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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.