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I visited France in May-June 2014 and cycled from Calais to Nice in 13 days, camping along the way
Having completed LEJOG in 2013 on my recumbent trike I was keen to complete another country 'end-to-end'. Choosing the country was relatively straightforward as I had a relative living in Nice at the time. I could leave my trike with him (for collection later in the year) and fly back from there once I had arrived. A ferry crossing to Calais sorted out the starting point, but what route to take? I had drawn a pencil line from Calais to Nice on the map and, having decided on how many miles I wanted to complete on each of the 13 days, created more or less equally-spaced points on the map, then worked out a route between them. My planning was perhaps not as rigorous as it ought to have been and days varied in length from 54 to 95 miles!
In order to reduce expense I had decided not to use hotels, hostels, or the French equivalent of B&Bs, but camp instead. My resolve was quickly broken, however, at the end of the first day when, soaked through and after having had to mend seven punctures in the pouring rain (I later found out due to faulty inner tubes), I discovered the municipal camp-site I had hoped to use was not open for the season! I cracked, and took refuge in a hotel which offered a dry bed and food! In my defence I only stayed one other night in a hotel during the rest of the trip.
I have driven through France on many occasions but invariably at speed along autoroutes. It was the explorer HW Tilman who said that ‘all travel is dull, exactly in proportion to its rapidity’. As he spent most of his life on expeditions, exploring and travelling I think his point must have been about not racing to arrive at a destination but to savour the journey which can be done better when the pace is slower.
It seems to me that a cycle is an excellent vehicle to cover reasonable distances whilst exploring a place when one has limited time, but at a pace which does not detract from the sense of truly experiencing the country.
That said, northern France is not scenically the most attractive of places and mile after mile of seemingly endless wheat fields and vineyards (into a headwind!) proved to be a tough four days at the start of the trip. It was only after having arrived in Tonnerre that the scenery began to improve and with it my spirits. Of particular note was the section from Romans sur Isere to Nice including a section of the 'Route Napoleon’. Some of the uphills were significant but the views enjoyed made the effort worthwhile. And, perhaps not surprisingly, as I moved further south the weather improved which, in my experience, always helps morale.
Since retiring I have completed three end-to ends (Ireland this year), all solo without support, and I would urge anyone reading this to ‘just do it’ if there’s something ‘out there’ you want to accomplish. Certainly in developed countries you are seldom far from help and, in my experience, people (from whatever country) are invariably friendly, kind and helpful - so what’s to worry about?
I have used Rohan equipment from almost since when the company started, and in the 70's I felt I was a cutting-edge mountaineer as I sported my Rohan salopettes. Since then I have worn many of their garments and have always been pleased by their comfort and functionality in the wide range of activities for which I have used them.
The one item of clothing or equipment you couldn’t have managed without on your trip? - the Rohan T-shirt (I took two). I wore one of the T shirts every day and they proved to be very comfortable, wicking away the sweat, preventing me chilling-off when I stopped for breaks. They were easy to rinse through at the end of the day and were ready, dry, to be used again on the following day. Can I also mention the Rohan shorts I wore every day? They were very comfortable, proving sufficient stretchy whilst pedalling and, as usual for a Rohan garment, the array of secure pockets kept my valuables safe.
The single thing you’d wished you brought with you – but didn’t? - on the first day, inner tubes that weren’t faulty. Fortunately I was able to buy replacement ones in a cycle shop in northern France.
What was the one ‘not so good’ thing about your trip? - the additional gear/weight which had to be carried as I was camping.
What was the highlight? - probably the long run down to Nice on the last day from the 1148m Col des Leques and a great sense of achievement on completing the journey.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. Rohan is your constant companion for every journey, whatever the journey.