Following on from the first part, here is the final installment of our London to Paris Cycle. By this point we had made it to France and spent a rather rough night in a tent!
Day 3 – Sunday
Eventually the storm stopped and we managed to get about 3 hours sleep, but then, it was another early alarm to make sure we got on the road by a decent time! The only place open for breakfast in town on a Sunday morning was McDonalds, so again fuelling and nutrition was tip top, but we used the free wifi to book somewhere to stay for that evening. The only downside, it was about 150km away which meant we had a lot of riding between us and a good night’s sleep! I was joining the boys cycling again, and it’s a massive testament to their grit and determination that despite how tired they must have been, and all the setbacks of the previous day, they were still in great spirits and pushing on. So we set off, and had a beautiful ride through some lovely rural French villages in the Sunday morning sunshine. The views were stunning, banter was flowing & despite the brief hour where Tim came off his bike and Nick was cm’s away from riding straight into an oncoming car, the riding was great! If anyone is thinking they might like to do the ride, I would most definitely recommend it, but just take some more time to do it!!
In the meantime, Nat had to navigate to the set places we said we would meet her. We met up with her at our first stop at about 11:30am by a bar/restaurant in a little town. There was talk of just eating there, but we decided to push onto the next big town before stopping for lunch. At about 2pm, after riding about 90km, and being absolutely starving, we triumphantly came riding into the town full of smiles, until we saw the look on Nat’s face!! Unfortunately, we hadn’t taken into account that rural France pretty much shuts on a Sunday afternoon. Nat had got to the town before us to realise there was absolutely nowhere in the town that was open for food, no shops, bars, cafe’s, restaurants…..nothing! After a quick stop, some fraying tensions and few fraught words, I jumped in the car with Nat, our mission being to find some food. There was a huge sense of déjà vu again, as it felt like the whole success of the challenge fell on us being able to find food, but given how our luck had gone thus far, we were a bit anxious! I can only guess at the choice words that would have accompanied that section of the boys ride as they must have been both mentally and physically shattered, but to their absolute credit, they pushed on and got each other through.
I have to add here that this was one of my lowest moments on the ride, the day before had been tough and I think I was feeling the effects of lack of good food, and hard cycling in the sun! On the bikes we broke the trip into sections so for the last hour or so we had all focused on meeting Nat and getting some food. When we realised what had happened we were all struggling badly, but knew we had to keep moving otherwise we’d be late to our next hotel! – Nick
Meanwhile, in the car, the nearest place we were guaranteed to be able to buy any food was a motorway service station, so we drove to the nearest motorway, stopped at the first service station and pretty much brought all their food! We met the boys again and it seems such a small thing, especially considering what the boys had been putting themselves through, but for me, this moment was a small sense of victory that we had actually managed to bring them some much needed food that would help them do the last push!!
The boys cycled on for the last section whilst Nat & I drove on to sort the hotel out. With our hearts in our mouths, certain that something else would go wrong, we parked up at the hotel. We made a mental note and had a little smirk at all the restaurants on the street outside where we could have some dinner!! The hotel room was perfect, and we just managed to get everything to the room when the boys arrived!
This picture shows everyone’s true spirit that even after a shockingly hard day, everyone was still full of smiles, apart from Nick who was pulling the face which said how he actually felt! The boys had put in a superhuman effort and cycled about 150km, Nat had been close to pulling her hair out after realising that the town we were going to stop for lunch had shut for the day and I was somewhere in the middle, not quite sure how I felt!! We all had showers and a much needed change of clothes before heading out for dinner! On our way past reception, we asked the hotel manager where he would recommend, but he just looked at his watch and said “Everywhere will be closed now?”. Having seen the multitude of restaurants outside earlier, we couldn’t quite believe it, but true enough one step outside revealed darkened doorways and shut up shops, just our luck!! Not quite believing that this could happen again, we walked around for about 30 minutes before we finally managed to find the one place in town that was still open! We had a quick burger dinner, again not the best recovery fuel for the boys, but at least they were full this time! Then we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved night in a proper bed.
Day 4 – Monday
After a much better night’s sleep, we had a lovely breakfast and set off for what should be the last 75km leg of the trip, taking us to the Eiffel Tower! I was again joining the boys for the cycling and we had a lovely morning’s riding with some beautiful views and a relatively enjoyable time!! The boys must have gone past both mental and physical tiredness, but they seemed full of laughs and jokes and were still holding a good speed, it was a pleasure to ride with them. Nat had figured out the route, chosen a place for us to meet her, and messaged us the name of the town. Once in town, we saw her standing on a big rock at the side of the road waving and directing us to a cafe where we could have lunch!! Given our bad luck so far, this was a great find and much appreciated by all of us and I hope Nat saw this as the mini victory it was!! Nick and I had a campsite booked along the route into Paris, so the plan was that Nat drove there, we go to the Eiffel Tower, have a quick photo, go back to the campsite and all come back into Paris together. Seeing as everything that day had so far gone to plan, it was about time things reverted to form, and that they did!
About 10km after leaving Nat, things started to go wrong again, we got lost a few times before ending up on a building site as the heavens opened in biblical proportions and we had to take shelter in a half build garage until the rain let up enough not to hurt when it fell on us! This was another mental blow, but the boys were incredible, not a bad word to be said & even a few jokes and some laughter! Once the rain subsided enough, we set off again, but riding in a line meant we ended up covered in whatever was coming off the back wheel of the person in front, so it wasn’t the nicest! But we were getting closer & at one point, about 6 miles out, we could even see the Eiffel Tower in the distance!! Then google did it’s normal trick of taking us down paths that shouldn’t be used for cycling and we didn’t seem able to find our way and when we got near the centre of Paris, things went from bad to worse! There was a huge network of roads and it was very hard to pick out which exact road we should have been on, so we had to use trial and error to see which road it meant! This worked to a point, but we did end up on a 5 lane underground motorway at one point which was pretty scary!! We decided to avoid the Arc de Triomphe roundabout which turned out to be a good move as even the smaller roundabouts were pretty hairy at times with traffic coming at you from every direction! But after riding for ages, there it was………….the end of the journey, the Eiffel Tower! We eventually cycled up to the Eiffel Tower, tired, hungry and a bit emotional.
We spent a few moments taking it all in and coming to terms with the fact that the boys had actually just cycled all the way from London, such an amazing achievement! The only thing that was missing from that moment was Nat, all of us wished she could’ve been with us for that moment, so we did the next best thing and called her to celebrate together!!
It was during this phone call, that we realised the time. We had got so lost, cycled about 100km & instead of arriving about 2pm, it was 5pm and there now wasn’t enough time to go back to the campsite and make it back in time for everyone to make the train home. Once again, it all fell to Nat to save the day! Poor Nat had to pack everyone’s stuff & bring it all in a cab to the Gare du Nord on her own. This was another rollercoaster section of the challenge for me as the jubilation and excitement of making it to the Eiffel Tower was dampened by not being able to have the relaxed celebration dinner we had planned. Whilst Nat was getting everything sorted, we took some quick photos before realising that the quickest way to the Gare du Nord was to…..cycle!! So it was back on the bikes to make our way across Paris.
We split up to keep an eye out for Nat, and once she arrived, Simba booked his bike on the train, but in the process he learnt they had been cancelling trains due to flooding in the tunnels and it was unlikely they would get home tonight!!! This could’ve been the metaphorical straw for most people, but the group were amazing, instead of getting agitated and annoyed, we went for a quick dinner and planned what we would do if they couldn’t get home! As it was, they ran the very last train so everyone was able to get back, but it wasn’t easy!! There was now only one more issue……Nick & I had our bikes, and Tim’s bike and had to navigate the Paris Metro with 3 bikes! We checked with the information desk if we could take bikes on the Metro and were told yes, but unlike the London Underground where you have staffed gates for people with luggage, pushchairs, bikes etc there were none of these. So, Nick and I ended up having to pass the bikes to each other over the barriers whilst trying to get ourselves through…..looking back it was probably quite funny to watch, but at the time I wasn’t laughing! We got to our campsite about 11:30pm and had to put up our tent and pump our airbed up. Our neighbours must have loved us, but, I can definitely say, an airbed and a sleeping bag have never felt so comfortable!!
So……………..there it is, my account of the London to Paris Bike Ride, 380km cycling, 1 slow motion fall, 3 near misses, and 0 punctures! As I said before, I’m sure I haven’t done any of it justice with my ramblings, so my apologies to everyone that was involved. I struggle to explain just how amazing the boys were, their strength to push through constant mental and physical barriers was just incredible, as was their ability to keep each other going regardless of what was thrown at them. And although she will probably say she didn’t do anything, Natalie held the whole challenge together, and without her, quite simply, none of it would have been possible. I have already expressed how proud I am of Nick, and Tim, Simba & Nat, you all have my upmost respect and thanks. The extent to which you challenged yourself in so many different ways, to support Nick is both humbling and goes above and beyond, I am forever grateful. And lastly, to everyone reading this, I know you will never get back the time it took you to read this blog, and for that I apologise, but please just take an extra minute to remember just why Nick is doing all of this. Tell the people you love that you love them, and help us share awareness of Pancreatic Cancer and the fabulous, much underfunded work of Pancreatic Cancer UK. Thank you.