Cycling to the Sahara: London (ish) to Paris (ish)

No I haven’t got a drinking problem (ish), it’s just that I’m lazy and couldn’t be bothered to cycle all the way through London.

So I started my journey on a train, astonishing rail workers and elderly ladies alike by saying I was going to France. In truth, I was going to Caterham. Then I was going to France. Via Newhaven and a ferry.

Of course, the important thing to remember when doing a London-Paris cycle ride is that the pizza shop in Newhaven is awful.

CAUTION: Pizzabike

The above pizza hacked a destructive path through my intestines, stirring up all kinds of malodorous gusts for the rest of the day. That would be reason enough to catch a ferry from Portsmouth or Dover – but another reason is that the Newhaven-Dieppe ‘overnight’ ferry arrives bang in the dead of dark.

Due to some kind of arbitrary time-zone discrepancy between Britain and France, what I thought would be five hours of sleep turned out to be only four. So I effectively started cycling at three a.m., my time, after about two hours of ferry seat-sleep.

If you’ve never cycled through Seine-Maritime at 4 o’clock in the morning, then it looks a bit like this:

Seine-Martime at 4 a.m.

Ahh – only joking! It looks more like this:

The church at Arques-la-Bataille

But what I lost in sight-seeing, I gained in noise-hearing and smell-smelling. And thankfully there was almost zero traffic-trafficking – breathful, blissful solitude.

There is an excellent cycle path that goes almost all the way from Dieppe through Seine-Maritime – une avenue verte, a green avenue – but you can’t see green in the dark, so I didn’t pick it up until Neufchâtel-en-Bray. Flat, quiet, green and with conversational information boards on the life-cycle of drinking water and the compostition of the solar system, this is a premium cycle path.

The same cannot be said of the D915. This is a main road from Dieppe to Paris. Don’t use it unless you want to die.

So I took the D915 from Gournay-en-Bray to Sérifontaine, a chokey ride through 15km of car fumes. Up hill. 

At about this time I decided to get cold. Really cold. Although the sun had apparently risen by half seven, I’d yet to see any of it. The clouds were heavy and mist blew in my face. My immune system must have been annoyed at my lack of sleep, nutrition (pains aux raisins don’t count) and suitable clothing (sandals, really?) because it proceeded to evacuate litres of sneeze-goo from my nasal orifices.

On a side note: if you ever see a man on a bicycle sneezing, give him plenty of wobble room. The aftershock from one of my eruptions was enough to send me careering across the carriageway and, on the D915, that’s not a healthy move.

Luckily, I made it to Gisors. It has a castle. I managed to take a photo, which was pretty heroic of me, considering how much snot was oozing from my face.

Gisors castle. Through the pain.

Yes I know it’s a rubbish photo. Live with it.

Cycling along the minor roads of the Vexin region is rather pleasant. And my health seemed to pick up no end after the acquisition of a pain aux amandes in Seraincourt. It was still not sufficiently snotless to take any photographs of the beautiful church or château at Gadancourt. Are you grateful for that Gisors castle photo now?

So I managed to cross the Seine at about four p.m., after ten hours of cycling. I was expecting this to be a romantic, mythical moment, like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, but it turns out that the Seine is only romantic and mythical in Paris. In Les Mureaux it looks out over an industrial works and an indoor swimming pool.

But after a hundred miles of pedalling, you don’t give a toss about romantic and mythical arrivals. That’s why, to rendez-vous with my friend, I chose a local landmark: Lidl. She led me through the baffling twists of Parisian commuter belt sprawl to a real warm home, with a shower and a kitchen.

And that’s what I love about cycling: the feeling of hot water on skin and raclette in stomach.

What do you think?