We had overcome the English weather. We had crossed the frothing sea. We had survived encounters with crazy people who had insisted we should be able to immediately move sideways like hovercrafts, and we had stayed in the home of an artist with an obsession with female genitalia… Paris was now on the horizon.
Our lodgings for our final night on the road were stunning, and we woke to a scorching day. I took my bike from our hosts’ shed to find a puncture, one of those ones where getting the tyre back on the wheel takes several attempts for seemingly no good reason. As the others lounged by the pool, I finally got the tyre on and we loaded up to head into the forests around Paris.
We managed to find our way back on to the Donald Hirsch route, and span up a nice sharp leg-testing climb. It’s amazing how used to hill climbs you become after three days of near continuous riding. Most of this day would be spent riding on forest paths away from the summer sun and baking heat. There were a few surprisingly steep hills, and we saw some lovely decaying buildings and dilapidated vehicles.
Eventually we found ourselves in Versailles, where we took the opportunity to check out this grandest of Chateaus. At the entrance gates an Englishman and his tweenage daughter were assessing whether or not to go and see the palace. DB loved this, as they were quite posh, and loudly ridiculed them, shouting ‘DADDY, DADDY I WANT TO SEE THE CASTLE!’ I couldn’t contain my amusement and had to ride off into the grounds. There were lots of annoying tourists here, and everything cost a lot of money. The sheer scale of the buildings and gardens is astonishing. We didn’t hang around very long, instead deciding it would be best to press on to Paris.
A long, draining climb out of Versailles village brought us to the edge of another forest, and a beautiful descent into Ville d’Avray, where the rich have lived for many years in huge houses and mansions. We entered into the final bit of greenery before the metropolis of Paris would show its face. Parc de Saint-Cloud features a long, straight and slightly down hill boulevard, which we sailed down effortlessly (being careful of the brutal mini-speed bumps every 150 yards or so). At the bottom of the hill we soaked up the view of the Paris skyline, complete with a 19th century hot air balloon floating in the distance.
We had a beer or two and a croque monsieur at a bistro outside the park and flew down another hill, bending towards the Seine which we crossed over a wooden pedestrian aquaduct.
The other side was quite a challenge to get down with our heavy bikes and luggage, but we did it without disaster and rode over to the Hippodrome. This was obviously the Paris version of Regent’s Park’s outer circle. I decided to show the teams of French club riders what the English could do, and managed to catch and pass a few riders. This didn’t last long…
The final stretches of our route took us along segregated bike paths next to huge arterial roads. It was strange riding in a city again after our leisurely days of cruising through the countryside. At last we got to the Eiffel Tower, where we got some photos, and then we tried to find l’Arc du Triomphe. I thought we could just head north, but DB said he knew better. We rode along the river and hit the Louvre. He’d lost his bearings, so we had to double back on ourselves and ride over the Place de la Concorde and up the Champs Elysees. This wasn’t fun. It is a far cry from the finale of le Tour de France. It was a blessed relief to be able to get off the bikes in front of the second grand arch of our trip and to say we had made it.
We spent that evening dining on steak and the next day wandering around Paris. I ate steak tartare, and drank some beautiful beer. I would like to note that the route provided by Donald Hirsch is brilliant, and if you feel so inclined please donate to keeping the route up to date.
Duncan Palmer (@Cyclodunc) for MadeGood.org
Bike blog: Mistakes that doom cycling races | Danae Mercer bit.ly/JleXsP