In June, my good friend R and I took to the skies and then the roads for our first bike tour. One of what will hopefully be many. We learned a lot from getting this thing together. Things like:
- We don’t actually like camping as much as we thought we did.
- Setting a route is not really a thing that works. But we tried. And this was the result:
- Wind. Just….wind.
- No one really warns you about the traffic and road conditions.
- Leaving time for exploring is so, so critical to the experience.
- Getting back into a big city is so, so hard after not being in one for ages.
- You never need as much gear as you think you do. And we totally brought too much stuff. See?
….and that doesn’t even include the tent and the sleeping bag. Sigh.
R and I packed our bikes into boxes, said farewell to our partners, and went to SFO to drink heavily in the International Terminal. After staggering through the terminal, our bikes stashed away on the plane, we boarded a flight to Paris. Over the next 10 hours we made very close friends with our seatmate on a very small plane, listened to a child screaming until our ears bled, and emerged sleepless and delusional, in Charles de Gaul airport.
Our first adventure was putting our bikes back together. One of the things we were most anxious about was getting the bikes put back together, which we had never done before. We were carrying tools, but were unsure what the resources would be once we arrived at the airport. After learning that there were no stands or tools for packing up bikes, so we found an out of the way corner, took the trolly with our boxes over to it, and unloaded all the bags, boxes, and got to work. Weirdly, we rebuilt bikes under the watchful eyes of several soldiers, carrying large guns, who just watched us with passive curiosity. We weren’t sure what was going on with that, so we kept to ourselves and put the bikes back together, repacked the bags, and spent more time than was necessary trying to figure out the tram situation while rolling two heavy and loaded bikes through the airport. Eventually, we found our way to the hotel, and took our exhausted selves, and our ready, willing bikes, up to the hotel room.
Once we got our hands on some food, took showers, and figured out how to get the bikes and all our gear into a very tiny European hotel room, we unpacked and re-balanced the bags to get ready for a morning departure, and tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep since we hadn’t done that since San Francisco. Around 3am we finally gave up the ghost and realized we were not going to get there.
The morning arrived, way too quickly, and by this point we just wanted to get going, through the airport, and into the world of this tour. After so much traveling and being so tired and finally having gotten to France after all the planning and waiting and excitement, we were not interested in sitting around. We breakfasted on our last in-hotel meal for a few days, eating all the cereal and fruit that we could, neither of us really sure what would happen once we rolled out.
So we got some maps, walked around the transit center near the hotel, and finally, we were pulling bikes out of hotel rooms and triple checking the locations of passports and phones, and quadruple checking we didn’t leave anything behind, shoving bikes into elevators, and stepping outside. We were nearly toppled over sideways by the winds that were blowing outside. Cold winds.
We looked at the swaying trees, and violently snapping flags, and zipped up the jackets, hoping that the sky would stay sunny. We checked the maps, decided a direction, and clipped in. The beginning of the ride was somewhat anticlimactic. We had to do some walking. We had to double back. We had to walk some more. We had to ride through a tunnel. It took a really, really long time to get out of the airport, or even the environments of the airport. But once we did, it was wonderful.
We felt worlds away almost immediately. The sound of planes overhead, heading into CDG, were so foreign. So out of place. And very shortly after getting completely away from the airport, we started to find the towns. The small towns that are basically suburbs of Paris, but that felt like time forgot about them.
And so, the adventure began. We got lost, almost immediately, and then again, and then again, and then we couldn’t find our way out of this one town for hours. Which was about when the jet lag set in, and so did the crankyness, the inability to hold a line, wobbling bikes, and getting hungry.
After finding our way out of a town after several unsuccessful attempts, and several sets of directions, we found the town our campsite was in. And then continued failing to actually find it until we realized we had to walk up a gravel hill to get into the site. Walk up a gravel hill with 70 lbs of touring bike. And maneuver them through a gate.
The first day was hard. We got lost so much that we immediately revised our entire route, since we knew there was no physical way we could ride 60 miles in a day with so much stopping and starting. But we slept an almost normal amount of hours that night in the tent, which felt like a victory. By the time we got the tent set up, we were toast. We ate the very disjointed dinner we purchased, showered, and passed out. But it was the first day, and the camp site was beautiful, and the Dutch people we met there were sweet, and strangely excited for us.
It was also our first day of mechanical issues. My touring bike has disc breaks, one of which got bashed on the trip to Europe, creating resistance. This would be an adventure over the next couple of days until we found a shop that fixed it for me, but that is another story for another time.