Day 19, 23 Sep, Paris to Marines.

Since it would take me at least 4 days to reach London, I decided to cut short my Paris stay by 1 day and leave for Dieppe today instead. (Dieppe is on the French coast and one of the ports from where one can take a ferry to England)

It would take me 2 days of riding to reach Dieppe, stay in Dieppe for a day because of the ferry schedule, and another 1 day to ride to London.

I always dread getting out of an unfamiliar city and Paris was no different. But this time I was prepared. I had found, and downloaded ready GPS tracks for Paris to Dieppe, and from Newhaven on the English coast to London from bikely.com and mapmyride.com, and it was now ready for use with my Garmin.

The campsite was already on the outskirts of the city so that was less one problem. 10 minutes later, I encountered the first discrepancy – the original 2-yr old tracks were actually from Dieppe to Paris, and I was simply following it in reverse. The first waypoint was for a pedestrian/cyclist bridge to cross the Seine to get to St. Cloud on the other side.

Problem was, they’d closed the gangway for cyclists to ride, or push up, and across the bridge. Now, you could only walk up the stairs. A fully loaded tourer was definitely out of the question so I had to ride further down the road until I finally found a proper bridge.

As I entered the district of St. Cloud (say Saint Clood), I ascended the first uphill of the day. Little did I know that from here on it would wind up and down all the way to Dieppe; not severe (except for 1 little nasty hill at Triel sur Seine) – just gently rolling inclines … but it was bad enough, considering my load. France, it would seem, is not as flat as the other countries I’ve visited; it’s a country of rolling-meadows terrain.

Looking for another way to St Cloud on the other side of the Seine.

The first hill of the day, in St Cloud. You can just make out Eiffel Tower in the foggy distance.

The first detour of the day was a pleasant surprise – the St.Cloud park – the leaves of the magnificent trees were all turning a warm amber colour.

It was a serene piece of painting that made you slow down just to enjoy nature’s handiwork.

Coming out at the other end of the park.

...and through these doors into the town of ...

...Marnes la Coquette

From here, I would ride through some secluded woods

I stopped for a break among a stack of cut timber and took a shot of the Surly against this unique background.

As the day wore on, I passed through countless villages, but those with charming old houses were the best, like this ivy-covered house. They were exactly what I’d imagined it would be when I was following the live coverage of Tour de France, seeing them from the helicopter’s point of view. And now I was here cycling through them, on my very own Tour de France. It felt great.

I would even ride under quaint little tunnels that barely allowed a car to pass through without scraping the roof off.

Nope, I hadn't taken a wrong turn and ended up in Sumatra, it's still France.

Country roads meant that traffic was light.

Crossing the Seine towards the town of Triel Sur Seine (Triel on the Seine)

I didn't know it then but this quaint turn off from the town of Triel sur Seine that began through a short tunnel under a building would turn out to be a monster of a climb -- 2 km of very steep uphill.

A few km out of Trier Sur Seine, the road flattened out, to my relief. From here on, farmland would feature very prominently in the landscape.

You could easily be forgiven for reading the sign as 'US Marines'. It's not. It actually indicating the town of 'Us' and 'Marines'

I’d begun to notice that there weren’t many bicycles on the road. France is unlike Germany, Netherlands and Belgium where people cycle just about anywhere. I guess the terrain has something to do with that. As well, you don’t find too many dedicated cycle paths that connected villages, towns and cities in these countries.

I was making painfully slow progress … I needed to cover at least 90 km of the total 189 km to Dieppe today. Having got lost a few times (in spite of the GPS tracks), and slowed down by the never-ending gentle up-and-down roads, I knew I would be in deficit by the end of the day.

At best, I reckoned I should be able to make the town (actually a village) of Marines and hunker down for the night somewhere. I had no idea if it actually offered any kind of lodging at all.

As the sun began to dip into the horizon (as did the temperature), I felt a little apprehensive. This was really off the beaten track and there were very little cars, let alone bicycles. As was my usual practice, I did the next best thing —  pray. I felt no worry at all. At worst, I would just stealth-camp somewhere behind a copse of trees, and there were plenty dotting the landscape.

30 seconds later, a young man on an antiquated racer rode up from behind and wished me a pleasant ‘Bon Jour’. I bon joured back and he asked me where I was going. I asked if Marines was near and he replied yes, only about 4 km. Great, I thought. ‘Are there any campsites or B&Bs there?’ I asked hopefully.

His reply took me completely by surprise. ‘You can stay with me if you like’ he said cheerfully. ‘If I like?’ Are you kidding me? Of course, I mucho like, and all I could say was ‘Hallelujah, thank you Lord!’

On the way to Marines where he lived with his Grandpa, Sebastien told me a little about himself. He had cycled across US, Mexico and a few countries in South America and he was constantly a recipient of many a stranger’s hospitality.

He said he knew exactly how I felt and when he offered me a place to stay for the night, he was simply paying it back. How magnificent, I thought and, a prayer answered. It never ceases to amaze me how people would just stop to help you when you need it most.

Sebastien, my wayside saviour.

Outside Sebastien's home in Marines.

As we reached his home (actually it was 2 houses on the same piece of land, fenced in by a 7 foot high concrete wall), I was  quite pleased that I would finally see the inside of a French home.

His friend Alex, was visiting him and was staying the night, and he would be going to Paris on Friday to audition for a part in a Moliere play. (I didn’t miss the fact that this was my 2nd encounter with an aspiring artiste, the other being the Spanish girl I met in a Bonn hostel)

I was to learn later that Grandpa too, ‘traveled the world’ — on Google Earth; he would mark each and every single place that Sebastien visits. (Later, he would make me show him where I lived and he proceeded to mark it as well…how charming)

It was only the 2 of them living in these 2 houses. Grandma had passed away a year ago and Sebastien had decided to come back from his travels and keep him company, staying in the smaller house that belonged to his father. He’d also just started studying law at the local university about 15km away.

Grandpa Pierre's house, and his beautifully tended garden.

Sebastien was usually the chef but today, Alex would be the assistant chef and today, his claim to culinary fame a dish of baked béchamel sauce and bacon. Sebastien also slapped on 2 pieces of steaks on the grill and told me ‘You’re gonna eat a lot tonight’. Well, frankly, I could eat a whole cow tonight.

Grandpa Pierre was a splendid fellow. He made me feel so welcome. By now he was quite used to Sebastien bringing home stray cycle tourers he met on the road. I was no different and he treated me with such warmth.

While his dish was in the oven, Alex would take the opportunity to practice his lines, even allowing me to video him... check it out below:

The warm and homely living/dining room of the Rovens residence.

Appetizers -- sweet melon

'Dinner is served' ... steaks, rice-like grain, and bacon in bechamel sauce ... a tad salty but who cares, I loved it. Anyway, my body was craving for salt.

Sebastien was ever the clown, making me feel at ease and at home.

After dinner, grandpa brought out a whole array of cheese and even opened another bottle of red. I was beginning to feel like a VIP.

I went from nearly camping in the rough to cheering the night with some seriously jolly good fellows. This was the life …this was one of the little priceless perks that came with cycle touring.

Grandpa Pierre insisted that I keep my bike in the shed and personally wheeled it in for me. I was so touched. It was obvious that we shared that special bond only bikers had with each other ...

His old bikes were testament to his love for cycling, and empathy for another biker, especially one who was 10,000km away from home.

Before we tucked in for the night, Sebastien said he had to leave early for classes but that I should take my time so Grandpa then said that I should have breakfast with him before I went off the next day. Brilliant. What more could I ask for?

As laid my tired body down on the futon bed in Sebastien’s father’s big master bedroom, I was still feeling warm and fuzzy. What a great day this had been As I dozed off, I thought how nice if everyday on the road was like this, but that would be asking a bit too much. Still, one can hope, can’t one?

Distance to day:80
Distance to date: 982

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