On August 14th at 7pm I finally gathered the needed courage to embark on the crazy journey that is supposed to take me all the way to China. Even though I’m an experienced tourer, when the time came to finally take off I felt very intimidated. When I woke up that day, it took me about an hour to get out of bed. Because I knew the day had come. I was ready and had no excuse to delay some more.
I still took my sweet time for final preparation and as hours went by, I felt more and more frightened. I’ve accomplished a lot as a cyclist but, for some reason, riding from Paris to China seemed impossible. That’s just too damn far, there’s just too many countries to cross, too many things that can go wrong. But I had to do it. So I got on my bike and started pedaling in the streets of the suburb where I grew. From there, the furthest I’ve ever ridden is Firenze. It’s quite far, but it’s definitely not China.
So there I was, passing by my old high school trying to realize I was on a ride that would take me across two continents. I felt uneasy and nervous. I crossed Paris from North to South, got to a suburb called Créteil and thought it was absurd that such an extraordinary trip would start in such a mundane way.
I was out in the countryside when night fell, surrounded by fields. I had no idea how far I would go. Riding all night seemed like the right thing to do. I had very little food in my stomach and even less in my jersey pockets. And I knew it could be a problem. Around 2:30 am, I entered Troyes which I knew was my only chance to resupply. I was 170km away from home already and I was starving. Against all odds, I found a small convenience store that was still open. I was more than relieved.
After eating a bit, I hit the road, aiming for Besançon, some 250km away. Now it is worth noting that since finishing Trans Am 7 weeks prior, I hadn’t been on a proper bike ride. So after 170km my body was starting to show signs of weakness. My ass was killing me and my feet and knees hurt too. I knew that reaching Besançon without stopping was unrealistic. I ride for another 50km and decided to take a break to rest a bit.
I was back on the bike at 8am, a bit fresher but still aching. That whole day turned out to be shitty. I was exhausted and kept stopping to nap, once on a chair, one on a bench, a couple times on the floor. The scenery was dull, power had left my legs, a light rain kept the road wet and the sky gray. All the villages were deserted and the shops were closed. I didn’t find a bakery open till 5pm and they were out of everything except croissants. Somewhere around 7pm I ate a disappointing kebab in a small town. All in all, it took me 13 hours to cover the 200km to Besançon where I crashed into a cheap motel.
The next day was better. The sun was shining and just a few kilometers in I was rewarded nice short steep climb to a small village. The 12% grade lasted for 2km, just enough for me to notice that some of the power was back in my legs. Then I was on my way to Switzerland. I reached the border mid-day. I think I’ll never get tired of that very special feeling you get when you cross a border on your bike. I’ve done it countless times but it’s still something I really enjoy.
The road to Neuchâtel was great : narrow, winding, following a river through a forest and banned to cars. Neuchâtel to Bern was not as nice but still ok. Then I met up with my friend Rolf Moser who, like me, is a veteran of Tour Divide, Route 66 and Trans Am bike race. He escorted me to his house some 20km away where a nice dinner was waiting.