A Quest for Cobbles (Part 1)
It’s tough to believe that Lukas, Nikolas, Brian, Jules, Emile and I rode in France and Belgium, through cobbled roads, dirt paths, mountain passes, city streets, highways, and forests every day for the entire month of June (maybe there was a rest day here and there). Even tougher to believe that I flew myself and my bike over there in not even 48 hours after my college graduation. If there was one moment that best summarized the trip, it’s when I arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport at the end of the month and saw my mom and grandma for the first time since I left, and their initial reaction was to ask if I wanted to eat. I lost about 10 pounds.
The plan when we all booked tickets to Paris was to stay at Jules’s in France, and an Airbnb in Belgium, and figure out the details of where to bike when we’re all there. For some of us, it was our first time in Europe or the first time riding as much as we did. This is the story of six goons riding around France and Belgium in June of 2014.
I arrived at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport on Tuesday morning, June 3rd, with zero understanding of the French language. I was greeted by French soldiers and their assault rifles walking around the terminal. With my bag on my back, duffle on my shoulder, I dragged my bike box to the closest McDonalds to meet up with Brian (he arrived a little bit before me and it was his first time in France) and Jules. I walked right between the two of them as they were waving at me and I didn’t notice! Because you know, all white people look the same. But they yelled my name and they caught my attention. It’s like they were offended I didn’t notice them!
Jules guided Brian and me through the train and subway systems to get to his home in the center of Paris. It was about an hour of traveling from the airport, and when you are lugging around a giant box on the Metro and Parisian streets, people will ask what’s in the box. And being asked in French and only being able to respond in English, let’s just say it gets them frustrated (#murica). I can’t tell you how many times for moments like this when we all looked at Jules to do the talking for us (sorry, bro).
Jules, Brian, and I crammed into a tiny elevator up to Ms. Goguely’s apartment. We met Emile, Jules’s older brother, and their lovely mom who couldn’t be any more hospitable to us. Her apartment had beautifully exposed wooden beams, wooden floors, spiral staircase to a bedroom, a small office, and a balcony to a view of the street. There was plenty of charm to the space. It was in the process of being renovated (mainly to add extra support to the walls and ceiling, the apartment building is very old) so the six of us would have to sleep in two small rooms. It would very well be a boy’s slumber party.
While the Bentel’s were somewhere over the Atlantic, Jules and Emile showed Brian and I around the neighborhood...by that I mean walk across Paris and back. We walked for 2 to 3 hours, at least. But hey, it was pleasant. During our little sight seeing adventure we talked about what we should do for our ride to Belgium the next day. The concern was that we didn’t want to kill our bodies after getting off the plane, but we didn’t want to miss out on an epic trip. We had a few questions being thrown around: What are we going to eat? Do we have a route? It’s 150 miles? What are we going to pack? Are our bikes ready? What time do we leave? Have any of us slept? Have any of us ridden more than 100 miles this season? Should we take a train instead? Is our Airbnb housing in Belgium settled?
Wait, Nikolas is missing a wheel.
In Bentel fashion, Lukas and Nikolas arrived much later in the day, handsomely disheveled as always. Another issue came about: Nikolas was missing a wheel. (To simplify a very complicated story, Jules borrowed my extra wheel from Nikolas’s bike that I let him borrow in Rhode Island.) Almost immediately after this heart dropping moment, Emile found a cheap wheel on the French version of Craigslist. Nikolas and Jules left to pick it up before it got too late. The rest of us finally compromised on the final route; we decided to take the train a third of the way to Belgium. This would make our ride a solid 100 miles. Completely doable when considering we were each carrying 20 pounds on our backs. Making the route on Strava, what was exciting is that we would be riding through famous Paris-Roubaix segments.
Lukas and I kicking it while the others cook.
When Nikolas and Jules got back, the sun was finally starting to set at 10pm. This was about two more hours of sunlight more that what we experience in New England in the summer. Wanting to go to sleep when the sun is up made me feel like I was wasting my day. Funny enough, we were just leaving to have dinner with Ms. Goguely. While the Goguely’s spoke in French at the dinner table, we stuffed our faces with stews, meats, breads, and cheeses. A grand meal that after almost eating nothing all day.
We couldn’t explain how hungry we were.
We walked back to where we would be sleeping and started packing up our bags for what we would be carrying for 100 miles. Very strategic this process was — having to pack even lighter than what I packed on the plane. What is my favorite pair of underwear? Do I pack my tooth brush but not the tooth paste? How important is it to bring my laptop? But Strava tho.
After an hour of the six of us shuffling through our belongings, we passed out on the bed, on the sofa, and on the floor with little thought or idea of what were about to get ourselves into in the next couple of weeks.