hurrah for tubeless tyres, Dougal had three punctures, I had one a hundred yards from the ferry port on the way back, I kept riding and it sealed. Tubeless rules!
So all in all it was a great trip, I thoroughly recommend it to anyone. All I would say is it would probably be a little more enjoyable if you split the trip there and back too. I’m not used to the mileage and having only a day to get there and a day to get back made it pretty hard going. Oh, and make sure you keep a proper eye on the guide book, the signage is there, but it’s erratic in places and you need to concentrate.