In August 2018, I cycled from London to Paris with 3 of my best friends. All of us were cycling for different cancer charities. Between us we have raised over £12,000. The ride was over four days and covered 315 miles, 15,466ft of climbs with a total of 25 hours and 25 minutes in the saddle. Here is the story of our ride.
The final preparations before the ride
After months of preparation, as the ride approached I wondered to myself why I had ever signed up to do the London to Paris bike ride. I was terrified. Not because I thought I couldn’t do it but because I knew it was going to be tough and I was worried that I would be slower than everyone else (I already knew I was slower than my friends up hills).
On the Friday before the ride Woody (my next door neighbour) and I cleaned my bike, changed the brake pads, inner tubes and changed the tyres for new ones. I had my last training ride on Saturday. The training ride went without event other than one of the group was using cleats for the first time and he fell off twice which made me very conscious of my feet being clipped it. At the end of the ride, it was a funny feeling to know that the next time I got on the bike, I would be on my way to Paris.
The day before
On Tuesday Justin and I packed up the car which involved taking both the front and back wheels off my bike and headed for London (Croydon to be exact).
On M25, we happened to pass the other girls who were travelling in a van from Nottingham – it was so exciting to see them but the reality sunk in a little more. We were riding from London to Paris!!!!
When we got to the hotel, I realised my bake light was broken – the read cover had fallen off. The light had fallen off on the Saturday ride and had appeared intact but I had obviously lost it somewhere between home and the hotel. I also didn’t have a padlock. While we checked in, Justin nipped to a bike shop to purchase a new light and padlock (incidentally, neither of which I actually needed in the end). We dropped our bike into the event room – we couldn’t register until 6pm but some of the support crew were there. We were all VERY nervous. When Justin returned, we said our goodbyes which was quite emotional (for me). The next time I saw him, we would be at the Eiffel Tower at the end of the ride (shit!).
We had a cup of tea to kill time before we could registered. At 6pm on the dot we headed to the event room to register and were given a bag full of information including a little booklet with each day’s routes, mileage and assents. Which we then returned to the restaurant to study the information over dinner and one glass of wine.
87 miles, 5,729ft of climbs, 7 hours and 13 minutes in the saddle. Croydon to Calais.
That night, I don’t think any of us slept well. We had to be up for breakfast at 6.30 with the morning’s registration at 6.45 to set off at 7am. I couldn’t really eat anything and in the room at registration it was more like we were waiting to be executed rather than set off on a ride that was supposed to be fun. Everyone was quiet and almost sussing each other out. There were 15 of us in total plus the 4 support crew – 2 would ride with us (Ian and Stewart), 1 was the bike mechanic (Gwid) and the other would provide the refreshments (James). I was increasingly terrified when they said that we would be riding as one big group and that they would be looking for an average pace of 14-15mph. There was no way I would be able to maintain that speed over the distance and assents of day 1. It was also concerning as we were against the clock as we had a ferry to catch!
We headed out to the front of the hotel for a group photo before heading off. Even thinking about it now makes me nervous! I was slightly relieved when one of the girls said she would never average 14-15mph – phew, it wasn’t only me.
The first few miles out of London (Croydon) were pretty hairy as you can imagine. There was lots of traffic and there was a bit of stop starting and quite a few undulations (hills).
In the booklet, they had broken down each ride:
- From the hotel to the first water stop
- First water stop to lunch
- Lunch to second water stop
- Second water top to hotel
It said the first water stop was after 18 mile and quite a long ascent. It was probably more like 22 miles and a very long ascent. When we got to “Just at the top of this hill” we arrived at the water stop. It was most welcome. Jenna had acquired a slow puncture, so while we had a cup of tea, a banana and some sweets, the support crew changed her inner tube.
This stop like many to follow did not have “facilities” it was therefore a case of squatting behind a bush, tree or whatever could be found (in this instance some farm machinery). It is quite interesting in cycling gear where you pretty much have to fully undress!
After probably 15 minutes, we were back on the bikes. The day is pretty much a blur however, I remember the road to lunch was undulating. I also think before lunch we had the first two falls – one because I believe Laurence clipped the wheel of another cyclist and the other due to Mark trying to move his bike with his foot still clipped in. There were a number of technical issues – one which resulted in Jane falling behind and being involved in a contra-ton with a motorist who evidentially didn’t understand the Highway Code. We also has an interesting encounter with another motorist who really didn’t like cyclists and held his hand out of the window holding up his middle finger as he went passed us rather quickly.
Anyway, lunch was in a village hall. I was still very anxious and couldn’t stomach much food. While we were eating, Gwid lube-ed my bike which was annoyingly squeaky.
We were very relieved to realise that we were over half way for the day and had well over half of the hills under our belts. This happiness was short lived. Although we had most of the hills as well as the worst under our belts, we had the miles in our legs after lunch which made every incline 10 times worse. This part of the day was one of the toughest of the whole ride. It really was every (wo)man for him(her)self. It seemed that every hill we saw on the horizon, we were going up it and some just seemed never ending. The worst was after the second water stop. Everyone struggled and my throat started making a noise I have never heard before (or since) due to my breathlessness. I really thought I would have to get off and walk. But I kept going very slowly and eventually got to the top. After the second stop, I started taking blocks every 5 miles. Without them, I am not sure I would have had the energy to keep going up the hills. But surprisingly on the last incline, I felt really good.
The decent into Dover almost came as a shock – I couldn’t quite believe we had made it. How had we made it? We were overjoyed. After some cycling in circles to get on the ferry, we did our last ascent of the day – the ramp onto the ferry. We were in Dover. We were on the ferry. The longest and hilliest day done (almost).
The Ferry to Calais
Weirdly, there is no real “bike rack” on a ferry so we leaned our bikes up and headed straight to the restaurant. The journey went surprisingly quickly. We enjoyed a ferry meal, chatted to our fellow cyclists and desperately yearned for a shower. We were soon heading back to our bikes which luckily were still here and saddled up. Calais was pretty hectic. Luckily we were pulled to one side and escorted out of the Port. While being escorted, one of the lads – Louis flew over his handle bars for no apparent reason. It soon transpired that his derailer (the back bit that changes the gears) had basically disintegrated. He was therefore unable to cycle to the hotel and got a ride in the support van. The rest of us had rather a leisurely, flat, 2 mile ride to the hotel.
My room buddy was Katie. We checked in, did our stretches and each had a well-earned shower. Once ready, we headed to the bar where we had one glass of wine with the other girls and chatted to Paul, Laurence, Chris and Mark. We were exhausted so we soon went to bed. I had had some back issues in the run up to the ride so throughout the day took paracetamol and ibruprophen before setting at lunch. Before bed, Katie and I both applied deep heat.
I had hoped that after the day’s exertions, I would sleep well however, again sleep eluded me so unfortunately did not feel “fully refreshed” in the morning.
79.8 miles, 3,795 feet of climbs, 6 hours 31 minutes in the saddle. Calais to Arras.
Before getting back on the bike
For some reason getting ready in the morning seemed to take longer than expected and breakfast was pretty rushed.
Sadly it was the 1st anniversary of Nicole’s brother’s death. He had died of bacterial Meningitis the year before. A death which probably could have been avoided had his college vaccinated against it following the prior death of one of his colleagues. She was understandably upset as were the rest of the group who were friends of his.
Starting to enjoy the Hills
The second day was more sedate than day one. I actually began to enjoy hills. We went up a lovely hill through a forest on a quiet road where we were able to ride two abreast. We took it really steady and were able to chat as we went. The scenery was lovely. Following on from the first day, Kate, Katie, Jenna and I decided to stay together, we would stay at the back of the group. We stuck together up all of the hills, chatted and generally enjoyed the ride. There were obviously some tough bits – the ascent to lunch was long and into the wind. It was hard going. Lunch was much appreciated and today I didn’t hold back. We sat in the shade in a lovely grassy spot. One issue. No loo. So, the guys moved one of the vans in front of a hedge and we took it in turns to go behind it.
At lunch the guys from Bristol marked a year since George’s passing.
Kate, Katie, Jenna and I were rather emotional and shed a few tears. We had a hug and a cry. Although I had bitched and moaned about the ride, I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone other than these girls and at that moment in time, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else than there with them.
The Rocky Road to Arras
The rest of the day was pretty much downhill to Arras. Literally downhill, not that it got worse. There was a hairy couple of miles. We were entering a village and Stu told us to take it steady, that there was some debris in the round. I thought, how bad it can be…. We rounded the corner and the road was littered in stones. They were literally everywhere. I unclipped my left foot and we all took it very steady. It turned out a tractor that had been carrying the stones had been dropping them for about 2 miles. They were lovely flint stones that I think were intended for a driveway or something similar. I would have been surprised if there had been any left by the time they got to their destination.
It was quite scary when cars passed – especially when they didn’t slow down. One such vehicle pinged a stone towards Kate which nearly hit her! Poor Louis was concentrating on avoiding the stones so much that he clipped the wheel of someone else’s bike and came off again. Luckily we all made it through the Rocky Road (haha) without too many issues.
When we arrived in Arras, before going to the hotel, we headed to the Commonwealth War memorial cemetery. We had a look around at the rows upon rows of graves. A stark reminder of all those lives lost. The loved ones of previous generations.
It was a lovely evening. And although busy, it was an enjoyable ride to the hotel. We were soon at the hotel and enjoying a shower before heading down to the bar. We were feeling pretty good. Mileage wise, we were over half way. It was a wonderful feeling.
My roomy and I Katie met with the other two and headed to the bar where we met with the rest of the group. We all went out to a restaurant round the corner and enjoyed a good meal whilst getting to know each other a little better. The restaurant was in a lovely square. It was really pretty. Adjacent to it was another square with a really lovely church. Kate, Katie and I wanted a photo in front of the church. But we wanted to get the tip of the spire in. It seemed to be easier said than done and the four of us ended in hysterics. We must’ve looked like a bunch of baffoons. We resorted to asking one of the group to take the photo for us. And then we had a group photo. It was a lovely evening.
We headed to bed – it was early but we were tired.
76.2 miles 2,736 feet of elevation 5 hours and 35 minutes on the bike. Arras to Compiegne.
There was a storm during the night. There was also some knocking. Katie and I did not sleep well. In the morning it became evident that Kate and Jenna had had some noisy revellers outside their window. They hadn’t slept well either. The packing didn’t get any quicker so we were again later down to breakfast than arranged. I ate 2 croissants. Lovely!
We had our morning brief and were on our way. We had a pretty speedy start being dragged along by Ian.
The morning ride went through the Somme. We stopped at war cemeteries along the way. It was pretty beautiful. And was enjoyable. It is easy to look back on this through rose tinted glasses though. But everything was hurting. Everything. Even my thumbs.
At the start of the ride (day one), it was evident that not many of the group had been on rides out with Cycling Clubs. When you go out in a group, it is often necessary to point or call out hazard such as “hole left” or point to the hole on the left “slowing” – an up and down motion with your hand “stopping” I am not sure what the sign is for that. As we went through the ride, the group became more vocal and would call out the holes and other hazards to the extent that, if we were being filmed, we might call them out even if there weren’t any.
One of my favourite things about the ride was working as a team and riding together. When it was windy (which it often was due in France to there being few hedges) we would take it in turns to go at the front of the group. This would provide some shelter for those behind and make it so much easier to ride. We also helped out others in the group if they were struggling. The lovely thing was the four of us did it together. We were ways together and we always worked as a team.
The best wild loo
Day Three saw the best of our Wild Loo stops. We had stopped in a not attractive car park and across the road was an area with big wooden reels of cable which were placed in a manner in which we each had our own little “cubicles”. It was a hoot.
The ride following the last water stop wasn’t too long. We had to go through Compiegne which was quite busy but we eventually arrived at the hotel. The hotel was really very nice. The four of us had some photos outside. We were over joyed to have day three under our belts.
After getting quickly ready we headed to the bar and enjoyed a lovely evening with the rest of the team. It was quite strange talking about the end of the ride the next day.
Day Four – the last day. Katie’s Birthday
72.1 miles 3,206 feet of climbs 6 hours 6 minutes on the bike. Compiegne to Paris!
The next day, the last day it was Katie’s birthday. The night before she had spoken to her sister and parents. She had spoken to her sister every night via FaceTime and the night before she hadn’t been able to. I knew it was because they were in Paris waiting to surprise her at the finish line. It was so exciting and I don’t know how they didn’t let the cat out of the bag.
During the briefing, we sang happy birthday to Katie and Chris (as it was his birthday it was too).
The last ride
On setting off from the hotel, we went along some lovely lanes through forested areas (after initially going the wrong way. There was one climb which was tough but we were soon descending into a lovely village for the first water stop. As I rounded the corner, I spotted my camper van and the realisation dawned on me that Justin had come to surprise me (I knew he would be at the Eiffel Tower but I didn’t realise he was coming to the water stop). I started to cry. I told the girls that it was my van but I think they thought it was a van like my van. As I came down the hill, I tried to smile through my tears but I think it ended up being a grimace. It was so so lovely to see Justin and I am pretty convinced he was emotional too. Jenna said she cried when she saw Woody. The little dog was there too. And luckily, we were able to use the toilet on our van.
The stop was over all too quickly and we were all on our way. The next time I saw Justin, it’d be at the finish!
The last lunch
We took a few wrong turns on the way to the lunch stop. When we got there, the guys had decorated the area with balloons. They had also bought 2 cakes which we put “Happy Birthday” candles in. We sang happy birthday to Katie and Chris again. The lunch was as lovely as usual (I miss the lunches).
We had a few more miles of countryside before we saw Paris in the distance and then we were in the suburbs. The latter part of the day was very stop/start through Paris. We managed to stay together quite well. There was one last water stop (the least picturesque of the ride). We then had a just a couple more miles until the meeting point at the Louis Vuitton museum where we had a short stop (I managed to talk my way in to use the facilities). It was a gorgeous day and we only had a few more miles to go. It was very emotional. Shortly after we set off again, we were all overwhelmed when we turned a corner and there was the Arc de Triumph. There were tears!
The final approach
The Champs Elise was hairy – cars, buses and vehicles everywhere. And cobbles after 4 days in the saddle were not the best on the bottom. I was a bit worried that with the thin wheels it’d be quite easy to come a cropper. When we got to the Arc de Triumph we just had to go for it. It was all very surreal and I was concentrating more on making it round then taking in the sights! At the bottom of the Champs Elise we crossed the Seine. We could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Although we could see it, for a while it didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
We cycled along the Seine, in front of the Eiffel Tower and left up a street to come in at the back of the tower. We could see our family and friends waiting for us.
It was incredible. We had made it to the end of our ride. As we cycled round, Katie saw her family. We were all sobbing. Literally. We had made it! I can quite honestly say that from wondering what the hell I was doing, the experience was the most amazing of my life. It was incredible. Very challenging but such a wonderful experience. I was so glad to have done it and to have done it with Kate Katie ad Jenna. It is an experience none of us will ever forget. I want to do it again!
Needless to say, we had a couple of glasses of champagne that evening.
The group was made up of:
The Bristol Crew
The brave ones who came on their own
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