Day 4 of the cycle ride and our destination was the fortress city of Verdun. I was looking forward to getting to Verdun for two reasons, firstly it has huge significance for the First World War, and secondly, it meant we would finally get a rest day!
We set off from our Hotel Paradiso at about 9am but by the time we had stocked up on supplies it was nearer 10 before we got pedalling. The first 2 miles out of town were up a killer hill. I was expecting a long day and this was not the best start.. I didn’t really get much better either, the terrain was very hilly – we went through some wonderful countryside with tiny villages in valleys, but valleys been hills and that was not good. Also there was the weather. Gale force winds and torrential rain made things just miserable…At this point I think it is worthwhile to point out that Steve was wearing swimming trunks for the days cycling…red swimming trunks and a camouflage jacket…the mad fool.
The first 30 miles were tough…really tough, it seemed to be uphill all the time and the weather was appalling. We arrived at a place called Pont-a-Mousson around 1pm and in the space of 3 minutes were hit with a huge double whammy that nocked us both for 6…
First, I had to pay the best part of 5 Euros for 2 cokes…(did I swear or what). Then, no sooner had we finished hurling abuse at the cafe owner and got on our way that we say a signpost saying ‘Verdun – 69km! In proper distances that is about 40 miles…my heart sank.
Fortunately the road out of Pont-a-Mousson was flat and we made decent progress however our speed was severely hampered by the weather which was not letting up..by this point we resembled a couple of drowned rats..we stopped off at a small place and got some more supplies, including a small bottle of whiskey to warm us up a bit. Little did we know how grateful we would be for that whiskey later on..
We headed across open country for what seemed like eternity watching as the signposts slowly counted down the kilometers to Verdun. The light was fading fast and in a country where they seem to have forgotten about the street light, this was becoming an issue for us..
The hills reappeared again just as dusk fell, Steve’s back light lasted about 5 minutes before the rain got the better of it…luckily mine seemed to work ok…There was one hill that was too much so we had to get off and walk, I was about 50m behind steve and as he walked up to the top of the hill he was silhouetted against the the lights of the oncoming cars. which, mixed with the fog and rain, gave an eery yet poignant image reminiscent of a solitary soldier walking off to the front, it is an image I will not forget in a long time.
The last 10miles into Verdun were perhaps the longest 10 miles I have every had on a cycle, they were simply horrible. At the foot of the final hill I was so tired I just lay on the floor – I think I must have passed out momentarily until Steve shouted at me to get up and have some whiskey. It is that whiskey that got us up that final hill and into Verdun at about 7pm…We had done nearly 70miles, were freezing cold, soaking wet, and so very very tired..