THE RIDE ITSELF!

I cycled from London to Paris to raise money for Computer Aid International who refurbish old computers for worthwhile projects in less fortunate countries:
I DID IT! PLEASE DONATE! Go to my page on the JustGiving website.

LONDON TO PARIS – THE RIDE

eiffel tower

I'm in the yellow jersey

It’s done! 3 days and 199 miles of pedalling, and we’re in Paris. Not, as I’d assumed, cycling up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, but instead dicing with the traffic around the Eiffel Tower. But I’m ahead of myself. Let’s begin at the start.

THE JOURNEY

It was a warm sunny May morning when we gathered at the Holiday Inn car park in Bexley Heath, South East London.

Some of us were struggling with the 6.30 start time. This very early start struck me as somewhat unkind, as there followed about an hour of messing about and a short briefing. We actually set off at about 7.45. For the first 15 or so miles we were mixing it with London commuter traffic and bouncing our way over last winter’s potholes, but then we gradually left the city heading for Rochester, with some great views of the Thames Estuary.

After Rochester we pretty much followed the Pilgrim’s Way, or rode on country lanes alongside the M20 or the Eurostar High Speed rail line. So not always peaceful. At one point I found myself riding through the village of Burham at the foot of the North Downs. This was a slightly bizarre experience as we lived in Burham for a couple of years around 1970, while I proved myself as a young manager at the British Road Services transport depot in the nearby town of Strood – a place as dreadful as it sounds. The experience was definately character-building, although not exactly enjoyable. We were glad to escape Burham and the corporate environment, and head for Plymouth, where I began my career as a serial entrepreneur. I never imagined that 40 years later I’d be pedalling through the village on a cycling challenge!

The rest of the day was a succession of hills and rest stops. The hills on the first day were by far the worst. One of the guys had an iPhone app that calculated the distance and total elevation. We climbed 2300 ft on day one. Not quite the 9000 ft I’d read somewhere, but plenty hilly enough. The worst hill was the last one, climbing from near Folkestone to Dover. From the top the view of the Eurotunnel terminal below was hardly lovely, but it was spectacular, with France in the distance. The long swoop down into Dover almost made up for the pain of the climb.

We had lunch on the first day in a pub next to a gently flowing river – an archetypal English scene. Shame the food was rubbish, although apparently the pub had suffered a “plumbing emergency” that morning so maybe we shouldn’t be too

harsh.

We took the ferry from Dover to Calais, then had to endure a 2 and a half hour coach trip to Dieppe, collapsing into our beds at about 1 am. There was a good reason for this strange journey, which I won’t bore you with. If you really want to know, you can ask me. Luckily we were allowed a lie-in next morning, not setting off until 10 am. We needed it.

The middle day was through some idyllic Normandy countryside, with delightful, well-kept villages and rolling green fields. We enjoyed a great lunch in an ancient auberge with views for miles. No plumbing problems here. It would have been a perfect day without the buffeting wind, which blew in our faces all the way. The evening hotel was excellent, again providing good food. The only trouble was another early start on the last day, this time leaving the hotel at 7 am.

The final day’s ride started through similarly pretty scenery, and as the wind had dropped

cycling french village

Yes it is me!

we were better able to appreciate it. Another great lunch, in a swanky golf club near Cergy Pontoise. Paris beckoned, and We gradually entered the suburbs of the city. It was Sunday, so traffic, although heavy, could have been worse. By this time I’d realised my mistake regarding the final destination, so it was quite a feeling when the Eiffel Tower finally hove into view just a couple of blocks away. It’s surprising how difficult it is to see from most of Paris.

I have to say that the arrival at the finish was a bit of an anticlimax, at least for me. I think the congratulations we exchanged were sincere, and we all felt we had achieved something special, but there was little sense of having bonded as a group, probably because we hadn’t! Maybe I’m just a cynical old git (I am), but it wasn’t the moving and uplifting moment I’d anticipated. The Champagne was welcome, though.

Every day was exhausting, and for most of us it was a case of dinner followed by bed. The first day we rode for about 74 miles and on the last for about 75. The middle day was only 50 miles, so should have been easier, but unfortunately the strong head wind meant it was as tiring as the other days. The weather was warm and sunny throughout; a little cooler would have helped, but thank goodness it was dry.

Of course the ride was not a race, and although you all know I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, I can report that I would mostly find myself riding somewhere around 10th – not bad, eh?

THE LOGISTICS

The rest stops were well organised and about every 12 to 15 miles. The organisers provided nuts, dried fruit, apples, bananas, oranges and energy bars, and lots of water. The only thing missing on a number of the stops were toilet facilities – not too much of a problem for the gents who could always find a convenient bush, but not so good for the ladies.

I was impressed with the overall organisation of the ride. We were accompanied by a van driven by a mechanic who was able to change an inner tube at lightening speed and seemed able to adjust slipping gears by the power of his mind alone. He also drove at the back of the group to collect any stragglers (none in our case), and to remove the route signs for that stage. These had been put up by the lead car, which set off 10 minutes or so before the riders, signed the stage and set up the refreshments for the next stop – all very efficiently done.

THE RIDERS AND THE BIKES

The group comprised 27 cyclists, of all ages and abilities, although none was a complete beginner. Given the nature of the charity, it was unsurprising that most of the participants worked in the IT industry. Perhaps this accounted for the preponderance of male riders – there were only 3 women, one of whom represented the charity and one of whom was Sarah, the volunteer doctor, She was our slowest rider but by no means disgraced, finishing every stage, and of course being at the back meant she was well placed to deal with any medical emergencies (again, none). Her achievement was particularly notable in that she rode the whole way in what can only be described as golden slippers. Not quite the footwear a medic might have been expected to sport!

Bikes varied from expensive hi-tech roadsters to a basic mountain bike borrowed from a friend. I enjoyed cycling with a group of young interns from Microsoft, one of whom had rigged up a small battery driven music system to while away the miles. I often rode alone, although on the more windy stretches we would tend to bunch up and take turns in the lead, which was really helpful. Just like the Tour de France.

THE CONCLUSION

It was hard work, but a fantastic thing to have done. Although the group never really bonded in its entirety, I met a few really nice people with whom it would be good to keep in touch. I couldn’t have done it without the training, so I’m pleased with myself for having stuck to the schedule as much as for having completed the ride itself.

I’m left with a slight feeling of “what now?”. Cycling has pretty much taken over my life for the last few months, and getting some of it back will be very welcome. But I’d like to keep cycling regularly, as I know that if I don’t all the benefits in terms of fitness will be lost.

So a final thanks to all those who have donated. You’ve all been incredibly generous and I wouldn’t even have made it to the start without your help. Now that the ride is over, I’ve hit 87% of my target £1350, just £170 short. It would be so satisfying to actually hit the target. If you haven’t yet got round to doing so you can still donate on my JustGiving page.

And for my next challenge…………

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