And this is precisely why I write the blog...it's just too easy to forget things.
How could I possibly forget one of my 'major achievements'?
But I had.
In May I cycled from London to Paris, along with 100 other riders of various ages and abilities. I'd trained for it of course...amazingly by May I had cycled over 3000km since the start of the year. I was far from 'race ready', but a damned sight fitter than I have been for a long time....it does show - I'm slimmer in the face than I've been for many a year, and my pot belly is straighter than it used to be.
So we left from Crystal Palace early in the morning, with the prospect of a few showers, and headed vaguely in the direction of Dover. It's the longest route that organised bike rides to Paris take, but as the other common one is down to Newhaven and I've cycled to Sussex enough times to make it feel like a commute, this had been the one I wanted to do. Kent is not flat so there were some tricky bits, but really nothing too scary (though that is me writing with 2 months hindsight, not sure how I felt at the time!). But it's certainly a beautiful county and the rain stayed away. On these long rides you follow luminous pink arrows...you may have seen them and wondered what they are; now you know...but such is human nature, some people feel the need to remove them because they don't like cyclists. Odd isn't it? Even with the arrows, you'd be surprised how easy it is to get loss...so it was a real lesson in keeping focused and always concentrating on the road ahead.
Everyday we cycled for half the morning, stopped for water, carried on until lunchtime where we were served a gourmet feast by our traveling chefs before cycling on until the afternoon break and then on to our night time hotel. French roads are generally better maintained than ours, but often the surface is quite rough to start with, so I'd say in any debate it's a draw as to which is actually better.
Most people shared a room. I guess you could say I was lucky...I had a room to myself. But it was simply because my roomie had had a heart attack a couple of weeks before the trip.
I would say there were certain 'types' on the trip. A few groups of northern me who were fiercely competitive amongst themselves, and quite cold to outsiders. Whether this was because they were northern I know not, but they were and they were. Men in general were obsessed with their machinery, and with their heroic exploits ( I was going down the road at 45 mph and the wheel came off, but I still managed to stay upright....), whilst the women would generally talk about the countryside and the lovely weather. There were the keen cyclists who went as fast as they could, the ones who created a small group and then stuck with it, and then there were the folk who just got on with the task in hand.
Most people came in pairs or groups, and a few were on the trip as soloists. That included me...and it suits me completely. Even with a large group, people cycle at different paces, so along the route the cyclists string out....by the end of the day, some were arriving up to three hours after the first finishers. I preferred to cycle mainly by myself...I don't enjoy chitter chatter with people I hardly know, and the solitude gives me the chance to think and contemplate - and also to enjoy the scenery.
Northern France is not quite as flat as you might think, so there were some quite strenuous times. Most interestingly for me were the lovely villages...many with tumbledown houses or chateaux; quite beautiful and timeless. There were plenty of friendly people around to encourage us along. The ugliest town in the world must surely be Beauvais...a hideous collection of industrial and retail estates; our hotel was next to a graveyard!
I did notice the strain of riding for several days, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting at all...in fact I felt it would have been better if we'd done the ride in two and a half days, not the three and a half it took...generally I was quite quick so had finished the allocated distance by 3 o'clock...which did have the benefit of plenty of time to enjoy a beer or two in the sunshine.
Entering Paris was quite an experience - we had to ride in a convoy with the support vehicles flashing their lights and blowing their horns...it wasn't something that I was quite comfortable with...I'd have preferred to have been more discrete. But we did arrive at the Eiffel Tower and had a great celebration which carried on late into the night. I felt I'd achieved, it had been a stretch, but not too much of one; I'd met all sorts of interesting people and seen France in a new light. In fact it was so good I'd put it right up there with the best experiences of my life! I would love to do it all again; in fact I may well do. Just to cap it, when I got back I realised that I only had to cycle another 31km to have done 1000 in a month...so I went off to the Lee Vally Velodrome out door track to clock those up, even though it was pouring with rain...
The photos are in slightly random order, simply because of my tardiness!
|View from the hotel to the starting point|
|We both needed a rest before we started|
|Arrived in Dover|
|Waiting at the port|
|No idea...but obviously we'd stopped for a while|
|View of graveyard from our hotel in Beauvais|
|Always keep your back to Beauvais|
|Blackpool. Not really.|
|I think I'm smiling|
|The sticker was a brilliant, brilliant present from The Boy|