Getting drunk at a gig the night before probably wasn’t the best idea.
Even more so getting picked up from town by Dave (our videographer) the next morning, packing the car and driving the two and half hours to London. And definitely not seeing as I normally drink less than the pope. Bam and I were supposed to be the brawn, not the brains, so we probably should have had a brew and an early one (as usual). But there we were, Marble Arch on a crappy Thursday evening, a little tired, a few heroic friends seeing us off, waterproofs on and quiet excitement in the air.
Once the inevitability of a slow exit from London was done with, it was nice to finally spin the legs with the boys and settle (almost) into a rhythm. Other than the Tron-like dual carriageway, White Cliffs and the novelty of riding a bicycle onto a massive boat, the English stage was more of a necessity to get to the Channel. A warm up, really.
On the ferry, the two thousand respectfully quiet Dutch teenagers were fine company for those of us who needed a wee kip. If anything, we ended up having too much sleep. Which would probably explain our lethargic and reluctant return to the saddle. Although there must be something in the tarmac over there in France for when my tyres hit the road, I became irrepressibly excited. Riding on the RHS, the smell of the air and the Continental houses (with shutters and everything) was almost too much. I had to stop and have a wee. Even the morning call of the birds had a wonderfully arrogant tone. France. Road cycling heaven.
The beauty of the northern French countryside was even more apparent once it was light. For the majority of the ride the scenery was incredible. Picturesque villages, quiet fallow fields and perfect forests complimented by That Early Morning Café, smooth roads and encouraging drivers. We crossed The Somme. It was starkly impressive and I easily pictured the trenches and horrendous fighting. Maybe some ingrained year eight history was at play but the landscape really felt it’d seen some things it’d rather forget.
The odd town, heavy eyelids and a constant dull ache in the legs would remind us we were cycling a fair mileage but on the whole, all was tres bon (French). Except the weather. That wasn’t ideal. But when it got even less ideal, we all went to our happy places (and if you’re Austin, remained there) and got on with it. When you’re tired on the bike, you’ve got to do something to keep you going and on one particular section, Laurence was feeling a little drowsy and so team leader Tom was sent in to stimulate him. With talk of prescription glasses and pre-Cambrian rock, it’s a wonder Laurence is still with us.
And after an endless amount of story-worthy moments, it was over. The first thing that struck me when arriving gloriously at the Arc de Triomphe was how much better it was than Marble Arch (and how well we did). Then we got kicked off the oversized roundabout by the Le Fuzz, who remained notably underwhelmed when informed of our achievement. On the contrary, our Parisian host Yan turned out to be a top bloke and showed great character in letting eight smelly, tired Brits into his exquisite apartment for the weekend.
To be perfectly honest, I was there mostly for the ride, not the charity. But once I learned that the money we raised will help specific schools get water and electricity, that tangibility meant riding a bike for a really long time made even more sense to me. I’m proper chuffed of what we achieved, on the bikes and for the charities, and although it wasn’t easy, I completely loved it. I often wonder why I do these sorts of things but actually, I mainly wonder why everyone else doesn’t. I think the others would agree. Well, some of them anyway.
Endnote: despite the best efforts of the tech-savvy members of the team (everyone but myself), I still have no idea what a hashtag is.