As we packed up our gear for the final time it started to rain. The elderly couple across from us in their large mobile home looked out the window with sympathetic eyes but, for me at least, not even a little rain could ruin the last day of what had been a amazing trip. Since we had had almost perfect weather for the entire trip it also seemed somehow fair that it would rain on the last day – but even then, as we rode out of the campground the rain all but stopped and didn’t return.
We crossed back onto the haulage path of the de l’Aisne à la Marne canal. Quickly the trail disappeared under tall and wet grass. The going was not easy, especially with the bottom of the trailer dragging across the sopping grass and our wheels dropping in and out of the deep wheel ruts. It was always an exercise of faith when our maps led us on slightly “unconventional” paths, but we hadn’t been led astray yet, so onwards! After about 5 kms of this, we left the canal and followed a side road across the TGV lines and to our first sighting of Champagne vineyards. .
We climbed our one and only hill of the day and descended back down between the vines to re-join the canal, where we again found the trail beside it to be overgrown. We slogged through the very high wet grass for several kilometres before the path became paved again. We followed the canal to Condé-sur-Marne where, on our last day, we had the one and only fall of the trip. As I came up to an intersection which was on a rise I stopped, Emilie following closely behind didn’t think I would come to a complete halt. She managed to stop and not rear-end me but she didn’t unclip in time and fell off to the side. Luckily no damage. We pulled into the little town and stopped for coffee and some food.
After a little food, we turned right and headed west along the Canal latéral à la Marne – which, as the name suggests, runs along the side the Marne river. Hoping to enjoy some Champagne tasting and buy a nice bottle to celebrate the end of the trip, we left the canal after another 15 km at the beautiful little town of Ay. We explored the back streets, passing the premises of places such as Bollinger, Brun et Compagnie, and Lallier. Unfortunately the concept of cellar door tasting does not seem to be the common place thing that it is in Australia. Such as shame as the almost overpowering smell of fermenting grapes was thick in the air. Perhaps though our Lycra-clad bicycle touring family may not have been the target demographic for Champagne tasting.
From Ay it was only another 5 or 6 km into Epernay, along the canal. Still hoping to find a celebratory bottle of Champagne we headed out to Castellane. Emilie went in while I waited outside with the girls asleep in the trailer.
Upon her return, Emilie reported that indeed the Lycra clad cycle tourist is not the customer of choice for the Champagne cellar door. The woman behind the counter was most definitely above that sort of thing! Nevertheless, with our bottle in hand, we rode towards the train station.
Catching the train out of Epernay was, as to be expected, another unpleasant train experience. First of all, we couldn’t be told which platform the train would arrive at. Then Emilie had to ask the staff several times about where we should stand on the platform to be close to the carriage for the bikes. Once we were told (roughly) we unpacked everything in readiness for the short period of time we would have to load everything aboard. Though, in actual fact when it came to it, the SNCF guy was quite helpful handing me up bikes and packs. However, it was impossible to reach the bike compartment with all the oblivious French people standing in the corridor between door of the train and the bike compartment. One guy in particular, who smelled of urine, would simply not get out of the way, even when asked. I had to just push past him with the packs. When I returned for one of the bikes, someone else told me to move the other bike, which was blocking the door from the other carriage, and tried to climb over it. Clearly he could see there was nothing I could do about it and that I was working as fast as I could but the stress and his impatience got to me. I came very close to his face and told him he could wait for two minutes in my best “firm but on the edge” voice. He stepped backwards and waited.
At least, when we arrived at Paris Gare de l’Est, we could wait for everyone else to disembark before dealing with all our stuff and the pokey corridor and doors, as it was the end of the line. We re-packed on the platform and then headed out to ride across Paris in the rain towards Gare d’Austerlitz and the night train to Toulon.
At Gare d’Austerlitz, we had plenty of time for something to eat and, once it was announced, to pack the gear onto the train. We shared our 6-berth cabin with a nice young French couple setting out on a weekend cycling trip. During the night our youngest woke with uncontrollable screaming – for no apparent reason. Emilie had to bundle her up and wait for the storm to subside in the area between the two carriages. I guess you take your chances when you book a 2nd class sleeper.
Arriving in Toulon the next morning we set off back to where we had started our trip – cycling the 40-odd kms back to Bormes-les-Mimosas to finish the trip.
To see the route, elevation profile, etc., click the link to Ride with GPS below (it should be able to be embedded but WordPress does not allow this).