1. Buy a bike.
Yep, it’s as easy as that.
When I signed up to cycle London to Paris in 24 hours, I didn’t really read all the details. So I didn’t really appreciate how far it was or how much training I’d have to put in. Or how many times I’d fall off before getting the hang of clippy pedals. Or how much nutrition plays a part. And how hard training can be if you want to try and have some kind of social life. Especially when you’ve just moved to a new place and are making new friends. Or how much kit I’d need. And how much it would cost in all. Or how much of a headache the logistics would be.
But, I’d signed up. I’d paid the cash and committed. No going back. I wanted to do it.
So I did what I needed to do. I tried to get out on Bob the Bike as much as I could. Which, when you work away most of the week, is not that much. I got bored with the training. The weather hasn’t been that great and I hate to admit that I’m a bit of a fair-weather biker. Not a fair-weather runner, but biking in the rain isn’t that appealing.
I tried to eat well but that didn’t always work out. I tried not to drink too much. I tried to get enough sleep.
D-day came around pretty quickly. I’d managed to get everything sorted for it, like all the practicalities of getting to London, staying in Paris and getting back again, but did I feel prepared? Did I fuck. I’d felt positive a couple of weeks before after a pretty intensive training weekend back in Lincs. I’d cycled a decent amount, in all weather too and my legs felt good. I’d been going to BMF and still running a bit so felt my overall fitness was alright. But the weekend before the event I didn’t get out on the bike at all. In fact I spent it out socialising, drinking and eating shit food. Not the best way and when the Saturday came around the positivity I’d felt the week before had definitely slipped down the scale somewhat. But, being the eternal optimist I am, it was still there. Because it never really crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I knew I would, somehow. Even if it took me ages and I limped towards the Eiffel Tower, I always pictured myself doing it. Not doing it just wasn’t an option, because I’m stubborn and it was in my power. No one else was going to do it for me so I sure as hell would give it my best shot.
So off I trotted with Bob, my gear for a couple of days in Paris, a comforting sense of mild apprehension and some lovely messages of support. Also walking like I was wearing a nappy, courtesy of some beautiful new padded GORE cycling shorts I’d been given (later to be worth their weight in gold, frankincense AND myrrh).
Thank you, First Great Western for making it so easy to travel to London with my bike. Not so easy on the underground, although I can’t blame TFL for that. It’s just not easy taking a full size bike onto a crammed circle line train at lunchtime on a Saturday (although before you say anything, it’s allowed, it’s off peak and one of the few lines you CAN take a bike onto. I checked. Obvs.). As I would have loved to have pointed out to a chap on the tube. I would have actually acknowledged that I know I was a fucking pain in that car if he been man enough to say something to me about it rather than ranting under his breath to his girlfriend thinking I couldn’t hear.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow account of the whole 200 miles. You wouldn’t want to read that just as much as I wouldn’t want to write it. But, just while we’re on the subject, 200 miles is quite a long way I think. I still can’t really picture it in my head. But it’s a fairly long way to drive in the car, so even longer to bike. I just never really thought of it as 200 miles. Think that’s the key. Just think of the stints between rest stops. Between 20-30 miles each one. Pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop EAT.
Yes, yes, you have to EAT. And eat LOTS. This is good for me. I like EATING. The rest stops on this challenge were immense. So much food to choose from. It’s actually amazing how much of a difference this makes. If you don’t eat enough there’s just no energy. Keep fuelling and you can keep going. The human body is an amazing thing. Food is fuel really, that’s all.
So the English leg was a bit time pressured. We had to make the ferry or that was it, adventure over before it began. So, pedal to the metal. Or, foot to the pedal. Or pedal to the floor. Whichever, the legs had to spin round fairly fast. And there were a lot of hills. Good job I’d done most of my training in the Cotswolds. A mixture of riding with new friend Roger, who kept me entertained up and down the hills of the South Downs, and riding alone day dreaming and admiring the view and thanking my nappy shorts for meaning my arse wasn’t hurting yet. About 10 miles to go and the rain started. We’d actually been really lucky up to then and it was only cold and windy. It was supposed to rain all afternoon so an hour in the rain wasn’t too bad. So, it got wet. And dark. Luckily I’d caught up with some riders and there were some behind me too, so we rode into Newhaven in a small peloton of flashing red lights, dripping helmets, big smiles of relief and confusion over the entrance to the Premier Inn. Note: riding a bike in the dark in rain with glasses means you can’t actually see much apart from huge flashing fuzzy red circles. Solution: Stick to the wheel of the guy in front of you and hope he doesn’t brake suddenly.
Getting to the Newhaven Premier Inn in really good time was a huge boom. I was well chuffed with myself and my legs. It was the most I’d cycled in one go (60 miles) and my legs felt strong and my arse was absolutely fine. Things were looking sweeeeet. Being soaked wet and going inside, eating and then having to layer back up in wet stuff to get back on a wet bike to cycle the 5 mins to the ferry port wasn’t so sweet though, but it was one milestone down and I knew I had a few hours in a [hopefully] warm ferry to dry out. Oh, and of course it wouldn’t be raining in France because that’s abroad and every knows it’s warm abroad, right?
I didn’t really think about what was to come. Whether it would be raining or not. What’s the point? It would be what it would be. What I tried to do was go to sleep. Didn’t quite manage it. Think I got about an hour. Dried out though. By the time we’d got through all the passport shizzle and eaten a banana or two, we were all off at 5am french time, riding in the dark on the wrong side of the road, flashing red lights as far as the eye could see.
I’ve only been to France once before, to Nice, so riding through little quaint countryside villages at dawn with silence apart from cockerels crowing (reminded me of Laos, seemingly the SE Asian land of cocks) and no one around was pretty special, but having to keep up the speed, concentrate on where you’re going and try to hug someone’s back wheel as close as possible to get in their slipstream meant that I didn’t really get a lot of time to look around and take it in. I do remember being pleased it was flat though. And smooth tarmac. Lovely.
And the route was fairly flat. Only a couple of hills (one only about 20 miles from Paris when most people had tired legs, but that earnt me the title Hill Monster. YES.). This is a fact to rejoice, although I do like the other side of a hill. You know, the coming down bit. That’s fun. Unless there are potholes. Then it’s not. My top speed on the english bit was 63km/hr. That’s over 40 mph I think (can’t be arsed to look for the conversion). You don’t want to be hitting a pothole at that speed, trust me.
It rained though. Pretty much all the way. Mostly drizzle that you kind of forgot about, but sometimes really heavy. We were all soaked for the whole 12 hours or so we were biking in France. Didn’t notice it after a while. And my kit served me well. Very well.
I rode with a small peloton all the way. We swapped stories, laughs, interesting facts and Bon Jovi songs. There were wild boar, bike pile ups and accidents involving sunglasses and commando rolls. We got stopped by the Police, who couldn’t really speak English and so ended up just telling us to ‘bike faster’. Pretty sure we were ALL GOING AS FAST AS WE COULD RIGHT THEN. I learnt more weird cycling hand signals used when biking in a group. It’s like another language.
I learnt about nutrition, or mainly what not to eat. I’d not had chance to practice any kind of strategy (in fact most of my training rides were done without any nutrition – not recommended), In my case on this ride it was protein bar type things. Easy to put in a jersey pocket but my stomach did not like them. Not one bit. I spent the last 50 miles (believe me, this is a Long Way) with stomach ache trying not to think about needing a shit. I had to stop twice to be a bear in the woods. I’m sorry to all the people in the bar who got this story first hand that night. But, in the interests of education to all you people who may want to know what it’s like to do something like this, it’s important you know the actual Truth. It is not glamorous. I don’t normally have protein bars or any kind of of protein shakes etc. And I definitely wouldn’t again. Natural stuff all the way. Next time I’d make sure I had time beforehand to prepare some stuff to take with me.
Yes, I said next time. As much as I am pleased it’s over and feel like I’ve got my weekends back, it was an incredible experience that I am one million percent pleased that I did. That I signed up on a whim and gave it a go. Because this used to be the kind of thing that other people did. That I read about but never thought I’d be able to do. But now, now it’s the kind of stuff I do. I achieved it. ME. I DID IT. I tell you, that feeling of seeing and riding up to the Eiffel Tower for the first time was pretty damn special. And I got there without feeling completely broken! I actually did a little jog once I was off my bike to show my legs still worked. Probably completely high on endorphins and adrenaline at that point but hey, I could still walk. And surprisingly, my arse was not in bits. The ibuprofen I’d been popping religiously probably helped, but also my new shorts. Super nappy strength padding. I could sit down perfectly well. OK, so the whole area was a bit, shall we say, delicate, but this is hardly surprising after riding a bike for 18 hours in wet gear. A bit of savlon and a nights sleep sorted that out.
That smile, that’s for fucking real, that is.
That and for my grandad, who died a week before I did this and so never got to know that I made it. And for all the people that want to but can’t do something like this, for whatever reason. I didn’t do this for charity, although I know a lot of people did. Do feel free to donate to your favourite charity though if you’ve been inspired. Or stick a few pence in the charity tin at the next shop checkout you go to.
I met so many awesome people; all doing the same thing but for so many different reasons. Everyone has their own story, struggles and motivations. All brought together by a common interest and a beer afterwards. The sweetest beer.
So yes, there will probably be a next time. There will be something else. Right now the only things I have signed up for are a few running things over the summer. A half marathon, a 24 hour team relay endurance run and an obstacle course. There will be some summer cycling though, trust me. Me and Bob are not ready to part company just yet.
I’ve realised that the human body is an amazing thing. My body amazes me. I think I’m maybe fitter than I thought. I know I can do stuff, and I’m still figuring out what that is. If I don’t give things a go then I’ll never find out.
Life is for living, and for me, this is how I choose to live.
If anyone is thinking of doing anything similar, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. You CAN do it, it WILL be amazing and you should totally do it. Give it a go. If you don’t try you’ll never know. What have you got to lose?
You can do anything you bloody want to, you just have to believe.