Last year I read Grounded, a travel narrative by Seth Stevenson about a man and his girlfriend who decide to circumnavigate the world without once taking a flight (I wrote a review for it that you can access here). One of their modes of transportation is biking the length of Vietnam,down from the capital of Hanoi to its largest city, Ho Chi Minh. If you've never seen a map of Vietnam, it's a very skinny but very long country; when people travel there, if they are pressed for time, they will usually visit either the north or south but not both. Stevenson is dismayed to find that upon meeting his fellow tour mates in Hanoi, most of them are either serious bikers or athletes (he and his girlfriend are not). "We couldn't quite bring ourselves to take this preparation advice seriously (doing several weeks of strenuous biking). A friend of ours used to lead bike tours through the French countryside, and she told us the people in her group (all of them older and wealthy) would generally dump their bikes on the side of the road after just a few miles, giving up in a huff and hailing the comfy support van." Once into their biking journey, Stevenson realizes just how much he underestimated the challenge of traveling by bicycle, especially in an extremely hilly country like Vietnam. "I quickly, and miserably, realize that I must have been fueled by adrenaline for the first twenty miles. It's worn off now. Less than halfway into the final leg, I'm soaked in sweat and panting, mouth agape. My heart is thumping so fast that I can no longer distinguish individual beats. A heavenly white light is creeping in at the edges of my vision." Although reading this part of Grounded would make anyone who has ever contemplated doing a bike trip abroad think twice before booking, I know that unlike Stevenson, I would make sure I had followed the recommended preparation guidelines and take them quite seriously, since the idea of riding in the support van the entire trip seems a bit ridiculous.
I did find one tour under the easy rating which was a seven night self-guided tour of France's Mont St. Michel and Brittany. These are areas of France in which train and bus service is not the most plentiful (many tourists rent a car for ease of getting around) so a bike trip seems ideal. It still lists the average daily distance as 28 miles, but unlike in Vietnam or on the Camino de Santiago tour, I at least know that the terrain is generally flat. However, the website did say that along the coast headwinds can be a occasional problem, so I'm not quite sure which is the lesser of the two evils. In northern France I've only ever been to Paris and I am dying to visit the French countryside, especially the region of Brittany. And even with how touristy Mont St. Michel is described as being (at least during the day with all the day trippers), it still looks to be incredibly magical.
|Me taking a rest during our bike ride in Brugge, Belgium|