August 8 – 9, 2017
I wish I could say that the next day was easier but instead I woke to drizzle falling on the things I had laid out atop my tent. That was nothing, though, compared to the downpour I would experience later.
I wanted to avoid the previous day’s experience of off roading so I figured I would stick to the D roads. They are supposed to be country roads but some of them are really quite large. Google had already led me astray and for all the million RWGPS routes I had made previously none of them took me in the directions I needed to go (or were on those big roads) and you cannot alter these on the fly. So I tried using Via Michelin, this maps app I surely found on some Dutch website. It became my godsend. It messed up occasionally but not as much as Google and seemed to be more familiar with French cycling routes. France has a decent amount of bicycle infrastructure but none of it seems to connect. It’s incredibly frustrating and results in getting lost often. To be honest I will be excited to get the hell out of France to where cycling routes are everywhere and easy to follow. I know The Netherlands is like this from a bike trip I did there 10 years ago and I have heard Belgium is similar.
You’ll be able to see all the backtracking I did in my RWGPS rides. Now anyone who has tried to ride to Vancouver knows this can be true of the US as well but either way it just seems like a super bummer to have it available but unable to find. Via Michelin mostly solved that, although it needs cell data of course and because there is no auditory turn by turn directions (yeah the kind I paid for, a year when I meant to do a month, on RWGPS that have so far proved pretty useless) so you have to keep the screen on constantly. So it really eats up your battery. Luckily I have my dynamo hub that can charge my phone as I ride. I couldn’t get it to work the previous day, probably because the wires had gotten jostled in transit, but I pushed them back in and all was well. Otherwise I would have been screwed. Even so you have to go fast enough and build up enough energy for the charging to work and forget about it charging when the lights are turned on (I mean duh there’s only so much power your legs can provide and the hub can store but one doesn’t always think of these things). So I gotta say I’m glad I also brought a battery pack with a small solar panel.
Anyway, about the ride itself. I had some knee pain from the previous day and it only continued to grow worse as the day progressed. Towns are fewer and farther between than I had expected and nary a lunch spot was to be found probably in part because everyone is on vacation in August. Still I thought people would be going too the countryside and don’t people need to eat while they’re there?
When it really started to dump down I did manage to find a tiny little shop in Gournay-Sur-Aronde, almost a bakery, to get a coke and a pan au chocolat and wait out at least some of the storm. There was nowhere to sit and the little old lady who ran it spoke zero words of English but she did chatter along at me in French about the horrible weather. At one break I left but only made it as far as a covered bus shelter a block away before it started again, rivers of water pouring down cobblestone lined streets and cars rushed by whooshing 4 foot high waves into the air. No exaggeration. I desperately searched for any place nearby to stay. There was one inn that was cute if pricey but I didn’t care. But when I called to ask if they had any room the answer was no. I would have taken a manger.
The campsite I planned to stay at was only 7 more miles but I just couldn’t fathom setting up a tent in which I couldn’t sit up in this level of wet. We ain’t talking Pacific Northwest drizzle here. But the hotel I had my eye on was another 20 miles. There really wasn’t a lot else available so I kept going. Five more miles and I took a turn down a road indicating a fancy chateau. At this point I didn’t care what it cost me, I just wanted to be dry and laying down. But it turned out to be closed and I could no longer find the hotel I had been looking at in any of my apps. Had it been booked in the last hour? I found one in another town that was more expensive but 1 mile closer. I didn’t hesitate. I booked it.
By the time I got there it was after 9 but it was absolutely charming. Stuck my bike in their nearby shed and showed me to my upstairs room. I must have been truly limping at this point because he asked if I had fallen. Nope, just must have pulled or strained something but it was hurting even more off the bike than on. I asked the concierge if there was anywhere that might possibly still be open and serving food. Def not. But this angel went into the kitchen and prepared me a fruit, cheese and baguette plate and I was so happy. I did all the things I needed to before bed, which seem numerous, and fell asleep in a giant, soft bed.
I also made fiends with the local cat and met a fellow cycle tourist from Germany who was cycling a World War I route though I can’t remember which one.
The next morning I slept in and had enough time to both have breakfast and check out this amazing cathedral next door. I didn’t take any pictures the day before because it was just more effort than I had in me which is why this post is likely almost all cathedral pics. It was unfortunate because there were some very cute little villages throughout my day. I remember one in particular called Eraine that I had really wanted to remember but that part of the route was downhill and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop.
I also woke up to a returned text from a Warm Showers host in a town 25 miles away who said he would be happy to host me. Not only would my ride this day be easy, but there are many trains you can catch from St Quentin. The ride was nice but uneventful, even sunny until the skies opened up once again at about 3. But I saw the miles glide by and I was on track to reach him before 6 when he got off work.
When I arrived I found a “petite pub” right across the street from his apartment. It was small and filled with several local men but the dearth of eating places and my desire to stay nearby led me inside anyway. The men were probably a little drunk and spoke almost no English but they really wanted to talk to me anyway. One beer was bought for me and another offered though I never got that far. But through hand drawn maps I had a whole conversation about my bike trip and one man told me about his daughter studying in London. But Alex, my host, arrived shortly and escorted me to his apartment. He just moved here 3 weeks previously from Lille for an engineering internship. He told me St Quentin is a somewhat economically depressed town with high unemployment (16 percent, I couldn’t believe it!) so those men had probably been drinking at the bar all day. But they were very nice to me although probably laughing at me sometimes.
Alex and I then had a lovely evening going to this weird tiny little zoo in his neighborhood, watching the World Championship track and field competitions (did you know that Paris won the bid for the 2024 Olympics and Los Angeles the 2028?) and eating some pasta and tomato and mozzarella salad he made us for dinner. He even helped me buy a train ticket to Lille that indicated I would be taking my bike. Really, Alex was a life saver.
Now I am off to take that train. I might see if I can switch to a Belgian train and just go all the way to Ghent so wish me luck.