Prevent Breast Cancer dietitian, Michelle Harvie, took on this year’s London 2 Paris bike ride, alongside a team of 33 other riders. This is her story of the 320 mile trip setting off from Bexley Heath.
Wednesday 21st September 2016 Bexley Heath to Calais and triple carbs!
92 miles 3011 feet of ascent
An early start after a restless night when I must have rehearsed packing my bag and pannier numerous times. A few cups of tea and half a peanut butter bagel and finally reunited with my bike which I had not seen since dropping it off in Sale three days ago. I noticed that my bike had been carefully placed at the end of the row in last position which felt like a good prediction of my position for the day.
Photos and briefing and we set off at 7.30 am, running the gauntlet of rush hour traffic, the school run and various juggernauts through Dartford, Gravesend, passing a submarine in the Thames. We carefully followed the orange arrows which guided our route so fantastically. That was up to a large roundabout in Chatham when unknown to us ten carefully placed arrows had been removed, leaving one which had been changed to point us through the Medway Tunnel. The fast boys and girls (James & John and Gina) had gone through the tunnel and a 10 mile detour before they returned to the roundabout to find us searching for the correct way. They had seen the no horse and cart sign for the tunnel but failed to see the no cycling one!
On we went making such good progress that Steve, Gordon and me cycled straight past the lunch gazebo which was on a lovely green at Faversham. Thankfully we were retried and got to enjoy an amazing array of hot and cold dishes, fresh salads, fresh fruit, homemade cakes and a few cups of tea. Fifty miles down and only 35miles to Dover. We headed out to the coast and managed to resist dipping in the beautiful blue sea and also a highly rated Italian ice cream parlor at Herme Bay. Being by the coast gave the impression we were not too far from our destination at Dover, but we had not realised how lumpy the last 15 miles would be. The hills were christened with less favourable names as our energy drained and the sun got hotter. Finally at 5:00ish we appeared above Dover by the castle, followed by a steep descent down to a cooling dip in the sea ( for 2 of us) while we regrouped by the port. We caught the 8.15 pm ferry. A first for me was having lasagne, chips and garlic bread for tea. Triple carbs! P and 0 ferries seem to consider garlic bread as a vegetable. Definitely not a balanced meal but what was required and available. Some people had a sleep on the boat, but we all had to gather ourselves at midnight for a 6 mile cycle to the hotel. Out of the port, avoiding juggernauts and car barriers which were falling down on us as we cycled through, past the Jungle, over tram lines (carefully with wheels at 90 degrees) and six miles of roads across dark foggy wasteland. Finally arriving at the Inter-Hotel after 92 miles of cycling (102 for the fast boys and girls with their Medway tunnel detour). People hit their beds and not the bar, although I did manage the glass of rose I had been promising myself all day.
Day 2 Calais to Arras Very “rolling hills” forests & smooth roads
78 miles 3452 feet of ascent
Leaving Calais we crossed the Eurostar rail line and its fortress of barbed wire security. A stark reminder of how desperate the people are who attempt to board the trains. We had a headwind for company which made a few of us thinks that we had nothing left in the legs after day one, as we struggled to pedal downhill! A few “up steeps” (600 feet of ascent) woke the legs up and we arrived at a very welcome drinks stop in the Foret Domaniale De Tournehey, and a rather nettled comfort stop.
We now had the wind behind us and enjoyed it so much we failed to notice the lack of signs for a few miles, which meant doubling back to realise that the key right turn arrow had been removed. Back on track our minor (1-2 mile) detour had been trumped again by the fast boys and girls (James , John and Gina) who had added 10 miles to their day at the same signage.
A morning of rolling hills, wind turbines and lovely villages and we arrived at the welcome lunch stop at Bomy to dine on hot fajitas, salads etc. This fuelled us for the afternoon’s climbs. Seemingly my fellow cyclists were better fuelled than me, and were a bit faster, so I dropped off the back of our peloton and enjoyed an hour of peaceful solo cycling. I caught them up with the team at the Belle Epoque bar, a final rest before the final 8 miles to Arras. We were all pretty harrased in ARRAS as we tried to avoid cars and pedestrians on busy roundabouts before arriving at the Holiday Inn Express. People had more time and energy to spend at the bar than the previous Calais night, and some made good use of the opportunity which was not optimal for the next days cycling.
Friday 23rd September Arras to Compiegne- The Somme & stylish hotels
87 miles 3409 feet of ascent and 4000 steps of walking at the buffet breakfast
Up for a 7.00am breakfast. French buffet breakfasts were great but required a degree of coordination which was a challenge for the weary cyclists. We were up and down retrieving cutlery, cups, drinks, milk etc., and probably clocked up significant mileage before we had even got on our bikes.
The day started with a thought provoking visit to a British War cemetery in Arras, commemorating lives lost during World War One. We were soon in the countryside with expansive open vistas of farmland which looked beautiful in the sun. There was a fantastic swoopy descent at 15 miles. Much to Steve’s disappointment we had to give way at the bottom, which meant his technique of momentum carrying him half way up the next hill did not work. A drinks stop after 20 miles and about 15 of set off the wrong way for a few miles before realising and having to double back. Poor Darren had the loudest puncture I have ever heard on this unplanned bit of the route, but was rescued and repaired by Ian and put back on the road. We visited another immaculately maintained British cemetery on route. We cycled over the River Somme, which did not look inviting for a swim, and chatted to an older chap and his son who were paying their respects for a fallen family member from 100 years ago. Soon after we reached the fantastic lunch and lunch stop (chick pea curry and chorizo and bean pasta) on the banks of the Canal du Nord and the River Somme. We all knew there was an “up steep” towards the end of the day. This 600 feet climb was spread over 1 mile, and was surprisingly painless. Once up we enjoyed a psychological boost of achieving the last “up steep “of the day and the amazing mile descent. Our hotel Ibis Styles hotel was just out of town after a few busy roundabouts. The hotel was certainly stylish. Every room had en suite showers which were separated from the room by a coloured see through partition. This projected the outline of the occupant beautifully for their roommate, and meant lights on in the bathroom for nighttime bathroom visits floodlit the whole bedroom.
A great communal meal, I made a few more friends by offering the lardons from my salad
Saturday – 24-9-16 Compeigne to the Eiffel Tower. Can you see the Eiffel Tower yet?
67 miles 2349 feet of ascent
The last day of pedalling with my comfy sandals and pink shorts, I was a lycra free zone cycling along the now familiar and delightful French roads lined with trees. Tiredness was getting the better of some of us. I managed to turn right and positioned myself on the left side of the road before wondering why the traffic was driving on the wrong side!
We had drinks after 20 miles at the beautiful village of Ognon. The group was a lot more bunched up on this day. Briefly we had caught with the fast boys and girls until they zoomed off . Lunch was a long 39 miles away so we had promised ourselves a coffee stop in 18 miles. I could not believe that my cycling chums Steve and Gordon happily cycled past the last coffee for 21 miles. I managed to retrieve them and we doubled back for a caffeine boost to get us through to lunch.
Another changed sign at 32 miles led speedy James and Diana, Wendy, Sally & co into a 10 mile detour. More rolling hills and some busier towns and roundabouts and stop signs to negotiate with a constant bemusement of the French priorite a droit rule. The sun was getting pretty hot and we were glad to see lunch in the shade by the Seine. Ten more miles to go, firstly along the Seine and then into the city, still no sign of the Tour Eiffel. Gordon and Steve managed to sneak ahead so I lost sight of them . I followed the orange arrows and got myself for the regrouping location at the Parc du Bois, but there was no sign of Gordon and Steve somehow they had managed to lose themselves coming into Paris and were trying to find the Tour Eiffel to meet us there. The rest of the group enjoyed the final ride to the Tour Eiffel despite the cobbled sections, which were met with groans after 319 miles in the saddle. We were processed in convoy through very busy Paris traffic up past the Arc de Triomphe, tuned in with Billy Joel tunes from Kenny’s car radio, and were presented with a glass of champagne on arrival followed by photos. My bike Daisy Dawes was too heavy for the lifting overhead shots. Finally after a few glasses of champagne and about 30 group photos Gordon and Steve arrived . After cycling the best part of 318 miles with the group they did not make the finale joint finish.
Back to the hotel for the first bath we had seen on the trip which people were very excited about , and a few celebratory drinks and for some of us a good nights sleep. Those with spare energy had a big night out in Paris , returning to the hotel at 6.00 am on Sunday morning.
Thanks to the Tom for inspiring me to do the trip, my 33 co-riders for your company and camaraderie and to Dave, Dave (Double D), Cat, Kenny, Ian, Michelle, Jo and Ish for looking after us and Pete and Gill from Chapeau Catering for feeding us so well. My cheese butties will not be quite the same again. Thanks to the EU for ensuring France has such smooth road surfaces.