I wish I could say I loved every second of the ride and that the thought of all the wonderful people who donated money to the worthy cause gave me strength in every turn of the pedal.
That may have been the case for some of the seconds during the ride, unfortunately there are many, many seconds in twenty four hours. At least three hundred. For the majority of those seconds I did not love cycling, the generous people who donated, the worthy charity, my fellow riders, tiny puppies or jelly (I usually love jelly). In my lucid moments I cursed everyone and everything that ever existed or ever would exist.
But time heals all wounds, and I now look back on the twenty fours with a warm nostalgia.
The ride started well, the torrential downpours that had been thrashing London seemed to cease just as we departed Marble Arch and with a belly full of pasta and high hopes we set off strong. The traffic in London was a pain, we kept getting split up but as soon as we got into the ‘burbs and were able to pick up the pace and things were fine. We started cruising at around 18mph on the second leg of the England stage to make the earlier ferry and I felt good. The cats eyes of the A2 were oddly serene, guiding us like a runway into the darkness and to Dover where the ferry would bring some rest, warmth and a chance to carb load.
After eating what seemed like my own body weight in pasta on the ferry I put my head down to get some rest. What seemed like an instant later and the lady on the tannoy was telling us that we were making our final preparations before we docked in Calais. Getting back on the bike wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible. After some dilly dallying in the port it felt good to get moving and get warm, the elements seeming to be holding off.
The elements didn’t hold off. First came the rain, then the wind. It was fair to say I was fairly les miserables.
A welcome break came around 8am, when we stopped for a coffee. I was quite sleepy, but the caffeine helped as we set back off.
The next twelve hours seemed to last twice as long as the first twelve, but I seem to have half as many memories. The wind and the rain got worse, it hailed, the it rained some more. It was sunny for at least ten minutes in between the rain. It was always windy.
It soon became abundantly clear that the stomach bug that I had two days prior to the ride combined with the lack of a good rest the night before were taking their toll. My mental state really started to deteriorate. At some point mid-afternoon I started to lose it a little bit – apparently I tried to rest my elbows on my handlebars and nap whilst cycling, and I distinctly remember being in the living room of my parent’s house at one point (I was actually cycling onto a roundabout with my eyes closed). It all seems quite funny now, at the time I wasn’t overly amused and I think my team mates were more than a bit concerned by my well being.
Luckily Roy (the man in the van) gave me a can of relentless on the last but one stage. This was both a terrible and brilliant idea. Terrible in that downing a can of gut-rotting, fizzy rocket fuel caused my already fragile stomach incredible stomach cramps, brilliant in that the stomach cramps kept me awake and alert. At least I wouldn’t cycle into a car thinking it was my parents sofa.
After that, Paris drew ever closer, but it wasn’t until about 45 minutes before we finished that I thought we would actually make it. At this point a discussion started as to if we should take a 3 mile detour to go up the cobbled cyclist destroyer that is otherwise known as the Champs-Élysées.
We didn’t take the detour, I was deeply glad of this.
After some sneaky navigation down some one way streets we turned on to the wide avenue leading up to the Arc de Triomphe. Writing this I wish I could say I felt jubilant at the sight of it, but in truth I think I was too physically and emotionally drained to feel anything except a slight sense of terror trying to negotiate my way across the crazy roundabout.
It wasn’t until much later on, when I was fed, showered and had endured several bouts of cramp, lying in bed it fully dawned on me what we had done. It felt good and I fell asleep almost instantly.
I have to accept that this account portrays me as a whiny little girl, and to be fair for around 23 and a half of the 24 hours that would be fair estimation. But I finished it, and now I never again have to ride more than the four or so miles to work each day…
…until the next time one of us has a bright idea.