Our time in Paris was truly treasured, days of wandering the streets and picnics in enchanting parks will remain with us forever. The next destination, Bordeaux.
Day 1: Saturday, July 26th – Paris to Orleans
6 am came too quickly. As the alarm rang, Kevin and I awoke from the 9-day dream that was Paris.
Our bags were perfectly packed from our previous attempt at departure (the day before). Although the city didn’t want us to leave, on this morning, a bitter-sweet retreat was what we faced.
There was a certain beauty to the quiet streets at 7:30am on a Saturday. The thousands of tourists were still sleeping in their cozy beds. Gone was the line wrapping around the streets of the Notre-Dame. The bustling energy of the people in Paris give the city life, but for this small window of time, it was calming to see the buildings and shops in an empty state.
The ancient architecture soon gave way to more modern buildings. The charm was gone and only the suburbs remained. It was a slow ride out of Paris. Although the streets were empty, we managed to hit every red light. Eventually we escaped and ventured onward onto the open road.
It was nice to be back on our own bikes. The muscle aches from our previous 150km ride had disappeared and we felt a bit stronger.
The night before, we had meticulously chosen our route for the day, looking at the elevation to make sure we weren’t going to hit too many hills. Unfortunately, in reality, there is no “Avoid Crappy Roads” function on Google Maps. For the next 3 hours, we were led down unpaved, overgrown farm roads. We went through dirt, gravel, grass, farm land, and to top it all off, an uphill forest road covered in rocks.
Frustration started to set in as we walked our bikes up unridable forest roads. It’s quite disheartening to only cover 1 km in 20 minutes. To top it off, we were led to a small underpass that had been flooded by 2 feet of water… no passing here.
As we considered taking off our shoes to wade through the tunnel of water, we took a minute to eat a quick snack of granola and get our heads together. We smartened up and changed our Google Maps routing to “car routes,” with the option to avoid all highways (almost all highways). The only way out of our terrible location was to hop on the N20, one of France’s national highways, for about 10km. Even though cars were whizzing past us at 70km/h, we were the happiest we had been all day. The roads were smooth and we could finally get up to a decent speed. Once off the N20, we happily cruised down the local (paved) farm roads.
The fields were enchanting. Miles of golden wheat, tall sunflowers, and mazes of corn as far as the eye can see.
Approximately 40km from Orleans, another issue arose. We were running out of water.
We each had one bottle of water left and since we were going through small villages, there were no local stores or gas stations in which to refill. For the next 20km we kept a very keen eye out for any signs of liquid goodness as we got down to half a bottle each.
And there they were… two Golden Arches. A place I would never crave to go back home, but today it was the only thing giving us hope. McDonalds would be our savior.
The sign read “a 5 min,” the amount of time it would take to arrive at this particular McDonald’s. This is a very common practice in France, to put a timestamp on directional signs (versus a distance). Building after building passed as we rode through several villages. No McDonald’s to be found. We quickly hopped on our GPS to find its location… 16km away. Our final destination for the day was only 16km away. The McDonald’s was useless. And so we continued on, parched, but happy to be closer to the finish line.
Just as the sun was about to set, we completed the 140km ride and arrived in Orleans.
With a common interest in both recycling and cereal, we had found the perfect hosts on Couchsurfing.
Sophie and Zak were their names, and they invited us to a community dinner before we rode to their home. To our surprise, the dinner was held at a local volunteer-run bike shop. 1 Terre Action, as it’s called, is a bike community dedicated to sustainable development. They save, collect, and repair bicycles that are about to be thrown away. They give a second life to trusty steeds and sell them dirt cheap to promote cycling in Orleans. They also hold workshops and open-houses for people to learn how to fix up or build their own bikes. The more bikes on the road, the less cars on the road, and, therefore, a happier city.
Kevin and I were so excited to see this amazing community. This reminded me of back home in Tucson and Los Angeles where we have community supported bike shops that make cycling accessible to all people.
The night couldn’t have been more perfect. Although we were covered in dirt and grime from the road, the fifteen lovely people in the backyard of this shop welcomed us into their community. After great conversation and a bit of wine, we were given a tour of 1 Terre Action. Bikes in all stages of life filled this two story house, including a BEAUTIFUL Peugeot bicycle hung above the fire place.
With all this talk of bikes and cycling throughout the night, the most important piece of knowledge we received was about the Loire a Velo Bike Trail… a bike path that runs along the Loire River to the Atlantic Ocean. This would come in handy the next day.
After dinner, a short ride took us back to Sophie and Zak’s place where we chatted more about cycling and adventure before finally saying goodnight to a long day.
Day 2: Sunday, July 27th – Orleans to Blois
Our second day on the road to Bordeaux and we were already beat. We managed to ride the 140km to Orleans from Paris, but we knew this wasn’t a sustainable approach to the rest of our trip. With tales of a beautiful bike path, we were excited to get on the road. Since we arrived too late to see the city, Sophie and Zak gave us the perfect Orleans tour. It started with a walk to the local farmers’ market where we purchased fresh goat cheese and veggies for our day. The little “Granny,” as Sophie called her, had the best tomatoes, she even gave us a free apple for our picnic. We graciously thanked her in the little bit of French that we know and headed back to get our bikes.
With all our bags packed up, our hosts hopped on their bikes and took us on a road through town, with the first stop being the 1 Terre Action shop to do a little maintenance on our bikes.
Orleans was enchanting, small cobblestone roads weaved in and out of old Medieval architecture. Our ride took us through the center of town where we saw the Joan of Arch statue, the Notre Dame, and the modern tram which contrasted nicely against the ancient buildings. We wanted to further explore these little streets, but knew we had to hit the road.
Sophie and Zak rode with us until we were properly on the Loire a Velo. As we waved goodbye to our gracious hosts, we were relieved we wouldn’t be following terrible bike paths today.
The Loire a Velo is a huge 800km cycle route that runs from Cuffy (near Nevers) to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. It runs alongside the Loire, France’s longest river, and takes you through the valley that is dotted with countless castles. This is truly where fairytales are made.
It was quiet, with virtually no cars on the route. So quiet, in fact, that you could hear the sounds of giant swans flying above the water. This route was full of young and old, couples and families, all riding happily along. Most people would smile and say “bonjour.” Kevin developed his own way of saying hello, “Bon Velo,” which translated directly means “good bike.” We laughed at our kindergarden French as we cycled along. We were in a groove… laughing, talking, listening to music.
Shortly into our trip, an old man waved us down. We came to a stop and politely told him that we didn’t speak French. In his best attempt at English, he randomly told us about the river Loire and the smaller river by where we stood. He told us about his wife and his adventures of cycling, kayaking, and sailing in this region and how beautiful it is. He then pointed to a small sailboat in the river and said this is very uncommon to see in the region. And that was that. A random but warmhearted gesture, a fittingly mysterious encounter in the enchanting land on which we stood.
Small castles and villages were our entertainment for the day as we ventured along. Although we were tired, we were starting to get the hang of cycling. We’ve developed a bit of a routine, which includes stopping every 20km for a small snack. It keeps us motivated.
Later in the night we arrived at a large campground. We wanted to get a full night’s rest so we headed to bed as the sun went down.
That night, the rain pounded on our tent and the wind felt like it would pick us off the ground. The sound, so loud that both Kevin and I had trouble sleeping. We did our best to have faith that our tent would protect us for the night and that the clouds would disappear for our early morning ride.
Day 3: Monday, July 28th- Blois to Tours
With very little sleep, we slowly packed up our tent and hopped back on the Loire a Velo. A couple miles down the road at the nearest grocery store, we struck up conversation with 6 college students who were taking a couple weeks of vacation to cycle the entire Loire a Velo. Every time we stop to tell our story it reenforces our drive for this trip. It is inspiring when we meet other people who have decided to drop everything to simply get on a bike and ride.
Our ride to Tours had many more hills than we expected as the bike path ventured away from the river and into the scenic hills. We had been following all the signs of the path and still managed to miss two turns that were covered up by parked cars, setting us back about 15km. Granted, the detours provided us with very charming bits of scenery.
This is how cycling has been for us, sometimes we are on top of the world and other times we are frustrated about how long it takes us to get only a few kilometers. This is the lesson we are learning, to slow down. Although very cliche, “it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.” Eating lunch on an old bridge, passing a real life castle, and finally enjoying silence away from cars were the little moments that made us appreciate the “in-between.”
Later, with only 26km to go till Tours, we got our first flat tire. Kevin’s front tire had blown out, and after further inspection, it turns out there were rocks in his tire… weird. With a quick and swift replacement of his front inner-tube, we were back on the road… once again rushed for time as we raced the setting sun.
Arriving again at sunset, we rode into Tours. Immediately we were in love with this town. It had the same lively vibe as Paris, minus the mass of tourists. We stayed with another Couchsurfing host, Marcus, in his flat in the heart of town. People were in the streets eating, laughing, and drinking. Kevin and I could feel the energy from the city and all the fatigue from the day dissipated as we got ready to go grab a bite to eat with Marcus and Dimitri (a fellow couch surfer from New Zealand who was also staying with Marcus). Dimitri had loved Tours so much that he decided to stay an extra day.
The four of us quickly grabbed a couple of pizzas and headed down to a bar near the Loire river. Beer has never tasted so good. After a long 87km day (short compared to our previous trips), every bite and every sip created an orchestra in our mouths. Yumm. Not only was the food fantastic, but the company was wonderful. Dimitri told us of his journey through Europe researching renaissance music, an art that I didn’t know was still popular. Marcus, our gracious host, was from the U.S. but fell in love with French culture. He briefly taught French in Australia before moving to Tours four years ago to teach English to business professionals.
On a side note of how small the world is, we had randomly found Marcus on Couchsurfing, inspired by his passion for France and meeting travelers. As we sat in the living room getting to know each other, the topic of Tucson, Arizona (my hometown) came up in discussion. Marcus commented that he has a friend who lives in France from Tucson. We have all experienced this moment, when someone knows a person from your hometown. You may ask for their name, but rarely is there an actual connection. Not today. As the universe would have it, I did know Marcus’s friend! I let out a little squeal of joy, expressing my happiness for these special moments.
Marcus was a super connector in town and everywhere we walked, he had friends that would stop to say hello. On our way home from the river, we passed a local bar where his friend invited us in for a drink to celebrate Marcus’s belated birthday. One beer turned into two, and then a tequila shot and some other mystery shot before we stumbled (I stumbled) home. I’ve turned into quite the light weight.
We strolled back to where we would sleep, Marcus’ home, a Medieval house that is older than the United States of America.
Day 4: Tuesday, July 29th- Tours
Four days straight on the road? We considered it, but our sore legs and fatigued bodies quickly gave us our answer. Today we would rest. And by rest, we mean slowly explore the town by foot.
Marcus, being the teacher that he is, gave us a complete and detailed tour of Tours.
Starting with a Pain aux Raisin for breakfast, we wandered past more Medieval buildings, into the basement of the Basilica of Saint Martin, places where Leonardo Da Vinci supposedly spent time, and dark paths where people were led before their execution. The history of this city still stands, fascinating Kevin and I as we followed this tour in awe. Before Marcus headed off to work, he led us to Cathedral St Gatien.
Cathedrals and Notre Dames are in every village of France, but this one was by far my favorite. As we entered through the beautiful arches, something was different about this cathedral, it had more life than any of the others, with the sounds of an organ filling the air. This was the first cathedral where there was music, sounds, life … Dimitri would be so jealous of our private renissance show.
As the rain started to drizzle on us, we hurried our footsteps toward the Musee des Beaux Arts’ sculpted garden and stood in awe at the large cedar tree that was planted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804.
We wandered around Tours for another hour in the rain before heading home to rest. Being that we were still pretty tired, we enjoyed a lovely indoor picnic with Marcus for lunch.
If our host couldn’t get any more welcoming and fun, we later baked. Another passion of our host’s was cooking and sharing the experience of food with friends. It wasn’t only about the product of the meal, but about the interaction and memories that are built in the kitchen. Much like our journey on bicycles.
I don’t usually bake, but as a sidekick to Marcus we successfully made a key lime pie! As it cooled on the windowsill in the brisk summer air, we sipped on red wine and enjoyed deep conversation. The pie was simply the sweetest end to our short, but fulfilling, time in Tours.
Day 5: Wednesday, July 30th- Tours to Poitiers
The rain had cleared and blue skies welcomed us back on the road after a full day’s rest. We headed south, off of the Loire a Velo and onto flat country roads toward Poitiers. This would be the best day of riding we have had so far. We rode fast. Fields of sunflowers were around every corner and brought a smile to my face as we passed. Inspired by Marcus’s love of the French language, we listened to some basic French lessons for the first couple hours of the ride. “Bonjour! Ça Va?” we repeated out loud as we rode.
After a very enjoyable 105km ride, we arrived (early) to Poitiers where our French Couchsurfing host, Alice (and her cat, Mick Jagger), graciously welcomed us into their home. We were Alice’s first Couchsurfers and she was a natural host. Surprisingly full of energy from the day’s ride, we were guided through the city streets of Poitiers. Past the Notre Dame, the niche umbrella store, through the Medieval streets, and past the Hotel de Ville. For the first time in France, Alice explained to us that the Hotel de Ville is not a fancy hotel chain in France, but instead a town hall (doh!). The streets were quiet and a bit empty since the majority of students in the town were gone for the summer.
The most amazing part of travel is meeting all our different and special hosts. It is fascinating to hear every story and to see how many incredible people there are in the world. Alice, for example, is a medical student who also competes in sailboat racing. So rad.
She later treated us to homemade berry jam from her grandfather’s farm as we talked about her passion for organic food and folk music. After being treated to a delicious pasta meal, we finished the night with a beer on the one rooftop bar in Poitiers. Just beautiful.
After an amazing evening of good food and great company, we were ready to continue our journey toward Bordeaux.
Almost immediately our joys from the previous day of riding disappeared. This would be an especially hard day of riding. Hill after hill. Never-ending hills. More hills. And when we finally reached the top of another hill, we could see numerous more hills waiting for us in the distance.
With gravity, it is said that “what goes up, must come down.” In cycling, however, it has become fact that “what goes down, must come up.” In a car, I always enjoyed the roller-coasters of rolling hills in the country side, but on a bicycle, every change in elevation was felt by our sore legs.
Physical fatigue started to turn into mental fatigue. Why were we putting ourselves through this? Why in the world did we decide to tour the world on bicycles?
As we pedaled on, we repeated our mantra… “this is an adventure, not a vacation.”
Finally arriving at a very well kept campground near Niort, we set up camp, picnicked for dinner, and went to bed early.
This day sucked.
Day 7: Friday, August 1st- Niort to Saintes
Déjà vu. The day prior seemed to have repeated itself. The rolling hills continued all the way until our campground in Saintes.
80km of misery. There was no fun to be had here. Joy in the journey? What joy?
Seriously. Hills suck.
Off to bed we went.
Day 8: Saturday, August 2nd- Saintes to Mazion
Saturday morning the sunshine beat down on our tent, slowly waking us from our tired slumber.
Our tent is very comfortable with our bags stacked perfectly to the side and our bikes locked up outside. Some mornings our sleeping bags are too comfortable to leave. With my eyes still shut I typically reach over to Kevin’s sleeping mat and slowly open the air valve. This is the best alarm clock. As the air leaves the mat, you are left on the hard ground and quickly become ready to get up and moving.
Just as the last pieces of the tent were packed up, the beautiful sunshine that had awoken us turned into a trickle of rain. We donned our raincoats and hopped on our bike.
Only 3 minutes into our ride, the light sprinkle of rain turned into a fierce downpour. We thought we could outride the rain. We were wrong. Soaking wet in a manner of minutes, we found shelter under a nearby bus stop.
The rain passed quickly and the sun again came out to greet us.
Bordeaux was “only” 130km away. We knew we could do this distance in a day, but just because we could didn’t mean that we should. We decided to save our sanity and split the trip into two days.
We had chosen a campsite about 55km away. It was going to be an easy day.
Although still hilly, we took an easy pace. The fields of corn, wheat, and grass that we were so accustomed to seeing slowly changed to giant vineyards… one of which we stopped beside to enjoy our lunch.
We arrived to our chosen campsite early in the evening, excited to have a mellow night. To our surprise, there was no campsite, but instead a gravel parking lot. We searched on the map for the next campsite… only 6km away. We pedaled quickly. When we arrived at the municipal campsite, we found it to be closed for the weekend. On to the next… 15km away. We had no idea if this would lead us to another dead-end. In fear that the campground would be closed when we arrived, we pedaled as hard as our tired legs would take us.
The sun was setting over hills of vineyards with the light beautifully shining through the clouds. This was beginning to be the perfect end to the day.
When we arrived to the campground, we found two grass lawns with three camper vans. The signs to the office led us down a small path to a large house. After a knock on the door, a lovely elderly couple greeted us. Not a word of English was spoken by this couple and our French was limited to a few words that Kevin remembered from high school. Even with limited verbal communication, we somehow shared laughs and smiles. The woman asked us (in French) if we would like to purchase a bottle of wine for the evening. The wine happened to be produced from the vineyards on their land, by the old man who had so graciously welcomed us onto his property only minutes before. Of course we would take a bottle!
Using only body language, tone, and hand gestures, we had a place to put our tent for the night and a bottle of wine to sooth our spirits. There was something so special about this moment, about this night… about the place at which we had just ended our day and the people that we had just so happily encountered.
This… this is why we’re cycle touring.
Day 9: Sunday, August 3rd- Mazion to Bordeaux
Happy to wake up in wine country and only a short distance away from Bordeaux, we quickly packed up our tent and hit the road. It was Sunday, and in France, all stores are either closed or close early.
To our good fortune, we found a fruit and vegetable market just about to close. We purchased a couple of items for the day and had a quick conversation with two cousins from the UK who were on their way to Spain.
As the owner of the shop started to close his doors, he kindly walked over to us with a container of strawberries and a bag full of apricots. He smiled and offered us this free food for our journey. We were overjoyed and grateful. These strawberries were the sweetest fruit I had ever had. Kevin and I called them little bubbles of joy. We were so happy and so overwhelmed by the kindness of this stranger.
Just as we hopped back on our bikes, the man walked over to us once again. He smiled as he handed us a giant bag of nectarines, plums, bananas, and peaches. “You need your vitamins,” he said, then walked away. We were speechless. Smiles. All smiles.
Rain followed us on and off for the remainder of the day. The light sprinkle was refreshing, especially on our way up the hills. We were only 10km outside of Bordeaux when the rain started to get heavier. We made our best attempt to out-run the giant raindrops and failed miserably as we found ourselves soaking wet.
At the first crack of thunder we sought refuge under another bus stop until the rain passed. The roads were slippery and covered in puddles. We slowly proceeded, carefully avoiding the white lines that become dangerously slippery when wet.
Unfortunately, other dangers lurked beneath the puddles, and in the blink of an eye, I watched Kevin crash to the ground as his rear tire became caught in a railroad track. It looked painful, but thankfully he escaped with only a small scratch on his hand.
Entering Bordeaux, we were filled with excitement. We had been on the road for nine days with one rest day in Tours and we were ready to explore the rich history of this region. A French friend of mine that I met in Los Angeles, Gi Gi, is from Bordeaux and graciously connected us with her family, a fantastic team of individuals who would adopt us for the week.
Just as the hills have their ups and downs, so will our adventure. Days where we are full of joy and excitement and days when we are fatigued and frustrated. Looking back at the tiring days that we spent on our bicycles, the memories that remain are those of joy. The moments when we experienced the generosity of our hosts touring us proudly around their hometowns… The random acts of kindness from strangers… The moments of beautiful vineyards lit by the setting sun…
… These are the moments that make it all worth it.