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by SS at 9:32 pm on Sunday 14th July

Up early on Saturday, I was worried we would miss the train out of Kings Cross. It didn't turn out to be a legitimate concern. We got through the Eurostar security check and the French immigration without much delay and found ourselves waiting in the departure lounge at about 06:55 with at least 3 other tourist groups (one American, one Asian and one French). Boarding was initially delayed as they were cleaning the train and when it was delayed further at 07:30 (the departure time was 07:31) they announced that it was broken and they were replacing it with another train.

We eventually rolled out of London at 08:30 and arrived in Paris after an uneventful journey at 11:30am local time. I managed to get a couple of brief naps on the train - Phil and I had both barely slept that night as we made last minute preparations and tried to load routes onto our GPS devices. Phil's device hadn't quite liked the map though and so I surrendered my SD card to him - his Garmin is considerably more modern than mine and hence we would use it as our primary navigational aid. I also managed to lose my Fitbit on the train, most likely when changing from mufti into cycling lycra. Argh.

After arriving at Gare du Nord, we proceeded to the Geoparts office to pick up our bikes. There was no one in the office outside and an outwardly calm tall English chap with a bike back. When we spoke to him though, it was clear he was panicking somewhat. He had a train in 10 minutes and they refused to let him on with his bike. When the Geoparts employee actually arrived, he was so unwilling to actually perform his job that our poor fellow cyclist was forced to try again. I hope he didn't miss his train!

Luckily our bikes had arrived undamaged and we got moving pretty quickly. It was a beautiful day in Paris and (possibly due to today's Bastille day) there was not much traffic. On the whole I've found French drivers to be surprisingly tolerant of cyclists. Moreso than British drivers - perhaps due to a considerably more prominent and established cycling heritage. Equally the roads are better planned for cyclists and are generally wider and with lower traffic. All this leads to calmer drivers and safer cyclists.

We left Paris pretty quickly and after about 18 miles from the train station, Phil had his first of many punctures in a slightly suspicious looking banlieue. He fixed it without incident and we were off again.

At about 25 miles, we stopped at a boulangerie. It had just gone 1pm and we were a little hungry. Outside the store was a table with a variety of sweets including baklava, and, would you believe it - jalebis! After deciding what we wanted, I committed a faux-pas and severely annoyed the proprietor of the shop by serving myself. (To be fair, she had left everything - paper bags and tongs - out!) I picked some extremely sticky desert that was basically an elongated and less dense baklava that was absolutely dripping in syrup. Phil picked a jalebi and we proceeded down the road to find a place some way away from the angry baker to sit.

As we rolled on, Phil suffered another puncture where the tube split in his front wheel. I took this opportunity to gorge on my lunch-dessert. He repaired this and we left, only to have to stop about 20 metres later when it went flat again! After he had fixed this, he noticed his rear wheel was flat...and was not happy at all. Around about the same time, my body's insulin response had kicked in and I was feeling extremely sleepy. Lying down on the long, unkempt grass in the mid-day heat, I shut my eyes.

I woke a short while later, extremely sweat and feeling a little faint. Phil had fixed both of his tyres and was eager to get going again. It took me a couple of kilometres to wake up but then all was good! We stopped for an actual lunch in a small village at about 40 miles in where Phil had a nice quiche and I bought some cheese and a demi-baguette.

With about 10 miles left to go Phil suffered another couple of punctures. We had hoped to visit the Decathlon in Montereau where we were staying. Phil wanted to pick up some tubes that had slightly better production quality and I wanted to pick up a bottle cage (my last one being a casualty of the Tour D'Afrique). Sadly, the punctures meant we reached Montereau at about 8pm - and Decathlon shut at 7:30pm :-(. Total moving time was 4:25:56 and we cycled 65.82 miles in total, giving us an average of 14.9 mph.

The hotel itself was fairly budget but clean and with the exact 'pod' bathrooms Fitz provided for its undergraduate accommodation - where the shower curtain smothers you while you shower. Hungry and tired, we showered and then went searching for food, initially coming up empty handed. We eventually tracked down a cluster of restaurants actually just behind Decathlon and ended up at a restaurant called 'La Patatarie', an astonishingly popular French chain restaurant that just serves baked potatoes. After some initial confusion ordering a vegetarian meal, I was served an extremely large potato topped with three cheeses. Meanwhile, Phil had a plate which had three types of tartiflette - a gratin dish. Dessert for me was two (not one) delicious profiteroles.

I managed to get into bed by 11pm and we woke at 8am, giving us a reasonable amount of sleep - well received after the exhausting previous night.

Today we cycled considerably further - 80.97 miles over 5:23:39 hours (an average of 15mph). Having left early-ish we arrived in a small village called Nitry at 5:30pm.

The initial plan was to leave at 9am but as we went to leave, Phil noticed his rear wheel was flat. We decided to go to Decathlon (it opened at 9:30am) but upon reaching it, noticed it wasn't open on Sundays! Phil used my spare inner tube and we hit the road shortly later. We stopped 10 miles down the road at a roadside bakery, filled up on brioche and motored down the long, flat and straight roads east and then south.

The weather has been absolutely baking here, approaching 30 degrees at the hottest parts of the day. Lacking a Camelbak (a casualty of the unfortunate struggle against carrying too much weight with me), I found it hard to stay rehydrated and found a headache creeping in pretty early. Despite having water in my bottles, it was much more of an effort to reach down and drink from them - made harder still when riding in a (mini) peloton. Lacking a second bottle cage makes access to all of my water tricky too.

At 30 miles we passed through a 'centre de commerce' called 'Sens'. Our hopes raised by seeing a Decathlon sign, we eventually stumbled across the Carrefour that was, sadly, showing absolutely no life. In our attempt to get back on track, we took a footpath, rode over a grassy bank and thought we were lost. Eventually we took a road that we thought would intersect with our route - and luckily turned out to lead us straight past a Netto supermarket. This is a super budget food and grocery store where we (quite literally) filled our panniers with tasty food and water to get us through the rest of the day. Being a public holiday and a Sunday in France, it was almost guaranteed that nothing would be open in the afternoon. I bought yet more bread and cheese (folding a baguette in half to get it to fit in my pannier), an 850g knock-off Yop yoghurt drink (which I drank all at once) and 12 own brand cereal bars.

We moved on but drinking such a large quantity of yoghurt had put undue pressure on my bowels and I told Phil to keep watch for any toilet facilities en route since Netto didn't provide any. We eventually passed through a small town where there was a public WC - and without going into too much detail, I can say that (as is apparently common for French public toilets) - it shared a LOT in common with the toilets we came across in Africa.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I took my first (pinch) puncture of the trip when our slightly optimistic routing took us over a gravel road and my underinflated tyres rolled over one rock too many. I tried repairing the puncture but failed - most patches are far too large for 23c tubes.

I'm very proud of how fast my bike still is. It just rolls and rolls - which I suppose it has always down. Since bringing it back from Africa, I haven't ridden it an awful lot, being more afraid of theft in England than I was in the whole of Africa. When I brought it back, I refurbished most of it, replacing the wheel bearings and upgrading the bottom bracket to use ceramic bearings. I also replaced the venerable steel Surly Crosscheck fork with a Kinesis Carbon fork that performs absolutely beautifully. I'm running some Continental Ultragator Pros - these are 'reinforced' lightweight racing tyres. Perhaps a bit too fragile for this trip but I'm hoping that the road surfaces will remain good and that it won't be too wet. We'll see.

Phil also kindly rebuilt my front wheel since it was knocked out of true and the spoke nipples had corroded enough to make it impossible to true. Finally, I replaced the cassette with a wider 11-27 range cassette to support the (terrifying) section through the Alps.

My legs are tired today, as expected but on the whole this trip is proving to be quite manageable. The luxury of having hot showers and all the food I could possibly eat (albeit mainly cheese based) is making all these miles more palatable. My right knee worries me slightly - it's probably not used to pushing the load of panniers on top of just the bike and has been feeling ache-y. We'll see how it does in the mountains.

2 comments posted so far
Nayan wrote at 11:37 pm on Sun 14th Jul -
You lost another Fitbit!?! Enjoy the cheese n bread, cu soon. Nayan
Aamod Mishra wrote at 12:05 am on Mon 15th Jul -
Nice work!

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