A 1,000km ride on cycle trails in the Seine, Loire and Rhône valleys takes in a France inaccessible by car – and brings a rare sense of freedom
The crunch of tyres on gravel rouses me from my doze. Damn it! I knew I shouldn’t have hit “snooze”. I unzip my tent and look out on to a dewy football field. A van has pulled into the car park – it’s the groundsman arriving for morning duties. I’d intended to be out of here before anyone found me, so wiggle out of the tent and pack it as quickly and quietly as I can. “Wild” camping is n’t always an Instagrammable glade in a forest – I’ll definitely be finding a campsite tonight. I slip away undetected and ride down the narrow, slumbering streets of Chaussy, a village 70km north-west of Paris. The crisp morning air soon blows away the sleep and, as I ride past sun-painted fields with their neat rows of crops, the mist dissipates.
This is day two of an eight-day ride from Dieppe to Nice, mainly following the river valleys of the Seine, Loire and Rhône. My bike is packed with everything I’ll need: clothes, tent and flapjacks. I’ve always felt riding a bicycle is the best way of exploring the world, but most of my touring so far has been within the UK, usually ending with a dip in the North Sea. But for this summer holiday, I would swap the North Sea for the Mediterranean. At the end of this I will lie on the beach in Nice, next to people who’ve probably been lying on the beach in Nice since I started cycling. But this way, I’ll have earned it.