Friday, May 15, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 3 (Legs like Lead)

Day 3 - Dieppe to St. Germer-de-Fly (May 4th, 2015)
62 miles +/-, 2430' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

After what seemed like only a few minutes of sleep, but in reality was maybe 2 hours (yes a whole 2 hours), the Ferry was docking in Dieppe. The time was 5am European time (4am British time), and it was still very much nighttime. Disembarking from the Ferry seemed like it was a free for all, which is slightly scary when big trucks are offloading next to you. Luckily by the time we had loaded panniers, handlebar bags, and attached lights, most of the vehicles had already unloaded. You have to quickly adjust to the darkness upon exiting, and make your way to passport control, which involved a quick glance at the photo page. We were now officially on French soil!.

Whilst on the ferry we came to the conclusion using the GPS in the dark was not going to help much, so our game plan was to follow the large organised group of MS cyclists out of the port to the start of the Avenue Verte rail trail. They had cleared passport control before us, but were then hanging around waiting for their support vehicles. We were of course very anxious to get going,  so off we went, (Mike the Solo UK to Croatia rider, myself, Pete and John aka the Kebab Kid). There appeared to be only one logical road to take out of the port, and of course it had to be straight up a hill. Up the hill we slogged, legs feeling like Lead. Upon reaching the top it was clear we were heading in the wrong direction, so we had little option but to go against our male nature and pull out a paper map. Luckily very early morning in Dieppe means little to no traffic, so taking a dual carriageway back into Dieppe was not too bad. After a few roundabouts, some more map reading, we eventually found the start of the Avenue Verte trail. 


Welcome to the Avenue Verte

The MS riders passed us shortly after we stopped to read the official map, they were aiming for 80 miles that day, but were not carrying panniers, and were riding regular road bikes. We managed to follow them for a little while though, but found ourselves getting intermingled with them and decided it would be better to just ride again as a threesome (foursome briefly with Mike). 

Daybreak slowly arrived once we were well clear of Dieppe, and we were now rolling gently along the excellent paved Avenue Verte rail trail; a lush river valley to our right, and rolling farm country to our left. It was still slightly cool and refreshing out, peaceful, and it was just us and bird song.

The excellent paved section of the Avenue Verte rail trail

One of the many old restored stations along the trail

The impressive Mesnieres Chateau

The last time we had eaten was in Newhaven, so come daybreak we were starting to feel pretty hungry, and also tired. Looking at the guidebook, the first town we would come to was Neufchatel-en-Bray, 25 miles into our Day 3 journey, we figured this was our best shot at finding food. Luckily we were making good progress along the "flat" paved trail, which surprised us since up until now our average pace had been around 10mph. As we got closer to Neufchatel, the Kebab Kid started to fidget more on his saddle, we soon discovered his "Gel seat cover" was no longer attached, he suspected someone had pinched it when the bikes had been parked on the ferry. 

The E. Leclerc superstore was a welcome sight as we approached the town, but our sights were first set on finding a Cafe and Patisserie. We jumped off of the rail trail, and followed our noses to the town centre; there was Mike, outside the Cafe smoking a roll up, sipping on a coffee. Our first stop was the Patisserie; Pain au Chocalat and pastries in hand, we then crossed the road to the cafe. We ordered the largest coffee cups they had, which are still only a USA espresso size, but that is enough if you have ever experienced the strength of French coffee - you can stand a spoon up it in!. Just what the doctor ordered though!. It was a busy little cafe, perhaps the only one in town, there even were a couple of locals drinking Stella Artois (it was 7.30am) - it's Five O'clock somewhere though right :).

Neufchatel-en-Bray town centre

Mike was splitting from the Avenue Verte route at this point, he was heading towards the East side of Paris as he made his way towards Germany; so we wished each other the best of luck and said our goodbyes. John aka the Kebab Kid really wanted to hunt down some kind of cover for his saddle, he was not sure his butt could take another 40 miles without something. We set off back towards E. Leclerc, which happened to be right next to the trail. Amazingly the superstore was open (a rarity in rural France at 7.30am in the morning, in fact a rarity even at Noon often), but even more surprising was that they sold Gel Seat covers. The Kebab Kid was a happy boy, not only did he have a new seat cover, but also several bottles of French red wine, cured meat, and gooey cheese - all the essentials basically for a bicycle tour through the French countryside.

Our average pace so far on Day 3 had been higher than previous days, perhaps more like 12mph, so we were slightly worried that we would arrive at our B&B way too early. Our journey along the wonderful paved trail ended at around mileage 36 (from Dieppe), at the town of Forges-les-Eaux. Little did we know though, that after the paved rail trail ends, the route would take us through the rolling hills of Pays de Bray. 

Wisteria in Forges-les-Eaux

The next town of any size would come at around mileage 54 for the day, the town of Gournay-en-Bray would be our stopping point for a late lunch. 18 miles of moderately hilly minor rural roads took its toll though, our average pace dropped again, and it would take us 2.5 hours to get from Forges-les-Eaux to Gournay, or 4 hours since our breakfast stop at Neufchatel. The scenery was very pleasant though, rolling farm land and the occasional small village. The town of Gournay-en-Bray took quite a beating during WW2, and much of it has been re-built; the centre of town was attractive though, and we found a nice Bistro still serving up food.

Our destination for the night was Les Chambres De L'Abbaye in Saint-Germer-de-Fly, it is only a further 9 miles from Gournay, but with a couple of hills thrown in for good measure. St-Germer-de-Fly is a small village built up around a Benedictine Abbey, the Abbey was founded in the 7th Century, but destroyed and re-built in the 12th century.

12th Century Benedictine Abbey

Les Chambres De L'Abbaye

Our B&B for the night was an amazing experience, the hosts made us feel exceptionally welcome, and it felt more like we were VIP guests staying in their home. Monsieur was an exceptional Artist, and his work hung all over the house; and Madame was an exceptional cook. We had opted to pay extra and have dinner prepared for us at the B&B, we were certainly not expecting a 5 course meal though that included Aperitifs and bottomless red wine. The dining room walls was adorned with Monsieur's artwork, which primarily were nudes, not something you would see in England or the USA in a B&B - ooh la la!.

We slept VERY well having only had 2 hours sleep in the past 24 hours, cycled 62 miles, and had oodles of fine French cuisine and wine. Bonsoir!.

Link to DAY 4

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