January 12, 2018

Words by Steve Ranger

A Trip Across France – Three Men on a Bike

Paul Benoy, Cycleshack Director, and two friends undertook a cycle ride across France to raise funds for Help for Heroes and St Peter & St James Hospice just outside of Lewes, East Sussex. This was an 850 mile trip of about 50 miles per day involving three ‘middle aged’ riders and a lot of tired parts – read the full story below!

And they’re off!

Here we are with about ten minutes to go before we catch our train to Newhaven and then onto the ferry for an overnight trip. Arrive in Dieppe at 4.00am and aiming to set off as soon as it is light. Update tomorrow from Beauvais…I hope!


Day 1

We made it to Beauvais after exactly 80 miles on the saddle. Saw some fantastic french countryside along the way. Weather was very kind to us, despite the forecast. We kept to C & D class roads for most of the way and saw very little traffic. It was an early start after our ferry docked in Dieppe at about 4.30am, so only about 3 hours kip. Needed lights to get off the ferry and for about an hour. Some plonker left all our very carefully prepared and annotated maps on the boat, so thank goodness for Google maps coming to our rescue. Small prize for first text back to me with the right answer, as to who it was! We all really enjoyed the ride, but the last 15 miles was tough and were pleased to get there. Bikes are very heavy with all the kit and we had limb a number of hills. Hotel is budget but fine for us, and I am looking forward to sharing my first night’s sleep in a 4ft bed with Richard. We are right in the town / city (?) centre with loads of bars and restaurants and have found a bar that will cater for our football needs at midnight. Just had an hour’s kip after a couple of pints and are nearly ready to hit the town. Tomorrow is much more civilised – only about 30 miles to Chantilly so a later start after a good breakfast and church. 


Day 2

As it turned out we could only watch the first half of the England game as Mike wanted to get back to bed with Rick Dick but given the 2-1 scoreline that wasn’t a bad call!

The big question for today was how would we feel after yesterday’s long ride. Well we’re obviously fitter that we thought, there were no discernible after effects. So we set off full of confidence, but without the maps planning the route proved to be a bit hit and miss. We eventually got out of Beauvais but not without several stops to check our route.

Two bars, a number of u turns and several stops later, we arrived in Chantilly by 4 o/c via some lovely country roads in the main, a few dead ends and several tracks one of which included two seriously mad dogs whose chains were thankfully short enough to enable us to get past safely.

it is a big race day in Chantilly today so there is a buzz in the town but beers are expensive so we will have to stick with wine! Nice hotel and three beds in our room, Rick Dick looked relieved!

No-one has yet correctly called who left the maps on the boat, all I can say is that you might be surprised!

Day 3

Chantilly to La Ferte Gaucher – 60 occasionally hard miles and 5 15 mins in the saddle. Thanks to Mrs Google maps we have been along mountain goat trails and woodland tracks with more sand than Camber so a little pushing of bikes has happened. weather still cold in the mornings but warming up well during the day as can be seen by first beer photo. Area quite flat now down side being that it is a windier. OK I confess that Although I know you won’t believe it I left the maps on the ferry!! However to tonight’s competition – who whilst scrolling through the photos on his phone said I don’t believe it I took loads of photos with my camera but can’t find any of them? Probably not worth replying as we all know the answer to this one. 



Day 4

Another interesting day! We set off intending to cycle 53 miles but ended up doing 63 miles. Our carefully prepared route notes were left in the hotel, Benoy lost his phone(!), we lost our way ……several times, deciding to take shortcuts across farm tracks, but we managed to find my lovely sister who had come out across local farmland to look for us. We are now enjoying her wonderful hospitality sitting in her courtyard with a beer in the sun. fortunately Benoy discovered he had lost his phone, soon after and we retraced our steps for a while and eventually we found it. Tomorrow we have no idea where we are going, but am enjoying sitting looking at maps in the sun working it out. Lunch was in the car park of a supermarket as most bars were shut in Suzanne. Now covered 238 miles in total and well over a quarter of the way in 4 days. Thanks again for following, it means a lot to us. Final thank you to my “sudacream queen” who has given me some very slippery advice which works! 


Day 5

After a fabulous evening with my sister in Arcis sur Aube, we had a late start. We were ‘wined and dined’ like royalty and woke with sore heads. After breakfast in the sunshine we did a bit of trout fishing and Paul caught a whopper! Picture to follow. Got underway intending to only cycle about 20 miles today, but ended up doing 43. Have ended up in a Gite ( former monastery) and have a massive bedroom and breakfast at 12 euros per head! It is in the middle of nowhere and right on the banks of the Seine, very very pretty. Will try to use a Gite more often. Very hot today 26 degrees so lots of stops on route for water. We have now cycled 330 miles and are feeling it. Route planning for tomorrow not done yet, but likely to be aiming for Dijon & Beaune over next two/three days. Paul’s turn to blog tonight, but he is taking ages in the shower and we are due in the restaurant shortly, so it’s Mike again. Keep the comments coming, we love them. Final question for Mo. Richard has asked is there any particular picture you would like us to publish that will get some more sponsorship? ….in fact that goes for all our followers. Naughty challenges please, and amount of extra sponsorship you will commit to will get you a mention! Thanks to you all Mike x



Day 6

Another challenging day (Thursday) and we have reached a tiny hamlet called Buxerolles about 45 miles north of Dijon. Paul had a puncture right beside a busy main road, which we mended badly (twice) and ended up replacing with a new inner tube. Cycle distance was 55 miles and the heat, the hills and the flies introduced new challenges. Much of the journey however was along the banks of the Seine, and we had a picnic inches from the water’s edge watching trout. Intended destination was another smaller place called Recey sur Ource but both the bar, the hotel and the tourist office was closed, when we arrived. We had no internet, mobile signal was poor but finally were rescued by the Mayor’s secretary who found us a self catering Gite. We even persuaded the local supermarket to deliver 12 cans of beer, two bottles of wines and loads of groceries, which were too heavy for us to carry on our bikes for the five extra miles. It was a delightful spot and Paul cooked us a feast which we ate while watching England getting eliminated from the World Cup! We are proposing a shorter journey for Friday so we can settle into some accommodation early and get ourselves booked up for the next 2/3 nights. 



Day 7

Buxerolles to Dijon today. 46 miles. Once again we had not decided where to go let alone where to stay but as we made good progress we decided to go further than originally planned hence Dijon. Hotel booked at the Tourism bureau and straight to the nearest bar for much needed beers. The start of the ride was up and down some serious hills which was hard work first thing in the morning but we persevered. First coffee stop in a small village and endeavours to get M Le Patron to take some photos outside caused a minor(ish) problem resulting in no photos and a broken phone screen, no names no pack drill! Now writing this blog before we go out to find somewhere to eat, won’t be a problem finding somewhere and for the record Dijon is a beautiful City. One of the things I have loved on his trip to date is Stopping at the war memorials and admiring the way the French honour their war dead. There is a carefully looked after memorial in almost every town and village. Rick Dick and I were lucky to come across a service at one the other day, the local mayor read out every name on the memorial followed by a Pompier saying Mort pour La France after each name. Quite emotional. we then got invited back to the Marie for some champagne, I like the French! Beaune tomorrow and my 34th wedding anniversary, probably have to celebrate with some fine wine in absentia! 

Day 8

Today is market day in dijon so we went there after breakfast for a look around. The French do amazing markets and this was no exception. Temptations everywhere so lunch planning seemed A good idea although the delicasies don’t come cheap as we discovered to our cost. Still it as a great picnic by the river ouche. We set out intending to have an easy day in the saddle but that didn’t go to plan either. Having purposely chosen a slightly indirect route to beaune from dijon which took us down the canal de Bourgogne we had not realised what was to come! Canal ride was through beautiful country side and flat all the way. The problem was that we then had to get over to beaune over a huge hill well mountain. By far the longest and steepest club any of us had done. Probably 5 kilometres up no flat bits or rests in searing heat. Of course the resulting down was brilliant. Found probably the oldest hotel in France run by this amazing old lady who was born in the house in 1928 and still runs the hotel. She is a real character. Off to a music festival tonight which takes place all over the town and as there is a band playing right outside our hotel room it’s unliky to be an early night! Bendy xx



Day 9

Well today was what yesterday was meant to be – an easy day. Beaune was packed last night with the music festival to such an extent we could not find anywhere to eat. Finally found a little creprie and had a fabulous meal. The music however went on until 12.00 which was fine but the kids kept trying to sing for the remainder of the night so a disturbed night. We were all feeling the effects of yesterdays climb so a late breakfast and wander around this lovely town. Todays target was Chalons sur Saone – an easy 26 miles. We set of towards Santenay along a cycle route through the vinyards mile after mile of them – never seen so many! From there we turned south east for about a 12 mile run along the canal du centre into Chalons once again more beautiful countryside and on this canal some boating traffic for a change. No breakdowns, punctures or accidents to report today so will sign off at there. Thanks for following, Richard. (footnote from Mike – found four or five vines that seemed to be growing particularly well, far better from the rest. It appears they have had a superior form of irrigation at some stage in their lives!…sorry private joke for some of our followers)


Day 10

Hello wonderful sponsors and followers. We’ve had a great day today and covered another 51 miles. It was mainly along an old railway line, so pretty flat, and very scenic. We have now covered 503 miles in total which is quite a significant landmark for us and unless we get lost, are well over half way. The terrain is likely to get tougher now so our daily average could well fall from 50 to 35 or 40 but we are easily on schedule and it will do no harm. For me this has been an amazing trip and several times better than I imagined it would be. It has been a real adventure, we have faced some tough decisions, had a lot of laughs, strengthened our relationships, seen some fantastic sights and I have got a real sense of achievement. Still a long way to go, but I know I shall be sad when it’s all over. I have been really impressed with Paul and Richard, their stamina and fitness. At a couple of years younger and been training hard for last six months, I thought I would easily be the fittest, but I am not so sure. They have also managed to show me the way in the bar! We are now sitting in a square with a beer, in Macon and are waiting for our hotel to get our room ready. No doubt we will venture out for another cheap three-course meal tonight… Thank goodness we are cycling so much, otherwise would be fat as a barrel. So Mike signing off now, no idea where we are going tomorrow, planning starts very shortly, dans La Brasserie de l’ Hotel de Ville. Please keep the comments coming, so we know you are following. We love them. X


Day 11

First thing to report is that Rick Dick has finally digested the Crocque Madam that he ate in Cluny yesterday. This had apparently sat in his gut for most of the following 12 hours accompanied by much grumbling and belching. The price of gluttony?! The major issues we face every day are plotting our route and then not getting lost, finding somewhere to stay at the right price and finding somewhere to eat at the right price. The right place to eat has to include wine by pichet not bottle.So as you can imagine we are basically always on the lookout! It certainly makes life interesting, we are generally successful but sometimes not as quickly as we would like. We take wrong turns nearly every day (see pictures) which can mean several extra unnecessary miles and on a bike thats not good, especially when the extra miles are uphill!

We left Macon this morning heading for Villefranche sur Saone.The first part took us along some very rough tracks along the river bank, very picturesque but quite tough on the derriere. Tyres and bikes from Cycle Shack are proving up to the job I’m pleased to report.The river is probably half a kilometre wide here but following it means nice flat riding conditions which suits us very nicely. Around midday we crossed over to the West Bank to ride through the Beaujolais vineyards which was completely different from the morning but no less enjoyable. It never ceases to amaze me to see nothing but vines for miles and miles and to think they are purely there for consumption of wine.Beautiful area and a few ups and downs but we’re coping with the ups better every day. Heading south of Lyon tomorrow so getting through or round that massive sprawl should prove interesting. The main thing is that we continue to have great fun despite the odours emanating from a certain source?! Bendy xx


Day 12

Our room last night was directly above The Irish bar in Villefranche which stays open until 2am so we were a little worried about how much sleep was to be had. However a lousy meal but loads of beer and wine saw us through. Todays big decision was Lyon, a massive sprawling area – do we keep to the west or plough the middle following the Saone as far as possible. Through the middle won so we set off at 9.30 and, for the first part of trip to the centre, it was a great decision. Once we joined the river there was a cycle route all the way to the centre along side the river bank free of all traffic and a wonderful way to see some of this beautiful city. Getting out the other side was not so easy. First major problem was Benoy was hungry and all efforts were directed at finding food. Two extreme emotions resulted – we found a MacDonalds – Fuller a pig in poo and Benoy not believing he was eating a Mac D let alone in France! I have to admit there was a little tension within Team Benfucci as we tried to dig our way out of the pits of Lyon. Navigation being the continuous issue so we ended up in places we would never go near. One of these being a (I presume) a gypsy camp on one of the cycle routes – wrecked cars, caravans, lots of rubbish and loads of ominous people – a litle scary! Anyway we ended up in Serezin du Rhone – a nice Logis hotel, have had dinner, beer and wine and are tired – its 12.04. Pictures to follow tomorrow and sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble! Richard




Day 13

Hello all. Mike here. We have ‘cracked on’ again today and covered another 47 miles in very hot conditions. We have also seen a number of signs to Marseille, which shows we are getting there, even though they are Autoroute signs. Talking of Autoroutes, we ended up on anAutoroute today! I was leading and got the blame for it, but in my defence they did follow. I have never seen three people ‘turn-tail’ so quickly and get back down the slip road (in wrong direction) – Benoy didn’t even manage to capture the moment with his camera.

We are now in a seriously crap hotel, booked by the tourist board in Vienne. We knew it was only 2 star, but am amazed it got any rating at all. Would never get away with briniging wives here. Benoy shouting something about useless ****ing shower as I type.

Don’t know how Jude & Susan put up with Benoy and Richard’s snoring. A regular nightly, and frequent event but I am mastering the technique of waking and silencing them.

Lovely ride today until the last hour or so. Along the river bank of the Rhone and then started to climb and climb and climb. Turned out we had reached the top of Mont Prema Vril! Worth the view from the top though, and fortunately it was a lot cooler. Picture attached and more to follow later when Benoy gets his camera out.

Now off to tomorrow’s route planning meeting – more later xx

Day 14

Two weeks in, amazing! In some ways it doesn’t seem possible but when we look back at the first few days it does seem some while ago. With a combined age of 180 years and after quite a long ride yesterday we felt the time had come to have an easy day so we have covered just 15 miles from St Vallier to Tournon Sur Rhone. A very pleasant few miles too being entirely on a path along the river.

What a difference those few short miles have made too. Last night we stayed in probably the worst, grottiest, dirtiest hotel in France in a town with no character, today we are in beautiful town with some amazing buildings, a castle built in 1300 and something, surrounded by high hills covered with Cote du Rhone vineyards, including Crozes Hermitage directly opposite us. A nice Logis Hotel in the town centre, local wine to be drunk tonight and there is a market in the morning, perfect!!

As blog readers will know, we have had some troubles with hills on this trip, they are tough when carrying 15/20 kilos. I quite enjoy riding the ups for the pleasure of the downs but with bags it hasn’t been much fun, so when we got here I decided to test myself without bags and set off to the top of the hills opposite our hotel. I’m pleased to report that it is only the weight of the bags that has taken the pleasure out of riding uphill. The views from the top (see photo) are amazing and made the ride well worth the effort. Planning tomorrow’s ride and where to stay has started already, we will make an early start and expecting to cover 40 to 50 miles, back into the routine, still having fun! Bendy x


Day 15

Mike here. RickDick’s turn to blog, but he is fast asleep! Today was knackering . We knew we had a long way to go and our planning suggested it would be 55 miles, and after our easy day yesterday, should be no problem for our lean, fit bodies! As it turned out it was probably the most gruelling ride of the two weeks. We were heading south through the Rhone Valley but hadn’t factored in a 25mph headwind with gusts up to 40mph. Sometimes we were on the flat but in ‘granny gear’ just to move forward. Anyway, we set off at 8.00am sharp and finally arrived at 5.20pm with only a couple of short stops.We did 59.7 miles and ended up in Montelimar.Horrible smell of nougat in the air.

Great sense of achievement, and although we all hated it at the time, are glad we didn’t wimp out and settle for a shorter stop. As usual straight to the bar across the road and have been watching footie since. RickDick and I are sharing a double bed again. Benoy doesn’t even get involved in the selection process, just dumps his bag on the single bed.

Will add some photos shortly. We seem to be only about 100 miles from dipping our pinkies in the Med and looking at the contours are probably going to take three days, so could arrive on Tuesday. Are now starting to plan how we get home. Have been offered £2000 by one of our sponsors to ride home. Unfortunately it won’t even cover the 3 x hotel and food bills for the three of us, so have had to decline. Over and out. Thanks to you all xx

Day 16

A pleasant evening in Montelimar ending with proper storm with thunder and lightning so got wet getting back to the hotel. This morning we booked a logis hotel in Roquemaure, a 45 mile run and as it had a pool decided to just hack it and have an afternoon by the pool. Being a Sunday the heavy traffic is much lighter so we were here by 3.30 then a swim, a beer in the local bar with footie, and dinner at the hotel. This evening was decision time for our final run to the coast and it was make easier by meeting a French hotelier who yet again warned us away from Marseille (“if you have a credit card leave it here, at least you will know where it is”) so we are now heading for Montpellier as our destination.

For the duration of this trip our progress has been judged by how far down each map we have got. Map 1 1st half, map 1 2nd half, map 2 1st half etc etc. Well today we got to last map and turned over to the last half, for me quite an emotional time. For 16 days the three of us have been living in one anothers pockets, 24 hours a day. I have never slept with another man as regularly as a have with Mike (bendy is too noisy and takes up too much space) and over the period we have got on with the trip working well together where necessary. This trip for me has been a real pleasure and to have these two guys to do it with has been the icing on the cake. Thanks to Bendy for the driving force to get us all going and thanks to Mike…… for being Mike and thanks to all you followers.

Day 17

Well we are nearly there! For the last two days we have been cycling hard and fast on long straight flat roads and with the wind behind us have been able to average 18 to 20 miles an hour at times. We are undoubtedly fitter now but still go flop once we get to our destination. As a result of our good progress over the last few days we are ahead of schedule and should be dipping our toes in the Med tomorrow south of Montpelier. Late swerve here as we were planning to go to Marseille but numerous people along the way have suggested it is a crime ridden city best avoided so we have heeded their advice and decided to turn west at Avignon!

Today we covered 47 miles from Roquemaure to Saint Gilles said to be the gateway to the Camargue. We went via Avignon but sadly failed to put foot “sur le pont” but still appreciated the beautiful city that it is. My knowledge of the history of this area is non existent but there are some amazing bastilles dotted around, often perched on top of granite outcrops, amazing sites to see as we pedal past. One of the drawbacks of our trip is that we don’t have time to stop and look at places in more detail, but that is inevitable, we can at least admire and maybe plan to return one day.

France beat Nigeria this evening which was was fun, the French get very noisy when they are winning!

We are currently trying to book a night in Paris as the train times mean we cannot go straight through to Dieppe, not proving easy but more of this in the next blog. Suffice it to say that we have gelled into a smooth operating team, Fuller is the hotel booking maestro, selecting the right place to stay and then negotiating our special “charity rates” for B&B, he has been very successful in negotiating a room rate reduction every night. Rick Dick and I are mainly responsible for navigation. We have taken a few wrong turns and made errors of judgement about routes to take etc but we have worked as a team really well without any disagreement even when things get tricky, it has been great fun, good mates we were when we set out and probably even better now! Bendy X

Day 18

Well we did it – arrived at the Med at 2.15 this afternoon after a ‘simple’ 35 mile ride. For me the sense of achievement was enormous. We have travelled 837 miles, averaged 47 miles per day and three days ahead of schedule only one puncture, one smashed mobile phone, each wheel has rotated 637, 619 times! (no that’s not a typo) and three broken wallets

None of would have changed a thing and I have been impressed at the sheer perseverance all round when needed. I think everyone should take on something like this at some stage in their lives if they can.

Funny start to the day, none of us could get going like we have been doing for last couple of weeks and our latest time at breakfast for the whole trip. Almost as though we were sensing the end and didn’t want it to happen. Anyway todays trip was almost non eventful, but lunched in a really pretty place inside an old castle wall, at Arques-Mortes.

Are now just south of Montpelier, planning our trip home – looking like its going to be a long haul. There are more photos to be uploaded but am just letting you have a few for now.

Signing off by thanking you all again, whether sponsor or follower, for all the daily text messages / emails / blog comments that you have kindly sent. It has really helped us and two very worthy charities, as a result. Mike x