A great adventure:
Day one, Saturday: It was a late start as planed rendezvous with the back up team (Liz and Sarah who travelled to London by train) was foiled by the fact that Hyde Park was closed to traffic due to a full dress rehearsal of the trooping of the colour. We tried Green Park, but that also was closed. We found a parking spot at the back of Buckingham Palace. and with the aid of mobile phones, guided the girls to our position. Finally setting off at around 10.30, one hour late, after a photo call.
Our rout took us from the back of Buckingham Palace past Victoria Station to Westminster and Big Ben. Great start passing all these landmarks. Then we crossed Westminster Bridge and travelled down to The Elephant and Castle and out through Greenwich Park. By the time we got toGreenwich it had started to rain! Heading out of London, the traffic was a real problem and kept our speed down significantly. There seemed to be a set of traffic lights every few hundred yards and long queues of traffic at every one. We shuffled along the inside of some and took to the pavement on others. London seemed to go on for nearly 30 miles. All the way over the M25 and through Dartford.
It was on the bridge crossing the Medway that Matt picked up his first puncture. We carry spare inner tubes, so he set too, taking off the tyre on his rear wheel. We travel light and only carry the minimal amount of food. So I decided to leave him and go a short way ahead and buy some sandwiches. He caught up and we sat on a bench in the high street, eating our sandwiches in the now light rain.
We pushed on into the beautiful Kent country lanes and life became much more pleasant. However, navigation was difficult and we had to stop frequently to refer to our notes. Then, Matt picked up his second puncture, the front wheel this time. So, he installed his second and last remaining inner tube.
Onward. Then it started raining again! But Kent is beautiful and we were now making good progress and coping with numerous hills quite well. At one road junction we met a couple walking their dog, so asked for their advice on the rout. The lady said we should turn left at the bottom of the road and then first right. When she said this was a beautiful road with stunning views to the right, my heart sank, suspecting that we would have to climb a hill to see these views and the now quite strong winds were coming from the right. My fears were confirmed when she referee to the rout as crossing The Downs. Why are they called “The Downs” when they are The Ups? However, the views were stunning and I hardly noticed the wind blowing the rain in my face.
The rain had stopped and the sun had almost come out when Matt picked up his third puncture! He tried to repair it, but the glue in our repair kit was old and wouldn’t hold the patch. So we called the backup team who were now in Dover. We decided to walk to the nearest village which according to the sign post was 2 miles away and direct the back up team, who had the advantage of Tom Tom, to the said village. The backup team also carried an iPhone and were able to locate a Halfords store and purchase four new tubes and two new tyres for Matt’s bike on there way to meet us. We met in the gravel car park of a small garden centre. Although we didn’t have any hot drinks, it was good to have some more treats like dried apricots and put on another layer of clothing as we were still damp and getting cold through inactivity. We also took on our pre packed rucksacks containing such things as our bike locks and a change of clothing for the ferry. Half a mile later Matt picked up his fourth puncture! The inner tube may have been nipped when it was installed. New tube and onward!
We planned our rout using Google Map which has the facility for priding a suggested rout for walkers. This rout took us along the verge of the A2 duel carriageway on the wrong side, facing the on coming traffic. So we had to cross the carriageways at a gap in the centre crash barriers and cycle down the correct side of this very fast road. One of the continental buses came very close! Anyway, we were on the road for less than a mile and were soon back in the quiet Kentlanes. The last few miles down, and I’m pleased to say it was down, into Dover were very pleasant and I had a great sense of “successful adventure” when I saw the docks and the ferries.
On checking in, around 8.30pm, 3hrs 45mins after our latest check in time, we were told the next available ferry sailed at 11.30pm. However, after hearing our story the lady at the desk had a word with her supervisor and got us on the 9.30 sailing. We were allowed on board before the cars and were soon in our fresh clothes and in the restaurant. I will explain at this point, that the back up team crossed via the tunnel ahead of us to check into the hotel and get the boys (the grandsons) to bed. The guy serving behind the counter in the restaurant was a keen cyclist, so we were in favour and he gave us extra large pieces of cod and extra large portions of chips and mushy peas. I cleared my plate in no time washing the food down with plenty of sparkling water. This fuel was very much needed as Matt’s gadget showed he had burned 7,500 calories on our adventure, and we had cycled 84 miles. Once we had eaten we had a really good father son chat and caught up on what was happening in our lives.
It was about midnight, French time when we disembarked and Matt’s front wheel caught in a gap in the metal ramps leading onto the dockside and he was thrown over the handlebars. He was a little grazed and sore on his right side but was soon back in the saddle, his bike having no apparent signs of damage. It was of course dark at this time, and as I didn’t expect to be so late, I hadn’t brought any lights for my bike. Matt always has the right equipment and had lights. So we decided I would cycle in front and Matt behind with the red light flashing. We were not entirely sure of how to get to our hotel so in one of the quiet streets of Calais stopped to ask directions from three people and a dog. (they were all together) but why they were walking the dog well past midnight I do not know!
It was 10mls from the docks to the hotel, so we had cycled 94mls on our first day. I Didn’t bother to shower till morning.
Day two, Sunday: We just made it down to breakfast before the restaurant closed at 10.00am. Another late start, but excusable because of the late crossing and the loss of the hour due to the time difference.
Setting off down the coast, the immediate problem was the strong wind. But, it’s always windy inCalais, so as soon as we get in land a bit, it will ease. So we thought! The “D” roads leading down the French coast were very up & down, and in one village at the bottom of one of the downs I found myself alone. I waited a while but it soon became obvious Matt had a problem and was not following me any more. I found him on the outskirts of the village not too far back up the hill. Another puncture!
It was Sunday in France, so every few seconds a bunch of cyclists came by. I think without exception one of each group called out “ca va” and were happy to speed on as we waved our reply “ca va”.
We couldn’t find anything in the tyre, but a nut from one of the spokes had come off and was rattling in the rim. Maybe it was the exposed spoke end that had pierced the tube. Anyway, we had a spare tube so could replace it. However, the back up team planned to spend a good part of the day in Norsicaa. A treat for the boys. We didn’t want to ride without two inner tubes while they were having fun, so a quick text asking for assistance was sent. We were not sure of our exact position, so switched on “imeet” on the iPhone. Sarah’s iPhone could then pick up our signal and locate us on Google map. A text came in from Sarah: “found you” and twenty minutes later the backup team arrived with supplies.
On the top of the next “up” the English coast was very visible and seemed very close. We eventually turned in land and started to climb and climb with the wind coming from our right and in our faces. My pace slowed but I was surprisingly fresh and was enjoying the French countryside. Vive la difference! We climbed to the top of Mont du Sene and stopped for “ten” to take on fluids and some malt loaf for energy. The skylarks were in full song and the yellow wagtails were chasing each other over the green wheat fields. The view was stunning and we were feeling good.
We soon started to pass some cyclists on old 1930’s bikes, and a couple walking their tandem up a hill. The lady of the pair complained in perfect English, of how difficult it was to even walk up the hill. It turned out there was about 400 of them, all members of a vintage sports car club. Back in the 1930’s the club members held an annual sports car race on a 28 mile circuit from and back toBoulogne. As they were no longer allowed to race their cars on the road, they now cycled the rout stopping frequently for refreshment at local hostelries. Finishing in Boulogne and “drinking some more wine”, they said. And sure enough at the bottom of the hill was a hostelry, with people spilling out of the doors, glasses in hand. And a magnificent 1930’s motor car parked outside. Interesting people are always a good moral booster.
The landscape for kilometre after kilometre was broken by elegant wind turbines. Turning quite quickly I thought. We had climbed for some 30 miles or so. Then, at the top the wind blew, from our right and into our faces. It was really quite strong, and the gusts were quite ferocious at times. So our legs didn’t get a chance to recover from the climbing. My pace dropped quite a bit from this point onward.
The rest-bite came with the final 5 or 6 miles being down hill into Abbeville. Navigating through the outskirts of the town to the hotel was reasonably easy, and luckily, we met the back-up team just leaving to go out for some dinner. They drove the short distance back to the hotel with us. We were soon showered and changed ready to go out for a family meal at the Buffalo Grill on mother’s day in France. The two ladies received a complementary rose.
Day three, Monday: We set off from the lovely, small, Etap hotel a little late again. Excusable because we need our sleep after each day’s exertions and getting the boys through breakfast and ready for the day is not a quick process. Our rout took us through the town of Abbeville. When motoring through France we nearly always go by Abbeville, but I hadn’t seen the town before. It is really lovely with two large, very French town squares. One of which is dominated by an AbbeyChurch. I assume the Abbey in Abbeville.
The weather was very nearly perfect. Bright but lots of high cloud giving us shade. There was a light wind which was behind us this time. All together an easier day and I began to really enjoy the French countryside. Also, we were on some quite narrow lanes passing through some beautiful small villages. A few miles before one of the villages we found the road closed. The road surface was obviously new. It looked very smooth and was painted with bright new white lines. There were several heavy machines dotted along the road but all of the personnel were sitting in their vehicles eating their packed lunches. I approached a nearby digger and asked the driver if we could go through on our bikes. He said it would ok, but we should be careful of the heavy machines once lunch time was over. The ride along the road was perfect. The service was very smooth and of course there was no traffic. So we cruised at a good speed (around 18-20mph) side by side for 3 or 4 miles with deep Forest trees on either side.
Whilst sitting on a wall taking on some energy and liquids, we were joined by three very mature Frenchmen on bicycles. There is good comradery amongst cyclists in France. Later we stopped to talk to four other cyclists on our rout. They turned out to be Brits cycling from London to Paris on some very nice, expensive bikes. Then onwards, and after some navigation problems around the town of Beauvais whilst trying to find our hotel, we completed a very enjoyable 63 miles.
After a shower at our F1 hotel we had a great family meal at a Court Paille.
Day four, Tuesday: Maybe it was knowing it was the last day, but we started the day a little stiffly. However, a couple of miles out, we encountered a very long hill which soon got the muscles working. The slope, I guess, was about 1 in 6, and was one of those hills where the summit kept moving away and seemed endless. I felt good while resting at the top as I thought I did it quite well.
As we got to the towns around the edge of Paris it started to drizzle from time to time. It was from these towns also, that navigation became a problem and we got lost several times. The rain started to come down harder and the power on my legs was very much less than when we started three days earlier. Whilst lost in one town, we estimated very close to Paris, we decided to head for the river and follow it to the centre. Rivers are at the bottom of hills, so we headed down hill. A long way down we decided to ask the way to the Seine. But the river was not the Seine but were directed in the general direction of Paris; “tout droit!, tout droit!, tout droit!”. Eventually we felt we were close to the Peripherique, so I again asked for directions, at a pony club this time. The girl seemed to have a problem with deciding which way to direct me, so suggested I take the train as they would allow the bikes on the train. Anyway, just a short way down the hill we fount the A1, which we knew lead directly down to the river.
We found Parisien(ne) drivers very courteous to cyclists and riding through Paris is a lot easier than riding through London. Where there is no cycle lane, the bus lane doubles up as a cycle lane, and the buses are equipped with a warning bell, especially for cyclist.
Then, we crossed the busy junction by the Opera and I immediately recognised where we were and I could soon see the Louvre ahead of us. We stopped off for a quick photo, and then moved on along the riverside onto The Isle de Paris and Notre Dame. Liz, Sarah, William and Oliver soon spotted us and came forward to meet us. It was one of those moments when seven year old William said “Well done. I’m proud of you grandpa”. It was a good moment. The effort seemed very worthwhile. I felt thankful for the prayer support we had received, and for the amazingly generous financial encouragement. Family, church family members and friends have pledged £1,220 for the benefit of our four church buildings, and with gift-aid, this figure should be raised to over £1,500.
We had completed 287 miles. But our cycling was not over. We had to cycle another 10 miles to our cheaper hotel on the other side of the Peripherique.