A few days a go, whilst I was going through the final edit of my book, I found myself re-experiencing my first ever cycle tour. It was an experience that changed my life and gave me a new outlook on the world. It evoked a new desire to be free. I realised that my skinny legs could in fact take me wherever I wanted to go, to experience new cultures and see new horizons. It left me liberated, with a burning desire to continue and do more adventures. Although sometimes it is moving to take a step back and recount what you have achieve. To look at the different adventures and identify how each one has shaped you as a person. I still have that passion to go out and explore the world. To be free…
Suddenly the sun peaked over the hills ahead of us and we were doused in the rich warmth. The heavy dew began to evaporate from the straw fields around us, forming a thick mist which drifted over the road. We were flying. Fuelled with excitement that today, after everything that had gone wrong we would finally make it. It was a feeling of pure euphoria. We were going to do it.
Gradually we left the pastures of Northern France behind and slowly our surroundings turned from green to grey. The sun was creeping up and so was the traffic. On any normal day it would have felt very dangerous with this amount of cars hurtling past us. However this was not a normal day. This was the final day. After this the cycling would be over. We could not stop grinning. All of our hard work was about to pay off. Soon we hit the suburbs of Paris. With the little boulangeries calling to us it was hard to resist temptation. However we decided we would wait until we reached our goal. Naturally our destination was Le Tour Eiffel. However we had factored in one stop, to drop off our panniers at the hostel. Somehow we had managed to navigate our way successfully from Manchester to Paris using just a few pieces of A4 paper. When the time came to take off our Panniers we were already in the heart of Paris, our final city. We almost didn’t care about making it to the Eiffel Tower in our heads we had already completed our journey.
Nevertheless we mounted our bicycles for one last time in search of our goal. It’s amazing what losing fifteen kilograms does to the feel of a bike. Despite the shaky start, getting used to the weightlessness, we were fast. We zoomed around the streets celebrating our success. We had no idea where we were going so eventually after an hour of pedalling around the cobbles of the Champs Eilleyses we somehow appeared at the base of the tower.
The sun was high in the sky by now, it was a wondrously sunny August day in Paris. Pedalling carefully through the hoards of tourists we found our way to a nice spot where we could have our victory photographed. Now it was over. High time to nurse ourselves into a food coma, feasting on our success.
I can still remember vividly that feeling, pure content. It was my first cycle tour and indeed the first time I had ever cycled further than 30 miles in a day. Despite cycling from a young age I had never been a big cyclist. I always enjoyed going out on small rides but rowing was always my first passion. It was at rowing where the idea of going on a cycle tour first began. Tom, Charles, and I were relaxing in the lounge on the sofas after a hard session. We had just finished our GCSE’s and were all looking forward to the long summer we had ahead, as it was only June. We joked about how it would be good to go on holiday together, somewhere along the line Paris got suggested and then later cycling. It was as simple as that. We said it all as a joke, “Why don’t we cycle to Paris, that would be even cheaper than getting the train”. However that idea grew in my head, how hard could it be?
Somehow, after not much planning at all, by early August we were all ready to set off. How did we sort out a route? We simply used Google maps. So off we went, armed with a few paper printouts, into the world of cycle touring.
Now with us having no training whatsoever the first day, of which we rode 100 kilometres, was awfully difficult. The tiredness combined with the torrential rainfall was really not pleasant. However it also left me feeling free. Something I had not experienced before with other holidays. We could go wherever we wanted, just as long as our legs could pedal us there. What if we didn’t stop at Paris and kept going? When you’re only expenditure is food and you are buying it cheaply, cycle touring is an extremely sustainable way of travelling. We were not using trains or planes with their large emissions to get to our destination. We were just using our legs to turn some pedals.