We gave ourselves eight days to get from Figeac to Paris. A mere eight days. And while it was just an arbitrary deadline in some ways, we felt that it was important to stick to our plan. I was scheduled to fly from Paris to Toronto on June 29th and we had a few things to organize (not the least of which was the canine handover from Dale and Eva the day of my flight), but we really wanted to get there in eight days so that we would have a few days to enjoy one of Europe’s grandest cities in a relaxed way before I left for Canada. Arriving in eight days meant that we could have four days and three nights at the AirBnB we had booked, but (spoiler alert) Bronwyn will tell you all about it in the next blog post.
On the morning we left La Perle Campground in Saint-Médard-la-Rochette, we were prepared for just about anything. We had already conquered hills and struggled through the heat wave. We had greeted the previous day’s sunrise amidst a swarm of insects. We rose before the sun on the summer solstice and it gave us a head start on a really hot day. But the real difference on day 4 was the expectation vs. reality factor when it came to the biking distance. We powered through the day – through little towns and past poppy fields for what seemed like hours – and managed to arrive at Camping Familial by 12:30 p.m.
Strava revealed that in the nearly five and a half hours of active time that morning we had completed 92.3 km, and we were bushed. Our water bottles had run completely dry by the end of the ride, and we proceeded to drink a litre of water each before jumping into a cold shower at the campground. The lovely woman running the place sent her shirtless nephew on a mission to find some reclining patio chairs when she saw us sitting on the ground to complete our post-ride stretches. Adorable. I think we split the remaining waking hours of the day between those lovely seats by our tent and in their swimming pool.
On the fifth day, something wonderful happened. The foothills and early morning climbs seemed to disappear. The road from Ids-Saint-Roch to Bourges was a low-grade incline with almost no significant climbs for the first half of the day. We spent the morning passing fields of amber grain like wheat kings. We grabbed a couple of pastries near the basilica in Châteauneuf-sur-Cher and felt great. In fact, we felt so good at the 52 km mark that we opted to just keep going. There was a campground that appeared to be about 40 km away and we made the decision to get there. Since we had hit the road at 5:30 a.m., it meant that the 52 km were done by 9:00 a.m. when Decathlon in Bourges opened. Maybe it was all hubris, but a high-five sealed the deal on the decision to push onward to Aubigny-sur-Nère. That’s when the hills started.
The D940 road out of Bourges is a straight-shot direct line north. I’m quite certain it was the longest straight-as-an-arrow road we’ve travelled on this entire trip and wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it’s orientation runs truly north-south. This also makes it a popular route for large and noisy trucks to take when they leave Bourges, and in the travelling north you need to take a 7% grade that lasts for 2 km west of Achères, but since the road is straight as they come you can watch the peak approach during your climb. A couple of guys at Café du Pic at the base of the climb wished us well as they refilled our water bottles and I left as they argued over how long it was going to take us to get to Aubigny-sur-Nère. We arrived in the town to do a quick shop for dinner and then doubled back to our campground to complete the longest ride of the whole trip – another metric century that clocked in at 104.8 km on the day.
On the sixth day it started to feel like we were getting close. Bronwyn had managed to contact a Warmshowers host in Étampes, so day six was the last time we would need to camp for the whole trip. We gave ourselves a sleep-in and left later because we had expected that it would be a “short” 65 km day. This would ultimately turn into an 80 km day, thanks again to the wiliness of Google’s bike route that would lead us down an old logging road straight into an electric-fence barrier. But before all of that happened, we got to stop in Sully-sur-Loire for pastries and a post card break right on the edge of a castle with a bona fide moat that ran right up to its walls.
I might not have chosen Camping de la rive du bois in Chambon-la-Forêt for my final night of camping on the trip if I had other campgrounds to choose from. The tent pitch area was an uninspired clearing next to a tennis court and a trailer park. But somehow we transformed that little space into a little slice of hammock paradise. Bronwyn and I spent some time debriefing our time in France and couldn’t help getting a little bit nostalgic for the trip as it drew to its conclusion.
Day 7 to Paris was strange. Our penultimate ride was really uneventful and almost doesn’t even deserve much of a mention. The traffic got busier, the fields started to look the same and we crossed more big box stores than we had in a long time. I suppose the Paris sprawl was starting to meet us on the way.
Étampes itself wasn’t all that exciting, either. The best part of Étampes, in fact, was being rescued from its streets by our wonderful Warmshowers host Annick, who was pedalling around her neighbourhood looking for us when we made the final climb. She and her husband Pierre treated us to a lovely vegetarian dinner and we swapped cycle stories before heading to bed. We were so happy to meet them and learn about their bike ride from Orléans to Santiago near the same Campostella pilgrimage route that our new friend Peer was still undertaking with his dog Luna.
Annick and Pierre recommended a route from nearby Massy that would take us along the 12km Coulée Verte riding path to the edge of Paris without any vehicular traffic. This was the last big problem to solve and we’re glad we planned it out.
We said our farewells after a morning of coffee and toast and set out to complete the great ride. Sure enough, we managed to find our bike route at the 55 km mark and set out to enter La Belle Paris. We arrived at the city and decided that a little detour along the Seine would be just what we needed to complete the trip.
The Eiffel Tower and it seemed like as good a place as any to take the photo to complete our journey. (Don’t tell anyone, but to get to our AirBnB we still needed to bike another 12 km to the 19th arrondissement, so the trip wasn’t officially done when the iconic photo at the top of this post was actually taken).
We made it. And we managed to do it without accident, injury or even killing one another! Eight Days to Paris actually took eight days and we road 631.6 km in that time.
That’s an average of 78.95 km per day.
Those days included days with the highest temperatures of the trip, highest climbs of the trip and longest stretches. It was an ambitious and satisfying way to end a bike tour that would include over five thousand kilometres of riding during the last ten months.
We really made it. And you know what? We still had a few days in Paris to look forward to before Bronwyn and I go our separate ways for a month. Bronwyn will fill you in on our time in the beautiful French capital in our next post, but if you’ve been reading along with us since last August when we set out, thank you.
Thanks for reading the adventures and the complaints, for liking the Instagram posts and Strava activities. Thanks for the comments on the blog, the travel tips, the words of encouragement and all the love that you’ve been sending this whole time. More to come!
Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com