Forget Portland

Mass-participation, organized bike rides aren’t for everyone, but their popularity can’t be ignored. The most famous — infamous? — typically have the prefix Trans- in their title or are commonly known simply by their alphabet-soup acronym. I’ve ridden a few of these some years ago. Rides like R.A.M.R.O.D., Trans-Rockies, and S.T.P. to name a few, the latter of which is a rather boring 204-mile single-day affair leading from Seattle to Portland. I did S.T.P. back in 2007, in preparation for larger challenges, and hadn’t really thought about it much since. That is, until Monday when Kristin and I were walking along the famed Champs Elysees towards the way-bigger-than-anticipated Arc de Triomph.

Forget Seattle-to-Portland, we just rode from Seattle to Paris. Now that’s a bike ride!

It really is a spectacle that should be seen. Kristin and I disagree on whether or not it's worth going to the top.
It really is a spectacle that should be seen. Kristin and I disagree on whether or not it’s worth going to the top.

There are certain moments in this trip that will live in my memory forever: Descending Shermann Pass in an ice storm; catching that first salty whiff of the Atlantic Ocean after crossing North America; and watching our homeland disappear as we sailed out of New York harbor, not knowing when we’d ever be back come immediately to mind. But I must add our first day in Paris to the list.

We crossed into France in the Champagne region, home to many tiny villages like this one.
We crossed into France in the Champagne region, home to many tiny villages like this one.
Sam heard us speaking English and called us over to his fence. He was in the French Air Force and served with some Americans and picked up some English. He was surprised to see us cycling through otherwise empty countryside and implored us to take as many apples as we wanted from his orchard.
Sam heard us speaking English and called us over to his fence. He was in the French Air Force and served with some Americans and picked up some English. He was surprised to see us cycling through otherwise empty countryside and implored us to take as many apples as we wanted from his orchard. He would have filled our panniers if we let him.

We were out the door by 9am for croissants and espresso, the pressé as they call it, and then a meandering stroll south from our Montmarte hotel past the opera house, around the interior courtyard of the Louvre — look at the queue! — and onto a lovely stroll through the gardens leading up to the Champs Elysees. We walked hand-in-hand, unencumbered by our bulging bicycles and gawked at the ornate palaces, museums, and the aforementioned arch known the world over. The beauty of the city’s architecture can be experienced in photos; the scale of these monuments cannot. They must be seen to be believed, and even then the mind struggles with the dimensions. That building wrapping around in a massive, squared-off semi-circle, the one that appears to house several city blocks under its roof, is all just a single art museum. Really? Yes. And it’s but one of dozens of grand palaces, museums, and hotels.

Gardens along the Champs Elysees have plenty of spots to relax.
Gardens along the Champs Elysees have plenty of spots to relax.

The day only got better from there. Sipping espressos on sidewalk-facing chairs, watching the world pass by (most of it staring zombie-like at a smartphone, but sexy as hell), gnawing on baguettes as we marched a zigzag pattern across the city from Sacre Couer to the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower and onward to Cathedral de Notre Dame. We ate, and drank, and ate and drank some more, pausing only for the numerous photos I like to take. We gawked at the fashion in the windows — and on the sidewalks — and gaped at the prices. Thousand-dollar dress shoes and five-figure watches will never make sense to me, but how about something more practical. Croissants better than I ever experienced back home could be had for a single Euro ($1.30 USD) but a grande drip coffee at Starbucks (they are everywhere in Paris), for comparison’s sake, runs $3.60 USD, about double the price back home. And the chalkboards boasting the plat du jour kept us moving right along, nothing to see there. We learned quickly to lunch the way the Parisiennes do, on the go with one of the abundant baguette-based sandwiches sold seemingly every 100 meters–a five dollar foot long better than anything from Subway.

Since it’s a scientific fact that all prolonged discussion about bicycle touring ultimately devolves to bathroom stories, here’s one from the front lines. My stomach was acting up in a major way and with no public toilets to be found on a relatively quiet, residential block, we ran into the lone brasserie we saw, only to find the WC (restroom) under lock and key: Clients Seulement S’il Vous Plaît. 

We watched a group of Parisiennes play this game called Molkke while we ate (restaurant in background) and then they taught us how to play. I won 2 of 3 games.
We watched a group of Parisiennes play this game called Molkke while we ate (restaurant in background) and then they taught us how to play. I won 2 of 3 games.

I did what any quick thinking hop-head would do in this situation. I hurried to the bar, scanned the taps, and ordered two large glasses of the Belgian tripel from La Chouffe. I had been meaning to try La Chouffe while in Belgium, but hadn’t seen it on tap until now. I then got the code for the bathroom and took care of my business without a moment to spare.

Relieved, I rejoined Kristin back at the bar, hoisted my 50cl (roughly pint-sized) goblet, and began to down an absolutely fantastic brew. The bartender, as skilled in English as I am in French pointed to the register. €7.60.  Not bad, I think to myself and toss down a ten-Euro note. He shakes his head, points twice, taps a button on the till, and the numbers double.

Gulp. I try to swallow my shock with some forced laughter and begrudgingly double the withdrawal from my wallet.

Studies have shown that people expressed greater enjoyment from wines they were led to believe were more expensive, even when the glasses were replaced with cheap table wines. I may have had the opposite reaction. The beer I was so enjoying moments earlier was starting to leave a sour taste in my mouth, even if only metaphorically. Buyer’s remorse had set in.

We were between elevators when the hourly strobe lights started going off.
We were between elevators when the hourly strobe lights started going off.

I carried my chagrin heavily onto the sidewalk as we left. I only had recently begun to appreciate the concept of paying fifty cents to use a public toilet, but my sudden stomach distress just cost us twenty bucks! Kristin suggested I was thinking through the situation wrong and that I should be glad that I didn’t have an even bigger embarrassment on my hands. “You’re right! I wouldn’t ever pay twenty bucks to use a toilet, but, if I hadn’t found one, and ended up crapping my pants, you better believe I’d pay twenty dollars to rewind time and undo the damage!”

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The Hall of Mirrors at the absurdly opulent Palace of Versailles.
The Hall of Mirrors at the absurdly opulent Palace of Versailles.

We roll out of Paris tomorrow morning, headed north to the D-Day Beaches along the Normandy coast and then south along the Atlantic to Bordeaux and the Spanish border where, in the Pyrenees, nature’s call will hopefully ring like a bear’s: while I’m in the woods.

Special Thanks: Huge thanks to Duane and Bryce for their contributions to our beer-fund. As you can see from the post above every dollar counts, especially under duress. We also want to extend our thanks to our WarmShowers hosts in Troyes, Laetitia and Arnaud, for welcoming us into their home and providing such a great first-impression of a French household. Also I personally want to thank our friends and family who reached out to wish me (Doug) a happy birthday this week. Our first holiday on the road couldn’t have come at a better time and your gifts all helped us enjoy it that much more.

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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

7 Comments
  1. Doug, I just wanted to say how beautiful the photos are, they are either quint or outrageously beautiful. I love seeing where you been and what you have done. I’m so glad you had a birthday you will never forget. Be careful as you leave Paris and move on to the next stop on your adventure. I love you both. Mom

  2. Thanks again for taking the time to post this and all the beautiful photos, on your Birthday no less! Happy Birthday Doug! It was great to talk to you on the phone as well, despite the twice dropped calls. As you visit the well-kept cemeteries where our brave soldiers who fought in WWII were laid to rest, please utter a “Thank You” for all of us over here who understand and appreciate their supreme sacrifice! I look forward to your next Post.

  3. A new statistic for your blog…..the cost of ‘essential facilities’ around the world? I remember in Assisi, Italy having to pay 2000 lire (before Euros!) at the door and being presented with one square of toilet paper!!!! Happy Belated Birthday, Doug!

    1. Carolyn, That is hilarious, both the suggestion and the story. Fortunately we always have a small, sealed bag of TP in each of our handlebar bags for just such an emergency. Perhaps we ought to start bringing them with us on foot when sightseeing!

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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