Long, hard and sweaty – it was the ride of my life
If you have read my last blog, you’ll know I had serious doubts. I wasn’t sure I could cover the 300 miles / 500 kilometres from London to Paris on a bike. I didn’t think I had the stamina to go the distance. I was afraid and I felt like a bit of an idiot for signing up. Sure, it was for a great cause, but Paris is a heck of a long way away.
In training, I had never done more than 66 miles in a day, the longest day of the four-day bike ride would be 85 miles. I don’t know how to change a puncture and as the date of departure loomed ever larger on the calendar, I repeatedly asked myself what had I been thinking.
The morning of the 14th of September was dry but cold. At Eltham Palace in South London, a couple of hundred riders gathered. Some were seasoned pros who had done the route multiple times before. But plenty were novices like me, smiling in both excitement and in trepidation. We scoffed bacon sandwiches and donned rain jackets and then we were off. It was a relief to finally set out, after all the weeks of worry this was it and either I would make it or I wouldn’t.
The first day I got lost. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone a group of 15 of us missed a turn on the A20 and found ourselves off course. But it didn’t matter, we were in it together and with the help of a ride captain and a motorcycle outrider we got back on course. At the lunch stop, I discovered that we were the only riders to take a scenic detour. Several sweaty hours and a few hills later, I stood atop of cliff of Dover grinning from ear to ear. We’d made it to Dover and maybe just maybe if I’d made it there I could make it to Paris.
Day two for me was the hardest. My body unfamiliar to such long stints in the saddle protested loudly, my back was killing me. The breaks were short and the distance between them long. When we finally rolled into Abbeville the doubts returned with a vengeance, could I keep going for two more days? But day three, after getting my back pummelled by a friendly physio, I turned a corner. The scenery was stunning, my fellow riders were friendly and supportive and I started not just enjoying the ride but loving it.
Day four dawned and I was sorry the ride would be over so soon. The weather was exceptionally kind to us and despite a miserable forecast and ominous dark clouds, it stayed dry. I had one final confidence wobble, 40 kilometres outside Paris when the marshals explained that we were coming up on the longest and steepest downhill of the entire ride. I am a right wuss when it comes to downhills, they scare the pants off me. But slowly with a white-knuckle grip on the breaks, I made it down the hill and all too soon all two hundred of us were riding into the centre of Paris. The feeling of reaching the Eiffel Tower was incredible. A feeling of elation swept through the group as we posed for the camera. We had made it, London to Paris by bike in four days.