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Robin’s Bike Trip through Europe, Part 2: France

June 2014

Robin likes to get out of his sandbox. No, he’s not reverting back to infancy, but he does like the childhood analogy. “A sandbox is comfortable,” says Robin. “People stay within it…it’s where they play and live. They know everyone in their sandbox, and they know what to do there…it’s safe.” So when his friend, Steve Kondracki, invited him to go on another biking trip in Europe last June, Robin jumped at the chance to shake some sand out of his shoes.

Carpe Diem is Latin for Seize the Day. This little French shop set the tone for the whole trip.

This time Robin would nudge another friend out of the box, too. “I had a good friend from high school, Kelvin Self, who I roomed with for a year while attending Oklahoma State University,” says Robin. “We have kept in touch from time to time. I decided to invite him to travel with us.” As you can imagine, biking in Europe is far from normal, so Kelvin declined Robin’s offer three times. However, at the last minute he decided to “go for it,” and the rest is history.

Kelvin and Robin at Château de Chaumont, the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle

And who could really blame him? Even though Kelvin had never been on a bike trip before, the prospect of spending your hard-earned vacation days on two wheels that you power yourself, with basically only the clothes on your back, and sleeping in close quarters with guys who probably snore, is, well…daunting. But Robin finally convinced him to pedal along for the ride – and Kelvin was glad he did!

Steve, Kelvin, and Robin pick up their rental bikes

A two week vacation in France may conjure up major dollar signs in your mind, but with veteran traveler Steve and financial planner Robin, this group knew how to stretch a euro. The flight to France was the main expense, and they opted to rent their bikes upon arrival. Packing everything they owned onto their bikes, these guys traveled light, ate light, and slept in typically very small shared rooms at whatever hostel or one-star hotel fit their budget.

A standard lunch: Stop at a grocery store and eat where you land
Doing laundry every day, the old fashioned way
The #1 question after a long day of biking: Who gets to shower first?

The journey began in Nantes, a city in West France about 31 miles from the Atlantic coast. Located on the Loire River, the trio used this waterway as their guide.

Our daily view: Following the Loire River

Biking through Europe is pretty common, and the guys ran into everything from organized tour groups to a little family who biked and camped through the French countryside. But despite not being able to speak French (thankfully there’s an app for that), the trio had no trouble navigating a foreign land. Regular stops at tourism offices and extremely kind locals definitely helped.

Tourism offices made our lives easier
Tour group on two wheels

No matter how much one may love adventure, something inside always longs for a touchstone to home. Luckily, Rotary is an international organization.

As a Rotary past-president, Robin is well acquainted with this symbol

And if Rotary isn’t enough to bring the world together, apparently soccer – or rather football – is! With the World Cup in full swing, Robin was able to catch glimpses of games while on the road. French cafes were particularly keen on sharing their TVs with passersby, since they were winning at the time.

Football…the universal language

One thing about getting out of your sandbox – it can be uncomfortable, scary, and potentially embarrassing…like the time Robin toured an abbey by himself and used hand gestures to ask another visitor to take his picture. (It turns out she was an English speaking Canadian who, thankfully, had a good sense of humor.) Or when Robin, ever the die-hard football fan, ventured out at 2am – alone – to catch the U.S. versus Ghana game at a sketchy bar four blocks from his hotel.

This “sports bar” doesn’t even look inviting in the daylight.

And the three friends are still trying to figure out if a particular B&B hostess was playing a joke on the Americans when she insisted that “all the French drink their coffee” out of humongous bowls.

That’s a lotta java

Traveling on a dime didn’t dampen the adventure of this trip. Though heavier bikes and pedaling upriver against the wind slowed them down a bit, the guys still covered 512 miles through pastoral countryside, while touring several historic castles, and hitting more than just one bakery.

Amazing view overlooking the Loire valley
Château de Chenonceau, built over the River Cher
France = Bakeries
The poppies were blooming and bountiful

The bikers finally reached the finish line in Orléans, a city about 70 miles southwest of Paris, which was once liberated from invaders by Joan of Arc. By the end of it all, Robin was both exhausted and exhilarated. And what did he learn from his time outside of his sandbox? “I learned that I can do anything,” says Robin, “for at least two weeks.”

512 miles: Robin, tired but triumphant

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