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.
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.
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.
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