On 16th April 2016, I left for the first leg of my bike trip, with a purpose of seeing more of my home continent Europe. I went through Scandinavia to the northern tip of the continent, going south again through the Baltic States and Poland, my first taste of some countries behind the former iron curtain. Winter was spend on the Iberian peninsula.
Looking at the map, there’s still a lot more to discover in Europe, especially in eastern Europe.
I ‘d like to cycle more in Sweden and return to Iceland as well in the future, but for now, it’s time to change continents 🙂
Below, a map of the 2016/2017 European trip and some statistics:
Total distance: 20.711 km
Total altimeter: 237.230 m
Nbr of flat tires: 20 (none with the Schwalbe Marathon tires on my 11.000 km loop of northern Europe, so all with the mtb tires in the south).
Climbing towards ‘Coll de Banyuls’, I entered France. I found myself a nice wild camping spot near the pass, right at the Spanish / French border. Next morning I continued climbing from the pass towards the ‘Tour de Madeloc’ (at 650 m). It’s an off-road climb, only for the last part I joined the really tight asphalt road. It’s my second visit to this tower. I made a detour to this point in 2013 already, when I cycled the ‘TransPyrenees’.
Up and over the hill, I descend towards Collioure at the Mediterranean. A truly nice place, but too busy for me. Via Argelès-Sur-Mer I continue riding north along the coast. This is not a place for wild camping and I’m forced to go to a campground. Camp grounds make me unhappy.
Just south of the city of Narbonne, I’m cycling between two lakes just of the coast. Nice area with some spectacular bird life.
Two days near the coast proves to be enough for me. I head inland, going north from Béziers. This is the famous Languedoc area.
While I crossed the Cevennes region east to west two weeks earlier during Patrick & Peter’s visit, I’m now riding the region south to north.
First highlight is the ‘Gorge de L’Hérault’. Saint-Hippolyte-Du-Fort sounded like a nice place to spend a night, but I found it a depressing little town, so I continued riding back into the hills and camp wild. That night, a car came a couple of times close to the tent (doing what ???), but I think they never saw me.
From ‘Les Vans’, another beautiful, moderate climb awaits me through the Parc Naturel Régional des Monts d’Ardèche. First I ride through canyon of ‘Le Chassezac’ river, after that along ‘La Borne’ river.
While I intend to ride on paved roads after leaving Spain (my back started suffering too much from riding on trails with a back pack), I sometimes got homesick and couldn’t resist returning to off-road sections when I found them 🙂
Just before ‘Le-Puy-En-Velay, we are in the Auvergne region now (famous for it’s wonderfull cheeses 😛 ), I hit a very nice ‘voie verte’ (old railway line turned into unpaved bike track).
There were four or five tunnels, each several kilometers long, but lighted. Perfect cycling.
Le-Puy-En-Velay is a famous pilgrim town with all the historical sights that go along with it. The Tour de France was passing here in a couple of days, and the town was really getting ready for it. Almost every shop, whether it was a bakery, a bookshop, pharmacy or real estate agent, they all had some kind of cycling theme in their shop window. Mostly old bike or cycling jerseys and some black & white pictures.
After Le-Puy-En-Velay, I cycled towards Vichy, just for the historical significance of the place.
Via the cycle paths along the Allier & Loire rivers I went further north. In Saint-Firmin-Sur-Loire, I made a right turn, taking the ‘Chemin de Halage’ along the ‘Canal de Briare’ and ‘Canal du Loing’.
These two canals connect the Loire with the Seine river. There’s some hight to tackle, so there’ a network of + 50 locks.
Each lock has a ‘lock man’ (often a woman) servicing the lock when a yacht has to pass. One night, upon passing a lock, I asked the lady working there whether I could pitch my tent. She doubted this was allowed, but said she wouldn’t mind. But she recommended me to push on a bit. Two locks further, there was a nice grassy field with a table, not far from the lock.
Arriving at that lock, I told the young lady her colleague had sent me here, and she was fine having me there for the night.
The weather was turning foul rapidly, so I pitched the tent, and had the great idea to jump in the canal to refresh myself, and wash my clothes of the day. The water level in the canal was pretty high, so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem to get out again. I had a nice swim, washed my shirt and socks, threw them to the border of the canal already, but thought it would be better to put my cycling shorts back on again to crawl out of the canal.
This is where the problem arose. I just wasn’t able to lift myself out. My toes were bleeding already from trying to push me up the concrete side wall. To no avail.
I couldn’t get out of the water.
Only thing I could do was swim to the lock, hoping there would be some kind of ladder over there.
There was a slippery, overgrown, concrete ‘ladder’ ( not worth that name), via which I could leave the canal. I was glad I ‘d put my cycling pants back on.
With bloody toes, I ran to the tent, quickly made diner before the storm burst out.
After crossing the Seine river, I went a bit northeast to avoid the traffic around Paris.
At ‘Ussy-Sur-Marne’, I crossed the Marne river and followed it for a bit.
Next, I took a right turn, following a small side river, the ‘L’Ourcq’.
On my gps, I found a small track along the ‘L’Ourc Canaisé’. There are signs everywhere that it’s not allowed to cycle on the path along the canal, but I choose to neglect that. It was such a quiet and beautiful area, it would be a crime taking busy dangerous roads instead. And anyway, you pass some villages, and there, locals are riding the path as well.
At the town of ‘Soissons’, I crossed the ‘L’Asne’. Pressing on further north, I wanted to follow the cycle path ‘Véloroute de la Somme à La Marne’. This appeared to be a ghost route, only existing on your gps, but not in reality. There was nothing, only bushes and overgrowth along the canal.
After some improvisation, I reached the ‘Canal Lateral à L’Oise’ and later the ‘Canal de Saint Quentin’.
The bike route along the Somme river again appeared to be just fictional in many parts. A local fisher seemed to remember there was something of a path, about 20 years ago, but not a trace is left in many places.
‘Canal de la Deûle’ was my next water way, before reaching the far north of France. The region, being hit hard during world war I has a lot of war cemeteries. Same at the Belgian side of the border. A border I crossed at the village of ‘Ploegsteert’, which I wanted to visit as it was the hometown of one of the bigger talents in road cycling, Frank Vandenbroucke.
I visited more war graves, German, British and Common Wealth ones, before reaching Ieper, with the famous ‘Menepoort’. This monument is one of the few where every single night, to this day, a ceremony (The Last Post) is held for the victims of the war.
More waterways, like the ‘Ieperleekanaal’ and the ‘IJzer’ river brought me right to the North Sea and the end of the European leg of my trip.
France south to North
Distance: 1.529 km
Average km per cycling day: 84,94 km
Altimeter: 13.061 m