When Nick first raised the 30/30 challenge idea, I thought it was such a poignant, awesome idea, I was all for it and very encouraging through the whole planning process! Well, they say that hindsight is an amazing thing!! But seriously, as we now start to approach the end of the year of challenges now, it’s still quite hard for me to find the words to explain how proud I am of Nick and all his achievements. Anyone who doesn’t quite understand the level of commitment, sheer bloody mindness, time, blood, sweat and tears he has put into this year hasn’t grasped the enormity of the 30/30 challenge. For most, running a marathon, or doing a half ironman is a once in a lifetime challenge that would take the best part of a year’s training, but no, not for Nick. If you speak to him about it, he doesn’t often let on just how much these challenges have taken over our life, but everything we have done for the past 12 months has been done around the challenges or with them in mind. They have taken so much time, money and effort, the fact he’s still going is an amazing feat in itself, let alone that he has achieved each and every one of these challenges along the way! Nick has been helped out along the way by so many of our friends and family and it has been both heart-warming and humbling to see the lengths people have pushed themselves too in order to help and support the cause, which has always been at the heart and soul of these challenges.
Nick has been asking me throughout the year to write one of these blogs, and to be totally honest I’ve been dreading it, as I feel I’ll never be able to do the challenge justice with my rambling words. To my disappointment, I haven’t been able to complete each and every challenge with Nick, but for those I haven’t completed, I have been there to support, so I know firsthand that each challenge comes with its unique set of highs and lows, but none quite so much as this one, the London to Paris bike ride! We all knew it would be tough, but I don’t think any of us actually let ourselves think about just how tough it could be! So this is my view of the London to Paris bike ride – I hope you enjoy the read!
Day 1 – Friday
The challenge started with us driving to Sevenoaks to meet up with Tim. As we changed into our cycling stuff at Nat’s Mum and Dad’s house, we discussed the plans over a much appreciated sandwich, and the mixture of nerves and excitement were already beginning to show! We cycled over to Sevenoaks station and got the train to Trafalgar square where we met up with Simba and were finally ready to begin the challenge! We got on our bikes and left Trafalgar Square about 17:30 on the Friday of the bank holiday weekend!! I had already voiced my concerns to the boys about cycling in central London, but despite the traffic being heavy, and having to stop at what seemed like every traffic light in London, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the ride actually was.
We rode all evening, only stopping for a quick drink every now and again. On one particular uphill section of a dual carriage way, from the bottom of the hill, I saw Simba at the top and a rather large bloke pull over, get out his car and start pointing at him! I thought the worst, but when I eventually caught up, it turns out it was our friend Big Dave (all the way from Dartford)! He had literally just got back from his honeymoon (Congratulations again Mr & Mrs Clare!) and happened to drive past and spot us! After some much needed cheer leading from Dave, we pushed on into the sunset. After a few navigational issues, some rather uncomfortable cobbled streets around Rochester castle and a few discussions of whether the path was ‘closed’ or not, the ride took longer than we thought and it went dark pretty quickly. The bike lights Nick & I had were….how can I put it nicely………rubbish, so on more than a few occasions we couldn’t actually see the road which made for some interesting riding and some colourful language at various potholes! We had also google mapped the route, but when you map a cycle route, it takes you down anything that counts as a bike route, like a bridle way for example! There were a few times we ended up cycling our road bikes up a very muddy bridle way in the dark with no way of seeing where we were going or where the overhanging branches were!! But, after a few brushes with the local hedgerows, we eventually made it to our destination about 10.30pm that night, after cycling for just shy of 80km.
At this stage, I’d like to introduce our brilliant support driver Nat who had driven Nick’s fully laden car to our overnight stop in Bearsted so that we had all our bags, airbeds, sleeping bags etc – without her it would have been a rather smelly, uncomfortable evening! Our destination was our friend Alan (AWOL) ‘s new house and when I say new, AWOL and his girlfriend Sarah had only just got the keys to the house that afternoon, so we really were pushing it by staying with them on their first night in their new home. I can’t say thank you to them enough for putting us up that evening, it was just perfect, despite us having the mick taken out of us for our bib shorts!! But looking at this photo I can see why!
After a much welcomed dominos dinner and a much needed hot shower, it was time for bed. Unfortunately, when pumping up our air bed, it became apparent that somehow (I’m not naming names here), but someone had packed the wrong air bed, so instead of our nice new one, we had our old one complete with a hole!! We knew we were going to deflate in the night, but at that point, I don’t think we cared!
After an alarm that was far too early, we woke up (some of us closer to the ground than others!) and after a quick breakfast the boys rode off. For me, not joining the boys was the first massive low of the challenge. The 80km we had ridden the evening before was actually the furthest I had ever ridden and I knew full well that I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace the boys needed to ride to make sure they made the ferry on time. For those that know me well, I’m sure you can imagine what a delight I was that morning having to admit that I couldn’t do something, so apologies to Nat!! The boys rode off and Nat & I (after a detour back to Sussex for our other air bed), made our way to Dover and managed to catch the boys riding down the hill towards the ferry port.
After a straight forward ferry crossing, we were now in France! I took first driving shift, giving Nat the horrible task of having to use a mixture of google maps, find my friends and a good old map book to navigate to various points we could meet the boys. We made the decision before we left not to book any accommodation for Saturday night, so we could see how everyone felt. We didn’t want to book somewhere too far away if everyone was tired, but we also didn’t want to book somewhere and make people stop cycling if they wanted to keep going. We met up with the boys a few times, each time filling up water bottles, giving out new cereal bars and gels and checking everyone was ok. I was still feeling tired from the day before, so goodness knows how, but the boys seemed to all be doing ok, they were in good spirits and keeping up a great pace, so Nat & I went on ahead to sort out a hotel for the night. We had found a cheap and cheerful hotel online, but after making our way there, the hotel was closed for a private party! To make matters worse, a quick look on bookings.com revealed the nearest hotel with space for all 5 of us was over 20 miles away! With the boys having ridden all day, only 2 seats in the car and the sun starting to set, we started to realise we might be in a little bit of trouble. This was another low point for me, and seems like a good place to say a huge thank you and big up to Nat, who for the whole weekend, had the thankless task of being support driver. There was no doubt, the boys were putting in such an amazing physical effort, however, it was situations like this where the stress of being in the support car really came to the forefront. To this day, I’m still not sure if it was a blessing or a curse to have seen the challenge from both sides, as they were both incredibly hard but for differing reasons. At that point, to Nat & I, it felt like the whole future of the challenge hung on us finding somewhere to sleep, but that was going to be far easier said than done.
We went through all the guide books, searched the internet, rung every nearby hotel and stopped into everywhere we drove past, but nowhere had space for 5 people that night?! We decided to face the music and meet the boys to tell them the news, which understandably, they found very hard to believe. After doing their own quick search and phone around, they agreed there was in fact nowhere with space! The boys, really wanting a hotel, decided to push on to the next biggest town La Touquet, whilst we drove ahead and tried in desperation to find somewhere, anywhere to stay! The town was absolutely manic, and nowhere had space. It was now dark and had started to rain really heavily, which is when we started to get quite worried about our situation! We stopped at a large hotel where the receptionist, who spoke excellent English told us there was a big party in La Touquet and every hotel she knew of would be full, but there was a campsite next door! As it happened, the boys happened to pull into the driveway of the same hotel and saw us, so we told them the news and watched their faces fall, a heart breaking sight for us. Luckily Nick and I were going to be camping for a few days after the challenge and had recently brought a new 4 man tent, so we left the boys pitching a tent we’d never put up before in the dark while Nat & I went into town in search of food. Our string of bad luck continued as every single restaurant and shop in the town had already shut, but luckily the campsite said we could eat there, as long as we had sausage and chips! The owners of the campsite were lovely and did us 5 plates of sausage and chips, but 1 frankfurter hot dog sausage and a handful of chips each didn’t touch the sides for us, let alone the boys who had cycled all day!! We asked for the same again, but were told the kitchen had now closed, but we could get some beer!! Tempting as that was, we decided it probably wasn’t the best idea, so decided to head to bed. The campsite were particularly helpful by letting us borrow a spare airbed from a member of staff who wasn’t there that weekend, so we had eaten (kind of), had enough space on airbeds and a tent for the 5 of us. As it was a 4 man tent though, 2 of us had to sleep in the porch! Definitely not ideal given the huge storm that came overhead that night! The thunder and lightning kept us awake most of the night, but when it wasn’t that keeping us awake, the wind was so strong it would shake the tent letting some of the rain drip through onto us, so it was a very long, uncomfortable night without much sleep!