Thursday, 25 June 2009

London to paris cycle! Day one

London To Paris Cycle

Day 1

Amazingly after taking ages to get to sleep again the night before, i woke just as my alarm was going off at 5 am, got my cycling gear on and headed down for breakfast with my room mate. looking around the breakfast room there were a range of people present- some wearing their charity shirts, most wearing normal cycle gear, and some looking ultra sporty After 5 mins, my room mate and i concluded the same thing- woman were in a 5:1 minority, and from where i was sitting most of the men looked like they were about to do the Tour de france or something.

Breakfast over, we headed outside to tag our back packs, bikes and rucksacks and then loaded up the Lorry with our rucksacks which were headed straight to france, so anything else that we needed that day needed to be carried with us, hence the bumbags, rear luggage and back packs. Once all that was loaded there was a team briefing, and we were given maps, emergency contacts and told to follow the yellow arrows at all times which would be at all junctions and roundabouts and advised that if we hadnt seen one for a while we should probably back track. Then there was a final 15 mins for last minute bike tinkering, toileting and putting on sun cream as the sun was already quite strong and at 7 am we all set off in a Group, but taking turns to be directed out across the busy main road to follow the first set of arrows. I ended up towards the middle/back of the Group but figured there was no rush, and we had all been briefed to enjoy the cycle- stop off on the way and take photos etc which was exactly what i was planning. After about ten minutes of setting off, i was needing to overtake people who were going too slow for my liking and was going at a nice steady pace when we came to the first of the hills. I thought No problem, this hill is nothing in comparison to what i've been used to and i started climbing steadily up it, still overtaking a few people, when i became aware that my saddle which had started off straight was slowly but surely starting to tilt backwards, and i was in danger of slipping backwards off the saddle as the hill got steeper. Undeterred, i gripped my handlebars tightly to stop myself sliding off and made it to the brow of the hill, but when i saw another hill looming i realised i would have to get off and sort out my seat. Ten minutes later i was still struggling to tighten the seat bolt within the limited space i had due to the saddle bag i had fitted, and one by one i noticed all the people i had previously overtaken passing by, plus another twenty or so. Not wanting to have another episode of saddle bag fitting rage i didn't want to take the saddle bag off to give me more room so i decided to overcompensate and point the seat slightly downwards just in case it started to loosen again.And so, when i finally set off again, i ended up sliding forwards off the seat and having to lean heavily on my arms which quickly got exhausted. I also quickly realised i was all on my own at the back of a Group of 100 cyclists and i hadnt been paying attention to where the arrows were pointing when i stopped.

Luckily i picked up the arrows quite quickly, and then had a mission on my hands overtaking one by one all the people who had previously passed me again until i came across a group of people who were travelling at just about the right speed, and stuck with them for a while before moving ahead again and trying to catch up with the next set of people. Once i'd settled into it i was having a lovely time, and as i started to be on my own in the middle of the Group again, i started to stop and take photos of the route because the countryside was lovely. Before long i came to the first water stop at around 25 miles and saw that most of the cyclists were already there, chatting, texting on mobiles and most importantly stocking up on bananas tracker bars and water. At this stage i was already dying for a wee, and foolishly ( as always) had thought there would be some kind of portaloo or something but no. so i had to drink a load of water whilst already dying for a wee, hoping that one would come up soon. One girl i chatted to suggested maybe going in a pub but then we realised that it was still only 9.30 am, so they wouldn't be open.

So at any rate, off i set again, on the leg before lunch and that was to be another 40 miles away, and not the 30 they had suggested, and that last ten miles i and everyone else i encountered was tired and starving ( not to mention bursting for the loo) and the pain and fatigue in my arms and neck in the last ten miles was agonising. So i was very excited to finally arrive at the lunch stop which was in a village hall, with a long trestle table laden with all sorts of yummy food, drink and cups of tea,and also a toilet(This was to be the one and only time there would be toilets en route) By this time everyone was in a buoyant mood, having completed 65 miles before lunch and i got chatting to a few new people, plus Dom who i had met briefly the day before, and also met Kitty who was a mum to two young girls and a baby boy, and who was very chatty and sweet.

The one thing we realised after sitting for half an hour was that prolonged lunch breaks are not a good idea, as your legs, which feel fine when you are cycling, seize up as soon as you sit down, and getting up and getting started again is then agony. Also justifying eating a giant double choc muffin with a gooey centre after your lunch is not recommended as it seriously weighs you down and makes you lethargic. So i did hesitate momentarily as i was about to set off again, and wondered if i should take another look at my seat but then i'd better just get going again.

However,after about half an hour,as a huge big hill was looming i knew i couldnt carry on like that anymore and decided to stop at a convenient wall. And this is where i met Ken and Bernard, who were the first people i'd really met with a sense of humour who didnt seem to be taking it all too seriously. Ken was leaning on the wall, preparing for the hill ahead by having a long leisurely cigarette, whilst Bernard was waiting for him, and as soon as i mentioned i was having trouble with my seat they both rushed to help and within 5 mins i had a seat that was sturdy and also appeared to be pointing straight ahead. Ten mins later, we had made a firm agreement to meet up the next day, and stop off in some of the pubs on the way sampling france's finest. Result.

Deciding to attack the upcoming hill i left them to it, and i soon discovered that this was the legendary hill in kent that everyone had told me about and it went on and on and on and on. However, this was also not unlike many of the hills i'd seen in devon and Cornwall, so vowing not to let any hill beat me, i just kept going and going steadily climbing and passing people stood sweating on the roadside until i got to the top and then i joined a little group of cyclists who had done the same, and we all ended up at the top celebrating and taking pics of the others making their way up. And so i ended up finally in a group of cyclists who were all going at exactly the right speed,which i think we all appreciated, so we all then stuck together en route to the final water/banana stop where we had pics taken of the highest point before Dover.From here we all set off and continued to cycle as a Group all the way to Dover where we arrived elated after 95 miles around 5.45 well in time for the 6pm eta and the planned 7 pm crossing, and started taking photos. I felt absoulutely euphoric having arrived, but when i had my photo taken after about 5 mins i was already starting to feel shattered. Most of the cyclists again were already there when we arrived, but after 20 mins of waiting around i was glad we hadnt got there any earlier as it quickly became freezing once you are not expending energy and sitting around. After another good long wait for the rest to turn up we were finally told we could cycle down towards the ferry to board, but once there we again had to wait around for another half an hour where i got progressively more and more cold, and after putting on my leggings, thermals sweat top and rain jacket there was nothing left for me to wear. Whilst hanging around i finally bumped into Liz who i met at the info day, and who was to be my room mate for the trip and she had been as surprised as me when a stranger looking nothing like me had walked into her room the night before but we subsequently found out that we would be sharing a room from then on. Eventually after a roll call, which included "5 patels" who were all cycling together, we were told that there were still people who had not arrived and therefore we would be unable to make the planned 7PM crossing and would be delayed to the 8pm. So everyone dived into the terminal building and the poor solo burger king and costa coffee staff had their busiest half an hour ever as 100 thirsty and hungry cyclists descended upon them.Eventually ( just as i got to the front of the queue at costa and decided i didnt like any of the sandwiches), we got called to go onto the ferry, so on we got, dumped our bikes and then all formed an orderly queue for food and drink on the ferry.

An hour and a half later we were in calais, and as all 100 of us formed a final queue with our bikes and all wearing our bright yellow hi viz vests i cursed myself for having packed away my bum bag and camera at the last minute because the spectacle of us all cycling off the ferry in a huge yellow trail was amazing. Once off the ferry we had literally a few miles to ride to our hotel, passing the beach on the way. Having not drank on the ferry i was in the mood for a celebratory drink, so i dived in the shower after Liz had finished, and arranged to meet her in the bar. Unfortunately by the time i was showered dried and dressed and got downstairs it was 11 pm french time,and they had just called time. I was gutted. But i soon cheered up when a couple Liz had got chatting to, who had bought a few bottles of red needed a hand to finish it! Hurrah! We had a glass of red each which was then topped up and taken back to our room, and this time we both sat in our respective single beds drinking red wine and chatting before we both fell into a deep unbroken sleep, ready for our 6 am start the next day.

Day 2
On day two we were allowed a slightly more lesiurely start, getting up for breakfast at seven and then setting off at eight. After ending up at the back at the start yesterday and then having to catch up, i wanted to make sure that i left exactly on time, if only to make sure i had time to stop off and enjoy things on the way. I hadn't seen ken and Bernard as they were staying in a separate hotel the night before, but i felt sure i would meet up with them en route for an ice cold stella artois or two.

However, about ten minutes before set off, after the team brief, it occurred to me that i still didnt know how to use my bike pump, and possibly this would be a good time to learn, before i set off, and not when i found myself stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre.Not wishing to risk totally deflating my tyres just before an eighty mile cycle( which is what happened the one time i tried to pump my tyres up at home), i asked one of the mechanics for assistance, and they also couldnt work out my pump either, but offered to use their super dooper pump on it. Unfortunately this set off a chain of events where everyone else started borrowing the pump, and i got forgotten in the middle of it. Still, i figured that having had no problems so far, i didnt want to risk a blow out or something through overpumped tyres, and being anxious to get going, i thought i'd just set off, as i could see people leaving already. Then i realised i hadnt topped up my water bottle and also that i was meant to do this in the hotel so i had to run back in to the breakfast room and get it filled up, then i thought i'd better have one last wee, too, and when i came back everyone bar about 10 people still tinkering with their bikes, had set off, so off i went on my own yet again.

I remembered at the briefing being told to follow the arrows round from the way we had come in the night before, or at least i thought i did, so i dutifully left the hotel, nearly cycled left into the left hand lane on the wrong side of the road, realised my mistake, crossed over and then carried on round to the left, past the beach we had passed the night before, round to the left, and then left again, and so i arrived ten minutes later back at the hotel. And this time everyone definately had gone, and i was really on my own, except luckily the support vehicle which stays at the back, was just about to leave so i had to sheepishly ask which way i had to follow the arrows again, and discovered that i should have gone straight ahead out of the hotel, and not left left and left again.

So off i sped, determined to catch up with someone, and 10 mins later, i found a group of very fit looking men waiting at the traffic lights for a boat bridge to lower. As we were waiting i was laughingly telling them of my mistake coming out of the hotel, when up sidled two more cyclists at the back of the Group. I knew i was the last to leave the hotel so i wondered where they had come from, and they then told me they had done exactly the same as me, and gone the wrong way out of the hotel. We all then set off as one big group and i was going great guns keeping up with the pack who had set off at a good pace, but i had to lose them when we got to the traffic lights and off i set on my own again. After this i remember passing an impressive building and wondering whether to stop and take a picture, and next thing i hadnt seen any orange triangles for a while and was starting to get an uneasy feeling that i had missed one, and when i got to a roundabout and saw no indication of which way to go i knew i had gone wrong and had to turn around and come back. As i got back to the end of the road, to the building i was going to take a picture of, i came across the two guys who had taken the wrong turning out of the hotel, Mark and paul, and Mark had a puncture. I decided to hang around for a bit and wait for them as i figured that i was only going to end up spending the whole day cycling on my own again, and they were also quite a laugh. Unfortunately ten minutes later he had another puncture and then another a short while after that. Fortunately then we also met Duncan, ( or flip flop man as kitty coined him) who i had assumed was another of the fit looking cyclists just hanging around at the back for no reason, but it turns out that he was purposely at the rear to help scoop up all the slowbies and help out with mechanical problems. As he was a triathlete and incredibly fit he had to make the cycle a little more difficult ( as if it wasnt difficult enough sorting out everyone's bike problems along the route) and so he was cycling in flipflops. Luckily for us he was a whizz at sorting out punctures, and i watched and learned as Mark went through two inner tubes two tyres and eventually a new wheel, before the two minuscule offending pieces of thorn had been located and removed.

Around about the fourth puncture, at which point as you can see paul set about beating Mark up, we realised that having set off at 8 am, it was now 11 am and having only covered a ridiculous 5 miles, due to all the punctures, we were 50 miles away from lunch. And i was already getting hungry. So when we finally set off again, and duncan suggested that i take the pace from the front i sped off, and was cycling a good ten minutes before i turned around and saw no-one behind me. Knowing that i couldnt be so fast to even be ahead of a triathlete in flip flops i realised that Mark must have had yet another puncture. Part of me thought, sod it just carry on, but then i realised that i wouldn't want to be abandoned if it was me continually having punctures so i turned back went right around the corner but couldnt see anyone anywhere. So then i just thought they were playing hide and seek or something, gave up and carried on and got up a good pace. I went up a few big hills and overtook a tractor on one of them, went down another hill, and had just stopped and was taking a picture of a baby cow a good 30 mins after i had left the others when i heard all three of them whizzing down the hill to join me. It turns out mark had had another puncture and god knows where they were hiding when i looked for them but mark now had a girls bike and was trundling up the hill with a lady bird bell on his front handle bars. His bike was in the van having something done to it and the plan was to swop the bikes back at the water stop.

Before they had arrived i had been scouting the place for suitable places to pee, and now in the presence of three men, i felt i would maybe have to hang on a while longer. As we got to the top of another big hill we came across the supply van and we had a quick pit stop to make the final change over of Mark's bike which he was glad of because quite apart from the naff ladybird bell it wasnt a good fit for him. As we were in bush heaven i seized the opportunity to have a quick wee break. i took a short stroll away from the van out of sight, crossed a small stream, and found a great tree type bush to have a wee behind and rejoined the boys with a spring in my step.Not long after that, we came to the water stop which was only 25 miles in so we had another 25 miles to go before lunch. At 1pm i was already starving so i wolfed down a tracker and banana and took a handful of jelly babies for quick fix supplies,filled up the water and we immediately set off again. Mark and paul set off ahead, and as we were definitively the last in the Group i found myself at the back racing along whilst trying to breathe and have a conversation with Duncan about his welsh speaking wife and his twin boys and my girls etc, whilst all the while i'm trying to keep up with a triathlete, and we were doing about 40 miles an hour whizzing down hills and i was thinking i would probably die if i made a mistake now and flew off the bike. So i was a little bit relived when Paul slowed his pace a bit and carried on the chat at the back with Duncan. We were a good half an hour on from the water stop when we came across some other cyclists by the road side who were having bike problems so we weren't at the back anymore. Hurrah! Duncan pulled over to give some assistance, Mark and paul sped ahead and i was about to chase and catch them up when i suddenly patted my stomach and realised with dread that i wasn't wearing my bum bag with my ipod and my brand new camera. I shouted to the boys to stop but they didnt hear and carried on cycling away from me. I thought back and remembered taking the baby cow pictures and then realised with horror that i had taken it off when i went for a wee and not put it back on again. Then i thought about the big hills i had just whizzed down and how i would have to back track all the way back up them again, and then realised that i would never be able to locate the place i had a wee amongst all the bushes, and then i thought what an idiot i was and that i would have no photos of my trip now, and i was just standing, staring disconsolately into space on a kerbside, wondering whether to cry when along came the support van, with the Aussie team leader. Five minutes later when i had failed miserably to describe the place at the water stop where i had my wee, i was packed into the van along with my bike and we were headed back to the water stop place. I got out, walked in the direction i remembered but i saw a big red barrier which i didnt recognise at all, and trees not bushes. I did have a go at wading across the section that looked familiar but there was no passage way and i emerged scratched all over from the stinging nettles and utterly confused- this was not where i had a wee. Then one of the girls who was sitting it out at the back of the van due to an injury suddenly piped up-"That's not where you had a wee- you had it before the water stop when you changed the bikes over" Now i didnt have a clue where this was, but the crew did, and back we went , stopped yet again, and next thing i know, Aussie guy has strided off in the general direction that i had gone, and just as i was running towards him and thinkng that tree/bush looks familiar, he had dived behind it and emerged seconds later triumphantly holding up my bum bag, complete with camera and ipod.

So off we set again. They did offer to just take me straight on to the lunch stop since it was so late ( it was now almost two) but i wanted to be able to say i had done the london to paris cycle in its entirety so i refused, and so was dropped off at the same place, where there was another casualty, and i set off again at a furious pace in a desperate attempt to get to Lunch. As i headed off i asked how much further lunch was, and was told about ten miles. The liars! Unbelievably within 20 mins i was starting to come across and overtake people i hadn't seen all day, who had obviously been trundling along at a snails pace.15 miles later i was delirious with hunger and fatigue, i was struggling to follow the orange markers which i was spotting in more and more bizzare places such as dung heaps, and was starting to think i had gone past lunch, missed it and was on the second stretch, when i finally came across an orange arrow painted on a lamp-post clearly pointing to the left. But then i saw the cardboard stuck on version above it pointing straight ahead up a big hill. i was so desperate for lunch to be right here right now and not up the hill, that i stopped and stared for a good long while at a farmer tending to his property in the lane in the direction that the painted arrow was pointing, in case he was going to give me some indication that lunch was indeed there, and then realised no, it must be further on, and it had better be good. So up i went, up yet another hill, and on into another long isolated country lane, at the end of which was a steep down hill section, when i realised i hadnt seen, or at least registered seeing an orange arrow for a while. Not wanting to go down only to have to go back up, i nearly turned around but then decided to just go down this one hill and luckily as i got to the end i spotted the orange arrow. Then i turned the corner and saw a large group of cyclists outside a pub having ice cold beers. Hoorah! i thought, this is my reward. Beer food and a toilet. And i slowed to a snails pace ready to cross the road and join them when i realised that i didnt know any of them and that was because they were just normal french cyclists and nothing to do with the London paris cycle. So reluctantly, after staring longingly at them for a good while and wondering whether to join them anyway, i carried on down the hill followed the sign around the corner, and finally at 3.15 Pm there was lunch and plenty of remaining cyclists, including Mark and paul who greeted me with " Where have you been?" and quickly ushered me to sit and join them with some grub and a cup of tea. We caught up and i recounted my bum bag tale, and then we took it in turns to have a pee behind a bush to the bemusement of a slightly amorous looking cow and some random french pedestrians,and no later than half an hour after i had finally arrived after my epic journey off we set again. Luckily this time we had food inside us and no puncture problems and pretty soon we were coming across groups of other cyclists we hadnt seen all day and overtaking them, until around about 5.30 ish we started to come across the first of the war cemetries and started to stop off and take some pictures. Paul was quite interested in war history so each stop off ended up as a good twenty minute affair and eventually after a final water stop and three more cemeteries we arrived at the hotel in Arras just before 7pm. where everyone was staying for the night.

As we arrived we were greeted by the support crew who informed us all that the next day the Slow group ( ie us, and people like Bernard and ken who arrived much later at 8pm having had a great pub crawl, and map read their way back) as well as the slow people we had finally overtaken en route;we would all be getting up early the next day to set off at seven whilst the fast group ( those who had un uneventful ride and sped from a-b without stopping to look at the scenery) would be having a lie in and setting off at 8 am the next day. Evidently we were a bit miffed at being labelled slow due to "mechanical problems" as Mark put it, and the fast Group were gagging at the challenge of seeing how soon after we set off the next day they could catch us up. So mark and paul announced they were antisocial gits anyway and didnt fancy sitting and having dinner with everyone else in a Holiday inn when we were in france,and decided to go for a slap up meal and drink in the town, and asked me to join them. I agreed but felt i should at least invite my room mate as i hadnt seen her all day. Unfortunately i didnt see her before dinner either, so whilst everyone else met for dinner at half seven, we met in the lobby ten minutes later, and had a leisurely stroll into town to find a nice spot for dinner. But first we had to have a pre dinner drink.

We found a nice bar and ordered an ice cold belgian beer (when in france...) which went down very well, and then we bumped into a group of retired marines who were on a tour of the war cemeteries and promptly started shouting about pasties, tavistock and union street as soon as they knew i was from Plymouth. They also told me to ask my dad (who was in the Navy)about the golden rivet, which he did know about and laugh about when i met him in paris and thankfully it wasn't something crude. We eventually escaped from them and decided to sit outside in another bar to get the last bit of sun and i had another beer which after a day of frantic cycling, sunshine and mass dehydration was already starting to go to my head. So after that we headed for a restaurant, which entailed a bit of a stroll, umming and ahing until we eventually all agreed on a very cosy looking italian( when in France..) and we got a lovely spot, and to add to the ambience we decided to go for the full starter and main course ( hell we were burning it off tomorrow, and 2 bottles of wine(1 red and 1 white) to wash it down with. I couldnt decide if i was going to assist Mark with his white or paul with his red so started off with a glass of red and moved onto white. Halfway through the starter i realised i was getting full already,( i'd picked deep fried camembert which was probably not a wise choice) and when the main pasta dish arrived not long after i managed to push it around my plate for a few minutes before i realised i was stuffed. We eventually got back to the hotel shattered about half eleven and i crept into my room to find my room mate fast asleep. I got straight to bed, and fell into a deep sleep, then about two in the morning i woke with an odd sensation. It took me a good fifteen minutes to try to work out why i felt so odd- it wasnt a sensation i get very often, and then it dawned on me- i was feeling sick, and in a flash i suddenly knew i was going to be sick ( which is unheard of for me unless i've had a particularly big night out with my friend Kate). So i padded quickly into the bathroom wondering how i could go about being sick quietly, wretched a few times and was then noisily and violently sick, after which i felt much better, so i brushed my teeth and went back to bed. Liz obviously now was awake and to her credit concerned so i gave her an account of my day, felt i had just probably got dehydrated and shouldnt have drank the wine with the rich food and went back to sleep, knowing i had to get up an hour earlier than her and set off the next day with my fellow slow coaches.

Day three

Day three i got up and showered and went down to breakfast but had to force myself to eat a little bit of muesli and half a yoghurt before i felt stuffed to the brim again, and slightly nauseous so gave up. I saw mark and paul at breakfast just as i was finished and told them about me being sick and they were surprised and then ribbed me for not being one of the boys as they thought i was.

Today, as we had something to prove to the fasties i was determined to leave on time but as usual just as we were about to set off i discovered i couldnt find my high tech water bottle( a fat 2 litre evian bottle) and since i was dying of thirst this was pretty essential so after a fruitless search i begged the support crew and was soon the proud owner of an even more high tech two litre bottle of Lemon sqaush (sans sports cap)with a little bit of diluted juice still left in the bottom. Unfortunately the lack of sports cap meant i had to completely physically stop every time i needed a drink(which was all the time.

Still we eventually set off at a good steady pace and made good progress over the first hour before we came to the first of the war cemeteries and evidently needed to stop off so that Paul could get his fix. We also discovered that he had a call from his wife when we got back last night and the family dog had died so he was a little despondant and we needed to let him have whatever time he wanted. Before long at the second cemetery which was actually beautiful and lots of us slowies were stoppping off and taking photos we saw the first of the fast lot came into sight in a pack shouting at each other. They got quite excited when they saw us as they thought it was the first water stop, then when they realised it was merely a bit of history/ culture/scenery off they sped. They were closely followed by two more closely knit packs all with the tour de france mentality, and with the guy at the front yelling "keep going keep going" when he realised it was not a water stop, and the rest looking at us as if we were mad because we had voluntarily put down our bikes to take some photos.

Not long after that we had the first water stop, where we again lingered for much longer than the others just chatting to people, and drinking tea. At this stage i was still not able to eat much and was still feeling a bit nauseous so i took some supplies with me but didnt have much other than a drink. we carried on and had some lovely hills and scenery and got some more pics by a lake and pretty soon we had made the lunch stop, for the first time at the same time as everyone else and there were tons of people i hadnt even met. we bumped into Kitty, who we'd met on day one again who was sporting a nice knee graze from an earlier fall and after about an hour of sitting around we all decided to head off together. I had still not been able to eat much which is a disaster when you have 85 miles to cycle, and by now i was starting to realise that my sickness was now turning into imminent diarhoeah except there were no toilets and as usual there had been nowhere suitable to go at the lunch stop other than a quick snatched wee behind a bush. Still i soldiered on in the intense heat and the scenery was beautiful and with Kitty now taking up the pace we were making great progress. At some point i ended up in front again and climbed steadily up a big hill, and then managed to turn and get a great pic of Kitty coming up the hill. We all had a bit of a juice break at the top and Kitty was just telling us, that she was getting excited because her husband and two oldest daughters were on their way over to be there at the finish line the next day. ( The baby was at home with the Au pair!) And the fact that she had just told us this made what happened next more upsetting.

For most of the route we were on country roads so it was rare to come across much traffic, but we came to a busy section of road where we needed to take a left hand turn into the right hand lane across a busy dual carriageway. Kitty was ahead, with me,then Mark and paul following and she went correctly into the left lane ahead of turning and was patiently waiting for lots of cars to motor past on our left hand side before she started her turn. I was watching her and the traffic but then at about the same time as her i became aware that there was another junction to the right of us and a car was edging out to come straight across to where she was as the traffic on his side of the road had now cleared. This obviously distracted her, and made her conscious of the need to get out of his way too, and the next minute she was starting to set off into the main road and directly into the path of a Lorry which was hurtling down the carriageway on our side. All of a sudden both boys yelled KITTY! as i was just rooted motionless to the spot and she automatically reacted by spinning her bike around in an anti-clockwise direction thank God, and her head missed the lorry that was hurtling down by literally inches. And all i could think of in wonderment was that her head was still on and she wasnt dead because a moment earlier i had seemed to be watching powerless as her head was about to get blown apart from a lorry. And after hitting her,the lorry would almost certainly have started hurtling towards me and maybe even the boys.Once all the traffic was cleared. we got her across the road and all had a break cos i think we were all in shock and we seemed more so than Kitty, who reassured us she was fine and carried on a few minutes later. As we cycled on from that point i kept getting flash backs and thinking of how awful it could have been for everyone, the husband, the little girls, and the tour operators who would have somehow felt responsible even though it was just human error. Later on that night apparently in the hotel ( i was in a different one on my own) Mark and paul saw Kitty and talked about that incident and then they realised she hadnt even seen the lorry at all( which was why she was about to cycle in front of it) and was concentrating on avoiding the car, so she hadnt realised like us quite how close to getting Killed she had been. Good job really.

After that we carried on at a steady pace all aware of how precious life is, and at the same time, whether because of the adrenaline rush, i became aware that my stomach was not settling and i was now getting violent cramping pains which would only be relieved by going to a toilet. Except there was no civilisation around and all the countryside tended to be fields with farmers manning them so not very private really. After two hours of cycling with more and more agonising pain, i was starting to wonder if i had one of those pregnancies that people are completely unaware about until they give birth; and if i was about to give birth whether i should name the baby Paris( works for a girl or a boy but also has unfortunate hilton dynasty connotations) Then we came across a village with about ten houses in it, and a school, but no toilet and then another vilage with about five houses no toilet but a real live person standing in front of me, hosing down his car. I hesitated for a moment before i realised that i had a non existent chance of coming across a public toilet in the next hour and that i couldnt wait another five minutes, in fact i was about to leave an unwelcome present on his door step. Not wanting to surpass Kitty in the ability to shock department i seized the moment but then pretty pathetically asked the man in my best french if there was a toilet nearby to which he replied a definitive " non" after which in desperation i explained that the reason i had besoin of a toilet was because i was en velo from London to paris and this was day three and there were no toilets en route, and i had a belly ache. Then his wife appeared from somewhere they had a brief discussion she held up her hands en horreur and then shooed me into her house with a "Vien Vien, suivez moi" and lead me down through the kitchen and opening a door gestured me in to the toilet, kindly pointing out the air freshener and toilet paper! Bliss. I did what i needed to do, but ten minutes later realised i could potentially be there all day but felt i shouldnt outstay my welcome, and thanked the kind lady as she beamed with delight saying Ca fait mieux? i agreed much more mieux, and bid her adieu, leaving her with a lovely story to tell her neighbours. Once outside the house i realised with horror that i was indeed not better and this was going to be a long painful ride home.

It was another half an hour/45 mins to the final water stop and i continued to get painful cramps to the extent that it was getting difficult to cycle and by the time i got to the water stop, knowing that yet again i would not be able to eat or drink despite being completely dehydrated and tired, i started to cry with frustration, and for the first time thought i would never make it but was also determined not to get in the van.
Luckily as ever the crew came to the rescue and within minutes i had electrolyte imbalance drink down me and was given some dioralyte tablets to take now and some to take with me. Ten minutes after setting off again i was still in pain and thought i would never make it, then miraculously twenty minutes in, the pain started to lift and i started to enjoy the ride properly for possibly the first time that day. kitty had decided to set off on her own before we left, probably being unable to cope with the level of catastrophe that somehow occurs when we are all together so it was back to the three musketeers again. Having now drunk lots of juice in a short space of time, it wasnt long before i was dying for a wee, but Mark told me to get over myself,and just take a leak at the roadside adding that it never bothered paula radcliffe.

So the last 25 miles was fairly fun as we all cycled along with good banter, but ten miles from home, whether due to dehydration and fatigue creeping up on me and maybe a mixture of the tablets i had taken, i realised i was falling asleep on the bike and spent the last hour furiously blinking to stay awake, having flash backs of Kitty nearly getting her head blown off and becoming more and more confused about which way the triangles were pointing.
Eventually we came to our destination-Compiegne, and then it was another 15 mins trying to locate the hotel which was on the outskirts somewhere. Eventually we came to a roundabout which signposted their hotel to the left and mine straight on and i then located mine, and saw loads of people socialising and chatting and having drinks in the sun. I realised with disdain i wouldnt be able to join them, but said hello to liz,told her about my situation and went to get my ruck sack desperate to have a shower and clean off. Then i discovered my Rucksack wasnt there amongst all the others but luckily it was tracked down to the other hotel and the crew set off to retrieve it and told me to come and get it in 20 mins. I went up to my room, had a brief lay down and promptly fell fast asleep only to be woken 20 mins later by one of the tour operators banging on the door with my bag.

I had a shower and decided to have dinner and then an early night with a book and a big bottle of water. Waiting for dinner though was agonising. I was so tired i could hardly keep my eyes awake and felt as if i'd been drugged.Then the starters arrived and it was grated carrot and beetroot slices. I kid you not. Not long after that the main course arrived which was grilled chicken with plain fried dry rice and a sickly mustard sauce. After chewing for ten minutes i realised it was time to call it quits. I left everyone drinking their wine, bought the biggest bottle of evian i could and went straight to bed and straight to sleep. There was a notice at the entrance of the hotel telling us that we had to get to paris for 2 pm at the latest(65 miles)the next day so we needed to plan our route and allow time for lunch and water stops accordingly. So the next day i needed to be up at six for a 7 am start.

Day 4. Compiegne to Paris!

Iwas determined today that i would set off on time, and since Mark and paul had stayed at the other hotel, i had no reason to loiter around once i was ready to head off, but then i bumped into the group that i had made my initial descent into Dover on day one with, so decided to hang back a bit and when everyone was eventually ready we set off, about 07.15. The countryside was lovely and it was also shaping up initially to be fairly flat which was a bonus. I was still feeling below par despite necking a ridiculous amount of water the night before and was still not able to eat much at breakfast, so i was happy to be in good company and with nice scenery. I took a few photos of poppy fields on the way, and then we came across some kind of stately home and got obligatory group shots outside there. We reached our first water stop by 9.30 am, and this was probably the first time since day one that i had reached the water stop without incident and at the same time as most of the others. The others of course included mark and paul, and since i had spent most of the cycle with them once they'd finished their cup of tea, and asked if i was cycling with anyone, to which i responded "yes" but realised that my group had already gone on, my fate was sealed. I knew that the trusty trio would be sticking together right up to Paris.

The hills started not long after we set off but we plodded steadily up them again and soon we came into a lovely wooded area just as it started to spit with rain. We had had boiling hot weather throughout all the previous days so this was the first time that we had to deal with wet weather. Also people were starting to ride in twos or little groups and chat as they went along enjoying the last day,so it was inevitable that accidents were going to start happening. We came across a few people that had had little bumps into each other and damaged their bikes slightly and were waiting for either duncan or the van. We checked each were ok and then went merrily on our way overtaking people and personally feeling slightly relieved that it wasnt us at the back again. Then when we came to the brow of a steepish hill through the forest Mark in front witnessed the two lads ahead of him skid, clash and then one of them go skidding along on his elbow on the tarmac road. We stopped to see how they were, and one was completely unscathed but the other who was a very thin lad had a huge elbow gash that wouldnt stop bleeding and also deep grazes on his legs shoulder and back so he did a great job. we all unpacked our savlon wipes and first aid kits and mark set to patching him up. Then when we saw the support van coming we flagged it down and then left him in good hands being patched up professionally whilst the technicians checked over his bike. By now it had started to pour with rain and having drunk a lot of water i was desperate for the loo. Having pretty much missed the opportunity to go in the forest i jumped at the chance to pop in one of the only pubs i saw on route and use their loo, and who should i bump into there but Ken and bernard finishing a nice cafe au lait and probably a cigarette and/or beer for the road. So now the fab four plus one girl set off en masse, and before long we had made it to the Lunch stop at a record breaking 11 am ( 40 miles down, only 25 to go) I had a photo taken on arrival, because this was the one and ONLY time that i had made it to the lunch stop at the same time as everyone else and from the picture you can probably see that i was elated.

Despite being excited about the last day though,even at this stage i still wasnt feeling 100 percent and was really hoping that things would turn around for me so the cycling wasn,t a chore and i could enjoy it.I managed a little bit of lunch but decided that food was just making me feel sick so had a cup of tea instead.

As we were drinking our tea, Paul pointed out "ten minute man" to me. As i hadn't had the pleasure of ever being up near the front riders i had never met this man but i had heard a lot about him. He was one of the cyclists who thought he was in the tour de france and he had a special machine that beeped every ten minutes to remind him to drink some water to keep rehydrated. Just then ten minute man had decided to head off on the last leg, and athletically swung his leg over his bike, sat on his seat, clipped his feet into his clipless pedals and promptly fell off and onto his back in a heap with his legs dangling in the air like a dying fly. We nearly choked on our tea and when Duncan arrived we told him and all laughed our heads off again. Then Mark said the immortal words " i think i'll just have one last cup of tea before we head" and for some reason as i looked up and realised that one by one people were starting to leave, i thought, we're going to be last to leave again after all this. And something is going to go wrong. And i was right.

We set off at twelve after a whole hours lunch break again. At about twenty past 12, after taking another poppy field picture i noticed i felt a bit different and then realised i was no longer feeling sick. Yippee!! I was then immediately excited about how it would be coming into Paris and relieved that i would be able to enjoy the last day. Pretty soon we were leaving the countryside behind and starting to see signposts for paris and the roads were getting a lot busier.Ten minutes after that, i heard Mark ahead of me say " I don't believe it" and slow down and stop with yet another puncture at the side of a busy road. As he was a dab hand at puncture repairs by now, I let him get on with it and just took pictures whilst Paul helped support the bike in the pouring rain. After 15 minutes of tinkering Mark declared he was ready to move on and off we set again with the weather getting increasingly wet. Not far after that we came across two of the girls who had been cycling too close and had also skidded and crashed. Luckily no-one was injured but the youngest girl, had her rear derailleur completely ripped off, and they were therefore unable to go on until it was fixed. We waited to make sure they were able to make contact with the support van and then carried on knowing we couldn't do any more to help. About ten minutes later ( and half an hour on from Puncture no 1 that day), Mark had Puncture no 2) to which we all sighed and wondered if this was going to be a re-run of day two. And this was on the side of an extremely busy road, with huge lorries roaring past. Mark had no option but to try and repair the tyre in a roadside ditch whilst Paul carried on ribbing him about his track record with Punctures and also the fact that when (if) he eventually arrived in Paris no-one would want to hug him because his jacket was covered in Blood from patching up the guys elbow earlier and oil and grease from his bike. When i creased up laughing at this whilst taking yet another puncture picture for Posterity, Mark retorted " And you can stop laughing cos in a minute you'll probably shit yourself and then you'll be in a worse state than the lot of us!" Unfortunately mark wasnt able to repair the puncture as he had used up all his inner tubes and both paul's spare and mine were the wrong size, so i was beginning to think we would all be doomed. Also we knew that the support vehicle would be busy with the cycle repairs behind us, and when we did get through to the support van we were told that we would have to try and repair it ourselves. Which of course we( or mark) were doing. Then i remembered in a flash my halfords stick on patches and promptly got them out along with the magic plastic stick you had to rub on the tyre to create warmth before you stuck them on. We all set about helping and Bingo! It worked, just as we saw one of the two girls from before sailing by on a nice new racing bike which was going to be a lot faster than her old one. We set off with renewed vigour conscious of the time and that we were now the last three cyclists. Then about ten minutes later we came across some of the patels and one of them was also stranded with a puncture, without a puncture kit and unbelievably also without a pump! so we all came to the rescue again i triumphantly got out a pump and a halfords repair kit, and we were setting about tackling puncture no 3 when up came duncan( without flipflops today) to the rescue on a knackered old girls Dawes bike with a hastily repaired derailleur just attached.

Once we had established that he would sort out the bike, we headed off again determined not to have any other hold ups when i suddenly became aware of Duncan pedalling furiously and panting just behind me. It turned out his bike pump wasn't working on the other bike and he wanted to borrow mine. I sheepishly admitted that i wasnt entirely sure if mine worked either, having never ever used it and there was a point when Mark handed over his pump when i thought oh no, marks going to have another puncture again and we all going to be stuck, then Paul said he had one too and it was fine and i heaved a sigh of relief. Then Duncan casually announced that it was getting a bit late, we were the last cyclists apart from the Patels behind us and if the support van came into view "at this late stage, we would probably be going in it as far as Paris" All thoughts of solidarity with my fellow cyclists i had spent this incredible journey with went out the window. I was off. I hadnt cycled all this way to do the final leg in the support van and i sped off chasing orange triangles not looking behind me until about ten minutes later when i peeked behind and saw Mark a little way behind and Paul lagging much further and looking like he was struggling a bit. Eventually Duncan caught up with Paul and this confirmed to me that the others had already gone in the support van as Duncan had to always bring up the rear, and i carried on fleeing my fate hurtling through traffic lights, tearing down dotted line in sheets of rain feeling absoulutely exhilarated with Mark in hot pursuit. When he eventually caught up he said that for whatever reason paul wasnt able to cope with the pace and didnt mind if he had to go in the van but Mark was resolute like me. They would have to drag us in there kicking and screaming. And they would have to catch us first!

And so we cycled the last 10 miles to Paris in about 30 minutes, watching the clock get twenty minutes then ten minutes away from our deadline of 2 o' clock and still we were not within sight of the city. Duncan and paul had caught up by now, and we started to pass other cyclists that we had never seen before and realised that these were all from Route one who had cycled via Dieppe. It was an amazing feeling as we overtook 5 at a time until we had overtaken about twenty cyclists in all. Then at about two we saw sight of the Seine and cycled as a group of four down along the river and into the outskirts of the city which was an amazing spectacle and then eventually at about ten past two we heard a huge cheer and looked across the road and saw a huge group of our route two cyclists waving and cheering from a bar across the road. I was so elated that we had made it despite all our set backs that i started waving furiously back and instantly went into a plastic bollard in front of me over the handle bars and into the road, landing on my L hand and hip. As i slowly got back on my feet i saw paul shaking his head in amazement and saying "You couldn't make it up!" After checking that my hips and hands were still in working order we set off again and soon caught sight of a sea of blue t-shirts who had been waiting for us to arrive and we got a final cheer before i went and had a final triumphant wee in Proper public toilets, changed into my newly acquired London-paris t-shirt, and set to taking celebratory pics with ken, bernard Mark and Paul. It was a great feeling and i wouldn;t have changed one aspect of it. Even the wet weather added a final piece of drama to the final sprint finish, and it had all been worth it.

We had about thirty minutes more hanging around for the rest of route one to arrive, before we were all summoned to line up in one mass group to do the final descent into paris. We were just remarking how we had managed to get ourselves in the middle of the group for a change when we all headed off following our vehicle convoy and we suddenly realised that all the other cyclists that hadnt lined up yet were from Route 1 and would be having their moment of glory once we had finished. And we were placed resolutely at the back of Route 2. But this is where we were destined to be and where we were happy and in fact we were able to really see the spectacle unfold before us by being at the back. Just after we set off we saw ten minute man and some of his cronies desperately trying to get towards the front by coming out wide on the main road and we heard them remark" its the only way to get there" as they went past, determined that they should be seen as the winners of this non race, and this made us even more determined to saunter at the back and take it all in.

The whole final jouney down the Champs Elyssess up to the Eiffel Tower was just as amazing as we had been lead to believe. I was trying to capture snatches of it on my camera as i cycled along but i was very conscious of the fact that now was not the time to lose concentration and come off agin, as Paris was increadibly busy, there was lots of traffic we were trying to negotiate several lanes and still stay in the right one and we had been told not to stop at any traffic light and just to keep going which was a bit hary. The noise was incredible, we were all singing and shouting, tourists were shouting and waving, people on the top of double decker buses were cheering ,lorry drivers were tooting their horns and then as we got within sight of the Eiffel Tower all the rugby fans on their way to a big match were screeching on their whistles.

As i was halfway down the final stretch before the eiffel tower i suddenly heard someone shout " kim" and looked up to see my older brother Rob, who lives in paris legging it ahead of me and taking pics with some paparazzi type camera. Then a few minutes ahead Keith's(my younger brother) head bobbed up from apparently nowhere. In all the commotion of the Rugby match my mum dad and sister in laws Jules and Khun ratt hadnt been able to locate the right waiting point so didnt see me as i came to the final destination but we soon all met up and recounted stories and took pictures. I remember one of my mums first questions being " You must be sore and tired" and i suddenly realised that since the first day my legs hadnt been sore at all, and i wasnt at all tired, i was elated.

We had a good half an hour taking pics and then we all had to cycle on to our hotel a further 5 miles on! We took it nice and easy though and were treated to champagne on our arrival. That was when i bumped into the posse from Glasgow who i can't believe i had missed the entire journey and they were starting to celebrate early and egging me on to join them. After three champagnes and then moving onto beer, i remembered how ill and dehydrated i had been and thought it would probably be foolish to peak too soon so went back and had a shower.After Paul and Mark telling me they weren't going to the final dinner, i decided i would meet up with my family and have a final celebratory dinner with them so i got a metro into Place St Michel and met up for a few civilised drinks ,plenty of water and a nice meal. I got a taxi back at midnight which took me back along the route along the seine where we had originally cycled and it was all lit up and beautiful. I bumped into Mark and paul at the hotel where people were being chucked out of the bar at and decided to get a brandy night cap and then went off to my bed at 1 am leaving everyone partying until it turns out 5 am following a lock in in Pizza express.My rock and roll days are well and truly behind me.

The next day, my final day in paris i had arranged to meet up with my family for a final meal in an area my brother rob had recommended. Rob told me to get a metro to keith and Jules hotel, leave my bag and then go with them and my parents to where we were meeting for lunch. I got the metro to the eiffel tower, wasnt sure where the hotel was so texted keith and Jules to ask them, immediately noticed the hotel in front of me just as i got a text back to say wait at the Bridge by the eiffel tower and we will be in a taxi. so instead of walking 1 min to the hotel i went in an entire circle with a heavy ruck sack on my back, around the eiffel tower until i eventually found the bridge on the other side. And i waited for a good ten minutes before i thought i had better text them back and then my phone beeped with another message just as the battery went and the phone went dead. So i was stood in the heat with a heavy rucksack, not being able to contact my family,not knowing where lunch was and with everyone by now late for it. After 5 mins i figured i had better head for the hotel and see if i could persuade them to contact keith or Jules for me or at least allow me to plug in my charger. So i trudged all the way back to the hotel, only to hear my sister in law calling my name from somewhere which turned out to be the taxi they had been sitting in waiting for me for the past 30 mins! The final text had said that they were back at the hotel, having not seen me on the bridge. OOps!
So after trying to decide if it was just Mark or Mark and paul together who caused all the mishaps on our trip it turns out it was probably just me all along.

We had a nice lazy lunch, i said goodbye to my family who were staying another day, got the metro to gare Nord and an hour later we were on board on our way back to St pancras, which was really sad. I had time to say the briefest goodbye to everyone on the platform at London, grabbed my bike and then had to get to paddington, grab dinner and get the train to Plymouth and i eventually arrived back at midnight, exhausted but proud.

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