London to Paris Cycle: 300 miles, 2 countries, 4 days...
Aileen, our Director of Finance and Marcus, our Director of HR and Volunteering, took on one huge challenge when they decided to cycle from London to Paris to make wishes come true! Aileen gives a day-by-day account of the trip:
The night before
We're feeling apprehensive. The furthest we've ever ridden in a training ride is 80 miles – will we make the 95 miles to the ferry in time?! To calm our nerves, we found a pub and had burger and chips for tea – washed down with an alcoholic beverage or two! The best intentions of pasta loading went out the window! Our accommodation was conveniently located, but otherwise it would be fair to say reflective of the price of £20 each….
Day 1 – 105 miles – Crystal Palace, London to Calais
Meet time was 6am, so our alarm was set for 5am (Urghhhhh)
We are prepared for every type of weather…rain, cold, wind…all except sun! And guess what? It's sunny and we've forgotten the suncream!
There's a mass briefing at Crystal Palace before the start and the most important message is to follow the orange triangles (Marcus should have paid more attention at this point!!)
Within first half mile, one of other cyclists had major problem with their bike, and we're hoping ours keep going for the duration. We cycled through beautiful countryside, the small villages in Kent are particularly lovely – the route planning is superb and great that we are largely avoiding main roads.
My first injury of the trip is a done by a nasty horse fly or hornet which got stuck in my t-shirt sleeve so kept on stinging me... ouch!
Marcus took Lynn in the wrong direction and added 5 miles to their trip! What were we told about the orange triangles?! This was followed by a chain coming off and a puncture...
But we all made it to the holding pub a couple of miles from the ferry in plenty of time for a refreshing alcoholic drink.
Three and a half hours later we arrived at the hotel in Calais following fish and chips…. We're tired and sore, but relieved to have made it through the longest day and to be in France.
There's great support from the crew that accompanies us consisting of 2 people carriers (that look after the water stops and can also be dispatched to ‘sweep up’ slower riders or find lost riders who missed the orange arrows), a mechanics van, the catering van and the truck that carried our overnight bags from hotel to hotel.
Day 2 – 72 miles – Calais to Abbeville
Everyone's feeling a lot more relaxed at breakfast, and we're on the road by 0830. Each day is split into ride, water stop (with energy providing snacks), ride, lunch, ride, water stop, ride and then finally - overnight stop. We’ve all dropped the wet weather gear today as it looks like it’s going to be a fabulous day – plenty of sun cream needed!
Marcus took Lynn in the wrong direction…again…. (recurring theme here!) It's incredibly windy…everyone fighting with their bikes to keep going across the hills, which were tough. Rolling through village after village but no-one seems to live in any of them. It's superb French scenery everywhere we look!
Then we stop for a fabulous lunch…how 2 guys manage to prepare such lunches from the back of a converted transit van is amazing. We've got an overnight stay in Abbeville with the final few miles through busy traffic but everyone arrives safely for refreshments, sitting in the sunshine before dinner.
Day 3 – 67 miles – Abbeville to Beauvais
It's a staggered start today and the slower riders begin at 0730 with the quicker groups going later.
We’d all hoped with wind would have dropped but although it's really sunny we're still battling it, coated in sun cream.
We continue to be inspired by the stories people tell as to why they’re doing this…many of the group have very personal links to the causes they are supporting. My partner Mark had a minor issue with the set-up of his bike – but the excellent diagnosis and support from the mechanic team he's soon back on the bike. We cycle onto the hotel in Beauville via the busiest and most dangerous roads we’ve experienced yet for some refreshments!
We've got some very attractive suntans developing from just above the knee down and on finger tips (courtesy of shorts and fingerless gloves!)
Day 4 – 54 miles – Beauville to Paris
The day we’ve been waiting for is finally here and we're onto Paris! Everyone rode in much larger groups on this day as the towns get busier and busier towards the City.
Can’t believe we started the day saying “ONLY 50 miles to do today!” – just a few short weeks ago after our first 50 mile training ride literally every part of our bodies hurt. Disaster for one rider as just miles from Paris he clipped wheels with another rider, has a fall and is taken to hospital. Not a major injury, but needs to keep arm in a sling for 2 weeks – had to complete the trip inside the support van which is so upsetting when so close.
We all meet as arranged in a park close to the Arc de Triumph and are handed our matching London to Paris t-shirts. A few went for a swim in the lake whilst waiting and we’re all in a celebratory mood.
All 80 riders are in convoy for final couple of miles to the Eiffel Tower. The support vans in front and behind are with outriders which are stopping the traffic at roundabouts and traffic lights. Fabulous support from locals and tourists who clapped us in!
It's an emotional arrival at the Eiffel Tower, and we cycle a couple of times around the roundabout to celebrate…just because we can!
Next up, we enjoy champagne from a plastic cup, and have multiple pictures of holding the bikes over our heads… we're surprised that we had the strength lift! All our bikes are loaded onto the truck ready to return to London via the ferry overnight.
Our final evening is lots of fun, ending with a massive table football tournament and the bulk of the group visiting the local Irish Bar.
Day 5 – Homeward bound
We have a free half day to sleep and wander around Paris prior to getting the Eurostar back to St. Pancras. Our bikes are waiting for us in a park just next to the station, with orange arrows provided to make it easy for us to find them.
And guess what? Marcus took Lynn the wrong way again, so missed the goodbyes with the rest of the group!
Mark and I cycle to Paddington for train home – possibly the worst leg of the whole trip – drivers without any consideration for cyclist (especially cyclists with rucksacks on their backs) and the worst potholes ever...
Some great friendships have been made. Everyone was happy with their achievement and the support they had from family and friends that enabled them to complete the ride and raise a lot of money for great causes.