It’s just over 100 miles from Paris to Dieppe, where we planned to catch the ferry to the UK. We decided to take it slow, not knowing how my knee would fair being back on the bike, and with Alan being additionally burdened with my panniers. We chose the scenic route, and mostly cycled one-lane country roads through horse farms and country chateaus.
We rode from the city into the former hunting grounds of Versailles, now a network of recreational trails that spiderweb through thick forests and weave around some of the richest suburbs of Paris. We spent the first night in a horse pasture on a hill and awoke to a bag of fresh croissants and a thermos of coffee courtesy of the caretaker. The next night we spent in the boarding room of an old stone stable where we tiptoe-ran through the rainy courtyard to the kitchen and back for fear of their enormous and menacing French Mastiff guard-dog.
The third night we spent at an overpriced campground, mitigating our costs by buying a giant can of budget pasta in pre-made sauce for dinner. The sauce sent me straight to the hospital with my first anaphylactic reaction in more than ten years (an allergy I’ve faced my whole life, but one that is exaggerated by foreign foods, languages, and labeling practices) and we spent a memorable 24 hours in which I was treated, released, and with nowhere to go (at 11pm, all the hotels and taxi companies are closed), told to sleep in the ER waiting room.
We’re adept at sleeping in strange places, but the metal chairs in a hospital waiting room after a scary and stressful day proved difficult, and once we reunited with our bicycles the next morning, we pushed, fueled by substantial amounts of coffee, through sporadic rain showers towards the coast.
Our last night in France was spent in a campground right off the completed section of greenway that will eventually connect Paris and London. The riding had been easy and well-signed, and we’d had a good day, despite our lack of sleep the night before. The campground had a little restaurant and we treated ourselves to a glass of wine to celebrate our last night in France. Two tables over was a couple around our age who had just finished their first day of their cycle tour from the coast of England to Paris. They were giggly and awake and chatting loudly about how beautiful it had been and how much fun they were having. We were too exhausted to chat, but waved as we headed back to our tent, wishing them a good journey.
The next morning our good spirits had returned, the sun was peeking through the clouds and we were excited to be heading to our first English-speaking country since Belize. We had lunch by the harbor, and the ferry staff graciously loaded us on just before the rain started up again.
As we sat on the ferry and uploaded our photographs from the week, we clicked back through images from nearly a full year on the road. Alaska, Honduras, Spain, and Slovenia slid by under our cursor and we smiled remembering moments we’d nearly forgotten in the rush of the everyday.
Paris already seems world away, but then again, it did nearly as soon as we had left. The beauty of cycle touring is that each day is so different from the last that it’s nearly impossible to keep track. We move forward from each experience and it becomes a part of the broader history. The moments, scary, quiet, and crazy, turn to stories and the stories blend to experiences, smoothing out the bumps in the road until it’s the glossy narrative arch of a year on the road.