I'm at work now. What better time to blog?
And here, as promised, follows my diary of the epic journey to Paris on two wheels. It might take me a while to type it all up, so here goes:
Wednesday 23rd July
We’re off! And already I’m running late. The train was a few minutes late leaving Solihull. The journey has begun. I’ve already cycled about a mile to the station, with a big pack on my back, kindly loaned to me by Thomas. I can’t wait til tomorrow morning!
Made it safely across London thanks to the Hufton’s map. Didn’t even manage to get lost! London is a very busy city and full of drivers who don’t seem to have ever encountered a cyclist before, which is slightly worrying. Still, I only had to swear at one driver and he really wasn’t watching where he was going.
Sue cooked a fantastic sausage cobbler for supper, and we ate it outside in their garden as it got dark. She kept trying to persuade me to eat more, and I could hardly turn her down. I’m now getting ready for bed for an early start tomorrow, but I can’t get to sleep. I feel like a four-year-old awaiting Christmas day, I’m so excited. Alarm set for 6:15 tomorrow morning.
Thursday 24th July
I woke up about 5 minutes ago (sunlight streaming through the window), glanced at my watch, and saw it was quarter past the hour, so was ready to get up. Then I looked again. Oops. Still, at least I’m not going to be woken up by a nice bleepy alarm clock. Mind you, getting back to sleep isn’t going to be doable, so I’ll get up and pack all my rubbish back up into Thomas’ rucksack in a minute or five.
Thanks are due to Joe for the use of his bed. It is very comfortable. I can vouch for it as I write.
I’ve just cycled to York House and arrived early, which is a good sign. Plus I can add an extra ten miles onto the distance I’ve travelled than most people can. There are already a lot of people here, so this will be a short update before my bag goes in the van. It’s looking sunny, which is promising, although I’m going to get hot. I’m about to go inside and meet everyone else. I wonder if they’ll believe that Marmite have sponsored me?
I. AM. EXHAUSTED.
It’s been a hard day. We started off in groups (I don’t quite know why but I’ve been placed in group 2 (of 6), which seems a little ambitious. I kept up with them though. Just.) and the group I was in – groups 1 and 2 combined – went first. There was a biiiiiiig hill before the first stop and we took it really quite fast. It rather took it out of me. Fortunately there was water and muffins at the top.
After that, The
people lunatics who decided to go in group 1 left a few minutes before us, and we got into a decent rhythm for the next leg. By the end of it though, the weather really had got hot and we were all glad to stop for lunch. A couple of chicken bagels, some crisps, an apple and a chocolate bar later, we were ready to leave again. I was persuaded to go to the cycle shop over the road to buy a bottle with a bike clip so that I could lose the rucksack off my back, and what a difference it makes. I really had no idea, but it’s so much easier without any of the weight (and heat) on your shoulders.
The tea stop was at the top of a monstrous climb, which about four of us lead right to the top. I drank more than a litre of water in the two minutes after we got there. It was the peak of the afternoon sun, and we were veritably boiling in our own sweat (loverly image for you there). From there I gave mum a ring and blamed her for my participation in the whole adventure. We had a bit of a wait for a couple of the other members, including two who had got lost and managed to find their way to a pub. Smooth move, in my opinion.
Happily, after the stop, during which we got nuts, bananas and cake, we got to go down the other side of this hill. Dan (who had a computery gadget thing) told us that we broke 40mph down it and I really wasn’t surprised. That bit was very fun.
Then we were cycling for a bit and all of a sudden I saw a sign for Leigh Park, and I realised we were pretty much in Havant, which was quite exciting. I texted Robin as we passed a sign for the shopping centre with the ever-awesome Netto in it. Then I could see Portsmouth, recognisable by the Spinnaker Tower, and I realised quite how close we were to the end of day 1. We had a pause just outside Portsmouth (literally just a pause of about a minute) and then rode the last few miles to the Hotel, where we are now. I’ve just had a shower and changed, and dinner starts at 7pm. I’m now off for a well-earned drink with the rest of the group in the bar. Being in a higher placed group than my roommate (whoever s/he is), I got here first, and have consequently claimed the bed for tonight. Mwahaha.
Supper was gammon with serve your own veg. I served myself a lot of veg. It was good. With the exception of the gravy, which was just salty beyond belief. And then a large slab of chocolate cake with cream. Yum yum. We ate quickly so most people are still downstairs, but I’ve come back upstairs to finish off today’s entry and grab an early night. Tomorrow we leave at 5:15, so my alarm’s set for 4:30. Ugh. Still, at least there’s no cycling for a few hours after we get up. My roommate’s called Jacob and is a bit of a legend. Right, all there is to do now is to watch the end of Mock the Week before going to sleep.
Friday 25th July
0456 Hours (BST)
Have got up, showered, packed my stuff up, and packed my day-bag for the ferry. My cycling clothes for today are in there, along with yesterday’s crossword and a pen. It’s going to be a good journey. Breakfast is being served by the van from 5am, and my bike’s already in the van ready to leave, so I’m ahead of schedule. Onward!
0640 Hours (BST)
We’re all looking a bit like we’ve got up very early after doing lots of physical exercise. The ferry port is full of slightly dopey-looking characters, myself included. Fortunately, nobody forgot their passport so there haven’t been any major dramas or anything yet. Ferry leave in 20 minutes. We should be called any minute.
0833 Hours (BST)
We’re well into the Channel, and we’ve left England behind us. Breakfast was a yoghurt, banana, muffin, apple, and carton of juice. I got persuaded to take an extra muffin (not difficult, let’s be honest), which I’m saving. I think I’m going to have a sleep in my seat, seeing as I’ve failed spectacularly with yesterday’s crossword.
0something Hours. I can’t work out if it’s meant to be English or French time.
Ferry’s just pulling in to the port in France. Ready to disembark! Longer update to follow at the end of the day.
1736 Hours (France. What’s the Acronym for French Time?)
A good day’s cycling. Slightly easier than yesterday in total. It was a bit cooler, which was definitely nice, and there weren’t so many hills. Those that we did have were a little easier as well. Quite a lot of the journey, especially at the beginning, was on cycle paths too, which was a nice change from roads.
Today we took to the “Sign-Sprint” game. Whenever you see the sign with the name of a French village on it (specifically the ones at the start of the village, the equivalent of “Welcome to Townsville” signs in the UK), it was a mad dash towards it. I was doing OK in this game, and then everybody else gave up. So I won. It was a nice way to keep yourselves occupied as we whittled down the miles. The hotel is quite nice. Group 1 has been here for more than an hour, and have had a few drinks. They’re a bit of a laugh.
Less of a laugh, the two leaders from our groups (the others aren’t here yet) have just gone for a run. A long run. They are both officially insane.
2314 Hours. (Still France)
The meal tonight was really very good. We ate in the place next door to the hotel. It was two people’s birthdays, so they each got a cake with a firework in it. Not a little sparkler, a full-blown firework. A guy from the BI Foundation had a quick talk, and we’ve raised between us £87 000 already [that is, before we all left – Ed], which is awesome! I am now very tired, but we do have a later start than most tomorrow (it’s staggered starts so that we all arrive in Paris at about the same time), so I’ve got a bit of a lie-in. Well, ‘til about 8. Which is comparatively late. Some of my group has gone clubbing, so I’ll probably be in a better state than most of them!
I’ve now also got my red and white jersey, which is, of course, the only reason I took on this challenge in the first place. I originally had a small one, but that really was very small, so I’ve gone up to medium now. The two guides spent two and a half hours on their run, and ran more than half a marathon. The men in white coats are waiting for them in Paris.
0818 Hours (France from now on)
Have just woken up as Jacob left. Time to pack and breakfast before we leave. It’s the big day, and I can’t wait.
Have just got to my room after an amazing amazing amazing day. I shall never forget it.
The cycling was the easiest day (despite it being the longest. Clayton (our guide) said that it’s amazing how quickly your legs get used to it, and it really is. I couldn’t believe it) – we started off on about 35 km of almost totally flat road. We got some really good teamwork going, working really efficiently and all slipstreaming each other. It was awesome, probably the most enjoyable bit of the cycling itself.
We overtook all the other groups and got to Versailles first, where we stopped for an icecream. It was a proper icecream. And very very welcome. It was amazing to stand looking at the monstrous palace (from a long way off) and think “we cycled all the way here from London”.
We then managed to get lost going into Paris, and then all of a sudden we were pretty much in the centre, cycling toward the Arc de Triomphe. All the traffic stopped as we cycled past which really was great, and then we went down the cobbled surface of the Champs-Élysées. There was the sprint finish to the Eiffel Tower, where we were sprayed with champagne (being some of the first under the bubbles) and then stopped amid huge celebrations in the great Meccano structure’s shadow. I rang quite a few people to say I’d got there and then we had a big celebration meal together. The food was a little disappointing, although the chocolate tart was something else. I’d earned a reputation as a gannet by then, so I ended up with about 6 people’s on my plate. I, alas, was unable to finish them all. They were a bit good though.
I’ve just got in from the meal and celebrations with my medal, and I’m now going to sleep. See you tomorrow. Probably in the afternoon.
I have breakfasted once. I may go again with Jacob in a bit. My lunch is baguettes with cheese and ham which I half-inched from the breakfast. It is good. I’m off to see the final stage of the Tour de France later. I can’t wait!
2300 hours BST
What a day. It was roasting hot at the tour. There were many hours of waiting round, but it was worth it when the riders finally came past. I bought a Tour de France T-Shirt and cap because I wanted them. They’re a bit naff, but does that really matter? I like them and they’re a good momento.
Most of us slept on the train on the way home, myself included. I now have another 40 minutes or so of train back to Solihull, and then I shall cycle home. It’s been an exhausting but incredible experience. I have met some wonderful people, done something I never believed I would be able do, and done it in a unique team of lots of people. It’s been so much more awesome than I’d imagined it would be. Three days ago at York House I wouldn’t have guessed it would be half as amazing as it actually was.
Would I do it again?
The ride, certainly. But the fundraising was hard work and constantly on my mind. So probably not. I’ll have to find something else for next year…
So that’s my (slightly edited) journal of my mini Tour de France. It really was an incredible experience, and I’d recommend it to anybody in a flash. I’d better go and tidy my bit of office before we go home now though.