Paris. In my imagination, I am stepping out of a black convertible near the Eiffel Tower. I casually throw my designer leather backpack over my shoulder. It matches my ankle boots and looks perfect with my designer jeans. I fling my soft, perfectly coiffed, graying hair over my shoulder and don my oversized sunglasses. The doorman greets me at my hotel, located on the Champs Elysée. A quick afternoon rest and I’m off to a long and leisurely dinner at a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow I’ll zip over to the Louvre for a morning of art and then lunch at a street side cafe. I feel glowing and free. Perhaps I’ll rent a flat for the season?
With an urban population of 2.1 million and an metro population of over 13 million, I’m really not sure what I was thinking when I said to Rick, “let’s meet Sean (our cousin and fellow cycling friend) at the airport in Paris. Riding through the city will be fun!” Oh. Did I mention that the Charles de Gaulle airport is the second busiest in Europe? I guess it just feels exotic to say, “Let’s meet in Paris.”
Exotic? Well I guess that depends on your definition.
Heading out early from Fontainebleau, we knew it was going to be a big day. In order to meet Sean in time, we were going to have to ride 55 miles. Our longest day so far. We were prepped for this physical challenge. But we hadn’t really considered the possibility of mental challenges.
Fontainebleau, the location of the hunting chateaux for centuries of royalty, is surrounded by dense forest in donut fashion around the town. It is the site of world class bouldering ( which we accidentally found on our ride) and has since become a really beautiful park for the public.
Riding through the forest really was beautiful. Rick wondered out loud about battles fought here over hundreds of years. I worried about meeting a wild boar.
We left the forest and meandered onto the Allee Royale. This road was built for Louis XV (the one before the one that was executed during the French Revolution). As expected it was a perfect road.
After about 30 miles, things started to change. As we were riding out of another beautiful park, we came across a woman sitting on a folding chair just at the edge of the woods. She wasn’t really dressed for a day of hiking. Short dress and high heels, she was applying lipstick. Just around the corner a freeway and a truck stop. Ah. A lady of the night. Or the forest.
Rural riding was officially over.
Our surroundings began to morph into a more industrial landscape. The roads more busy. The drivers less patient. No more sleepy little villages with baguette vending machines. No, we had entered metro Paris. We were in the outskirts of a giant city. Truly, it could have been any city. Nothing much Parisian about it.
And we still had another 25 miles to go.
But I wasn’t overly worried. I had done some reading about cycling in Paris. With over 400 miles of dedicated cycling paths and lanes, it is actually considered a good place for bikes. However, today we weren’t heading into the heart of the city. That area of 20 Arrondissements or districts that spiral out from the heart of Paris, Notre Dame. Nope. We were heading to the Charles de Gaulle Airport and would be skirting the city itself.
We were riding through an industrial park when Rick turned to me and said sarcastically, “Where are all the cute cafes?” I laughed and said, “Not here!” And we kept riding.
Past a derelict amusement park. Back and forth crossing the Seine on old graphited highway bridges. Through well worn neighborhoods and on freeways.
As we got closer to the airport everything felt more frantic. Cars speeding faster and faster. More cloverleafs and freeways and noise. When we finally made it to our airport accommodations, the extra fancy B&B Hotel, and entered our closet size room, I just wanted to stay in bed and never get out.
But luckily the next day we were meeting Sean at the airport and that excitement helped ease the disappointment of our entry to Paris. We would head downtown together and start our adventure from the center of that famous spiral.
And with this sense of anticipation, we set out the next morning to meet Sean at the airport. Simple. Four mile ride from hotel to airport. Meet him at the Novotel Hotel, where they had agreed to keep his box for two weeks. Build his bike, ride back to the hotel together and head out the next day for our ride from Paris to Normandy along the Seine.
But it seems that Paris and specifically the airport, is not simple. That 4 mile ride was one of the scariest of my life. No backroads to retreat to when trying to avoid a freeway. But we made it. And we waited for Sean’s arrival.
Me: We are here at the Noveltel. Can’t wait to see you! Let us know when you get your baggage.
Me: How’s it going?
Sean: My bike hasn’t come off the carousel.
Me: Did you check oversized?
Sean: Yes I’m waiting to talk to a human.
Me: Ok. We’ll head to baggage claim to try to help.
In my mind I’m thinking, “It’s hard to land and communicate immediately in a different language and culture. I’ll sure it’s there.”
But it wasn’t.
And it isn’t.
So what do you do?
Well, as Sean’s brother quipped in a Facebook response to the missing bike dilemma, “Do you really need a bike in Paris?”
Good point. So, we are heading to the center of the spiral today. Rick and I will cycle and Sean will Uber.
Ah Paris. You are already memorable.