To Paris - Stress-free Cycling the French Countryside - CycleBlaze

October 18, 2019

To Paris

Well, I thought the biking portion of my tour was complete, save a short hop from my hotel to the train station this morning. But this is France, and train travel can be --- unpredictable might be a kind way of putting it.

I arrived at the Castres station about ten minutes early for my 6:59 am regional train to Toulouse, from whence I had booked the only TGV to Paris that day accepting unfolded bikes. Unfortunately, the train from Castres to Toulouse was cancelled due to a strike, a strike that I understood affected all the regional trains in the Occitanie region.  In any case, it was clear that there would be no trains leaving Castres today. Echoes of last year's tour reverberated in my head where a train strike threatened to strand me in Avalon. I only made it back to Paris through the kindness of strangers who crammed me and Vivien George into their car and drove us to a connecting station.

Today, I was again rescued through the kindness of another stranger - Emma, a young woman who commutes daily from Castres to Toulouse for her work in a chemistry lab. Emma informed me the only possible option was a bus to Toulouse, but was unsure if the driver would take the bike. The bus arrived about fifteen minutes later, and I carefully laid Vivien George in the undercarriage luggage section - without any protest from the driver. Once aboard, Emma told me that the bus didn't actually go to Toulouse but rather to a metro station outside the city. While bikes were allowed on the metro, she suggested that it would be better to bike to the Toulouse train station as the metro would be filled with commuters at that hour of the morning. More problematic was the fact that I most certainly would miss my train to Paris.

A light drizzle began as I retrieved Vivien George and loaded my panniers for the ride to the Toulouse Matabiau station. As expected, I had missed by train to Paris and went to the SNCF station to check my options. The SNCF folks were great - keeping an eye on bike while I waited until my ticket was called and trying to get me a waiver to take Vivien George on the next TGV, which did not allow unfolded bikes. After speaking with the “officials”, the best the SNCF counter woman could do was print out my original and new tickets with a handwritten note asking that my bike be allowed on the train. I was to show these to her colleague at the platform before boarding.

There was ample time before the train departed to settle in with a cup of coffee and buy a sandwich for the four-hour train ride. I am always amazed by the throngs of people who slowly assemble in front of the arrival/departure monitors, craning their necks while waiting for the Track number of their train to be posted. This is inevitably followed by a mad dash to the appropriate platform access point. I was hoping for Track 1, which was located next to the station and did not require going up/down stairs or elevators to access the other tracks. My goal was to position myself and the bike in such a location as to see the monitor, and to be ready to navigate to either Track 1, or to the elevators. Track 1B flashed up, and the dash began. The arriving train was twenty minutes late, so things were a bit rushed with people simultaneously exiting and entering the platform. I asked a couple of SNCF official about the bike and was directed to car 19, which had one of the newer designated bike space on a low platform that is more commonly used by passengers to store their luggage. Sure enough, I had to remove several bags to fit Vivien George in place, after which I carefully replaced the bags around the bike. I then found my assigned seat in car 18 and settled in, relieved that everything had worked out.  

Although this was a direct TGV to Paris, there were a few stops along the way. I was just finishing my sandwich when I heard another of those announcements in rapid French that I normally ignore as they are beyond my full comprehension. In my semi-awareness, however, I heard something about someone with a vélo. I was suddenly on alert, knowing the announcement was about me. When asked, my seatmate informed me that the announcement said the person with the bike had to detrain at the next stop, which was Agen. What!!! In a panic, I gathered my belongings and hurried back to car 19. The conductor appeared and gruffly informed me that he did not speak English. In my best and most polite French, I explained my situation and showed him the tickets. Reluctantly, it seemed, he acquiesced and allowed us to stay on the train. Another crisis avoided.

As we entered the outskirts of Paris, I went back to car 19 to get ready for de-training, knowing that people would be lining the aisles and passageways in anticipation of arrival. I could barely see Vivien George for all the luggage that had been placed on and around her. I managed to get to a good, mostly out of the way spot on the bike platform where I could help off load some of the luggage and wait until all had de-trained. After that, it was a piece of cake – a familiar route through Gare Montparnasse and back to my Paris apartment. The bike tour had ended. And what a splendid tour it was.

About half of the luggage surrounding Vivien George had been removed by the time I thought to take a picture. However, all was good - no harm, no foul.
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Today's ride: 5 miles (8 km)
Total: 1,125 miles (1,811 km)

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Scott AndersonOh, my gosh. What a great story to end the tour with! My bike and I have been thrown off a few trains, so I understand the anxiety. Glad you made it in, have a safe flight home.
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5 months ago
Susan CarpenterTo Scott AndersonThanks Scott - it really was a rather roller coaster day. Enjoy the rest of your time in Iberia, I look forward to the continuing adventures of Team Anderson.
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5 months ago