Paris to Beijing by bike: they made it!

The challenge, a 12,623 km cycle trip to Beijing for the inauguration of the Olympic Games, was no easy ride, but they made it there on time.

"I can do nothing for those who do not ask themselves questions" (Confucius -551-479 BC)

CERN’s Raymond Cambarrat and Peter Dreesen arrived in the Chinese capital on 3 August after an incredible human and sporting adventure that began in Paris on 16 March (see Bulletin No. 20 & 21, 8 May 2008).

The two cyclists, who set off on their journey with 102 other enthusiasts, rode for a total of 120 days with only ten days’ rest along the way. The greatest distance they covered in a single day was a 192 km leg in Russia, one of 12 countries their expedition took them through. From the arid steppes of Kirghizstan through the fog of Mount Hua to the snowy wind-swept pass of Kampa, the group covered roads of varying quality, some of them untarmacked, notching up a total difference in elevation of 54,141 m. Towns and cities were not always a sinecure either, with chaotic traffic and coal dust thrown up by vehicles posing problems in several places.

This epic trip was certainly not without its experiences, both good and bad, with food ranging from the frugal and tasteless to the lavish and exotic, and accommodation varying from seedy dives to comfortable hotels. There were also the inevitable scary moments - but no broken bones - and even a few miracles thrown in for good measure, such as the last-minute repair of a cable car that spared the group a 6-hour trek through difficult terrain… And contrasting with the moments of doubt and solitude were the many warm greetings, friendly encounters and exchanges with local schools. The welcome they received was often enough to make them forget their aching limbs: guards of honour, noisy and enthusiastic receptions, hordes of children, escorts by local cyclists and even requests for autographs.

Raymond Cambarrat described his experiences: "A journey like this is bound to leave its mark on both body and soul. My most enduring memory will be our exceptional encounters in all the countries we cycled through and I will always think of George Brassens’ song "l’Auvergnat" about human kindness when I look back on our adventure". Peter Dreesen spoke of an "explosion of joy" on reaching the Great Wall, the final destination of an unforgettable journey characterised by some amazing experiences and spectacular scenery.

Arriving back last week, the two members of CERN’s personnel were happy to be home among their families, friends and fellow members of the CERN Cycling Club. Henrik Nissen, the Club’s president, spoke of the important role that cycling plays in the lives of these two compulsive sportsmen: "This wasn’t the first time they’d done something of this nature, you know. As well as regular attendance at the Club’s weekly practice sessions, neither of them are strangers to long-distance rides through different countries". With particle physics also poised to push itself to its limits in the very near future, we wish our two colleagues a happy homecoming and a hearty ‘Welcome’.

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