I woke up from the campsite reasonably refreshed, much more so than when I'd awoken at 5.30am to flee my previous wild camp site.
I let the morning wander on as my tent and clothes dried in the morning sun. I hadn't heard any rain in the night but the old man next door informed me, "il est plieu." That'd explain the wet tent I guess.
Around 9am I hit the road, it felt good to be in freshly washed clothes after yesterday. The air was warm but damper than in previous days. The day began with a 600m twisty alpine climb of gentle gradient, littered with hairpin bends. It wont through coniferous forest and was highly reminiscent of the riding I'd done in the Czech Republic. The forest combined with 900m altitude made for a damp coolness in the air and descending off the climb was the only time I'd been chilly on the trip.
I'd walked to a war museum atop the mountain but after being shouted at by the guard (for wearing cycling clothes?) I decided it wasn't worth the argument.
As I descended my well earned 600m I began looking at the map and noticed if I hopped off the main road I could have an equally twisty descent and chop 10km off my route. It seemed perfect, Google showed them as roads, so they'd be roads surely?
But, just as in the Czech Republic, the further off the main road I got, the more the road narrowed and the surface deteriorated. It began with a bit of gravel scattered on the road, followed by 2km of dirty road down a steep hill when the road turned into deep gravel.
The gradient steepened and the next 20 minutes of riding involved me gently squeezing the brakes, balancing skidding out of control with not letting my speed increase too much - like trying to stop a runaway train on ice.
Eventually with every part of my body aching I popped out onto some blissfully smooth tarmac.
I plugged away through the deep valley slowly tapping away into the gentle headwind. Another long, long drag of a climb came and I was over the last set of mountains before Paris. As I crossed this range of mountains the weather turned decidedly less Mediterranean and much more temperate. The air was cool and damp with large storm clouds brewing.
I stopped at an Aldi, which was completely empty, no workers or customers. The complete silence was eery, my cycling shoes making noisy echoes across the floor with only whirring zircon in the background. After 10 minutes an assistant appeared and served me.
By the time I'd got out of the ghostly supermarket the wind was raging and huge, dark clouds loomed overhead. Luckily for me the ridiculously strong wind was blowing into my back.
I pedalled, hard. Taking advantage of the wind to cover ground quickly and also to outrun the impending thunderstorm. After 15 minutes or so it was to no avail. The two huge black clouds behind me collided and let out an almighty flash of lightning and clap of thunder, the likes of which I have never experienced, it was completely deafening. Whilst I considered taking refuge under an abandoned house, I couldn't pass up the opportunity of such a strong tailwind.
So I put my rain cape on and rode hard, cruising at 45kph the whole way through deep puddles being pounded by the rain and frightened by the ridiculously loud thunder and lightning.
Eventually, after careering through the French countryside I arrived in Epinal. the town was much smaller than I'd anticipated which meant there was no accommodation and I hopped on a train to Nancy. Whilst waiting for my train I shivered in my wet clothes. After the short train ride to Nancy I had a wander around the city before getting on the TGV to Paris. I had a short conversation with a cyclist from Toulouse before drifting off to sleep.
I arrived in Paris Gare D'Est just as the sun was setting and got checked into the hostel. I spent the night chatting to room mates, washing clothes and eventually falling asleep at 2am after being kept awake by an overly friendly 36 year old Bosnian.
It was refreshing meeting people again, after not speaking to anyone in great depth, other than Alex on the phone (the only thing that kept me sane). Two Australians, an American and two Egyptians as well as the noisy Bosnian made for a diverse group of people.
Having a comfy bed really helped as well. The hostel had little pods with individual curtains helping with the privacy that's often missing in some hostels.