Day 5: Freneuse to Paris
72.2km, av.16.5km/hr, max 47.4km/hr.
Calories: 858, C02 offset: 10.85kg, time: 4hr 22mins.
And so, the final day of our ride, and the day we will arrive in Paris. After a good night’s sleep it’s an early and slightly frantic start to the day, as there’s still lots to do, say and catch up on. We meet before breakfast to confirm the plan of action for the day ahead, which will include riding en-masse into central Paris, as originally planned.
There’s still some trepidation about this, but it feels like the right decision, and there’s always the chance that the plan will change should it need to. We’re well prepared in terms of what to do if we’re arrested, stopped, hassled or anything else.
It’s an early – and really cold – start. And this time we’re not alone – we have a police escort as we head out of town in three groups of about 40. This isn’t especially bothering, but a little off-putting.
As we thin out into our smaller groups we take the D100 into the Réserve Naturelle Nationale des Côteaux de la Seine, which features incredible chalk cliffs and occasional troglodyte houses. This place would be gorgeous on a warm spring day!
As it is, as we head out into the open countryside and higher ground (after a punishing but thankfully brief uphill section) it gets colder still, and pretty soon we’re cycling in mist. The Bee Team are then stopped by two police motorcylists who want to know what we’re doing and where we’re going. Lucy tells them we’re heading towards Paris to meet friends. And not to protest. Definitely not to protest. They allow us to continue – they can’t really do much else.
It’s another hour or so of chilly cycling before we find a decent place to stop for lunch. We’ve also lost the police by this point – they actually wave us off with a smile as we cycle out of their jurisdiction, but no doubt they’ve informed their Paris colleagues that we’re headed their way.
Our main lunch requirement is warmth, and we stop at the most cosy looking place we can find. I’m afraid I’m not sure which town we’re in though! We have a sit-down meal for a change, in a small local restaurant, and stay for a while longer after the hot food to enjoy a beer, a brandy, and tea/coffee between us.
Warmed up, we carry on and pretty soon we’re hitting the outer edges of the Paris suburbs, crossing the Seine at least three times as we snake our way in to the centre. There’s even a sneak preview of the Paris skyline before we begin our decent into downtown. It’s noticeable that as we get into Paris, the mist clears and the temperature noticeably rises; the urban heat island effect right there.
Up until this point the ride is relatively uneventful, but in a good way: no punctures, no accidents, no getting lost. Just low-carbon progress on two wheels, feeling alive and moving our legs to keep going, to keep warm.
The plan for Paris is to rendezvous at a pre-agreed point at a certain time, 5pm. We are about 45 minutes early so The Bees pull in to a random bit of grass with a bench to indulge in some spontaneous and totally joyful group hugs, finishing All Of The Snacks, and taking cheesy group photos in our dayglos – we only went and did it!
Only after the hugs and photos do we realise the grass is covered in dog shit (we are in Paris, after all) and at least two Bees have trod in it. Oh well. After wiping shoes thoroughly(ish) we decamp to a nearby bar for a celebratory drink before meeting the others.
It’s a really quick drink as we only have about 20 minutes – so quick in fact that after disappearing to the toilet to change into my Superman costume (Clarke Kent style) which I’ve been carrying all day just for this moment, I burst back into the bar expecting to surprise the rest of the group but they’ve all gone to unlock their bikes! It doesn’t have quiet the same effect when Superman is dashing out of the bar carrying his pannier and trying to catch up with the others.
Still, the Superman costume does add a level of silliness to proceedings which is quite apt for what’s about to happen. Our group convenes at Porte Maillot Metro station and then, eventually – all 120 of us – begin our en-masse BikeTrain into central Paris, along Avenue de la Grande Armee and around the Arc de Triomphe, in rush hour.
I get involved with the blocking, and believe me when I say the French drivers are none too happy about it. It seems that when the police close roads they don’t mind, but when a cyclist asks them to wait for a few seconds so we can all pass safely, they start foaming at the mouth. I don’t fear for my life, exactly, but it’s pretty full-on.
Having successfully stopped traffic and navigated one of the busiest, craziest traffic roundabouts in the world, we continue down Av des Champs Elysees, and here our fortunes change.
We’re cycling quite slowly and taking up perhaps two of the four lanes, but gradually as we slow down even more due to the traffic all around us (I’m reminded of the phrase/joke “you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic”) the police presence suddenly increases and before we know it we are being herded off the road, being ordered to dismount, and directed onto the pavement. It quickly becomes clear that we’re basically being kettled, by huge Robocop style coppers in full shit-kicker uniforms. Some have guns.
On the one hand, despite being Superman, I’m nervous – this is what we feared, and we have no idea how long they might hold us here for, or what they might do next. On the other, I’m Superman and we’re on a busy shopping street with pedestrians all around, so if feels very unlikely that they will get violent with us. Still, technically we’ve broken State of Emergency law by ‘protesting’ in a group, so they could feasibly arrest us. While we’re in the kettle, there’s rumour that one person’s bike has been bashed up and someone hit, but it later seems these were false.
Our response to the containment? We take photos (always document everything), some people have a smoke, while others have a dance to I Feel Love and other feel-good tracks as Duncan turns the sound-system up. The police stand by, unmoved by our good vibes as we try to show that we’re not terrorists.
Eventually – and it’s no more than 30 minutes that we’re held there – they agree to let us ride on, only this time with them escorting us, and only if we take up just one lane. Jubilant, we continue, making even more noise than before. People are taking photos, we’re shouting ‘Justice climatique’ and ‘From London to Paris, for climate justice’, and at traffic lights we talk to passers-by to tell them what we’re doing and why.
Eventually we get to Place de la Concorde where we stop to celebrate (the police motorbike escort waiting patiently!) We climb up onto a wall to unfurl the huge banner made by the school-kids in Freneuse – they’d asked us to take a photo of it in Paris, so we do! We are jubilant, hugging, dancing on the wall to Praise You by Fatboy Slim (‘We’ve come a long, long, way together…’) It’s just the best moment EVAH.
Then it’s back on the bikes to cycle on a little further together, before disbanding into smaller groups to get to the hostel, which is on the north east of town (we cycled in from the west).
Generator Hostel is warm, comfortable and has a large bar area. Unfortunately though, the hot water is out of action on the evening we arrive which means I’m deprived of the one thing I really want, a shower. So the evening is spent mostly in the bar, reflecting on the journey we’ve been on together, processing what happened today, and maybe getting just a little bit drunk. And why not? We’ve worked hard, peddled hard and tomorrow we have some respite before the big action on Saturday…