The Back-up Crew’s Story
Team Members:- Sarah, Liz, William & Oliver
Saturday 29th May 2010
This morning was an early start so that Liz and I could get the train into London while Matt and Bob drove in with the bikes. Once we had finally met up, (what are the odds of choosing a start location on the same day as the rehearsal for the annual Trooping of the Colour!) Matt and Bob got themselves set up and away they went about half an hour later than they thought. We were to meet up again later in the afternoon about 4.30pm to give them their locks and jackets to keep warm on their ferry crossing. We were crossing on the tunnel to save time, but the only way to get a bike across has to be on a ferry.
We had the day to ourselves, so once we had got through the endless red traffic lights out ofLondon we headed to Dover. When you are driving a route that you know someone is cycling you are more aware of the road conditions and the inclement wind and rain!
We drove up to Dover Castle, we had never seen it up close before, we always see it from a distance when catching a ferry never leaving enough time to have a visit. However, yet again not enough time, recommended visit time is 4-5 hours. So instead we visited the Louis Bleriot Memorial, an aircraft shaped stone memorial erected where he landed. He was the first person to fly across the channel on 25th July 1909.
By this time Matt had phoned to say they had got delayed with the traffic lights getting out ofLondon he had had a puncture so would be later getting to us. About 5pm he phoned again with another puncture so they would be even later. I made the decision to find the nearest Halfords thinking he may be in need of more inner tubes if this was an indication of how the trip was going to carry on. Where would we be without Google Aps and Tom Toms? Halfords was only 0.8miles away, so armed with the spare tyre that we had in the car, I went in and found a nice man named Richard who found me another tyre and inner tubes of the same size. At the same time Bob phoned to say they needed us to find them, Matt had another puncture and no more inner tubes to make a repair. Matt was impressed with my initiative, I think he said I was “bloody brilliant”! So purchases in hand, back in the car, another useful Ap – iMeet, where you can find a friend’s GPS, we set off to meet them, found them wandering on a very remote country lane. By now its 7pm and we’ve all missed our scheduled crossings. New tyre, new inner tube and a large handful of Tuc biscuits later, rucksacks on their back they set off for the final 10 miles to Dover and we headed for Folkestone for the tunnel. We made it to our hotel in Coquelles by 11pm French time.
Sunday 30th May 2010
After a comfortable night in the Etap at Coquelles, and the excitement of a late crossing and Matt’s acrobatics off the ferry (see Matt’s story) we got up later than originally thought. During breakfast we discussed the days route, which we didn’t have time to do last night because of everyone’s late arrival. We had decided take the boys to visit Nausicaâ, the National Sea Experience in Boulogne, in our opinion the best Sealife centre ever. We had been on 3 previous visits and can’t travel through this region of France without visiting. Car packed up, Matt and Bob suitably fed and watered and with a replenished stock of inner tubes off we all set about 11am. It takes half an hour to travel between Coquelles and Nausicaâ, no sooner had we arrived and parked, Matt phoned to say he had another puncture and Bob had cycled off ahead, so please could we find him to give him another inner tube. He figured we would be in Nausicaâ for a about 3 hours and may need another one. So back onto the A16 to Coquelles. By now I had no problem driving the Landrover in France, having only ever driven in France for half an hour 7 years ago it was second nature now. By the time we arrived Bob had realised that Matt wasn’t right behind him and was proud he’d climbed a hill twice and Matt had repaired the puncture, but it was good to use the large tyre pump we had in the car. Inner tube given we wished them on their way and headed back to Boulogne.
After a fantastic French lunch in a little bistro across from Nausicaâ we headed to look at the fishes! As always William’s favourite’s are the penguins and Oliver’s the sharks and the ‘Nemo’s’. I enjoy sitting in the large aquarium room watching the enormous wall of tanks all around me, very relaxing.
At 5pm, after a great afternoon we thought we’d better head for our next stop in Abbeville. We were pleased we hadn’t heard from Matt and Bob, no news is good news as Liz kept saying! It took us just under 2 hours, and along the way we spotted a high-vis jacket ahead climbing a hill – Bob. We overtook peeping the horn and at the top of the hill was Matt waiting. We passed Matt and pulled into the next layby on an extremely windy road and gave them food, they hadn’t stopped for lunch and were a little peckish to say the least, having not taken any energy bars with them. We waved them on their way and headed to the hotel and after checking in and unloading the car, were just sending them a text to say we’d headed out for dinner when Matt and Bob cycled into the car park. Perfect timing, with no further problems. A quick shower and change later we headed off to the Buffalo Grill for plenty of carbohydrates. We had a great meal and it was good to catch up on their adventures today. We were unaware that it was Mothers Day in France and Liz and I were given roses. We talked about the next days route and headed off to sleep.
Monday 31st May 2010
Another great nights sleep, I thought we’d all be very tired and reluctant to get up each morning, but it definitely feels like an adventure, so you wake up ready for whatever the day brings. The breakfasts in the Etap hotels are so very typically French – bread, brioche, jam, chocolate spread, coffee and juice, but just what you need.
We thought we’d get some supplies today from the local HyperU – petrol, cycling gloves for Bob, (we discovered yesterday that Bob had had his current pair since 1987!), more inner tubes, a better puncture repair kit – one where the glue is actually still sticky and our lunch.
We headed off along the D1001 or the N1 depending on which map you’re reading and had our picnic along the way. We didn’t know the definite route Matt and Bob would be taking because road conditions at any time could make them change route. But we were wondering if they were on this road. It was very direct, if a little up and down with the hills, and I thought the region of Le Somme was flat! No sooner had we had this thought and voiced it, that we spotted two high-vis jackets ahead climbing a hill. We pulled in at the top of the hill, only 9 miles to go to Beauvais. This was their favourite day, great route, great road conditions and perfect weather conditions. We updated them with directions to the hotel and met them there an hour later having only just arrived, checked-in and unpacked the car ourselves. Shower and change and off to the Courtepaille for dinner.
Tuesday 1st June 2010
We wanted to get to Paris before them today and didn’t know how busy the traffic was going to be. Paris is not known for its courteous drivers or slow road users, so after breakfast we headed straight there. This is where TomTom and the maps were not as great as they had been for the last 3 days. We were directed on really fast, confusing layout roads and eventually the Peripherique! Oh Joy! It took about 2 hours to get to the hotel after a rather tense drive, to say the least, only to discover that the Landrover was too high for the underground car park. Finding a fluke of a parking space at the side of the road not too far away we checked in and were able to speak to the hotel manager to allow Matt and Bob to lock their bikes away inside the hotel when they arrived later.
The parking space was only for a maximum stay of 2 hours and we needed to leave it for this afternoon and overnight. We paid for 2 hours between 2pm-4pm and hoped for the best for the other 2 chargeable hours. Luckily this plan worked and when we returned we hadn’t got a ticket!
We headed into the centre of Paris on the Metro. I felt this was the only time we were a long way away and unavailable to Matt and Bob if they needed us, being at least an hour from the car and then probably at least an hour away from them given the busy traffic conditions. They had anticipated arriving at Notre Dame about 2pm, however, they had got delayed with the route and the traffic so didn’t get there until 5pm. Although being in Paris, walking along the Seine and finding a Café au Lait to pass the time was no real problem!
At 4pm Matt sent me a picture text with the caption “look where we are” and the Louvre behind Bob, so we knew they weren’t that far away. Time then seemed to go quickly while we watched people pass by outside Notre Dame with William asking lots of questions about Paris and Notre Dame. Then over my shoulder we saw them cycling towards us, they had made it, a fantastic achievement, and they still looked very fresh.
Many photo opportunities ensued to mark the completion of their challenge, a brief discussion about their day then we parted again to catch the metro while they cycled back to the hotel.
They arrived back about 7pm, bikes were stored, shower, celebration beer then across to the local Campanile for dinner.
Wednesday 2nd June 2010
It was nice this morning to have a fairly relaxed breakfast and start to the day, only slightly aware that the return tunnel crossing was 3pm and our Eurostar was 5.15pm.
We packed the bags for the last time and loaded the car with bags, bikes and boys. Liz and I were to have a day on our own in Paris before catching the Eurostar home. We waved the boys off, caught the metro back into the centre of Paris and headed for Galleries Lafayette. A fantastic store, the shoe department in particular, but I was well behaved and did not give in to temptation! We had a coffee and meandered round all departments before finding a little bistro for a well deserved lunch and glass of rosé. A brief trip on the RER to Gare Du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to St Pancras, then walked across to Euston to train back to Milton Keynes.
We arrived home about half an hour before the boys. We had a fantastic road trip, if I’m honest I enjoyed it more than I thought I would! It was really great spending time driving around some beautiful French countryside in a region we normally pass through quickly on our way south.
So Matt, I’ll be your back-up crew on your next adventure anytime but I’m taking more inner tubes!!! xxx