Day 4: Rouen to Freneuse

72.4km, av.16.5km/hr, max 47.4km/hr
Calories: 858, CO2 offset: 10.85kg, time: 4hr 22mins.

After a good night’s sleep in Rouen, we set off en-masse (in a BikeTrain, of course!) under vivid blue skies and bright sunshine. But it’s not long until something goes wrong, and sadly it’s with Morgan’s bike again. This time though, it’s more serious – a dodgy, possibly broken, rear hub. She can’t carry on and has to turn back (with three others) to the cycle shop in town.

A (queen) bee down, we carry on. It does mean we have to stick to the same route as everybody else, in case we manage to meet Morgan at lunch time, so our navigator Tye’s plans for a spectacular back-roads route are shelved. Instead, we happily take the same route as everyone else, which on the plus side means it’s almost impossible to get lost, since there’s always another bunch of bikes (and their flags) on the horizon somewhere!

The riding is chilly but the air is clear and we make good progress, sometimes passing the time by going through every joke (good and bad) we know. We pass one guy in another group who has come off his bike and has a rather bloody face, but people are taking care of him so we pedal on.

We have a close shave of our own when Ti veers off the road and into the grass verge going downhill at over 35km/hr. He says he just looked down at his gears for a moment and suddenly he was in the verge, but somehow he managed to stay in the saddle and regain control.

I had my own lucky escape yesterday when I was distracted by a support vehicle parked in a side street. I waved at it and looked left while cycling, and hit a central reservation kerb which very nearly threw me off, but somehow I stayed on.

We descend into Les Andelys for lunch, and spend a good couple of hours in the town square, basking in the sunshine, eating, playing bat & ball, fooling around. It’s a good spot, although perhaps not as good as the spots down by the Seine some of the other more savvy groups discover!

The afternoon’s ride is lovely – clear weather, mostly flat, and on a mixture of quietish roads, paths along the Seine, and main roads where we make good progress. Also, by this point we’ve managed to lose the interest of the police patrol cars which were keeping tags on us earlier in the day.

Mistletoe growing by the Seine

Mistletoe growing by the Seine

We arrive in Freneuse in relatively good time, maybe around 5pm, and the local schoolchildren have hung around to meet us. We walk into the hall as a group of about 10 or 11 and get a huge cheering reception from the children, teachers and parents. It’s quite spectacular and really heartwarming after a long and – towards  the end – cold day in the saddle.

The children have made posters showing the world they want to see, and when everyone’s made it to the hall which will be our home for the night, they give a little presentation and ask us questions. It’s really lovely that they’ve stayed out so long to wait for us all, and are so interested in what we’re doing.

The next day we’re due to cycle into Paris so we spend the evening talking tactics. With the situation still so volatile in Paris, there’s a lot of discussion, and a degree of unease, about cycling into Paris en-masse tomorrow, and a lengthy but incredibly democratic discussion follows. As the talking moves into the second hour, our dinner sits waiting for us and a few of the more canny groups open their pre-purchased wine (complete with the tantalising sound of bottles being opened!)

But it’s important that everyone gets to have their say and a degree of consensus is eventually found. Personally, I want to ride en-masse into Paris tomorrow, and I don’t think it will be risky; but the people who are less keen, or wary, raise many good points – some of which I hadn’t even thought of.

So it’s a late night – at least midnight before we get into our sleeping bags on roll mats on the wood floor – and there’s definitely apprehension and still some uncertainty about exactly what tomorrow holds…

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