Day 0: Getting to the start point
The start point was in Bexley (South East London), so this involves getting a train then riding 16 miles across London with my baggage. The rucksack weighs in at 8kg, which feels as though it makes a big difference when you’re on skinny tyres.
Packing was a work of art, I don’t like to wear the same gear twice if possible, and knew I had 4 proper days of cycling plus evenings, needed ‘smarter’ clothes for the celebratory meal plus have a day in Paris. In addition to this I was taking other self-sufficiency gear such as medicine/first aid, bike maintenance and energy gels…the bag was popping. Though fortunately, I knew we didn’t have to carry our bags for the main journey.
I’ve worked in central London a fair bit over the years, and have seen the traffic and cyclists, so was very apprehensive about that as I’ve always told myself “I wouldn’t want to cycle around here”. Plus, I was having to ride across town and out to unfamiliar areas with the hope that good ole Google maps on the phone would know where I was.
Fortunately, everything went fine and it was really just like riding in Leeds, but just a tad more of it. So that’s another ‘fear’ overcome – I’ve had plenty of those over the last year (hills, asthma, distances etc.). I’m still very much a rookie cyclist but constantly pushing and learning from fears and mistakes.
Arriving safely at the hotel and checking in, lead to a quick cross-check of gear before heading to the bar purely to see if any of the other group were kicking around. It didn’t take long to identify each other…flip flops and shorts are a good yard-stick 🙂
Day 1: London – Calais
A 06:30 start today to get signed in and ready for the off at 07:30. Being the first ride of this type, I was still unsure of how things were to pan-out. However, today we learnt the pattern that would continue until we got to Paris….
– 06:00 breakfast, check bikes, load bags on truck and day’s brief before a 07:30 set off.
– Gary in the lead van would have gone ahead and attached yellow route arrows for us to follow.
– About every 15 to 20 miles, Gary would also stop and set-up a fruit/refreshment stop and wait for the first ones to arrive. In the later days, he sometimes left Alfie the medic sat on his own with the fruit/biscuits – making him look like he was a young lad selling lemonade for pocket money 🙂
– Everyone would wait and re-group at the fruit stop, with Adrian (the tour lead cycling with us) coordinating the lead and trailing vans.
– At some point, usually after half-way, the stop would be at a country pub type place and we’d have a good hot meal.
– Typically we’d arrive at the hotel around 5pm.
– We slept with the bikes in the room (I think I know some people who may do that at home too).
The terrain of today’s ride was a good introduction as to what the remaining 3 days would also be like. Basically we followed back-country roads with plenty of undulations and small, sometimes steep, hills of a few hundred feet (6 months ago, I’d have called them big hills :-)). The day was very dull and chilly but it did manage to stay dry fortunately.
We knew today was going to be ‘long’ in that the ferry crossing was setting off at 19:30 (where we had tea) then still had to cycle a couple of miles in Calais to get to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel 22:30 UK time, which obviously meant 23:30 local…ready for the 06:00 start.
Day 2: Calais – Abbeville
Today was our first proper riding on the ‘other side’. Whilst I’ve driven lots in the states, for some reason I never hire a car or anything on European holidays. Therefore, today’s cycling got rid of any of those fears (actually, it fell in naturally after a minute or two). Many people had said that drivers in France have more respect for cyclists than in the UK, but to be honest I think things were pretty much the same. I don’t think either are bad, but think it’s just the common thing that if as a cyclist, you respect motorists’ use of the road, the same is generally returned (keeping to edge, leaving gaps etc.).
Weather-wise, we had a misty start for a few hours, then just generally dull with a couple of sunny breaks but all fairly chilly. The route took us initially along the canal, then on to the country roads through pleasant villages which is how the remainder of the trip would be. This was the longest of the days, probably because there was a 10km detour planned in due to roadworks. I think most people found it tough especially as you approach Abbeville and think you’re arriving before catching sight of ‘another’ seemingly big hill to climb before getting to town/hotel.
Day 3: Abbeville – Beauvais
A dense fog took hold today, which probably lasted until early afternoon. This meant the ride was cold and wet, so extra care was taken especially to ride in groups for extra safety. Regular brake checks needed to make sure they were dry enough once you hit the downward slopes.
Once the fog lifted, we could see the villages getting a little more picturesque with a few nice châteaux appearing in places. Again all the roads were back-country/farm roads so traffic was light and you were surrounded by fields.
Since we were staying on the outskirts of town (pretty much an industrial estate), I decided to have a little ride around on my own to see a little more of the town itself. It was a bit trickier to think about your route now I didn’t have arrows to follow, especially as a lot of the roads had been closed, but I managed to see some of it.
Day 4: Beauvais – Paris
Relief and excitement surrounded the last day. The weather even started off sunny (though once we hit the hills we had an hour or so of fog once again), however, for most of the ride it was a lovely sunny day. This meant we saw many more really nice buildings in the villages that we passed – it was obvious that some of the Parisian money was reaching out to the houses and towns.
We had a regroup on the outskirts of Paris with a little longer than planned stop due to a couple of people having a hiccup so we all waited so that we could ride to the Eiffel Tower as a single group. The roads entering town were typical busy urban roads, though all well-signed up as it wasn’t feasible that 18 people would progress as a single group without getting caught at lights.
The finale was to finish up next to the Eiffel Tower, where there was a contingent of family supporters waiting to welcome in the group. There was time for a brief bubbly celebration and a few photos, before rushing off to the hotel then out for a celebratory meal and drinks.
Day 5: Paris – Home
Our Eurostar back wasn’t until 18:15 (because the truck with the bikes had to go back on the ferry in the morning), therefore, I had time for a wander around a few of the sights. The sun was so nice today that I eventually went back to the Tower and laid out sparko for an hour or so to ‘recuperate’ from the celebrations.
The final ride home was somewhat chilly and dark, after midnight, though this was probably a nice lead-off as my next charity ride is in 3 weeks….Manchester to Blackpool setting off around midnight.
This was the first charity fundraising I’d ever attempted, which I did to support National Deaf Children’s Society. I was very pleased with the amounts donated by lots of kind folk.