London to Paris10 June, 2012 0 comments
To say that our first day was eventful would perhaps be an understatement. I set off from Esher at 12.30pm, popping into to see the kids at creche quickly for last minute inspiration. It was a pretty ordinary ride over to my friend's place (Jason), raining on and off, with the sun threatening to come through. We set off from his place in Purley at 2.30pm and got into Newhaven around 8pm.
We had one longer half-hour stop at a lovely little hotel / pub to re-fuel and a few other mini-stops gorging and reminiscing on old school treats (Smarties, Werthers etc!). I won't be surprised if we all come back a few pounds heavier with the amount of calories we're taking in.
The ride from Purley to Newhaven can be described in one word, windy! We got lucky in that it didn't rain, but the invisible force of wind was actually lot more difficult to contend with than getting wet. And before you ask, not it was not a tailwind!! Other than wind it was pretty uneventful. My chain came off once, so there was one comedy moment where I didn't manage to clip-out in time before I came crashing down on the pavement in slow motion. But other than that embarrassment, no punctures or other injuries to report back.
At this point you are probably thinking, he said it was eventful at the start, but we've got to 8pm in Newhaven and there is not much going on. If I tell you we didn't get to bed until close to 1am, you'll know there is more to come. So I'll continue, with our ferry not due to depart until midnight, we thought there's no point sitting in the ferry terminal for 4 hours, let's find somewhere nice for dinner instead. After entering one pub (western style) and being greeted by the sound of tumbleweed (either they'd never seen an Indian in there before, or more likely an Indian in hi-vis jacket and lycra!) we were taken in by the temptation of a curry, by the name of "Newhaven Tandoori". As curries go, this place was pretty decent (although we were all starving!). We even had the pleasure of bringing in our own drinks from the 'offy' over the road. After doing a tidy job on the balti and garlic naans, we reluctantly got back on our saddles and cycled the 1.5 miles to the ferry terminal. By now it was dark and we were looking forward to a few hours kip on the ferry.
As we pulled up on our bikes towards the reception, there was a lady in a hi-vis jacket who shouted out "If you're on the ferry from newhaven to dieppe... It's been cancelled due to technical problems, the next one is tomorrow at 11pm". And so for the next hour we scratched our heads trying to figure out whether to go back home (and return on our bikes tomorrow), or get a taxi across to Dover (which would give us a much longer ride into Paris) or go across to Portsmouth and get a ferry to cross the channel from there. Without going into all the detail, we ended up getting a taxi (with a driver who seemed to be incapable of using his satnav, hearing our instructions and frankly his driving skills left a lot to be desired) to Portsmouth. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and booked ourselves on the fast service leaving at 7am the next day to Caen. Google Maps reckons it will be around 150 miles over to Paris. That's around 20 miles more than we were planning, but versus having to return home and do the "walk of shame" and tell all our donors we didn't quite make it, I think those 20 miles are a price well worth paying. Bring on Day 2.
Been a long day today. Am shattered so going to keep this brief. We set out at 5am on the ferry from Portsmouth over to Caen. It was a 4hr crossing and there were plenty of sick bags being utilised. We finally got on our bikes at around 12 and set off on our 80 mile ride to Evreux. The ride itself was pretty uneventful, the usual sore bottoms, but no punctures or chain issues to report. Oh, there was one incident where, once again I couldn't clip out in time and went falling down, thankfully pavement side. So looking forward to doing that again tomorrow. We ate lunch at a place called 'Coq Hardi', no comment. The ride from there was probably the toughest yet. After many hours of working our quads we arrived into Evreux at 8pm. The hotel is very nice for a 3* and we are now watching the Germany-Portgual game waiting for our pizza to be delivered. Think that's all I can manage as a summary for Day 2. Looking forward to an earlier finish tomorrow under the Eiffel Tower.
Where to start? The end maybe. At around 1800hrs I am delighted to say the 3 of us reached the Eiffel Tower. We were soaked right through by the unseasonal June rain, but that made no difference, in fact it made it all the more satisfying.
Day 3 began at 0800hrs, with a rude awakening from Indran's alarm. Despite getting 2 whole hours more sleep than I get usually, I think all of us could have done with a few more hours in bed. If I tell you that we didn't start cycling until 10am, you'll realise the kind of pace we were ambling around at. All checked out of the lovely Mercure in Evreux (recommend it highly, but stay away from the takeaway pizza option!), we sampled the delights of the local patisserie. 2 croissants each, the 'Pain au Chocolat Amande' was divine. Chris Hoy has got it right when he says 'Apparently the french eat pastries for breakfast', and we say, so what's wrong with that? A pastry gives a lot more satisfaction after all that cycling versus a bowl of Bran Flakes! But who are we to argue with a Gold Medal winning Olympian.
So we had a 70 mile journey ahead of us (ten miles less than Day 2) and no idea how hilly or what kinds of roads the Garmin Edge 800 had planned for us. All the print outs we got of the Dieppe to Paris route courtesy of Donald Hirsch were completely redundant now that we were coming in from the east of Paris and not north. We wanted to get past half-way, to give ourselves a psychological boost, so our first stop was after 32 miles, after riding through some lovely undulating countryside roads and some very quaint but sleepy French villages (think UK on a Sunday is a village where everyone has been out drinking the night before and they all pull asickie!). We reached Septeuil at the 32 mile point, and asked the local florist for a recommendation for food. Luckily Jason's french speaking skills means myself and Indran didn't need to point / shout / gesture thankfully. Helpfully and enthusiastically, the french florist told us about a lovely place for lunch in Orgerus. According to her this was a 10min bike ride. We took a look at Google Maps, and it was around 5 miles away and a bit of a detour, but after a brief consultation with each other, the thought of good food was too much to resist!
After what felt like much longer than 5 miles (much of it uphill - since neither Jason or I have figured out how to get our Garmin GPS devices to show us what the ascent is ahead of us) we arrived at Orgeus. Greeted once again by many a shut shop, and a handful of locals wandering the streets. The restaurant was no where to be found, the patisserie was technically open with empty shelves, but one of the only signs of human life and she confirmed that there was no chance of us getting any food today in this town. Jason and Indran describe this as their low point over the entire 3 days (mine will be a little later in the story), so you can just imagine how emotionally and physically gutting it was to find out after a 40 min detour up some winding hilly roads, that we had to settle for eating thelittle bits of scraps we had between us for lunch (it was now well past1pm).
We cut a pretty sorry picture sitting outside the closed Casino convenience store, eating nuts and raisins for starters, followed by 'mule bars' and french biscuits for main course and of course mini Dime bars for dessert. Come to think of it, all of this came from Jason's bag, so I'm not sure what would've happened if Indran and I had ended up stranded somewhere (that could've been the end of a vegetarian diet for me!). Thank you Jason for carrying all that extra weight and refueling us to be able to carry on a new route (since we had now detoured) into Paris. Oh and by the way, in case the lack of a proper lunch was not enough to piss us off, it now started to rain too! The big man was testing us.
At the 24 miles to go point (15 miles on from our 'gourmet' lunch outside Casino) we stumbled upon a restaurant that was open. As the reluctantly allowed 3 sweaty, wet, unkept, scruffy, cyclists into their tidy restaurant, we poured over the rather expensive menu. It was around 3pm, so none of us cared about the prices, we just needed a decent meal. The lads described this as their best meal so far (Salmon - Jason, Chicken - Indran) and given the circumstances I'm not surprised. But as any vegetarian will identify with, the French do not really care for the concept of a veggie diet. As I've found in most parts of Spain, South America, Australia and the Philippines it appears there are a few places in the World, that really test one's choice of being a vegetarian. It is like they are hell bent on making sure they teach you a lesson for choosing for what they see as an inexplicable way of life! So after being offered gratin, something got lost in translation between waiter and chef, and I ended up being served a plate of boiled rice, sauted vegetables and green beans. That'll teach him the chef must have thought!
We trundled back onto our bikes, stomachs (sort of) satisfied. With 24 miles to go we planned to stop again with 10 to go. Being refuelled and with water bottles refilled we managed to make good progress, in spite of the rain continuing to pour down (as luck would have it the rain had eased off when we sat down for lunch). We reached Versailles at 5pm and were now well and truly in what felt like the outskirts of a major city. Lots of shops, cars and traffic lights. With the rain showing no signs of stopping, we convened road side by a red light for a few minutes and agreed it made sense to push on and not have a proper stop in Versailles. And it felt like the right decision, that was until we cycled up towards what can only be described as a gigantic hill (the entry point of Paris). There was disbelief, head-shaking and mild hysteria. This was my low point as I'd psyched myself up with 10 miles to go, and subconsciously told myself that the run into Paris would not involve the types on inclines we'd conquered getting to this point. After much grunting, panting and most important pedalling in our lowest gears, we conquered what felt to me like Mount
Everest, and the reward was a 25mph downhill stretch honing in on the finish line. But even then, as I'm sure many a cycling enthusiast would identify with, all I could think was 'what goes down, must come up', so instead of enjoying the downhill, I was now paranoid another uphill stretch would beckon.
That was not to be. We cruised mostly downhill into Paris, testing our clip out/in cleat skills at every traffic light. The busy roads were a far cry from the journey to here, and we had to have our wits about us to anticipate taxi drivers cutting in front of us to make a right turn as we continued straight on. Just like cycling in central london then! Once into Paris, it took a few miles to reach its most iconic landmark. High 5's all around and some pretty average picture taking with random sections of the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop. These were not any pictures, they were our passport stamps to show that we had indeed completed London to Paris on bike.
To reflect on my journey, it began 3 days ago. Esher to Purley to Newhaven to Portsmouth (by taxi) to Caen (by ferry) to Evreux to Paris. Well over 220 miles clocked up and it felt like a long time ago that the whole trip was very close to being curtailed thanks to LD lines ferry. In the end we think the ferry being cancelled was probably a blessing in disguise, as I'm not sure how much sleep we would have actually got on the overnight crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe. Thank you for the text messages, facebook posts, and most important generous donations (I'm now a few hundred quid short of my target so feel free to help me reach that goal too!). And a big thanks to the missus and the kids for allowing me the time to train for this ride, and for the most useful birthday present ever, my Garmin Edge 800. God only knows where we could have ended up without this!
Thanks for reading,
Team Rahul - Jason - Indran
Anyone who has cycled any long distances will know how challenging it ride is. If you are able to support their charities please do so generously. Here are the links to their Justgiving pages.
Rahul, Jason & Indran
London to Paris (via Newhaven and Portsmouth and Caen!)
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