In the second part of our account of a recent cycling excursion to raise money for Wooden Spoon we pick up the story approximately halfway to Paris, after a steak dinner during which a member of the team regaled us with stories of a friend he once had. His friend was called Reggie. Reggie was a crayfish. Let’s move on…
Day 3. Domfront to Nogent le Rotrou – ‘The Garmin’s at it again’ (approx. 130km)
For anyone that is unsure, a mountain bike is one of those very comfortably-saddled contraptions, with suspension and thickly-treaded tyres, designed for riding down, well, mountains. Road bikes, on the other hand, are slender, unforgiving and uncomfortable, best suited to smooth surfaces. Unfortunately it would seem that Garmin don’t differentiate between the two and we learned this the hard way.
After an initial climb out of Domfront, where a lively hotel receptionist helpfully quipped that the area was known amongst the locals as the ‘Swiss Alps of Domfront’, we were faced with a fork in the road. The first option was, in the words of The Beatles, a ‘long and winding road’, curving gracefully through the grandiose green landscape of the Normandy-Maine Regional Natural Park. The other was a suspiciously gravelly and pot-holed affair lined by thickening trees – imagine Hansel and Gretel heading off into the woods. Or Red Riding Hood.
Trusting the Garmin, we chose pathway no.2 and half an hour later were faced with the option of turning back or continuing our fairy tale re-enactment through increasingly muddy, wet and generally un-road-bike-friendly terrain. We trundled on deeper into the mysterious woods only to find ourselves shortly after wheeling / carrying the bikes through the French Shrek’s swamp, choosing to ignore his ‘Chemin Privé’ and ‘Défense D’Entrer’ signs in the process.
The Google Maps App newly downloaded and the (sporadic) 3G fired-up, we were steered through a local farm back to the straight and narrow to resume our ride. Maintaining the chocolatey energy theme from Part 1, a pot of Nutella surreptitiously misappropriated from breakfast provided the morning’s conversation piece, as well as the oomph required to see us past the highest security prison in the country, Condé-sur-Sarthe, and through until lunch, enjoyed in a scenic car park in front of the Hotel de Ville in Alençon.
Avoiding some shifty-looking, hooded individuals as they hung around outside the local boulangerie, trying to sell their non-bread related wares, we continued along a section of the magnificent but undulating countryside with the added frustration of cycling into the wind, meaning it was difficult to pick up speed on the downhill stretches.
Darkness again closing in after a long, hilly day, we arrived in Nogent-Le-Rotrou, where, because of the late hour, one member of the party boldly marched off to a local restaurant to stall their early closing on Easter Sunday with the proviso that we ordered six portions of steak – all cooked medium.
Day 4. Nogent le Rotrou to Paris – ‘More Chamois, Less Chartres’ (approx. 160 km)
Sore legs all round but now feeling less ‘All the gear …’ and more ‘We could teach Bradley Wiggins a thing or two’, we left Nogent and pressed on towards Paris, freshly ‘lubricated’ by the communal pot of Chamois cream, convincing ourselves this was acceptable as long as there was no ‘double-dipping’.
And to our legs’ delight, the rolling hills of Normandy-Maine turned into the considerably flatter Perche Regional Natural Park, strewn with old manors, mills and maize fields … as far as the eye can see.
As such, quaint little villages aside, the morning passed without too many trials and tribulations and heart rates quickened as the distant sight of Chartres’s Notre-Dame Cathedral loomed, knowing we were that much closer to our final destination. Quick history lesson … while the most famous Notre-Dame Cathedral lies on Paris’ Île de la Cité and was completed in 1345, its namesake in Chartres was actually opened 125 years before. Now you know.
With over 100km still to cover though, lunch, consisting of baguettes and a charcuterie board bought from the local Carrefour, was hastily eaten on the side of the road and saddles were remounted. Crossing the huge Rambouillet Forest we enjoyed the final stretches of open countryside before the traffic started to accumulate on the approach to historic Versailles.
Excitement rippled through the female members of the party when they discovered the apartment we had rented for the evening was 100m down the road from Paris’ equivalent of Harrods, Galeries Lafayette, but unfortunately there was no time for shopping. Again we were cutting things fine and a mixture of lack of time and lack of energy meant a celebratory dinner consisted of takeaway pizza, though this was accompanied by a glass or two of a certain fizzy beverage.
Day 5. Galeries Lafayette to the Arc de Triomphe – ‘The Champs-Élysées stage’ (approx. 3km!!)
Bit of an honesty call this one as the decision was made to stop in at the Arc de Triomphe on the Tuesday morning because we’d arrived so late the previous night! Guerrilla-style parking of the Freelander led to concerns we’d be moved on by the Gendarmerie but as they took no notice, we had some fun taking snaps or our triumphant Triomphe arrival.
A huge congratulations to the whole team who took part: Steve Henry, who has now departed on his Arctic adventure, Jill Raeburn, Emily Boughton-Leigh, Emmeli Kimhi, Jack Johnson (no, not that Jack Johnson) and I’ll give myself a wee pat on the back too!
Steve and his fellow Arctic adventurers set off for the North Pole this week, where they will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most northern game of rugby ever played. You can track their progress at www.arcticrugbychallenge.org/ and there is still plenty of time to donate to this fantastic cause via Take The Three’s Justgiving page at: www.justgiving.com/JamesArchtoArcCycle/.