Having finished the C2C Reivers Route (there’s an article about it in the Blog Archive) we were discussing the next adventure. It was Ray and Craig that said - Flitwick to Paris!
They felt that something overseas held that certain something - a bit of adventure, foreign roads, a little bit exotic and in the grand scheme of things not too far away (they thought!).
Rosie’s selection for the Special Olympics GB Team and the £2000 price tag gave the incentive to resurrect the idea. It seemed to light the fire of a few people - at one time we had a database of nearly 45 riders that had expressed an interest!
I wanted it to be a ride to remember and not to burden the riders with the onerous task of having to raise too much sponsorship. That said any monies will come in very useful and it looks like we should be able to provide a legacy for other Special Olympic athletes in the future.
F2P squad plus a few club members!
There were some nerves kicking around before the off as rider after rider came in to the kitchen complaining of feeling sick! It had become suddenly very real and that ‘must do some training’ was too late.
It was a relief to actually get on my bike and roll off down the drive! The event had taken ages to arrive but was suddenly upon us, so much so that the night before I was still doing our youngest son’s paper round at ten o’clock!
Friends, well wishers and fellow cyclists certainly gave the neighbours something to talk about as the ‘peleton’ left Warwick Close in the Grand Depart! The F2P riders where augmented by fellow iCylists coming to see us on our way and it being Good Friday ride at least as far as the first coffee stop. The writing was on the wall as Bill took us towards the first climb of the day and that Sunday Club stalwart - Hexton Hill!
I dropped off the back of the group at the A6 and rode with Trevor and Lorraine across to and up Hexton Hill. Just as we got to the top the peleton clipped in and disappeared ahead! I phoned Craig, then took the turn to Barton to go and meet him and ride with him to Vanstone.
We arrived just in time for everyone to be leaving - this was going to be a long and thirsty ride! However safely in the pack the morning drifted by especially with the help of a large slice of that cyclist's friend - The Malt Loaf, and not forgetting a fantastic group of people.
Julie & Stuart excited at the first coffee stop!
Lunch at Epping and a Subway sandwich was just the job for the afternoon session although some where seen tucking into some large ice cream sundies! Refuelled, we headed off into ever increasing traffic as we moved towards the Thames.
We did manage another garden centre stop where Julie had a £5 donated from the manager! A mention to Simon Scott who had stayed with us for all of the morning session and had been great company - thanks.
Douglas waiting at the Dartford Crossing
The crossing over the Thames was interesting, the drivers full of nuggets of information. It seems the roads where so busy because they where repairing the Blackwall Tunnel so all the traffic was using the bridge
Strangely enough the only reason we were using the bridge was because a ferry further down stream didn’t run on Bank Holiday’s!
A few more hills(!) followed before the final arrival at the first hotel, which was very welcome. There had expectations I think that being something of a longer club ride we would all be in our hotels by mid afternoon.
It slowly dawned on people that you where either on you bike, eating or sleeping. Some off us managed 2 out of the 3 at the same time. A shower, food & beer and everything was rosy.
Karen was touched by the cake and the rendition of Happy Birthday, I don’t think she will forget this one in a hurry. The social side of the group was working well and the start of new acquaintances and friendships started over the evening meal/beer - there was certainly plenty of laughter.
DAY TWO, Medway to Boulogne
Today I felt quite good and with everyone relaxed it seemed we were starting to get into our stride, the sun was shining and all was well with the world.
Early on in the ride seeing Douglas and Gary bombing down a steep hill as we turned off was quite amusing (for us behind them at least!).
A slower group was starting to form and we pressed on whilst the faster ones waited for the 2 descenders. We rode on quite relaxed and whilst the Ferry time was hanging over us we were all riding easy. We even forewent the coffee stop (only 18 miles in) and pushed on only to stop a few miles later when Jeremy punctured.
The roads reminded me very much of the 2007 Tour de France stage from London to Canterbury. Stuart and I rode it as a sportive and was amazed (and tired) by how much climbing there was.
It was on another of those very steep hills where we stopped at a T-junction for a car only for it to turn off before us. Phil lost his cool and I think the owner of the open top Merc was left in no doubt as to the annoyance his lack of signalling had caused! (It certainly isn’t printable!).
Whilst Rob and Jeremy set too on a puncture repair, we had a pleasant chat with a local family out for a stroll, soon though we where on our way again. It was shortly after this that Jeremy came down.
Things didn’t go to well for a while - no one knew exactly where we where, the ambulance went up the wrong road and Leo was off tracking down Craig.
Eventually with Jeremy comfortably in the safe hands of the paramedic the riders pushed on.
The ambulance took Jeremy off and I waited for Leo to come and pick up the bikes. Craig, now in the car phoned to ask where I was only to find I had day 3’s map! Fortunately Jeremy’s Garmin said we where 23.85 miles in.
We contacted Trevor and Lorraine who were also off course and by some strange coincidence were near to Ashford - where Jeremy was also headed!
We met up again with Jeremy in A&E and sat with him until taken away for X-ray and then waited until the consultant came round.
Having acertained the extent of his injuries and Jeremy being admitted for an operation there was little to do but leave him in the safe hands of the NHS and leave for Dover.
I felt really bad about leaving Jeremy alone in Ashford with his family so far away in Scotland.
Trevor noticed the efficient use of NHS monies with the temperature well in the 20’s the heating in the loo’s was full on! He wasn’t sure if he passed more water through his skin than...
A subdued afternoon tea stop en route to Dover.
Kevin trying to leave the country!
After a messy, expensive and time consuming wait we eventually boarded SeaFrance to leave the White Cliffs and to ride on foreign soil!
Another moment of panic when Douglas came out of the hotel and said they didn’t have our booking! Once settled and our bikes safely tucked away in a lockable store we were off for a few more beers and more food (although some did go to Macdonalds) - half way!
Bill and Kevin compare the days route
DAY THREE, Boulogne to Amiens
Leo Logistics and that rather nice car!
Off we went and hit an early downhill section. Craig pulled up to find he had a flat - if that had happened a few moments earlier it could have been really horrible! We took the opportunity to dash to a nearby supermarket to buy lunch, which proved to be rather nice panini’s - which probably would turn out to be better had they been cooked!
France gives the feeling of space!
Bill’s routes again picked out some hilly bits but this morning it all seemed a bit more ‘exotic’. Loved the ride up the ‘Col’, with grand views all around. The weather was just superb, bit too hot when you stopped but great being on the move. The roads were generally quiet and we were getting a few bibs of encouragement.
Top of the world ma! Well it felt like it! Ray & Phil at the top of the Col.
The ride was slowly finding it’s own rhythms now and we had two distinct groups on the road. A faster group of about six led the way whilst the main group took a more leisurely approach!
Bill on the front setting the pace
We all looked after each other and I was greatly impressed by Ross dropping back and encouraging and making sure people where ok
This group had history though - most of them (apart from Ross and Ed) have been cycling together on and off for 13 or so years, not to mention all the luvvies from Panto!
There was plenty of banter, laughter and a lot of talk of peanut oil!
Some of us made a detour before lunch - Ed lost his computer on a descent and I stopped to help retrieve it. Karen waited at the bottom of the hill (another T junction) and Ray waited at the brow of the next hill. We re grouped and with Ed map reading we made excellent progress in what was completely the wrong direction
We (Karen) eventually asked (at yet another T junction) a French chap were we were. He said we where 13k off route! With new directions we pedalled off eventually meeting up with Trevor and Lorraine - all downhill or on the flat - result! A few turns (a big hill) and we were at the Manure Heap for lunch!
Trevor and Lorraine lead a more relaxed group.
A bit of an up and a downer after lunch and after starting out quite quick Karen and I eased back to join the slower group as Ed had expressed how he wanted to keep the group together. Ed then sailed past drafting the trailer and was not seen again till the tea stop
The stop was in a small town and we sat at the pavement tables watching the world go by whilst sipping our café au lait’s. Some were even pouring water over their heads in a effort to reduce their body temperatures!
Ray, Leo and Stuart enjoying various beverages
Trevor enjoying the bar life - those beers looked so goooood!
And so to the next hotel, this time a bit more confusion as the payment had not been taken (Trevor kindly got out his credit card). So with the delay as we got booked in we took the time to lie around
Here one of those truly French idiosyncrasies came to the fore. Rather than giving the sole room occupancies a towel each they gave every other one two towels! There was some amusement as Bill tried to find a ‘towel buddy’ that hadn’t used both of them!
We couldn’t find anywhere local to eat (all booked or packed out) so wandered down the road to our second Buffalo Grill of the trip. We took the opportunity to sit outside in a great big L and enjoyed the easy camaraderie of fellows of the road! A really lovely evening.
DAY FOUR, Amiens to Paris
Having had nowhere to store the bikes we had put them in the trailer so a little time was spent getting organised this morning, although some naughty people took there’s to bed with them!
The Cafe with no milk! Oh espresso’s all round then!
Another really hot day as we rolled ever south, the early morning stop was a little village café that had no milk so just espresso's all round, probably the most custom he had seen in ages but oh so typically French. Edward was much taken with the fact that you could go to the loo and still hold a conversation with people in the bar.
The slower group pulled out early and as we cycled away there was a brief image behind of the small peleton of riders with the car/trailer behind and with the rape seed glowing it was very reminiscent of the Tour de France.
We toiled along rolling hills until today's lunch stop - a layby (with proper sandwiches) but very little shade! It seemed to get at least 10° hotter as soon as you stopped. Everyone was a bit frazzled now but Ray still found some time for a quick top up of his tan
Lunch was taken at a strategic point - after the big climb of the day. Unfortunately just after lunch we hit the big climb of the day. All this confirmed our belief that Bill was just playing with our heads!
After the big climb of the day we rolled ever south with the roads becoming ever busier as we approached the suburbs of the spiralling mass of Paris
The slower group missed the afternoon stop so we stopped in front of the other group on the edge of a park and waited for them to catch up. Refuelled we set off on the last stretch through Paris.
Leo nervously climbed back into the car - no one to navigate for him now as we all rode the glory leg.
We rode along cycle paths and twisting quiet suburban roads inching ever closer. Traffic lights and keeping the group together made for a slow crossing of the capital. This was something of a worry for Edward who had a train to catch
We finally reached the Seine and a bike race! The roads closed to let the riders have the freedom to fly. At this point most of us thought we would now take a leisurely ride along a riverside tow path/cycle path but no - there where still hills to be found!
We crossed the river and lost Trevor and Lorraine. As the river snaked its way we took the shorter route over the hills to the next valley. At the crest of one hill we looked down to see the Eiffel Tower framed between an avenue of trees - almost there. Another steep hill followed - one with traffic lights on - the sort of hill you pull wheelies on if you can get clipped in!
The F2P reaches the Seine complete with Jeremy’s bike
And then suddenly round a corner and there’s Trevor and Lorraine outside the hotel - job done
We took some team photo’s by the river with Jeremy’s bike centre stage - before Edward grabs a taxi and heads for the train station. Trevor and Lorraine book us all in and a few retire to their rooms for rest and recuperation.
Phil’s computer with his total milage.
So we start cycling in completely the wrong direction along a muddy footpath. We finally find tarmac and Garmin’s and other electronic devises start throwing us directions. We use various cycl ways and skirt a large wooded area where it seems the local ladies of the night pedal their wares. Rob seems to get more than he bargained for when one young lady scoops out her ample chest!
After negotiating an extremely large and busy roundabout we arrive at The Tower. We have actually arrived at the other side of the river to The Tower at a viewing area. There is some entertainment going on and the sun is low in the sky bathing the area in a golden glow, it’s all rather fitting as the end of the ride. We line up and get a few pictures with The Tower, we also get random members of the public joining us to have their picture taken too!
F2P at the The Eiffel Tower.
A coffee from the over priced food stall and normal service was resumed. We started to get a bit concerned as several people had left whilst a few remained to wait for Phil to arrive from down by the river. The light was fading fast now and few of us had lights and only one a hi-vis jersey (compulsory in France at night).
The area was not filled with restaurants but we found a Chinese that was more than ready to look after us. The beer flowed and the food came in fits and starts but a celebratory meal it was and everyone was full of the adventure. Everyone had a story to tell and we had become a real group of friends.
A bridge closure in Paris and a Sat Nav that had been altered to avoid motorways meant a slower than anticipated journey home - we again missed our ferry!
Those on the train had an easier time and were back in Bedfordshire barely into the afternoon! With the trailer and car returned the following morning and the bikes being slowly picked up the trip slowly seems as if it never happened - until the photo’s started turning up! What a fantastic set of memories those bring back. When the whole set are up (Ray and Peter?) there will be the better part of 1,000 pictures!
I think the trip will be long remembered as one of those great moments in peoples' lives. It was certainly a challenge, it has some fantastic scenery, it has some wonderful and not so wonderful roads, it also had some hills - the one thing it did have in abundance though was some fantastic people and at the end of it all it’s the people you share these things with that make it special.
I feel privileged to have shared it with you my fellow F2P riders - thank you.
The sponsorship monies are starting to roll in, we should be able to pay for Rosie’s trip, her expenses at her five training camps, her new bike, helmet, gloves, shoes and glasses - again thank you all for raising this sponsorship money.
Special thanks go to Trevor, who made the admin side of the job so much easier, found our fantastic sponsor who made life easier for us. Trevor also gave up his valuable time to meet me a few times and to drive me to pick up the car and trailer. I would also like to thank Gary for organising the Eurostar - which I believe went well - thanks guys.
It seems that the ‘journey’ is to be repeated to allow others to enjoy the challenge. I wish all future riders the best of luck and hope you enjoy the weather the friendship and journey as much as we did.
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