A Trip to FranceJan Heine
Going to France was a treat. Not just because PBP is a wonderful adventure, but because I love visiting France. In August, Paris loses some of its urban edge, and people become more relaxed. The city organizes Paris Plages (“Beach in Paris”): For a few weeks, sand is trucked in, and a freeway along the Seine are transformed into a beach. The square in front of the Hôtel de Ville (courthouse) becomes another beach with volleyball nets. It’s a lovely way to celebrate summer!
Another major change in Paris has been the Velib bike rental program. With more than 20,000 bicycles available at over 1000 stations, it has revolutionized how Parisiens get around. The operation is impressive. It includes mechanics who make rounds and fix bikes that need repairs.
After Paris-Brest-Paris, we had a get-together of Bicycle Quarterly readers and others at the historic starting place of PBP, the café Aux Trois Obus. It was nice to meet readers from all over the world in person, and go for a ride to the Alex Singer shop afterward.
Then I spent a week in France to visit friends and to research upcoming articles for Bicycle Quarterly. For these trips, I combined the TGV high-speed trains with the leisurely pace of my bike.
Riding in France is a different experience from the U.S. Thousands of years of human history are evident in the landscape. As I left Viviers, my friend Richard pointed out the Roman bridge at the edge of town, which dates to the 3rd century A.D. The bridge still is used to get to the fields on the other side of the river.
If you plan your trip with the help of the excellent Michelin 1:200,000 maps, you can cross most of France on little roads with almost no traffic. I rode 190 km in one day across the Ardèche and Cevennes Mountains. During this time, I cycled less than 15 km on roads that had a white centerline. Most roads looked like this:
These roads lead to quaint villages, with cobbled streets and beautiful buildings. Little restaurants tempted me to stop, and fortunately I was not in a rush. Ordering a crèpe at lunch-time took 20 minutes, but the food was so good that it was worth the wait.
Just before returning to Seattle, I was able to realize my long-held dream of riding the Raid Pyrénéen, a 720 km Randonée Permanente from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, via the great cols (mountain passes) of the Pyrenees. It was a true adventure! I will publish a full report soon in Bicycle Quarterly.