“Yeah, I’m not sure disco lights are going to cut it”
There are many things that Sam and Flic are good at. Sam, for example, is a talented and funny writer (ahem), Flic can turn your body into an efficient, effective whatever you need it to be. There are also many things that they are not good at. Like following instructions, like wearing appropriate clothing, like being prepared. But where’s the fun in that?
The return to The List had to be something worthwhile. We thought about fun sporting activities around London we could do. But our return after a year off had to be something big. And there is nothing that we like more than a road trip. But the Rollerskate (our trusted chariot to many of our adventures) is sadly no more. Hmmm. Ride trip?
And so the plan to cycle from London to Paris was born. First we thought we’d do the traditional three day route, covering around 100 miles a day. Then, because we didn’t want to carry too much, we thought we’d do the 24hr challenge. But we didn’t want to do it like everyone else – and perhaps because it is the only proper bike Flic has – so we decided to do it on TT bikes. Like you do.
So, we meet at the Shard on Friday at 4pm. We’ve decided to start here instead of Tower Bridge as it seemed more fun to ride from London’s newest phallus to one of Paris’s oldest.
The first stage of our ride goes pretty well. Well, we have to stop after 6km with the first mechanical. Someone (no names) hasn’t quite attached a rear water bottle cage to their seatpost properly. A few turns of an allen key later and we are back on our way. Sam has nailed this route this time and we don’t take a single wrong turn. We’re riding along at a decent pace. Slowling down to take in funny place names – our favourites being Woodcock, Little Woodcock, the beaver farm and Juggs Lane – and stop for a drink and wee stop about 60km. It’s then just a short 40km to Newhaven where we catch the ferry over to France. We make it at about 8.30pm just as the light starts to fade. This is good as the lights we have on our bikes might not be the most effective – more on that later – but also bad because it means we have to stand around in the cold for hours waiting to get on the ferry.
As we stand in a line with quite a lot of other cyclists we start to notice a few things. One; most people have touring bikes, not time trial bikes, two; most people have now put on a lot of clothes. Flic and Sam have put on all of theirs but are still not anywhere near appropriately dressed. Hmmm. Three; everyone has a lot, A LOT of kit with them. It’s panniers a go go. We have tiny rucksacks. Flic’s is so tiny, it’s probably been borrowed from a Borrower. Four; quite a lot of them have those map-holdy things on the front of their bikes. Old school. We’ve got technology. The batteries won’t die, right? Five; everyone has lights. Big, bright, illuminate the way kinda lights. We have a couple of led lights. Sam can’t fit hers to her bike so attaches them to herself. They light up a maximum of an inch in front of her. Flic has about 400 Knog lights on her bike. All flashing independently of each other, turning Ferg into a travelling disco bike. But we’ll be ok, right?
After what seems like an age, with nonsense already creeping into our conversations we finally board the ferry at just before 11pm. Loading the bikes is a little primitive. Ferg and Fanny are not cheap bikes. One chap tells us he bought his tank for £50. Erm. We might put our bikes somewhere else….They all get tied together with string and we tentatively head upstairs to find a seat to attempt to sleep in for the short four hour crossing. Of course, instead of sleeping we tweet, eat and giggle. There’s the odd bit of interrupted chair sleeping but nothing that you could call a good night’s sleep.
Before we know it, it is 4am and time to disembark. Ferg and Fanny are safe and unharmed. Thank goodness. We untie them and then head outside. Within two minutes the heavens have opened and it is absolutely bucketing it down. Argghh. We hastily put our waterproofs on and then follow the other cyclists. Remember, we’re totally unprepared so have no shame in following the crowd. Except the crowd is all huddled under a canopy trying to stay out of the rain. Sod that, we’ve got a time to hit. Off out into the rain we ride. “Do you know where we are going?”Flic yells at Sam. “Yes”’yells back Sam, full of confidence after the first smooth leg down to Newhaven.
Oops. Wrong way. Course says do not go over first bridge. We go over it. Twice. Once to go wrong, and again to put it right.
Suddenly we are plunged into total darkness. The disco lights and single chest LED we have mean that people can see us but we can’t see a thing. And seeing as the roads are completely deserted having lights with the single function of allowing you to be seen are pretty useless really. Add to this the fact that both us are reasonably blind and have had contacts in for the best part of 12 hours now and you have a combination that causes us to squint in vain out into the darkness in front of us and drop our speed. Pretty sure we see a snail overtake, but who knows what it was in this blackness.
But, we are on route and doing okay. We only miss the entrance to the Avenue Verte by about 500m. It’s amazing anyone finds it in the dark really. Unless they have working lights of course. Now, the Avenue Verte is probably very nice in the daylight, but at 5am it is pretty scary. You cannot see where you are going. You are in the middle of the woods. Anything could jump out at you.
We see some red lights ahead of us and some bright white beams in front of those red lights. No shame again so we jump on their wheels and start following. This works out quite well until they keep going the wrong way, culminating in climbing a hill for no reason whatsoever. Although it does allow for a wee break. And we see the moon. Kinda.
Back down the hill we roll – still in the pouring rain – and we get back on the Avenue Verte. The boys have carried on. We wonder if they ever make it to Paris.
Rolling along, freezing and deathly silent. The odd giggle escapes as we laugh at our own stupidity. Who doesn’t bring proper lights for a night ride? Idiots. Then a cockerel starts to holler that the sun is going to rise soon. Hurrah. A morning cock will always put a smile on your face. We start talking again now that the light is finally coming through and our eyes have adjusted to the dark. Pee stop number two. By a field filled with massive cows. They don’t look impressed and have started making some strange noises. At least, Sam assumes that’s the cows, as she stands in the dark holding Flic’s bike.
In almost an instant the sky turns from black to grey. No beautiful sunrise. The rain is lightening too. It’s going to be a good day. Now, if only our legs would start working. They just feel weird. It’s like we are climbing a hill but the Garmin says 0%. Sam asks Flic how slow we are going. “You don’t want to know” is the reply. Hmmmm. This isn’t like us. But there is nothing to muster. Caffeine is needed and needed quick.
Nowhere is open.
But nature always steps in to wake you up. Suddenly we are surrounded by 100s of rabbits. Its like a scene from Watership Down. They are fast little buggers, but they are also suicidal. They appear to run away from your bike and then dart in the complete opposite direction. Bunny dodging becomes a new game to keep us awake. Luckily we don’t hit any. Although we are hungry and rabbit would be good protein.
Avenue Verte comes to an end and we have our first moment of wondering where were are and what direction we are headed. We head into a town. It’s about 8am and the need for coffee is pretty desperate now. And then there it is. A café. An open café. With people in it. Halle-bloody-lujah. The locals are already on the beer but we just want coffee. Two coffees (with dark chocolate on the side. I think the man felt sorry for us). First one goes down without hitting the sides. Feeling slightly less zombie-ish. Is it rude to have another? Nope. Down it does. Ahhhhhh. Human finally.
Back on the bikes and the difference is amazing. Our average speed has picked up by more than 10kph and we are nattering away about sweat and nonsense with gay abandon. This is also the point where we are purposely off route. But we have a plan to catch it back up. For now though the open road is pleasant and we are picking up some pace and feeling human again. And the temperature has crept into double digits meaning that Flic is de-robing. Sam is still fairly wrapped up.
We power along. Knowing where we are going until we reach a fork in the road. One way will get us on track, the other way will eventually get us on track but doesn’t appear to do a big loop that the official route does. No brainer. Let’s take the other way. On we tootle.
Midday and 200km later we realise we are starving. We are two girls that like to eat. A lot usually. But so far on this ride we had a chorizo each, a tub of Total Greek with some blueberries and broken up bits of the protein flapjack that Flic has made (it, incidentally was several flapjacks but the heat from Flic’s body has turned it into porridge. It is tasty though), and a Builders bar (Sam appears to have eaten more than Flic, which has to be a first. Flic only has herself to blame for this though as she turned Sam into the incredible eating machine). Anyway. We’re hungry so the next goal is to find a town with some signs of life in it. Signs of life that aren’t just canine. What is it with rural France and dogs? Just as we approach the latest in a stream of empty towns we get overtaken by what looks like one of Dumb & Dumber on a tiny moped. Laughter follows. That image of Lloyd and Harry frozen together on a mini moped is our road trip image. This trip is bound to be adventurous after seeing that.
Finally a town with some life in it. Well, a bar-cum-newsagent and a patisserie. We stare at the cakes and giant brioche for longer than is appropriate but opt for a slice of quiche each. It is inhaled. It is salty, eggy, hammy, cheesy goodness that is gone all to quickly. Over the road to the bar for more coffee. Another two each. Buzzing. Sun is out now so we soak it up for a while. Sam de-robes to join Flic in the tanning opportunity. Could sit here all day, but we do have a deadline to meet.
On we go. Still off route but kinda headed in the right direction.
The French countryside is rolling. Up and down we go. Ticking off place names we know we need to go through. We decide to take it in turns on the front to make the time and distance pass quicker. 3km each and switch. We power through the miles.
We hit Marines. Not as in The Royal. We have around 50km to go to Paris and plenty of time to do it. But we are a little bit more off route than we think and are very low on water. But we figure out a route and on we go.
Someone has turned on a massive headwind, however, stuck some more hills in and turned our quiet country roads into something resembling a motorway. Hmmm. A couple of detours into business parks to see if there is a shop for water. Nope. Back on busy roads. Hmmmm. This is scenic. Oooh Lidl. Never have we been so happy. Until Flic has to stand in a queue for longer than wanted waiting to buy a 7c bottle of water.
We top up and move on. It is 12.30 now. And this might be where it starts to go a little bit wrong…or adventurous, whichever you prefer. Sam stupidly turns on Google Maps to direct us. Lord knows why she has done this. Last time she did, she ended up in the middle of a field with her road bike and had to hike a couple of miles to get back to civilization.
But she’s turned it on. The stupid Google woman takes us all around the houses. Up over a pedestrian bridge. “Are you sure we are going the right way?” ask Flic. “Yeah, definitely,” lies Sam.
We roll along next to a pretty canal and it looks like we are almost headed back to being on the official route. Woo hoo.
Erm. Well, almost.
Around the houses we go again. Sam might lose her temper and call the Google lady all the names under the sun. Flic steps in. Calm. Figures out a route. Back on track and headed towards Paris. It has taken us a couple of hours to travel about 20k. Hmmm.
Then we see Paris in the distance. The financial district looms on the horizon. Sam spots the Eiffel Tower. Then it disappears before she can point it out to Flic. And is disappears for a long time. As do we. Lost in La Defense. Sam’s Garmin is dead. Our phones are slipping into comas. Flic’s Garmin is almost dead. This could be fun. Every route we try to take is blocked. We can’t see the Tower anywhere. How can something so big be so invisible and why aren’t there any signs for it? The need to finish has overtaken commonsense so we end up dashing across a busy motorway and lugging our bikes up onto a bridge so that we can get ourselves pointing in the right direction.
We are so close. But so far. Mission now is to find the Arc de Triomph. Find it. Ooh cobbles. They don’t feel overly nice when you’ve been in your saddle for more hours than you care to remember and when you maybe might need a wee. The roundabout of death around the Arc looms. Take a deep breath and just go. Survive. Champs Elysee. More cobbles. How the Tour riders race over these we do not know. Leg sappers. There’s the Tower. Woohoo! Bollox. Where’s it gone. Take a side road. Finally see signs. Nearly get taken out by a French driver who thinks its okay to turn right from the middle lane when a cyclist is going straight. Get yelled at by said driver. Maybe killing cyclists in Paris is legal. Maybe it’s a crime of passion or something. Survive. The tower is so close. Take another turn. Bollox. One way. Sod it. Pavement. There she is. The Eiffel Tower in all her glory. We’ve made it. Before 4pm. Under 24hrs. A very squiggly route, but challenge complete. One big tick next to L2P 24 on #Tickingoffthelist.
Stop for a moment. Take it in. Turn to each other. “So, what shall we do next time?”