After our last two European cycle trips, we mourned our return for weeks afterward, such was the sense of adventure’s end. But it’s a bit different with this trip: I think we both miss that feeling of freedom, but we were both more ready to come home this time.
Which is not to say we enjoyed this trip any less. In fact, I would say that overall it was a better trip than the last one; on the whole, things went very smoothly. Though we seemed to have quite a few grey days, we didn’t get that much serious rain, and certainly we had far fewer hot days, which make for uncomfortable touring. But I think perhaps we felt that this trip had come to its natural terminus and done its job—namely to carry us away from our everyday lives and experience something so extraordinary that thoughts of work and home never had room to take hold.
Part of why the trip was so successful in doing that was because we were better able—this being our fourth cycle tour—to really get into the journey from the outset. On the first tour, I remember it taking a solid week before I was able to truly relax; on the second, it was four or five days for sure; on this trip, I was able to dive in right away. I think I can count on three fingers the number of times that work even briefly entered my mind.
We were both pleasantly surprised with France, which made up the lion’s share of this trip. Last year, I watched a video of a long-haul cyclist who commented that cycling in France is just so easy. Now that I’ve done some cycling there, I can better understand why he thought so. The cycle routes are reasonably well marked (though this varies among départements), and French drivers are quite courteous (not quite so courteous as those in Belgium and Holland, but still…), patient, and completely unfazed by encountering cyclists on the road. The French regional trains are quite good and very bike friendly. You don’t need a ticket for your bike, almost all of these trains have special bike cars equipped to accommodate bicycles, and the station platforms and train cars are on the same level, so there’s no struggling the get your bike up stairs; you just roll your bike onto the car.
It was also really nice to be able to speak the local language and not feel a little bit ashamed at forcing someone to shift to your language. The French were almost unfailing charming with us and charmed by our Quebec accent. It was not uncommon for us to meet people who wanted to tell us about their recent trip to Quebec or even their plans to move here in the near future. And, as an anglophone, I must say that it was pretty neat to be immediately identified as a Quebecer by my accent, rather than as a mere anglophone.
This trip did present some challenges that we had not encountered before, or at least not in such great measure. I refer in particular here to hills. We had a few hilly days on our last trip as we crossed Luxembourg. This trip featured a solid week of some fairly hilly terrain, but I feel like we handled them really well (the coolish weather helped, to be sure), and we will be less intimidated by hills in the future (though don’t expect to see us cycling the Alps anytime soon!). We also had to deal with some busier-than-usual roads, though fortunately not so very often; and again, I feel like our experiences on our previous trips helped us ride with more confidence and less anxiety than before.
Both the Meuse valley and the Alsace were spectacular rides, each in their own ways.
The Meuse, especially as it flows through the Ardennes, where it is protected, is really lovely—the lack of industry makes for a pleasant change from so many other waterways we have travelled in Europe. The Verdun memorials were incredibly moving; I’m really glad I got a chance to see them and in some small way pay my respects to the soldiers who fought to preserve the freedoms we seem to be increasingly taking for granted today.
The Alsace offers vista after spectacular vista from the foothills of the Vosges as you ride through exceedingly quaint towns and villages, often separated by just a few kilometres. And the wine is, of course, delicious.
So all in all, a pretty wonderful trip. We’re already thinking about the next one!