Following the success of our 2012 tour de Normandy we decided a second trip to France sounded like a great idea. As well as myself (Ben), Andy and Will we were also joined this year by our friend Luke. Given how hot it was last year, causing some extreme dehydration and mild delirium, we figured going slightly earlier in the year would yield us some slightly more pleasant cycling conditions (mistake) and so we set out during the Easter holidays on the 5th April 2013.

Day 1:

After returning home twice to pick up my forgotten helmet and sunglasses we got to the Ferry port around 21:30 in the balmy 1degree c heat. As it turns out we weren’t the only cyclists catching the ferry and bumped into a second group making their way to Paris (Bleeding Edge Sport, you know who you are). 
Luckily for our morale that Friday morning our cabin this year did not feature a window, had it done the chances of me staying in bed would have multiplied greatly. Walking through the corridors of the ferry on the way to retrieve our bikes we noticed what could only be raindrops gathering on the windows, probably just some morning dew…nope, definitely raining quite heavily. Oh well we thought to ourselves as we untethered our rides and set out into le havre to start our journey, at least it isn’t still hovering around 1degree C with a wind chill factor of about minus two…oh wait, yes it is!

I can honestly say this first day in France was the coldest I had ever been, with reports coming in from the rest of the team of frozen feet and numb hands I wasn’t fairing any better (possibly worse). Within twenty miles of our inaugural ride we found what we were looking for, a Carrefour with a clothing section where we could all buy several more pairs of socks to change into and try and warm up. Unfortunately 5 minutes more into our ride and we were much in the same condition as before.

As we got farther away from Le Havre the scenery got nicer and nicer and after a short ferry crossing France seemed a little more like what we remembered. Around 40 miles in we came across a little café and what appeared to be a public toilet. Much like the religious experience we all felt coming across the cold water tap in domfont on our last trip this toilet contained a heated hand dryer which was put to good use warming us up before settling down for lunch.

As the day wore on the weather and temperature improved very slightly, there were even very brief periods were it didn’t rain at all. The day passed almost without incident but we did get our first and only puncture courtesy of Luke. As you can see from the pic our moods had lifted around the same point feeling returned to our extremities.

After a good few miles of steady climbing we were regrouping at the top of a hill just outside Louviers when who should we see cycling up behind us but our old friends from Bleeding Edge Sport! It turned out they were staying in the next town so we all cruised down the hill together before saying our farewells and wishing we had booked a B&B not quite so far away as we pushed on the for the next few miles passed Gaillon towards our resting place for the night.

Just under 86 miles into the trip and we came across our first resting place in Le Clos Dormont, and in keeping with all B&B’s we have stayed in in France you can’t seem to go wrong and this one was as nice as any others we have used. Also, in keeping with our team traditions, this B&B was situated at the top of a hill, seemingly a mark of quality in rural France. As you can imagine after a long ride in rain, wind and freezing cold the first thing you want to do, even before a shower, is to sit down with 6 strangers (4 of which who don’t speak English) and engage in a 4 or 5 course meal and polite conversation. The meal started with the obligatory French baguette with a bowl of soup (or two bowls for the hungrier cyclist in our group, you know who you are Andy) and followed with a main of Chicken stew, potatoes and runner beans through to a cheese course and ending with a fruit tart. All washed down with some good local red wine. The meal was amazing and just what we needed and after some more conversation, and wine, we headed back upstairs for a shower and bed.

Day one in France was over and although it wasn’t the best conditions I was glad it had been raining and freezing cold as I knew it would make the rest of the trip nicer and everyone knows it makes for a much better story 😉

Written by Ben

We awoke on day 2 and were immediately greeted by sunshine, not masses of sunshine but comparatively a lot given the day before, and set off for Paris. Not before a quick group pic outside the B&B.

The riding on this day was much nicer and the better weather made for quicker riding. We passed through a few small towns and villages and enjoyed the relative peace and quiet and smooth roads compared to what we have back home. The only real disturbance came from the shrill squeaking that my bike was making where the rain had washed off the admittedly small bit of oil that was left on my bike. A quick stop at Decathlon and we set off on our way again in near silence.

As we approached the boarders of Paris we saw a familiar group of cyclists for the third time this trip and road with our new friends into the heart of Paris, waiting at around 100 red lights before we got to the Arc De Triomphe for our second group picture of the trip. The other guys went round the roundabout of death (aka Place Charles de Gaulle) to get to the other side whilst we posed for pictures and checked our route to the Eiffel Tower. That was the last we saw of them but they have a write up of their trip here and an alternative one here.

From the here it was a fairly easy ride down to MacDonalds for some proper French Fries and then off to the Eifel tower for more posing, a little rest and a Heineken.

Our route then took us back out of the centre and onwards to the Palace of Versailles. The road leading up to the palace was huge and had plenty of room for us to ride two abreast, every house or building on either side looked like a mansion and the pavements themselves were lined with trees. We made it the palace for even more pics (some of which may be sent to various catalogues to gain sponsorship or recognition for our feats) but didn’t all make it as far as the gates as a shout of “no velo” made us stop, even with our limited French we knew what that meant.

Day two finished fairly late and the picture below was taken on the morning of day three (as you can tell day three was very sunny). The B&B was lovely although the owners didn’t speak a word of English, this wouldn’t have been a problem only we hadn’t eaten and needed to find a restaurant. Our hosts made a quick phone call and booked us a reservation at the only open restaurant in town and we hopped in the car on the proviso that we would walk back later, sounded like a good idea. Two miles of twisting back alley driving later and we thought twice about our decision. We passed a pizza delivery place and struggled to translate our new decision to our host, luckily Luke (now known as Mr La Maison) piped up with some quickly recollected French and we spent that evening eating Pizza and having a beer before hitting the hay.

Written by Ben

As mentioned and proved by the picture above day 3 was the nicest day of the trip by far, not only because of the weather but also because most of the cycling was through countryside and small villages. As with most rural cycling this 75 mile day was also the hilliest which meant my coat spent a lot of its time being transferred between being worn and being stored in my jersey pocket depending on how hard the climbs were.

As it turns out Sundays in rural France do not cater well to the hungry cyclist. After pushing through the half way point fuelled only by my staple France diet (tart and a Heineken) we stumbled into the town of Evreuxand stopped for some lunch. We ate by a small lake in the shadow of the cathedral.

One of the highlights of day 3 was a cycle path spanning over 15 miles traffic free. We cycled along 3 and sometimes 4 abreast enjoying the sun without having to worry about cars or much of anything other than the occasional rollerblading pedestrian. We also surpassed our previous posing photos with Luke’s calendar shot (calendars may be available in very limited edition for next year…not).

I was slightly worried about our accommodation, mostly because it was the only night in two trips to France that I had actually arranged, but also because the emails I had received (and sent) were a little confusing. Still I tried to remain confident, the worst that could happen would be that there was no booking, the b&b would be full and we spent the night wandering around endless fields in the dark without being able to speak a word of French.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried as the accommodation and Hosts were excellent. We ended up with the whole place to ourselves as there were no other guests and the hosts themselves lived in one of the adjacent buildings. The place itself was huge, three stories high and 4 rooms wide, but only 1 room deep, and we were the only ones home. We had picked up some cheese, baguettes and other snacks from the shop before we arrived and spent the night sat around a log fire in the dining room eating and drinking. If the house hadn’t been extremely old, not lived in, decked out with antique furniture and decorated with pictures of brides and old relatives and situated in the middle of nowhere I wouldn’t have spent the few hours before I went to bed slightly concerned for my safety. I did wake up the next day though which was a relief (for me anyway, the rest of the guys may have a different view). I would definitely stay there again and recommend you do as well if you have the chance!  

If you would like to read an alternative write up of day three from Luke’s perspective I have included it below
Day 3: Spent all day looking at Ben as a dot in the Horizon. Ate a baguette”
Written by Ben

Day 4:

We left the haunted house that we had survived the night before around 10am. We collected our bikes from the barn and rode up the kilometer drive only to pause at the top to take a photo of the view. It was then onwards to Le Harve.

This day was the shortest ride and knowing that we were having to catch 2 ferries, we where hoping for some downhill action!

The weather wasn’t bad either; a bit of drizzle but this lifted after some time to reveal the sunshine!

The morning ride was fairly easy and before we knew it we had the first ferry crossing in our sights. We had been a very slight but steady incline for a while as we got closer to the river. Soon we were on the downhill section that we had been waiting for! Everyone tucked in, got as aerodynamic as they could and went for it! 

This downhill took us all the way to small ferry crossing down at first winding but then straight, fast road. Once we got there, we had to wait about 20 minutes to board the little car ferry. We used our time wisely getting some food and drink at the local shop and using the exquisite toilet facilities that this place had to offer!!

Once on the ferry, the crossing was speedy and we we soon back at the site of our darkest hour of the entire trip. We were back at the small ferry port that we had stopped at on our first day. I’m sure it has already been alluded to but just to reiterate…day 1 was horrific!. We almost called it quits and Ben almost lost his right foot due to frost bite. Hellish times 

This coupled with the ongoing freezing temperatures, rain, wind and the impending 70miles that we had left to ride that day nearly broke us, but luckily it didn’t. 

So as you can imagine we were quite jovial this time we were there, laughing and joking about how bad it had been the first time around!

At this point we did not have far to go until our final destination. This was a good thing as my knee was killing me by this point. I couldn’t decide if stopping and then having to start again or just pedaling through it was worse! Anyway, on we went, zooming along the roads that we knew at a fair speed.

Suddenly we arrived back in Le Harve were our whole journey had begun in France. Were we finished? I think not.

There was the issue of food and drink to be taken care of! Off we pedalled into Le Harve to find our quarry. We found a supermarche at the end of the smoothest cycle path I have even been on. Once at the supermarche we adopted at tag team approach to our shopping, each taking turns to get what we thought our body needed. Sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, beer, sweets, nuts, sandwiches, beer, cider and one bottle of water. 

We secreted our bounty into our bags and set off for our final cycle in France. We arrived at the ferry terminal, jumped the queue because we could, got our boarding passes and then continued to the ferry. We were VICTORIOUS!!!!! And then had to wait until last to be allowed onto the vessel 🙁

Cheers France!

Once on the ferry we sat down to enjoy our spoils from the supermarche with a lovely gentleman who was wearing a cap, sunglasses and a trench coat and had more than a passing resemblance to the Hollow Man. Soon another table became free so we moved and set up shop for the crossing there. We slowly but surely eat and drank our way through our supplies and Luke had an additional curry. Great stuff.

It was not long after this the Ben made eyes at someone from across the room. They came over and sat with us. In normal circumstances this would have been fine as Ben usually looks at ladies. However, due to too much food and probably not enough beer, Ben had decided to eye up a man. A lot of things were said, a lot of banter was had but ultimately this new friendship ended with Ben being invited back to this guy’s cabin. Ben pondered this and then respectfully declined. Probably for the best.

As time flies when you are having fun, we were soon back in Portsmouth. I went to stand up and it became apparent that during my time sitting down, my knee has decided to swell up so that I couldn’t really bend or straighten it. Lovely. We got our bikes and cycled back onto home soil. I had adopted a rather interesting riding style of just using one leg. As you can imagine this was not ideal so Ben pushed me home!!

We were finally done. 300 miles in 4 days, done. Surviving the worse weather France has ever had, done. Speaking excellent French, done. One puncture, done. One injury, done. Surviving a haunted house, done. Ben getting propositioned by a man, done.

France. Done

Written by Will