Brevets completed, notes signed, 80 hr group chosen, children shuttled off to relatives, my wife and I head to Paris. The fun started even before we boarded the first plane.
A few years ago my friend (and frame supplier) Paul Wyganowski had converted my all time favorite frame to a travel edition with S&S couplers. I had gone to Hawaii to work at the Ironman a few times, and getting a bike over was always an excercise. One year I borrowed a giant golf bag, the travel kind that you put your sticks in to go on the plane. I managed to just squeeze in a 650 wheeled bike, but the padding was minimal, and I worried about the frame getting wrecked. With a coupled bike travel was much much easier…
but so far I had been flying my bike in a cardboard box. Nothing bad had happened but I needed a real case if I was going to be dragging a bike around Europe. I made an aluminum and plywood case – a real one with wheels and latches, and the bike just fit in. Great so far.
We go to the Minneapolis airport to leave and hit a snag. Of course the ticket agent asks “what is in the box?”. I’m prepared for this and she is satisfied with my explanation of “excercise equipment”. Everybody takes a big box of workout gear on vacation to France, right?
The snag is that the box goes 53 lbs, and there is a 50 lb limit after which the $50 surcharge kicks in. The agent kindly asks if there is anything I can take out, since it is only 3 lbs, but I’m not interested in cracking the box open on the floor of the terminal and rooting around for 3 pounds of crap to lighten the box. It took me over an hour to get everything squeezed in. The bike alone would have been cake, but add a front and rear rack, clothes, shoes, bottles, bags… I fork over my credit card and vacation begins. Next stop, Paris (chicago doesn’t count).
We land at Paris, I immediately I realize what it’s going to be like dragging a 50lb box around the trains and subways. The box keeps steering to the right so I have to give it a jerk every few feet to hold my line. Oh, and the Paris metro has precious few escalators. I’m mostly hoofing this thing up and down stairs. We find our hotel, and I I can even fit into the laughably small elevator, though with my backpack on I have to back into it and lean further back to close the door.
We sightsee in Paris for three days, and average, according to my wife’s pedometer, 15 miles a day on foot. There is a packet pickup the day before the ride starts and I set off in the rain through the Paris suburbs to St Quentin, where the ride starts. As far as I can tell there is not a single straight road in the SW suburbs of Paris, and I only saw 4 intersections where 2 roads cross at a 90 degree angle. Even though it is raining, I am on my bike, riding along the Seine toward Versailles.
Or maybe I am totally lost. The map that I printed from mapquest before I left is completely inadequate. What I really want is one of those Michelin maps that doubles as a tent if you need it to. I’m riding along wondering where in the hell I should turn, and look up to see another cyclist in a bus shelter, studying a map. Nobody else is out this early on Sunday morning, so I wheel up. He asks my something in French, which does not mean a thing to me (I know a tiny bit of German and French, more Spanish, and took 2 years of Latin in high school).
It turns out my savior is from California, and is much more prepared than me. First, he knows more french. Second, he printed the map and directions. We manage to make it to Versailles with only a few wrong turns, and as we roll along more and more cyclists join up. Soon I am in a pack of 30 or so and I really hope somebody knows where we’re going. Somebody does and we get to the sports complex where the ride will start the next evening. There are bikes everywhere, packet pick-up is a breeze, I even get a free waterbottle. The rain quits and I manage to make it straight back to the hotel.
Tommorrow at 8pm the ride will start.