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This was Jacqui just north of Moura in Portugal preparing for what proved to be a very wet hour or two. Moments later a thunder storm forced us off the road.
At Number 4…
This run down by the border with Portugal was such a special day – not least as for once the cycle gods were with us and we were going more downhill than up!
At Number 3…
Here we are in St. Jean Pied de Port, celebrating 600+ miles of cycling down through France over 12 days. Our longest trip ever and a great preparation for Spain and Portugal.
At Number 2…
Here we are sheltering out of a howling headwind that had been in our faces all day. We were cold and hungry and still, after 80km, 30km short of Palencia and our hotel for the night. We learned that day that Spain can beat you up when you are cycling.
And at Number 1…
This may be a favourite for a long time. Jacqui en route from France into Spain and on to Pamplona takes us to new heights. Gosh this felt good!
So it’s over. We rolled into Algoz at 5.50 on October 27, 29 cycling days after we left Paris and a final leg of just over 90km from Castro Verde. They had even tarred the notoriously bumpy back road from Messines for us to ease our final 13km. The sun shone as it had all day and we took the time to straighten our sponsors’ logos (some hope!) and smiled for the assembled press and media. Well my sister was there with her camera. It had been a long hot day in the hills, but we felt a sense of arriving at a proper finish for sure.
The stats are now in.
Distance? 2246.7km. Total meters climbed? 21,313. Let’s say 63,000 feet, it sounds better that way. Longest day? 111.1km, Burgos to Palencia. Biggest climbing day? 1419 meters from Monfortihno to Valancia de Alcantara. This was also 107km long, so contends for toughest day, but the scenery was so stunning we hardly noticed. Averages? 77.5km a day, pretty well on the target we set ourselves, and an overall 14km per hour, a little less than we would have hoped for perhaps. Duration? We cycled for 29 days and had 3 rest days.
Mishaps? There were no real mishaps. Jacqui managed a slow speed fall in Toro, Spain after an encounter with a manhole cover. No serious harm done.
Mechanical issues? None. The bikes performed faultlessly. No punctures. I didn’t even put air into the tyres. I did have to clean the rims after a downpour all day going to Ledesma in Spain. All the kit worked as we hoped, although Jacqui’s Revolution bar bag leaked a little water on one occasion.
Health issues? We performed well too! One cold, one tummy bug, no muscle tears nor serious saddle sores. No tiffs, and only the usual tantrums from me!
Weather? We were very lucky. We were soaked twice, and forced off the road to shelter under an olive tree once, when we could not see to cycle. We dried out on the road that time after the the thunder storm passed over. France was lovely the last week in September, but we were a little cold somedays, right until we arrived in Portugal.
Reactions? Are we pleased to have done it? Absolutely. Without doubt. Will we ever tour like this again? No. No more time limits for us in future tours and we will return to our preferred “micro-touring” moving on every 2-3 days while saturating ourselves in places.
France, Spain or Portugal best? Difficult to say. France was more relaxed and it is good to have some language. But it’s 2 to 3 times more expensive. Cheapest night’s stay? 19 euro in an auberge in Ventosa, Spain. Cheapest night with breakfast? 35 euro in Monseraz, Portugal. Dearest night? Paris of course, 170 euro, no breakfast! Bikes were in secure accommodation every night bar 3 and then they were in internal courtyards.
Overall feeling? We were so lucky to get this chance and to be fit enough to do it and to do it together. Pedal stroke for pedal stroke. Jacqui gets the polkadot and me the green jersey. We will share the yellow one! But we deserve all three for sure!
More photos and video will follow sometime soon I hope.
We had expected to start cycling from Santander. A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris. At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800. We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas: as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need. Mostly I got it right!
Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper. Not such a bad thing perhaps? We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were. Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!) cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range. We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town. We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable. On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.
If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail. This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead. This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain. Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.
On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction. This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.
Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system. This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale! This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain. A painful adjustment!
The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival. Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.
We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.
We decide our best option is to take Eurostar from London to Paris and head off from there. We surely get points for flexibility! The trip through France will also allow us to cycle ourselves fit as we head to the Pyrenees.
One problem remains: how to get out of Paris with almost no preparation or planning. The web of course comes to our rescue. A quick Google search throws up David Q May’s site and his seven options out by low or no traffic routes. There is no time to look for others, so we print off the option south along the Seine and we are good to go.
Looking back we were very lucky to hit on this site. David’s instructions are clearly the result of experience in the saddle. They are very detailed and somewhat idiosyncratic at points, but they take us into a Paris we would never have found for ourselves in a million years and serve us really well.
We find we have to stop often on the route from Paris to Fontainebleau: at points every few hundred metres. As he says it’s a complex and varied route, but we hold faith in the directions, take time to interpret them on the ground and they work well for us.
This is not to say we do not get lost a few times. The Forêt de (forest of) of Senart proves to be too much for us and we are soon off route. A coffee stop puts us right and we are soon back on track. Ignoring instructions and heading south at all junctions seems the best approach.
We end up doing about 75 km in the course of the day to Fontainebleau and it takes us a very long time as endless stops to check the route slows progress. Much of this will have been our fault and the result of not having a great map with us. However, we arrive safe and sound after a great run from Paris, excited and with a great sense of satisfaction.
Thinking of taking your bicycle on Eurostar London to Paris? We found we had to when our ferry crossing was cancelled on strike action. It was a last minute thing and we had no time to plan it, but it worked well for us.
We bought our train tickets online, but did not see a way to book the bikes on online. So we pitched up at St Pancras and picked up our tickets and advice on what to do with the bikes. We were sent off to the Euro Dispatch office and told to go ASAP as we had no reservations. On arrival they sucked through their teeth at the news we had not booked, but set about the paperwork immediately. We had to remove all accessories from the bikes, including lights and bells. But with a minimum of fuss the bikes were whisked away. Crucially, we were given a map of how to locate the Geo Parts depot in Garde du Nord. Without it we would have been well lost.
Ok at £50 it was far from cheap, but the convenience counted for a lot and the friendly and helpful service at both ends was very welcome. We’d recommend Eurostar to cyclists – with deep pockets if you have not booked early enough to get decent fare levels.
Some time ago I posted suggesting the need to resolve the question: why do we cycle? This in anticipation of our five week tour of Spain. We decided we were into slow travel that would leave us open to new experiences. But a second question was: could we deal with the uncertainties of an unscripted trip?
Events have taken a different turn. At 9.00pm last night a text arrived from Brittany Ferries. All crossings are cancelled due to industrial action by French workers. What should we do? We decided we would detour to Paris via Eurostar. So now. We are faced with a 2500km ride to Algoz rather than the planned 1000km from Santander.
So the worry is no longer can we deal with unplanned days, but instead can we make it to Algoz in five weeks including a ride through France in October?
It looks like the fates have decided we are to have an adventure!