Our journey to Paris seemed very unorganised. However as I soon found out not much organisation was needed. Anyone can do it. Tom, Charles and I got everything sorted in around 2 hours; all you need is an internet connection. The route was done in a matter of seconds using a great website, ferry crossing was booked online, along with eurostar tickets for the return. It was all very speedy.
In the weeks leading up to the expedition I found myself growing ever more nervous. We were not setting out to do something crazy and record breaking but it almost felt like that. I had never ridden my bike more than 50 miles, let alone circa 80 miles for 5 days straight. I am a physically fit guy and row all the time; however I must confess my legs aren’t the biggest. This left the uncertainty in the back of my mind, what would happen if I couldn’t complete it? I tried to suppress these, as that just was not an option. In the few weeks leading up I was in Sri Lanka, Tom and Charles on holidays of their own, so none of us were able to do much training, apart form the odd hour sat in a humid hotel gym at 35 degrees…This was not pleasant, no matter how many towels you use the sweat just keeps coming. This meant that come departure day I had never even cycled my bike with panniers on.
The night before departure was frantic, making sure I had everything packed; it was inevitable that something was to be left behind. That night I kept lying in bed, restless, then suddenly remember something; pack it in my panniers only to get up the next minute and unpack it realising that I wouldn’t need it. I tried to keep them as light as possible because I did not want to have to lug a great weight up and down the hills the next day. Every gram counts when your cycle touring.
At 6am my alarm went off. 30 minutes till I would have to leave. Despite the early restlessness I felt very fresh and ready to get going. I put my gear in the car and headed down to Agecroft rowing club, at Salford Quays, to meet the guys.This would be the start of our journey. Once out of my house it did not feel like the start of an adventure. We received a typical British summertime send off, rain. It was a bleak day, windy, rainy; very dark and overcast. Trying not to take the ominous weather as a bad sign I met Tom and Charles in good spirits. We had a few pictures at the start line in our charity kit, we wereraising money for the charity “When You Wish Upon a Star”, I fastened on my shiny new panniers and we were off. I stood up on the pedal, my shoe making the small shimano click as it clipped in, and then heaved. I had never felt a bike this heavy, it felt as if I was towing a car, Tom also found it an odd sensation. Those first few pushes were a very odd sensation to get used to. By now the weather had really closed in it was bucketing it down, this wasn’t the send off I had imagined in my head.
Those first few miles were hard, but fast. We covered a lot of distance that morning going two hours before our fist stop at a Tesco in Whaley Bridge. I already felt it in my legs then, the first 50km of that day were entirely up hill as we went through the Pennines. I couldn’t help thinking that we might have over cooked it; gone off too hard and whether we would pay the price later, I remained optimistic though because we were having a lot of fun already and things could only get better! They did.
It was tough in the rain however this meant there was little traffic on the roads, that was reassuring as there were many “THINK BIKE” signs sporadically along the road sides, I later found out that the A53 has one of the worst death tolls for bikers in the UK. Glad I learned that nugget of info after the riding and that we had no problems. By lunchtime we were all very tired we had covered around 50miles and had just finished the Pennines, thank god. We decided to take on some much needed calories. This was when Charles’ bout of bad luck began…
He realised that his wallet had somehow fallen out of his rear pannier, disaster. We had no idea where though and not enough time to go back as we had to make good miles. So it looked like Charles would be living off me and Tom for the rest of the trip. Not something we had budgeted for, this would put us in a bad situation with the little euro’s we had. Once that was sorted we had a great afternoon. It was the best time cycling I had ever had, the day brightened up the further south we went until we were cycling through sunshine over many rolling hills, we somehow managed to find a great little campsite ‘Conkers’ in the National Forest. The owners were very friendly showed us where we could get some food and they gave us some sweets! Just what we needed after that day, we totalled on 78 miles the hardest day I’d ever cycled, we put up the tent and then collapsed.
After what felt like the best sleep I’d ever had we were up early. My legs felt like jelly. The worst feeling when your about to start riding a fully laden bike 80 miles. We had a destination for today; we were going to make it to Bedford. The rest of that day was a blur to me; I was in so much pain. It was a really tough days riding, my right knee also began to ache and seize up. I was just pushing again and again over countless undulating hills all blurring into one. The pace was also a lot faster today as Tom was keen to get to Bedford quick as we were going to stay as his cousins house so once we got there we could rest. We got there not a moment to soon. I was so dead I just lay down on the pavement outside, basking triumphantly in the sunlight. I had made it. The hardest day was over.
This trip wasn’t all about the cycling it was also about having a great time with my mates enjoying the banter and that night was great, we chilled had a much needed rest and had an Indian to take on some much needed calories. We joked about how the waitress was very dressed up to be working, and how she seemed to give us dirty looks every time she walked by because we were only drinking water and “not eating our food fast enough,” how odd. The next morning was a slower start, Tom got a puncture, and Charles fell off his bike, all within 100m of leaving. We soon got lost in the maze of one way streets, story of the day, and then Tom fell off his bike. We finally made it out of Bedford then Charles realised he had lost his sunglasses, determined not to lose another thing on this trip he sprinted back to retrieve them. By the time we got going again it was already 9am, a very late start. From what had began so bad turned out to be the most fun on a bike I had ever had, again. We had few breaks, and piled up the miles. A growing concern was punctures though, as the roads around London became ever more potholed. Getting stuck in one way systems in London proved easy to get out of on a bike though and soon we made it to Waterloo Bridge! We had reached our first big landmark, London.
That evening we pushed on hard wanting to cover as much miles as possible,leap frogging our way down the roads having a lot of fun. We made it all the way to Maidstone, Kent. This was a great feeling as it meant we didn’t have long to go tomorrow for the ferry. Yet again the sun had been shining all day. Covering 90 miles we stopped at a dubious looking campsite, whose owner seemed like he had spent a few too many years living in a caravan. A very odd looking, unshaven grisly old man, who had a limp and a west country accent although he was dressed like a lumberjack from north America.This made for a hesitant nights camping, as there was something that didn’t add up about that man.
As a result we made sure we left early the next morning, keen to be out of there. Unfortunately it was now my turn for a puncture, however I got it right in the middle of the A2 not the best place to have to stop. It was a fantastic day with only a minor amount of drizzle -the weather seems to impact heavily on the mood of the day. We made Dover by lunch, hours before our ferry, so loaded up on carbs and headed for a supermarket to pack some food for northern France. The guys at P&O ferries were great and managed to put us on an earlier ferry.
“Just follow the red line”, they said. Somehow Charles managed to get lost and found himself surrounded by cars, not the worst mistake of his during the trip though. We had done it, leg 1 was complete, we were out of the UK and into France; we didn’t even have to show our Passports!
The next 2 and a bit days were amazing, the roads were empty, pothole-less, and drivers gave so much respect to us on the road. It was what made the trip, not many big hills, although there was a nasty crosswind for a couple of days. The sun shined constantly, we were blissfully unaware of what had broken out in London after our departure. Not finding out about the riots until we got home was a shock. That is one of the great things about doing a trip like this news like that doesn’t filter in your day; it’s just about you and the bike. The only news you care about is the horrible headwind that is heading your way or its more beautiful sibling, a strong tailwind that will propel you at 40kph all the way. Those final days gave the trip the exotic adventure feel as we were in a foreign country, culture and language. If anything went wrong we would have to deal with it, like Charles thinking he’d lost his phone and left it on the ferry–luckily he hadn’t. A trip like this brings you more together as a group and tests your problem solving capabilities to the max.
On the 9th august we woke before dawn and set off to cover the final miles into Paris. It was a cold morning and our pace was the fastest it had ever been, not stopping for breakfast till we got there we rolled into Paris at 10am. It was awesome. The hustle and bustle, somehow we managed to find our hostel really fast, we dropped off our bags then set out for the Eiffel tower. Riding without panniers now the bikes felt like full carbon pro set ups, we flew. Racing around between traffic lights, the city riding was really fun. Somehow eventually we found our way to the Eiffel tower without any maps. It was over; we had completed our journey, and had a lot of fun!