Back on the D915, this time, in skimmed-milk daylight. The sun never broke through the thick grey duvet of sky, and the air remained misty and cold. I’d polished off the single croissant during the siphoner-ing, and was once more on a country road with nothing around. Also, being a national holiday, things that might have been open otherwise wouldn’t be. Verity had warned me of this, hence my stock of granola/oat/fruit bars.
I was heading for Pointoise, a fairly large town north and west of Paris. As the population became more dense and the tiny villages began to sprawl and merge into bigger towns, the road network became more and more difficult to navigate. My directions took me onto the N14 for a stretch.
Now, I’d read a (seemingly) clear explanation that the ‘D’ roads are ‘Departementales’ or locally-cared-for roads, and the N-roads are ‘Nationales,’ which are larger, and finally the ‘A’ roads are ‘Autoroutes,’ or Motorways/Highways. So A-roads (which in England are ok for me to ride on, because they are more the level of the ‘N’ road in France,) were out of the question. It would not only completely, utterly mad for me to take Vespa (which can go at 40 mph at a real push, and on a straight or downhill slope,) on a motorway, but it’s also illegal. She’s a 90cc engine and simply cannot go fast enough to be on a motorway. And I would never want to go on a motorway for all of the above reasons.
A-roads in England can vary from being fairly quiet country roads to becoming ‘dual carriageways,’ which can sometimes become a Motorway. I’d ridden on some dual carriageways to and from Cambridge, and down to Newhaven, and though it’s a little scary, the two lanes also mean people can pass you really easily. I thought the ‘N’ road might be something like that.
The N14 was a dual carriageway (two-lanes,) but after driving for awhile the speed limit went from 70 (kph) to 110. That’s about when I thought it would be a good idea to get off the N14. Lorries and cars were passing me and the gusts of wind threatened to blow me sideways. It was about 11 am, I was freezing cold, and I really hadn’t had much to eat, or anywhere to rest, for most of the day – the day which had begun at about 3 am. I never really warmed up or dried off either, because there was no place to do so.
I got off the N14 as quickly as I could. It wasn’t ‘officially’ a motorway, but it was way too fast for me to be on. I’d seen a few other scooters going along and it confirmed that technically I could be on the N-road. But I didn’t want to be.
I followed signs to Courdimanche, not at all certain of where I was, or how near I was to Pontoise. The small country roads were quiet and felt amazingly peaceful compared to the N14. Unfortunately, they also appeared impenetrable. Even my phone-GPS (which was costing scads of money abroad) didn’t help me that much. I finally pulled off in the large car-park of a discount supermarket. I stood inside for a little while shivering. I should have bought some real food, but I was beginning to get anxious. I needed a proper rest, drying out, warming up, and hot meal more than ever, but without that option, anything else felt like a waste of time.
I hit the road again: the D22 and the D14 around Courdimanche and Osny. I tried to follow the small roads and the signs for villages, thinking that if I chose correctly, each step would take me closer to Paris. It was about noontime when I pulled over at a crossroads and pulled out my phone map again. I wasn’t thinking clearly and had no idea which way to go.
A car passed me and then I was alone again. But le voila! Another scooterist came past. I looked up & he must have noticed the ‘I’m lost / desperate’ expression on my face. He came by and asked if he could help. He knew a little English! I explained that I was trying to get to Paris.
He raised an eyebrow and let out a few words of surprise. He said Pontoise and the N14 was the way to go. I hated the thought of it, but I figured if I could get back to the N14 I would grit my teeth and bear the big, fast road, if it would get me into Paris. There seemed to be no other way.
Then, the nice scooterist offered to lead me to Pontoise! He said he was out for a cruise anyway, and it would be no problem. I cannot describe the relief I felt, not to have to navigate my way on small roads to Pontoise. My mind was a blur of frustration and desperation as I followed him along roads and through villages that I’d already passed only an hour earlier.
I’d been going in circles.
We pulled over by a bridge in Pontoise and I said ‘Merci’ for the hundredth time that day. He said to go over the bridge & there would be signs for the N14.
I was back en route! Or was I?
In retrospect, I really, really should have stopped for a proper break at this point. There were a few restaurants open; Pontoise is a sizeable town. But it was past noon, and it wasn’t as if I ‘only’ needed to reach ‘Paris,’ but I needed to get to the Gare du Bercy, which is in the southeastern part of an ENORMOUS city. I think if I had stopped for a proper break, I would not have made it to my destinations in time (Auto-Train for Vespa, people-train from Gare du Lyon for me).
I rode across the bridge and looked for sings for the N14. All I could see were signs for the A15: Autoroute! No, no! I pulled off at a petrol station to fill up (with petrol, NOT GAS-OIL).
I asked the station attendants, who didn’t speak English, about the N14. More raised eyebrows about riding the Vespa to Paris. They gestured and pointed to the A15 signs again.
Later, when I was safely ensconced in Les Adrets, I would see on a map that the N14 and the A15 are the same road. I would also see that the D14 (Oh, how I love you, D-roads,) did go into Paris, but at that point I would have needed a guide the whole way. I was beyond exhaustion. (Also, the D14 becomes an N road just outside of Paris.)
The closer I got to Paris, the more impenetrable it seemed to become.
So I decided to deploy Plan B.