11 weeks after finishing the ride, Tom finally gets his act together and submits his story to the blog. If there is anyone still out there, we apologise that this is so very late.
We had allowed ourselves plenty of time to sort things at Austin’s and Greg’s flat, but naturally come 6pm everyone was frantically running around trying to get the right things in the van or on their bike. Once the van finally left for Marble Arch, an eerie calm descended. We were ready. Sort of.
We slowly made our way across London, weaving in and out of annoying, loud four wheeled menaces with rain beginning to fall. At Marble Arch a hearty crowd who had braved the weather greeted us. We thank you, stoics of the April showers.
8pm came and we were off – all ten metres down the road to the first traffic light. Unfortunately this process was repeated all the way out of London and made for a very stop-start beginning to the trip. However, as we made our way through Kent, powering up the gentle hills and tucking in down the other side, we began to put our training (and my dodgy knee) to the test. Cat eyes lit the way for the last couple of hours into Dover, where we blagged ourselves onto an early ferry and settled in for some carb-loading. This was the first real high – sadly as the day progressed the lows outnumbered them.
The first of these was on the ferry. A carb shake made me feel pretty ill. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. There were lots of annoying teenagers. Anyone who knows me is aware of the holistically optimistic view I normally carry in life (editors note – this is a joke), but this scenario was certainly sub-ideal considering the day ahead. Shooting down the unloading ramp of the ferry like Evel Knievel plunged us all into the fresh French air. Believe it or not, it felt good to get back on the bike. We were ahead of time and my legs felt pretty good. Unfortunately this was quite short lived. An hour later it all changed.
Suddenly my legs felt like lead and my blood sugar went through the floor. I’d hit ‘The Wall’. I could not turn my pedals any quicker and I could not get it out of my head that this was only the first stage of five in France; how would I keep them turning all day? Oh and there was a headwind. A massive ******* headwind. And there was rain. And we lost Greg for a bit. This was the lowest point of the 24 hours for me. I just kept thinking of getting to the top of the next hill, but after two hours of that mind-set I was completely drained and we decided a longer break and a coffee was necessary. This was not a high, but it was a massive relief. After that break, I most certainly did not want to get back on my bike.
We were determined to make the second France stage better. We had averaged 14.5mph in the first but we needed to be making 15. We decided we were going to make 15 this time if it killed us – we could not afford to loose much more time. Then the hail hit and the headwind kicked up another notch. Morale in the team dropped and nervous calculations started. At least the expansive French countryside was lovely.
Stages 3 and 4 were much the same. We tried to push on but the bad weather just would not let up. On the bright side (metaphorically) I did feel much better, but we just could not physically get the average speed up. I wearily remember at one stage pedalling downhill and still only doing 14.5mph; a world away from the 19–20mph we’d comfortably been averaging on the flat in training. We tried to shorten the breaks to 10 minutes but we were so delirious by this stage it took 20 minutes just to do the basics of refilling water bottles and taking on food. Somehow Greg found the time to update the blog on his phone. It was going to be close.
I will never forget the last stop. It was the first time since the end of Stage 1 in France that I really thought we could make it. Even though we had been below average for the whole of France, the earlier ferry meant there was still a chance. I remember coming around the back of the van telling everyone we couldn’t stop for long, to see Oli nod towards the road. Keeled over on the verge Austin was vomiting. Laurence looked delirious. And my knee had finally failed. Bam looked confused, as if it had finally dawned on him that he was no longer in Wales. Greg was struggling to update the blog on his now out-of-focus phone keypad. It was going to be a tough and testing last stage.
We smashed the last leg into Paris, taking full advantage of the now subdued winds. We new we were in the suburbs when out of nowhere we were once again bombarded with red lights. So many traffic lights. I did think it was quite fitting though, finishing in the same fashion that we started in. H.G. Wells once said ‘Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia’ – I, for one, cannot wait.
It was still very much touch and go; we knew Paris was also going to be both traffic heavy and difficult to navigate. The team took turns trying to keep Austin awake; last food rations were passed around; I think somebody was singing at one point (editors note – Tom was singing, alas he does not remember). Finally we weaved along a little bicycle path, past some cafes, over some underpasses and onto a big road. At the end of that road was the Arc de Triomphe. Few things have ever looked more beautiful. I blindly dashed across the eight-lane roundabout and hoped for the best. It was maybe a little bit silly, but let’s be honest, 23 hours 31 minutes sounds much better than 23 hours 32 minutes.
Editors note 1 – Tom Bishop, future teacher, has terrible punctuation and grammar. Apologies if not all of the mistakes were picked up, I gave up completely re-writing sentences after paragraph five.
Editors note 2 – The film will be finished at some point in the near future Dave promises, so hold tight on that front. It will be worth the wait.