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London to Auschwitz: Day 9, Châteaux Thierry to Sainte-Menehould, 135km today, 885km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 9, Châteaux Thierry to Sainte-Menehould, 135km today, 885km total

I slept quite well despite some snoring from one of the Americans! Having eaten all of my sweets before bed-time, this made for some interesting dreams… One of the less weird but more enjoyable ones was of cycling through some great sunshine and I woke up excited to hit the warm road. However, when I looked outside I realised it was only a dream…

A misty morning to wake up to
A misty morning to wake up to

After taking our time to wake up, we wandered down to breakfast. Eric and Loren, who I met the previous evening, had spent nearly 3 weeks on their bikes between Zurich, Munich and Luxembourg and were just a couple of days from their final destination of Paris. However, I was now in a group; and multiple people is always slower than being alone. Eventually we went off our separate ways and I was glad to have spent the evening with them for the company and fun stories (also we all shared a room to reduce our costs).

Eric, Me and Loren
Eric, Me and Loren

The mist rolling in off the hills hampered visibility to just tens of metres; the first couple of hours involved undulating hills – rising slightly as I was heading upstream. Not being able to see much was demoralising and the hills just kept rolling on. Eventually the sun burnt through the mist and an upbeat U2 song came on my iPod at just the right time to attack an oncoming gradient. I felt great. About 30 seconds into the climb I looked to the left over the fantastic hills of vineyards which make the world’s best champagne. Then, glancing to the right, I could see a much more barren field. This was a World War 1 French cemetery which I had stumbled upon. I paused the music; climbed off the bike; and wandered into the openly accessible field.

French World War 1 Cemetery
French World War 1 Cemetery

This was much bigger than the one in Desir that I passed between Caen and Paris. I calculated roughly that there must have been about one thousand headstones. Reading the names I realised that each cross (or differently shaped) headstone was back to back with another. This meant there were twice as many as I’d first thought: two thousand people were remembered here.

Double backed headstones
Double backed headstones

The afternoon saw the clouds fold over and the return of a sharp headwind. It was a Monday, so of course all the shops were closed (bienvenue en France). I couldn’t eat enough to keep my energy levels up. I stopped for another double espresso to boost my morale, but quickly slipped back into a tired mental state. Riding solo I’m sure didn’t help, company would’ve been a comfort, but no-one was around in these tiny hamlets. The mood was summarised by the surrounding dull brown fields, with some extremely depressed looking sunflowers.

Really sad sunflowers
Really sad sunflowers

With a lack of food and a significant amount of cycling today I was seriously undernourished. I needed far more calories than I had taken in and I knew it. When reaching the town that I was going to spend the night in, I headed straight for a fast food place to replenish my depleted energy supplies. A cheap kebab shop offered a 6 Euro meal deal. I got two. Pretty satisfied I managed to get to the the supermarket before it closed and stock up on supplies so this won’t happen again tomorrow.

One of the two kebabs I had for dinner
One of the two kebabs I had for dinner

Because of the flexibility of the trip and having had a particularly hard day today, I am changing my schedule to have a much easier day tomorrow and spend some time around Verdun, a significant battleground of World War 1. I will forgo a rest day in Luxembourg City to keep up with the 4 week plan.

The bed I am currently in feels like the most comfortable thing I have ever experienced. But then again maybe it’s just the fatigue.

DAY 10, SAINTE-MENEHOULD TO ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE, LUXEMBOURG, 115KM TODAY, 1000KM TOTAL >>

London to Auschwitz: Day 8, Paris to Châteaux Thierry 100km today, 750km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 8, Paris to Châteaux Thierry 100km today, 750km total

What a cool day! Waking up in Paris with the prospect of another 3 weeks of cycling was demoralising; despite knowing that I will have an interesting adventure. The thought of 1400km more, the distance I have travelled already, but twice over, AGAIN, together with the lactic acid is just daunting. I demolished my breakfast before saying goodbye to my Mum (for the third time on this trip as she keeps following me) and cycled off past the Gare du Nord station where she would take the Eurostar back to London. A somewhat tempting alternative to 3 weeks further on the road.

After getting a little lost, despite my plan of being on just the one road for most of the day (it turned into a motorway unsuitable for bikes) I found an incredible path next to a beautiful river just outside Paris. This is where I caught up with Lioret, a lovely 77 year old man. He mentioned that he was only out for a 30km training ride! Mel (the 71 year old man I met on the ferry) – you have competition!

Lioret, 77
Lioret, 77

Continuing on over a railroad bridge (where I happened to see my Mum’s Eurostar go past) I spotted some planes in the distance doing loop-the-loops and other cool tricks. The point of this trip is to stop and investigate interesting things such as this, so I turned around, rolled down off the bridge and found the path to where I would meet my new friends who were controlling the planes. I spent a good 2 hours with them discussing the different petrol turbine and electric propeller engines, along with the different body kits you can get. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince them to put my GoPro on one of the planes which would have been AWESOME.

Model Planes!
Model Planes With Lionel!

Stopping for lunch in Meaux I met an American from Georgia and a Parisien who was very supportive of my trip. They spoke highly of Germany and put my fears of the country to rest. Perhaps I have been reading too much about the wars!

Cathedral at Meaux
Cathedral at Meaux

After reaching the Champagne region of France (which I haven’t managed to get a glass of yet) I hit the 100km target for the day. I stopped at McDonald’s in Châteaux Thierry (which happened to be one of the few places open on a Sunday) for a quick salad and a WiFi top up. Feeling good, I looked ahead at my route and found a bed and breakfast just 15km away along a nice river path. Just after setting off I saw two cyclists coming the other way with big bags on their bikes like mine. I slowed down and approached them with my best French. As it happens, Eric and Loren are American and I’m now sharing a room and a few beers with them tonight!

My apprehension about the long trip ahead evaporated by today’s fun encounters. The cycling distances are easy, and when the sun comes out it is stunningly beautiful and very enjoyable. Another chilled couple of days lie in store before reaching the next capital of the trip: Luxembourg City.

A Great Feeling
A Great Feeling

DAY 9, CHÂTEAUX THIERRY TO SAINTE-MENEHOULD, 135KM TODAY, 885KM TOTAL >>

London to Auschwitz: Day 3, Bournemouth to Poole, Poole to Cherbourg, Cherbourg to Carentan 125km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 3, Bournemouth to Poole, Poole to Cherbourg, Cherbourg to Carentan 125km total

What a day I’ve had. I woke up at 0530 AM with huge excitement about the day ahead and a serious fear of missing my ferry. Grabbing a quick cup of tea, I set off down the route I planned the night before with only a few wrong turns in the pitch black of the night!

Reaching the ferry I was questioned by police about having a stamp from Tanzania in my passport. After telling them I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago, they didn’t seem impressed. I joked about it being a whiteout and so actually a waste of a week, but they were not amused. They continued to ask me whether I had any plans to go to China. Startled about this question, I simply responded “no” and then they sent me on my way. Weird.

The ferry had wifi which let me sort out work emails for the day and even do some programming. Whilst leaving the ferry I had an incredibly memorable moment. There was one other bike on top of mine that was made of gorgeous carbon with tt bars that I would have expected to belong to a 20 something year old semi-pro. Finally Mel came down to collect this gorgeous bike, but he was relatively old looking. Just chatting about bikes he mentioned he had just come back from trying to reclaim his title for a 10 mile route time with his bike club in England (as he now lives in Spain). He then mentioned he was 71. This was outrageous as he spent the last 6 months training for this ride! He said he trains with some of the female professionals in Spain and when his heart rate monitor alarms go off because he is pushing himself too hard, he simply turns it off and keeps going. An incredible guy who I hope gets in touch so I can meet him again!

Mel and me
Mel and me

Anyway, I spent some time contemplating the 4 hour long crossing which must have been incredibly tough for the soldiers of the D-Day attacks. I cycled from the port along the coast (into a headwind) for several hours too, but the sun was shining and I was feeling good that I had the opportunity to do such a meaningful trip.

After arriving at the first memorial, I asked some French tourists for a photo of me next to it. After I showed them how to take a photo with my iPhone (pretty straightforward right?), the lady turned it around so that I could see the screen and then looked confused as to why she couldn’t see the screen…after giving it to someone else I got this:

Yes, that's a finger...
Yes, that’s a finger…

Hey, can you take another one please, you know, not of your finger!

Better...sort of...
Better…sort of…

Oh give it to this other woman, she knows what she is doing – she doesn’t even put her finger on the screen. Make sure you get the top of the memorial in too yeah (I pointed to the top of it and the group returned “tête” which means head – so presumably they understood top of the statue!).

Best photo ever!
Never mind, I’ll just photoshop myself in the right spot…

The Utah Beach memorials were absolutely stunning, although it seriously surprised me that the dates on most of them showed they were only erected in the past 10 years or so.

Next to the memorials there was a cafe where many people have gone back and inscribed the walls with their personal names or names of family members who perished during the war. I also managed to find this incredible letter (see below) which I hope you can read. It is a letter home from a soldier in Munich dated May 17 1945. He is writing on Hitler’s personal paper and mentions how they beat the crap out of the Germans, but were slowly cleaning up the town they destroyed to win back. He also mentions that the Dachau concentration camp (which I visited many years ago now) was cleared of the dead bodies lying around and the survivors were doing a lot better than when they arrived.

Click on the image to get a full size version
Click on the image to get a full size version

The final cycle to Carentan was about 15km; and feeling good and reflective I decided to take the cycling route signs. After about 5km the road turned to gravel; but fear not, the rain started coming down heavy, and actually the gravel disappeared. Well, sort of; puddles of mud replaced the gravel! A horrible feeling, but on reflection of the places I have visited, nothing compared to being at war.

After being drenched for a good half an hour, travelling slowly in the muddy gravel path and being seriously rained on, I finally reached Carentan. Noticing a short-cut to where I believe I saw potential places to stay on the map, I ran into a B&B sign with the lights on. Di, who runs the place, is an English expat. She mentioned her 18 year old grandson had been backpacking around Europe and the people were so nice to him and so she felt the need to make me dinner, clean my clothes and even give me a discount! It’s now nearly 2200 (french time) and I am ready to pass out!

More Bolognese!
More Bolognese!

Tomorrow I am planning on having a lie in (which might only be until about 8am) before heading up to the rest of the D-Day beaches and memorials. Finishing the day in Caen with about 80km of cycling, but lots of site-seeing, and not too much rain…hopefully!

DAY 4, CARENTAN TO CAEN ALONG THE NORMANDY BEACHES 120KM TOTAL >>

Cycling to Paris within 24 hours: Preparation

Cycling to Paris within 24 hours: Preparation

A friend of mine (Daniel Speed) and I are planning a bike ride from London to Paris this coming weekend (8/9th June 2013). We are attempting to complete the ride in less than 24 hours. I have done the ride to Paris twice, but spent a really casual day down to the south coast of England both times.

Paris on my bike
Getting to Paris when I cycled to Barcelona

We are going to complete London to Newhaven on Saturday – leaving from Westminster Bridge at about 1400. Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe at 2230, getting in at about 0430 Sunday morning. It will be very cold there in the middle of northern France at that time, even in the summer, so we will be taking tracksuit bottoms and a hoody to keep warm. Fortunately the sun will be up before 0600 which makes for less dark riding with head torches.

There are about 45 miles of perfectly paved over railway line (called the Avenue Verte) from just a few miles after getting off the ferry. We will then stop at about 0700 for some breakfast once it is light enough, warm enough and cafe’s are open! Then onward for another 70 odd miles until we reach the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Hopefully, since there are only two of us which shouldn’t slow us down too much and we can benefit from drafting each other, we will be there by about midday/1300 on Sunday for a nice lunch at a local cafe in Paris. We are then taking the Eurostar back that evening. All good fun to complete London to Paris within 24 hours!

All in all about 180 miles (65 miles for London to Newhaven, then 115 miles for Dieppe to Paris). Easily do-able!

Reaching Brighton with Dan Speed (middle) and Dan Sherry (left) a couple of years ago
Reaching Brighton with Dan Speed (middle) and Dan Sherry (left) a couple of years ago

Normally I load up Google maps on my iPhone whilst in wifi range (or within the UK on data) and look at the whole route at a sensible zoom level to be able to tell all the turnings I would need to do. They then get cached so you can still track your position (as GPS runs off a separate system) and look at the map without having to incur ridiculous costs of data roaming. Also it is a lot cheaper than a Garmin that a few friends have needlessly bought!

I used the Cycle Meter app on the South of France ride where you could pre-load a GPS map, but again you would have to load the maps over data to see the exact turnings. This app was very good if you pre-load your route on it – which I am going to attempt to do this trip…if I get time!

Below is a picture of some of the things we need to take:

  • Water bottle
  • Multi-tool
  • Spare inner tube(s)
  • Tyre levers
  • Gloves
  • Bandana (to keep you cool during the day and warm in the early hours of the morning)
  • Helmet
  • GoPro (attached to the helmet)
  • Phone charger
  • Converter to charge phone on ferry
  • Lights (front and back)
  • Speedometer
  • New batteries to put in my lights and speedometer
  • Deoderant, toothpaste and moisturiser
  • Phone case for handlebars
  • Passport

 

Preparation
A few things to make sure I have

 

There are some obvious things like making sure you have enough tread on your tires, pumped up tires, a well lubricated chain, enough brake pads and general decent standard of your bike.

I will let you know how we get on – now to charge everything up!

Route we will take in detail:

Saturday:

London to Brighton along the normal route I take to Brighton, then an extra 10 miles on to Newhaven where we will take the ferry at 2230 and arrive at Dieppe at 0430.

Westminster bridge, Brixton, Purley, Turners Hill, Haywards Heath, Brighton, Newhaven. I hope to upload a GPS map too but here is a Google Maps version as I find that nice and easy to use.

Sunday:

Early start and head south from Dieppe, along the Avenue Verte for about 45 miles, Neufchatel-en-Bray, Forges-les-Eaux, Gournay-en-Bray, Gisors, Pontoise, Trocadero. Google Map