At breakfast on day 4 I noticed that husband and I seemed to be the only couple on the trip. Well, at least the only couple that started the ride that way. The other cyclists seemed to be girlfriends united by a cause—like the Help for Heroes ladies who had sons and husbands in Afghanistan—or a group of men united by their local pub, the beer from which played a pivotal role in encouraging them to think cycling 300 miles would be a laugh.
Within the first 10 miles of today’s ride I realized why couples were so scarce. We were powering up a long incline when husband announced for no apparent reason that he was not going on the f***ing motorway that was running perpendicular to us. Seeing as our route had not yet been on any motorways and the organizer’s insurance premiums almost certainly couldn’t withstand such a decision, husband’s proclamation struck me as nothing more than another moan in what had been a laundry list of complaints over the past 3 days. Thus far I had thought myself rather restrained in dealing with this sort of behavior. Husband would complain, I would grunt some sort of acknowledgment and then let it drop. But this time, what with the sore knees and the aching quads and no end to this hill in sight, I let rip. “Shut up. SHUT UP,” I howled as I hunched over my bike with renewed vigor. There was no more speaking between then and the water stop at mile 23.
Despite the tension, the cycling over the first 30 miles of the day was some of the most rewarding of the trip. The roads were busier than the previous day which precluded riding side by side, and thus conversation (which given our early spat, suited just fine). With the exception of two lengthy inclines the terrain was straight and flat. The combined effect was that I was focused and alert and able to settle into a rhythm. No thinking, just doing.
Closer to Paris it was stop and start as we rode in along the Seine through the industrial northwest of the city, inching towards our Finish line at the Eiffel Tower. Our planned victory lap up the Champs Elysees was nixed by the gendarmerie—it’s a good thing I enjoyed my Tour de France moment earlier in the week in Calais—and so we found ourselves sharing the Eiffel Tower with a swarm of rambunctious Perpignan rugby fans who were in town for the French championship. They were amped up, dressed in their team colours of red and yellow and drinking out of bottles or cups or Davy Crockett style flasks that they tried to squirt in our mouths in some sort of drunken show of solidarity. It looked like Paris had been overrun by a convention of Ronald McDonalds gone bad. We had our obligatory picture snapped in front of the Eiffel Tower and headed for the hotel.
The end of the adventure had been surprisingly unsentimental, flat even. I felt no need to lift my bike over my head in a victory gesture or hug or high five anyone as many of the others in the group did. My lack of emotion bothered me, and for the next few days in Paris I thought about why this was so. The prerequisites for tugging at the heartstrings had all been in place on this adventure: tales of tragedy, triumph over adversity, endorphins, and the city of romance for goodness sake! But in the end this experience was a visceral one for me, not a sentimental one. The value had been in the doing, and I had done what I set out to do. Many others could and would and will and do ride their bikes from London to Paris. And for four days at the end of May, I did too.