Before I'd even left Australia's shores, my 'good friend' Lore had filled my head with horrid stories of how dangerous the traffic around the Arc de Triomphe is. In the true spirit of the German word schadenfreude (someone who derives pleasure from the misfortunes of others), he even quipped that he would take some delight in watching my ungainly attempt to travel with the traffic that literally gushes out of each of its 12 cholesterol-choked arteries.
I didn’t need Lore’s comments to raise any self-doubts. I already had enough paranoia going on in my head. I imagined my attempt would be something akin to the lead-out riders of a cycling race who despite their boldness and optimism, inevitably become swallowed up by the swiftly-advancing peloton. However, rather than meekly falling back to the rear of the pack I envisaged a more grizzly fate.
But like many obstacles in life, the perceived hurdles don't necessarily end up being as high as you think. Surely, I thought, the traffic around the 'Arc' can't be nearly as bad if I ride there before the majority of Parisians wake up. So with a quick flick of the snooze button, I was soon out the door of our apartment and heading the few remaining kilometres towards the most iconic of all triumphant arches. Despite the morning darkness, getting there was relatively simple. All I had to do was follow the Seine, turn right over the Marceu Bridge and head up the cobbled passage along the Champs Elysees.
The city was slowly waking just as I arrived. A few lonely motorists appeared from some of the normally congested thoroughfares that feed the solitary ring road around the Arc, while blue-uniformed gendarmerie gradually became more visible along the pavement. While a void compared to the throng of spectators lining the Champs Elysees at the finish of the Tour de France, I still felt like a winner. I’d set myself the goal of riding from Sagres - in the south-eastern corner of Portugal - to Paris. Four weeks and more than three and a half thousand kilometres later here I was; finally
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|Place de la Bastille statue|
Ninety-three hours after my dizzy laps around the Arc de Triomphe I was back on my way up Arthurs Seat. Gone only five weeks, it somehow seemed different. Whether it was the cooler conditions, the comparative small size of the mountain or the number of trees, removed for fire-management purposes, I wasn't sure. Being such a short climb, of just three kilometres, its normally unflinching 8.1% gradient didn’t seem so difficult. The weather was perfect. There were fluffy white clouds and no wind to speak of, while the graffiti from last year’s Jayco Herald-Sun Tour was still visible on the switchbacks along the way. While part of me still craved cycling somewhere, anywhere, in Europe, it was nevertheless great to be back home on familiar territory.