DUE NORTH

 

It must be a common thought amongst many cyclists faced with a point to point journey. "Why not do that by bike some day?"

Turning nearly three hours of sharing a pressurised cabin full of recycled air with 100 plus strangers into a seven day fresh air adventure across an entire country between three close friends.

An adventure that distills cycling down to its core. From the minutiae of pre-ride planning to the moral fibre of our chosen sport or, dare we say it, our lifestyle.

So what about joining the Café du Cycliste dots and connecting HQ on the Old Port to the flagship store in the City? Nice to London. Sun to the City.

 

 

It was a task deserving of our resident long distance expert, Matthieu, aka Manivelle.cc. A flâneur on a bike, Matthieu was instantly and slightly over-enthusiastically committed to the concept. Even it if means riding from sun, into headwind, into rain. It is London, England after all.

 

 

But first thing is France. Or to be more or less precise, her many regions and the bounty that their diverse landscapes provide. And for bounty, of course, read wine.

Enter Elisabeth. Très française, très gentille, très bien éduquée au vin. Elisabeth likes to dance, she likes to cycle, but most of all, she likes wine.

 

 

Gregory makes up the triumvirate. Born in Lyon, living in Berlin, Europe is his playground. He says his accomplices are drinkers with a cycling problem, a statement which will be tested out on the road.

 

 

Details. Pre-departure is all about the details.

The equipment: luggage and luggage packing, tyres and tyre pressures, clothing and clothing accessories, spares and second spares. And a knife. Always take a knife.

The route. Planning progress against preferred minor road choices. Planning around the weather. Planning the mid-morning, mid-day, mid-afternoon stops. Planning the over-night halts.

And planning the drinks menu. The finest of each region. Bandol, Côteaux Aix-en-Provence, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, right up to Calvados before the channel hop. All has to be thought about.

 

 

On the road. The cold snowy winter pushed the pencil line on the map west of any possible mountain traverses. A precautionary trajectory was made along the coast towards Fréjus before cutting north west on a few higher roads leading to the Rhone valley.

Riding out any unexpected faults in preparation, and settling into the task ahead. A little over 230kms as a prologue. And a refreshing rosé to end the first day.

Once in the valley for Day Two, it was a game of dare and double dare with the wind. As happens, the triumvirate lost. In other words, 228kms into a headwind. Had it been day five, it could have broken morale quite quickly. But as it is, an Audax a day keeps the doctor away, and London in sight.

The following days promised small roads, winding between rapeseed fields and small villages with cafés with eccentric patrons. And maybe more wind, but after that second day how bad could it be?

 

 

 

Behaviour changes on a multi-day brevet. From civilized humans, a certain devolution takes place, and primal behaviours begin to dominate.

The days and the kilometres pass by with a disconcerting sweetness, but preservation of the body is the primary concern. Listen to its hunger, its thirst. Locate the good bakeries and shops where quick refuelling can take place - fruit, sweets, peanuts, the best grab and go snacks you can find. That way the length of the stops are minimised.

 

 

Sweeping, curving roads wind out in front and behind, caressing the undulations of the landscape and slowly becoming hypnotic. The details are now buried in a pile of kilometres and a million pedal revolutions.

It becomes difficult to know which day it is and where exactly you are riding. The beep of the Garmin indicates the next route marker. Follow with familiarity and trust.

Due North is becoming embedded in the internal global positioning systems of the three riders and eventually long distance becomes a constant motion blur.

 

 

They skirt the big cities, barely touching them. Outsiders, traversing a country without a steel cage and a motor.

Our nation's capital is avoided and suddenly, in the blink of a long-distance eye, after saying goodbye to the Mediterranean a few days ago, there is Dieppe and the return of the sea. Euphoria seizes everyone.

 

 

The port also realigns the senses. It must mean it is Friday, as planned. France has been conquered in the allotted six days and the only thing hidden from customs before boarding the ferry is the 1200kms in the legs. The bottles of cider and calvados, on the other hand, are fully declared.

 

 

A new day in Newheaven. On the road it feels like relearning everything again. It's the first time all three cyclists have ridden in England. Everything is upside down and details try to sneak back into a consciousness that had become accustomed to the flow of France.

The English version of cycle friendly, quiet paths resemble mountain bike pistes rather than pistes cyclables. Progress feels worryingly slow. Thankfully, with 150kms to go to London, three friends are riding to meet the trio. At East Grinstead, they come together for an escort into the City.

 

 

And here it is. A surreal sixty minutes traversing London, trying to make it in time for the shop closing.

With twenty minutes to spare there is champagne in the city, on the footpath outside Café du Cycliste London. Three French friends who don't really know yet what they've just done.

There is nothing else for it but to go to the pub, wash it all down with a few beers and celebrate the fact that they pierced France like an arrow and hit bullseye, right on time, in central London.

 

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