Here it was, the beginning of October and the weather in Alsace was holding out. After a mild, wet July and August, the continued sunshine was much welcomed in NE France, and it made us begin to reconsider our plans for the last ride of our trip. We had originally thought that we would train down south from Truttenhausen and do a few days riding in the Pyrenees before arriving at our last farm stay, but given the good weather up north we opted to bike from Truttenhausen to Paris where we could leave our bikes and train down south without all the hassle (and cost) of lugging the bikes on and off trains all the way across the country yet again. It was over 600km from the farm to Paris and we only had 8 days to do it in, so we had set ourselves up for our most ambitious ride yet.
Our early departure that first morning made for a brisk coast downhill out of the Vosges mountains and into the wine growing foothills that surround the farm. Those first few pedals away are always awash with mixed emotions: we had made strong connections at Truttenhausen, making it difficult to leave, but the feeling of freedom, the near sensation of flying as we cruised downhill drew our minds away from their comfortable roosts in anticipation of another stretch of uncharted territory.
By mid-morning there was promise of another sunny day. We stopped in a nearby town for dinner provisions and a pastry treat and continued north along the foothills of the Vosges. This was familiar territory from our previous day trips in the region. In hindsight we took for granted this stunning landscape and the lovely sunshine and regrettably neglected to pull out the camera once.
By the end of the first day we connected up with the EuroVelo 5 which took us west over the Vosges mountains along the Marne-Rhine canal and into the Marne Valley.
That first night we shared a campsite almost exclusively with Germans on holiday for the Day of German Unity marked by the removal of the Berlin wall. Many of the travelers were here for the rock climbing along the cliffs of the mountain pass.
We passed one quaint ecluse (lock house) turned private residence after another along this canal path, completely oblivious to the fact that this would be our only significant section of dedicated cycle path of the entire trip. By midmorning on the second day the canal path ended and we were left to navigate zig-zagging country roads and mid-sized autoroutes the rest of the way to Paris.
On top of the road conditions not being ideal, the landscape was not particularly stunning once we left Alsace and made our way into the department of Lorraine. Also it began to rain, and continued on and off for the next 6 days.
Brief moments of sunshine allowed us to snap a few photos or eat a quick lunch, but it never let up for too long.
It got to the point where we were happy as long as it wasn't pouring on us as we traveled along autoroutes with semis speeding past.
A few times we were temped off-road onto the dirt track that occasionally accompanied the canal that we were roughly following west to Paris. Often this provided a nice break from the traffic but a few times the path unexpectedly ended and we were forced to navigate rough roads to the nearest main road, or worse, back track to the last overpass.
A few moments of color and beauty reminded us of how much we loved being on the bikes, which was helpful on these long wet days of riding. Day two was a record breaking 105k in the saddle.
Most camp grounds in France close at the end of September with just a few staying open until mid October. Some stay open year-round but that seemed especially uncommon in this part of the country. Other rides had often provided multiple camp options on any given night, but this ride we struggled to find the sites necessary to piece together our entire route. This château camping in downtown Bar-le-Duc was probably the most stunning.
Another stunning stop along the way was Place Stanislas, in the town of Nancy.
The scale of this pedestrian space is spectacular and makes for a great place to hold installations and other seasonal displays, like the town's grand Christmas tree. When we visited the town was hosting an installation of rural themes with a clear modernist aesthetic. Educational horticultural displays were interspersed with outdoor furniture crafted from sometimes unconventionally reclaimed materials. It was very well done and seemed to add to the grandeur of the space rather than detract from it.
Apart from the square in Nancy much of Lorraine was a little rough around the edges. This changed immediately once we entered Champagne. The grape fields are vast, orderly, and immaculate, and an air of wealth seems to permeate the place. Our campground the first night in Champagne was on a vineyard that offered better shower facilities than most of the hotels we've stayed in.
Along with the lux accommodations that night came violent wind and rain. The next morning, day 7, we were exhausted from several nights of poor sleep, and the rain wasn't letting up. We were still two full days ride from Paris and as much as we wanted the satisfaction of biking the whole way, we wanted a warm, dry, wind and rain free night's sleep even more. We biked to the nearest train station and made it to Paris by mid afternoon.
We weren't staying long in Paris as this was just a quick stop off to put our bikes in storage and catch a train down south. We were graciously hosted for one night by our second WarmShowers host, Laurence, in the lively Montmartre neighborhood of the 18th arrondissement. Laurence has also done several WWOOFing stays in the last few years so we had plenty to talk about. Thanks Laurence for a lovely meal, a good night's rest, and for holding a few of our things until we return to Paris in November. Heide's handmade bike bags were admired and her helmet was given royal placement.
With the bikes in safe keeping we had the luxury of boarding a TGV rapid train which got us to Lourdes, near the Spanish boarder, in just 5 hours. 30k south of Lourdes, in the Luz Valley, we will be lending a hand for the next 3 weeks at our last WWOOFing placement, Ferme des Cascades.