France: First three days

Salut! Three and a half days of cycling has gotten me to the outskirts of Lyon, averaging 140 miles a day, through pastoral landscapes battered by wind, down canal banks in the rain, over single-track across farm fields, down forest trails fit for a mountain bike. So far I’ve slept under the overhang of a McDonalds, in two inns, and alongside a riverbank.

The majority of towns I’ve passed through are eerily quiet provincial villages in the countryside. Folks clearly live there but you rarely see anyone out and about. Windows remain shuttered with lights out. You feel a definite sense of loneliness when this is your only contact with civilization while riding through countryside all day. It’s been a relief to pull into some of the larger more happening towns like Reims, Langres and Chalon-sur-Saône (shown later in the video below). Because I have a lot of time on my hands out here, I’ve invented a new game where I guess what amenities will be available in a town based on the font size of its name in Google Maps.

Despite the solitude, I have a huge soft spot for France. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the landscapes and cuisine, as well as the chance to put my (questionable) French language skills to use.

Early learnings:

-Every several minutes spent route-tweaking before the race saves hours of time during the race: Navigational issues plagued me day 1 and 2 as part of my route led me on gravel roads and trails unfit for a road bike. Since then the Garmin and I have made amends, finding improved ways to collaborate moving forward.

-Eat more calories: I’m slowly learning how to find enough food despite limited hours of most grocery stores and restaurants. (Note to self: stores close at noon on Sundays, so stock up.) In the first two days I was only eating a pastry or two when I woke up, but I’ve learned energy is sustained far better throughout the day with a heartier breakfast from a grocery store – 2 yogurts, 1-2 pieces of fruit, orange juice, carbs (biscuits, bread, pastries, etc.)

-Take the gear you want to bring on a bike trip, remove half, then remove half of what’s left… then remove half of that: Yesterday I shipped out three pounds of gear that I previously thought were essential, but now just seem heavy. These included the only pair of non-cycling clothes and shoes (sandals) I’d brought along – a symbolic move as well a strategic one. We’ve got miles to cover!

-Investing in reliable gear pays off: Despite the early abuse, my gear has held up surprisingly well so far – a testament to the benefits of tens of hours spent researching bike bags, rims, wheel building etc. A mechanical issue at this early stage in the race might have ended it all.

Sightings of interest:

-Belgian hedgehog roadkill, flattened into weirdly artistic spikey pancakes (multiple sightings)

-“Pizza Americain”, a thin personal pizza with the contents of a bowl of chili delicately drizzled over it, topped with cornichons — easily the least American type of pickle. An absolute culinary and cultural aberration. Entirely delicious. (single sighting)

-Young French truck driver unapologetically wearing denim overalls (single sighting)

-Canals on canals on canals… like bridges for one canal to run over another… confusing concept, I know. Assuming the French are just doing this to show off. See Canals video, below. (three sightings)

-Roomba lawnmower tending to a farmer’s yard with nobody in sight. Seriously, how do we not have these yet, America? On second thought, we’re really not responsible enough to use these without incurring tens of casualties a year, finding ways to weaponize them, etc. Ok. Well done, FTC.

More updates, ramblings, and sightings to come! À plus…

Proper form demonstrated. Hydrate safely out there!



Getting un-lost:

Canals = wind protection + flat terrain:

New friends:

French horses are well known to take at least three baths a day (see traditional horse tub at left). They spend the remainder of their time discussing existential humanism over café noirs and cigarettes.
Night 3's resting place
Waterfront views where I hunkered down to sleep in the town of Sauniere on the third night. My tent has no poles but it’s water resistant, keeps bugs out, and only weighs a few ounces.
France: First three days