From London to Paris, for climate justice. Pt 5.

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.

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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.

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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…

From London to Paris, for climate justice. Pt 4.

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…

From London to Paris, for climate justice. Pt 3.

Day 3: Tuesday. Dieppe to Rouen

64.8km, av. 14.1km/hr, max 39.4km/hr.
Calories: 659, CO2 offset: 9.71kg, time: 4hr 34mins.

So, this is the day it rains, and then rains some more. And then, just for luck, a little bit more. It starts just before we set off which at least means this time we’re all prepared for it: waterproof trousers, ponchos and a few plastic bags around shoes.

It’s kind of a shame, as the route itself is pretty lush. It follows the D3 pretty much all the way, which winds its way alongside La Scie river for a good part, through farmland and sleepy French towns and villages.

The ride isn’t hugely challenging either for navigation or hills, although at the one point where we do take a wrong turn (after lunch) we are rewarded with the sight of a small flock of flamingos in the back garden of a chateaux, presumably owned by a brilliantly eccentric aristocrat.

Towards the end, there’s a nice descent followed by a steep rise through quiet woods and at this point the rain finally begins to ease off. We celebrate / reward ourselves by eating Most Of The Snacks.

By the time we hit the long downhill into Rouen we’re rewarded with a spectacular mixture of sunshine and rain. The hostel which is our accommodation for the night is a great place with comfortable and super-well designed beds (loads of cubby holes!), hot showers and bats flying past outside. Dinner is expertly made by Steve and Skippy and somehow they manage to satisfy the hunger of more than 120 hungry cyclists. There are photos hung on the wall of a nearby active and ongoing protest against a new runway. We’re among friends here.

There’s a crazy, moving moment when the last bunch of riders arrive at the hostel, it must be past 7pm. Everyone rushes out to meet them and suddenly there are whistles, applause, cheering and spontaneous chanting of ‘Justice, climatique’. This is the scene:

If I hadn’t already, I’m starting to realise that there’s something really special about this group of people.

In the evening we break into different groups for navigation, ‘spokes’ people and craft meetings, and we also have a chat about the Climate Games and how we might get involved.

There’s also beer and cider from the local off-license. I have activist guilt for accepting a plastic bag to carry it home in – the shop is all of 5 minutes walk away. I tell myself another plastic bag will be useful to keep things dry…

It’s a not particularly early night but I think everyone sleeps really soundly, again. Clearly the secret to sleeping well is to cycle loads!

From London to Paris, for climate justice. Pt 2.

Day two: Monday. Brighton to Newhaven, then ferry to Dieppe.

23km, av. 11.8km/hr, max 31.8km/hr.
Calories: 201, CO2 offset: 3.47kg, time: 1hr 57mins.

A much easier day but it’s a heck of an early start!

We wake up some time around 5.30 am for breakfast, bid farewell to our overnight accommodation, and then convene in central Brighton with the other groups some time around 7am (it’s still dark at this time… who knew?) before setting off in one almighty ‘Bike-Train’ much to the bemusement of bleary-eyed Monday morning commuters, or ‘norms’ as they suddenly now seem.

We cycle en-masse along the Brighton sea-front, passing the ferris wheel and the arcades, and generally stopping the traffic. Then, as dawn turns into day, we’re on the sea-wall path heading towards Newhaven, but the tide is right in, which means crashing waves against the sea-wall and spectacular walls of water which somehow don’t soak us.

It really is an incredible way to start the day, and a fantastic little ride, but there are casualties along the way. The powerful waves have thrown into our path hundreds of stones and pebbles, among them razor-sharp flint which make easy work of unlucky tyres – at least three people are hit by punctures in a stretch of path no more than a couple of miles long.

The path then leaves the seafront and rises up to join the main road, and from here it’s a full-on BikeTrain all the way to Newhaven, much to the annoyance of the traffic. Some of the people deployed to block side-street traffic, AKA blockers, are having to deal with some pretty unpleasant drivers yelling and screaming that what we’re doing is illegal, etc, etc (as they sit in their metal boxes, waiting to join the traffic jam into Brighton).

It’s funny how my perceptions have literally been changed overnight. Yesterday I was encouraging the group to pull over to let the cars pass, today I’m more like “sod it, they own the road 364 days a year and they can’t deal with it for the one day of the year that we own the road.” As much as this is a ride about being low-carbon, it’s also (in my mind at least) a ride about reminding motor vehicles that other modes of transport exist,reclaiming the roads, and making them safer for cycling. If we slow the traffic down for the morning then maybe that’s a good thing.

So, at Newhaven we de-flag our bikes just in case the customs people don’t approve, and then – after a long wait – walk our bikes onto the ferry. It’s a four hour trip, but feels pretty leisurely and comfortable. It’s been a long time since I took a cross-channel ferry, and I’d forgotten how fun it is, especially the blast of fresh air you get when you venture out onto deck. We use the time to catch up on sleep, have lunch, talk together in our groups, and generally mess around until it’s time to depart.

At Dieppe, the local mayor has come down (on his bike, of course) to welcome us and, once we’re all on dry land and been reunited with our bikes (we reclaim bikes from the ferry at random, to save time), we’re led on a cycle around this seemingly sleepy little seaside town, as the sun sets. It’s a beautiful French dusk to match the spectacular English dawn we experienced a few hours earlier.

Next, to the hostel where, after a bit of a scramble for beds, Bee Team manage to get all the worker bees and our queen into two neighbouring bedrooms or, as we prefer to call them, our hive.

The evening is given over to food, wine, cheese (when in France…), map-reading, phone recharging, and preparation for our first full day riding in France tomorrow.

Packing at Bangkok airport

Kit list: hits and misses

So, we’re back in the UK (sad face), unpacking and reflecting on the kit we took; what worked, what didn’t, and what we might have done differently…

Hits:

  1. Ortleib panniers: We ordered two pairs of roll-back Ortleib classic panniers from Sustrans, and were generally very happy with their performance. Although they didn’t get tested in wet weather (amazingly, we had no wet days on the road) they proved to be durable and reliable. One pannier did lose a rivet on a very bumpy stretch of ‘under construction’ road in Vietnam, but we used a bungee chord to protect it from any further damage and it didn’t prove to be problematic. On return to London, I found a replacement rivet had already been posted out to me, so now it’s as good as new.
  2. Crossbar and Handlebar bags: I used a small Topeak crossbar bag to store the bare essentials – phone, wallet, multitool. Rachel used a Vaude handlebar bag, to store things like biscuits, face-masks, hand-wash, loo roll, etc. Both were really useful in their different ways, and essential when you’re riding in clothes that don’t have pockets. My crossbar bag had a simple velcro fastener which made it really easy to grab phone and wallet when they were needed quickly.
  3. Mobile phone: How did people cycle tour before the smartphone?! I ordered a new Fairphone just before leaving and it proved invaluable; the GPS, when used with Rach’s handlebar-mounted compass and the maps.me app, told us exactly where we were; the camera captured lots and the 2 GB storage card didn’t even fill up; we downloaded city maps from TripAdvisor and used the app to book hotels in the bigger cities; we stayed in touch using email, Facebook and Instagram, and we listened to music on the road (via the internal speaker) when we needed a bit of extra motivation. We only bought one local SIM card (in Vietnam) and barely used it; wifi was available widely, apart from the odd overnight stop in Laos. There was one hairy moment when I dropped it and it fell through a roadside drain, but thankfully it was dry season so the drain was empty and we managed to retrieve it.
  4. Tablet: Not as essential as a mobile phone, but having the tablet (a Google Nexus) was useful too, especially for blogging. The standalone keyboard accessory (which also acts as a case) made it easy to do longer bits of typing and is recommended. We got a 3G compatible model but in the end only ever used it on a wifi connection.
  5. Cat’s Eye: It was so useful to know exactly how far we’d cycled, how long we’d been cycling for, and what our average speed was. The wireless Cat’s Eye we bought from Evans in December was a basic model, but it gave enough info and worked reliably for the whole trip. It would have been nice to know things like altitude and temperature, but these are less essential than keeping an eye on your speed as you bomb down a hill! It was also motivational on longer days, when we’d ting our bells to mark each 10km as it passed.
  6. Hats, sunglasses, face masks: All essential in the hot weather and often dusty or polluted roads.
  7. Camelbak All Clear UV water purifier: This was so useful, saved a fair bit of plastic going into landfill, and may even have saved us some money. By zapping all the microbes in the water and stopping them from reproducing, it renders tap water safe to drink, and we used it in all the countries we visited… and lived to tell the tale! Cycling is a thirsty business, so we saved having to buy countless bottles of water using this device. The only place we didn’t use it was in Tat Lo, where the the tap water was a muddy brown colour; even we felt drinking this was a step too far!
  8. Grapeseed Extract: To give us a degree of piece of mind, we also took one Grapeseed Extract capsule every day. It’s supposed to provide extra protection for your gut and help prevent upset stomachs or sickness. Hard to say conclusively if it worked or not, but we didn’t get sick at all and only had a bit of mild upset tummy, despite eating and drinking an awful lot of ‘street’ food and drink (and ice!)
  9. Sleeping bag liners: Ok, we didn’t use them very often, but they came in useful on a couple of occasions – once in the forest in Laos when it was very, very cold and they added an extra layer to help keep warm, and once or twice when we were sleeping in beds which were, shall we say, a little grubby and they provided a welcome extra layer of protection.
  10. Washing line and washing powder: Very light to carry; very useful to be able to wash and dry clothes in your room and not have to pay to do laundry all the time.
  11. 3 in 1 coffee sachets: Time to ‘fess up: we got slightly addicted to these, especially in Laos, where a hot drink in the morning was the perfect way to start the day. These weird, sugary, milky mixtures are ultra easy to prepare and taste surprisingly good.
  12. Brake pads and tyres: Somehow, we escaped a single puncture in the three months; this may have been the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres or just good luck. So we didn’t have to use any of our three spare inner tubes. We also didn’t have to change brake pads or cables, which is pretty surprising considering the amount of downhill we did in Laos and Vietnam.
  13. CTC Cycle Bags: We used the transparent polythene bags from CTC to travel with our bikes on the plane. The idea is that, because the baggage handlers can see that it’s a bike, they should hopefully take more care with it – as compared with a cardboard box, which might just get thrown around without much care. We used the bags on three separate flights and the bikes came through largely unscathed – a few scuffs and scratches but nothing too bad. Only downside was the cost (on Air China): £45 per bike, per flight.

Misses:

  1. Local suncream: After the suncream we brought from home ran out, the stuff we bought, first in Vietnam and then in Cambodia, pretty much failed to work. It’s true that perhaps we were sweating it off much more quickly as the temperature hotted up but, even so, we got burnt on a couple of days despite slapping on gallons of the stuff.
  2. Bicycle pump: We rather foolishly just took a bottom of the range Topeak hand pump, and it wasn’t up to the job. It lacked a pressure gauge as well as Presta valve compatibility (or it broke, not sure which), which left us a bit deflated at times, to put it mildly.
  3. Locks: We basically took too many. Two heavy D-Locks plus a length of cable. There was only one time we used all three together (on the night train to Chiang Mai, when we were advised to lock our bikes securely to prevent theft from the open carriage they were being stored in), and we could have probably got away with just one D-Lock and saved a lot of weight.
  4. Mosquito nets and spray: We started the trip with a mosquito net and a large bottle of treatment spray each. Not sure why, but we held onto them almost until the end, when it finally dawned on us that rooms either had nets or they didn’t; there was almost no occasion when it was possible to hang our own nets and consequently they didn’t get used at all. In the end we ditched both bottles of treatment spray and one of the nets, and still can’t quite believe we cycled the mountains of Laos carrying so much unnecessary weight!

Things we lost along the way:

  • 1 pair of shoes: at the hotel in Bangkok right at the start of the trip. Perhaps for the best as they were quite bulky.
  • 1 cash card, at a cash machine in Laos – cash machines here give you money first, then card, so it’s easy to take the money and then forget to wait for your card to be returned!
  • 1 cardigan – not sure where.
  • 1 travel pillow – not sure where, but quite early on.
  • 1 cheap orange digital watch – not lost as such; it fell off Rach’s handlebar and then I accidentally ran over it while cycling down a hill on Cat Ba Island.
  • 2 pairs of cycling gloves – both in Laos, both lost by me. So easy to take off during a break, leave somewhere stupid (like on top of a pannier), and then cycle off and not hear them fall to the ground. Doh!
  • 2 pairs of pannier straps – lost by Rach, not sure where… if she knew, they wouldn’t be lost.

Things we didn’t lose:

  • Amazingly, we didn’t lose any sunglasses, swimwear or hats (despite Rach’s best efforts to ‘misplace’ my green cap), and no wallets, phones or cameras were stolen.

Things we discarded:

  • 1 coat – Rach’s dirty old rain coat was too heavy to keep on carrying around once we hit the warmth of Hoi An in Vietnam.
  • 1 heavy jumper – ditto for me.
  • 2 bottles of mosquito net treatment spray and 1 mosquito net – see above.
  • 1 pair of jeans (converted to jean shorts in Hoi An).

Things we had to buy in Beijing because it was so cold:

  • 1 pair of jeans for me – shorts just didn’t cut it here.
  • 1 jumper each – it was really cold!
3 gold smiling Buddha statues

Bangkok: slight return

Three months ago, when we first arrived in Bangkok, the thought of cycling on the busy, fast multi-lane roads scared us, and we stayed off the bikes completely. We even pushed them from our hotel to the railway station!

A lot has happened since then. We’ve ridden the empty, mountainous roads of Laos, we’ve rode alongside thousands of scooters in Hanoi, we’ve experienced Vietnam’s notorious Highway 1, we’ve cruised around Phnom Penh on two wheels, and along Cambodia’s anarchic Highway 5.

So now the thought of cycling 8km to our Air BnB place in downtown Bangkok doesn’t frighten us quite so much. The ride is fine, it’s just the many one-way systems that are the problem, throwing us off the scent several times, but we make it to our destination eventually!

The following day, our last in SE Asia, we spend one final day on the bikes before our late evening flight. There are a few hairy moments, not least when we get lost in a bit of a dead end street and a huge but fortunately muzzled dog makes a beeline for my ankles but, by and large, cycling around Bangkok is actually not that bad. There are even a few cycle lanes, and they drive on the left, which takes a little getting used to after three months on the right.

We head to Wat Pho, lock up outside and spend a good couple of hours in this slightly surreal temple complex, home to the huge Reclining Buddha. When we enter the building that houses it – and the building was surely built around it – we’re gob-smacked at the sight of the huge golden face smiling down at us from somewhere near the roof beams.

From here, we head on to a local park via an indoor market, which we cycle through (the locals weave their through on motorbikes, so we feel absolutely fine trundling through on two wheels), to have some chill out time before Thip Samai opens at 5pm. Thip Samai does legendary Pad Thai for about £1 a dish, and we want this to be our last meal proper in SE Asia. Even at 5pm, there’s already a queue – that’s how popular it is.

We wolf down three plates of food (yes, it’s so good one each isn’t enough!) before our final, speedy ride back to our Silom apartment, where the only thing left to do is the sad task of packing down and wrapping up the bikes ahead of the flight back to the UK, via a 72 hour stopover in Beijing.

It’s been an absolute treat and a privilege to be able to cycle around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia for the last three months, and is an experience we’ll look back on fondly and never forget.

man stands between two people in puppet costumes

29/3/15: Sisophon to Siem Reap

103.5 km, average 18.4km/hr, max 34.2km/hr, time on bikes: 5hr 36 mins
Tour total: 2,391 km

After three months on the road, it’s our last proper day of cycle touring! So sad, but so true. Best get on with it then, egh?

It’s also promises to be a long day – it’s at least 100km to Siem Reap – and it’s hotter here than anything we’ve so far experienced.

We’re up earlyish and, after a (final?) noodle soup breakfast (definitely not as good here as in Laos or Vietnam, sorry Cambodia!), we’re on the road just after 8am. The road surface is great and traffic is pretty light – mostly minivans ferrying tourists across the border from Thailand to Siem Reap, making amusing farty noises as they speed past us over the rumble strips.

We cruise the first 30km at well over 20km/hr, and don’t stop at all until 35km. Cloudy skies produce a few rain drops but nothing more (how have we managed to get away with three months cycling and not being rained on once?!) and the sun doesn’t really get to work until about 10.30am, at which point The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun is played, obviously. It’s mostly pancake flat but there are a couple of small hills along the way, giving us a bit of downhill fun and a short break from the general flatness of it all.

The Band Game help us through the next 10km and pretty soon we’ve hit the 50km mark. I lose after STUPIDLY playing ‘”Echobelly” twice, and this is after I let Rach have “Your Mum” which, if it isn’t a band name it really should be, she argues, forcibly.

Then it’s time for the first of three sugar cane juice stops. While we’re deliriously crunching the ice in our teeth, the ice man pulls up for a delivery. He slides these huge blocks out of the lorry and deposits them in a shaded spot, and then covers each slab in sawdust. Er, hygienic! Ah well, we’ve been (mostly) OK so far, presumably they hose them down again before use, or something.

We have a mediocre, inadequate lunch of squashed baguettes, laughing cow and crisps, in some shade by the roadside at about 58km, and then, with nothing better to do, proceed into the heat of the day. The next 20km are pretty punishing; it’s too hot, our suncream is useless, and, unexpectedly at about 72km, roadworks appear out nowhere and the next 3-4km are on dirt, battling a lot of dust. Luckily, it’s only temporary, and the perfect road surface returns almost immediately. Baffling Cambodge!

From there on in, we’re counting down the km’s until we finally arrive, tired, red and salty-skinned, into Siem Reap at about 4pm. The place looks like fun, but our first priority is to find our pre-booked accommodation, Angkor Wonder (every place has Angkor in the name!) and shower. Here, $8 buys a comfy bed, cold water shower and OK wifi.

We celebrate the official end of tour with a TWO course meal (yeah, look impressed!) at a lovely veggie place called The Peace Cafe, and then round off the evening with a couple of drinks at Beatnik cafe, which plays James followed by Rammstein. Totally beatnik, maaan. Rachel is even permitted a glass of wine for the occassion.

So, it feels kinda weird to have reached the end of our first cycle tour. We did it! 2,391km (including day trips), with no accidents, incidents or even punctures. Seems pretty incredible that two complete novices managed it with so few problems. Maybe there’s a lesson in here somewhere… if we can do it then, seriously, anyone can do it too!

I guess the question now is, what next? Back to life, back to reality? What if this is only the beginning, and not the end? Imagine being one of those guys who’s been on the road for, like, three years! So many questions, so few answers…

It’s not quite the end though; the majesty and mystery of Angkor Wat still awaits, before we bus back to Bangkok and then fly home, calling in on Beijing for a couple of days along the way.

It’s not quite the end for the blog either; we’ll add some more posts about what we learnt along the way, what was useful and what wasn’t, vital statistics, packing advice and perhaps a summary of the trip as a whole. And hopefully there’ll be more bicyclating adventures to be had in the not to distant future…  🙂

Thanks for reading, and shout if you have any questions or want any advice on cycling in this part of the world!