By this time I had reached the end of the disused railway line on Avenue Verte. So when the rain stopped, on resuming my ride, the route took me to the nearby town of Forge les Eaux, from where the theme would be country lanes through bijou villages. Not being one to follow routes to the letter I ditched the Avenue Verte official route and decided to ride my own ride route that was improvised from the French Ordnance Survey maps (IGN series). I didn't get back onto the Avenue Verte until a section near Paris along the river Seine.
However, just outside the town I felt the rear of my bike wobbling strangely as while riding down a hill. I came to a sudden stop, only to discover I had a flat rear tyre. As there was a supermarket nearby this made it convenient to change the inner tube in a clean dry area. Before leaving the town I decided to pick up more inner tubes and top up the air in my tyres at a bike shop.
|Avenue Verte Guide book|
The Avenue Verte guide book said there was a bike shop in Forge les Eaux, though unhelpfully didn't state where it was, so there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and asking directions from the cycle tourists I saw. However, none of them knew where the bike shop was, as they were tourists like me! Then a local person gave me some directions to what looked like a lawn mower shop! In actual fact this shop did a bit of everything - lawnmowers and other gardening machinery, motorbikes, and push bikes.
I really admired how the guy could one minute be talking about the best way to trim your hedge, and the next minute talking about Campagnolo group sets and gears. A lot of his customers were locals that he knew, so when he served me he treated the occasion like it was a bit of a novelty event and was quite impressed to know what I was up to.
Other customers joined the conversation about the best way to go, and "ooh isn't that an impressive young lady, etc....I said that the delays to my journey meant that I was not sure I would get to Paris by bike that day and would probably have to get on a train at Gisors. "Oh," said the shop manager. "You've gotta be positive and go for it. It gets dark at half ten tonight so you should be fine!" Er, I'd been hoping to be tucking into a nice meal at 8pm!
After a nice chat and him bidding me "bon courage" I left the shop, the afternoon sunshine motivating me to hit the road with gusto. But then, psst! I got a puncture on my front tyre - a few yards from the shop. So once again, I was changing the inner tube and back in the shop topping up the air and restocking inner tubes.
They guy probably thought I was one of those girlies who doesn't know anything about bike mechanics. "Are you sure you have properly checked inside your rims?" he asked. "But it's the front tyre this time," I replied. He looked mystified. As I paid him for three more inner tubes he joked, "Maybe you should buy a crate of these. We can even do you a loyalty scheme!" Ha ha!
|Argueil village square|
Recommencing my route, I pedalled in earnest in the sunshine, while still enjoying the rolling hills and rustic architecture of the Bray area of Normandy. There were a few nice villages I passed along the way, notably Argueil and Fry.
But as it turned out, our man from the bike shop did have the last laugh, as I got two more punctures on my front wheel during the course of the ride. In fact, he was right. I hadn't fully checked everything, and had failed to find a tiny piece of perspex lodged in the front tyre - probably picked up during the heavy rain. My bad!
Once the offending piece was eliminated everything was fine, except that by this time it was 6pm, and I was nowhere near Gisors, the place I had earmarked as my bail-out point to get on a train if need be. The nearest town was Gournay-en-Bray so I headed there, in a hope of finding a train to Paris. The couple I'd met at breakfast that day was due to end their ride at Gournay this afternoon, and I had told them I would be in Paris this evening. Wouldn't it have been embarrassing to spot them now, showered, rested and enjoying an early evening aperitif in the village square after their leisurely day of cycling. I swiftly left the square to find the train station.
On my arrival at "la gare SNCF", my heart sank when I asked a local girl on the platform what time the next train would be. "No idea," she replied, "But I think normally there's one train a day at 6am." Surely she was kidding me! Yes, her information was not correct. According to the SNCF website there wasn't one train a day from Gournay, but two a day, and the last one left at 5.00pm! Eek!
So it looked like I'd be stuck in this godforsaken village tonight, paying for a second lot of accommodation in addition to my booked room in Paris. My last chance option would be to try and get the last train from Beauvais to Paris at 8.45pm, with a change at Creil. As it was now 7.15pm and the town was 20 miles away, getting the train would be touch and go. Normally, this target would be doable, but today I was on a heavy bike with panniers, the terrain could be hilly, I didn't know where the station would be in this substantially bigger town, I didn't know if the 20 miles were to the centre of Beauvais or to the edge of the town, and I would need to queue up to buy a ticket. I tried to keep calm.
I just had to don my brightest garish-coloured high vis-jacket, light myself and my bike up like a Christmas tree and time trial my way down the fast national trunk road direct to Beauvais. No time to admire the scenery!
It was a fast road, but thankfully there weren't many vehicles and no lorries. Folks were probably feasting with friends or watching Euro2016. I had to just keep my nose to the handlebars and ride like a woman possessed!
Let the train take the strain
Someone must have been watching over me, as the road was smooth and fast, there was only one significant hill along the way, and I didn't get any punctures. It was really handy too, that the train station was on the edge of the town at the end I entered it.
The finish line came just after 8.30pm! Breathless and sweating I asked for a ticket to Paris. The woman in the ticket office looked at me alarmed and said, "You've gotta run now. The train's about to leave, I don't have time to sell you a ticket or else you'll miss it! Just run!" So I dashed across the concourse and jumped onto the train with my bike just as the announcer said the customary "attention à la fermeture automatique des portes."
It turned out that the 8.36pm was the last direct train to Paris and the SNCF employee very kindly hadn't wanted me to miss it. The only problem now was I didn't have a ticket, there was no guard on the train from whom to buy one, so there would be a bit of explaining to do at the ticket barriers at Gare du Nord!
As it happened, by the time I reached central Paris at 10pm it looked like the staff had knocked off for the evening and there were no barriers so it was all fine.
Sous le ciel de Paris
I was just happy to be in Paris - a place that I still hold dear even though it was more than 20 years ago when I lived there.
Out of the station, I hit the Boulevard Magenta, Place de la République and Boulevard Voltaire, which all looked atmospheric in the twilight. The Bataclan concert hall was on my route. Sadly, it was still boarded up and all the flowers had gone. There were just scribbled messages of solidarity on the wall.
Once at my hotel, the proprietor welcomed me, relieved that I had made it there in one piece!
|Bastille by night|
The bike shop owner in Forge-les-Eaux had said I had until 10.30 to make it to Paris before night fell. I managed it - I just won't tell him I took the train!
Showered and rested I thought it was too late to go out and enjoy a meal, but in fact the night was just getting going! I enjoyed a well-earned pizza and beer along the rue de la Roquette, took a midnight stroll around Bastille and the Marais, then returned to my hotel to plan the other half of my ride that I had not completed that day! I would catch an early train from Gare St Lazare to Normandy the next day, and then ride back into Paris. It had to be done!
My day's riding according to Strava
Paris en vélo! C'est parti!
Paris en vélo! Arrivee réelle