How to bike from London to Paris in two easy steps.

1. Buy a bike.

2. Pedal.

Yep, it’s as easy as that.

Kind of.

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).

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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.

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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?

11059718_10153271100251341_9194213874000144991_nI 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.

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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.

Next time?

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 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.

11128625_10153271100871341_3010373041973151811_nThat 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.

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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.

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Challenge number 1.

London to Paris in 24 hours. On a bike. Yep, that’s what I’ve signed up for in May. What’s that all about then, I hear you cry. Erm, well, I’m not actually too sure myself. It sounded like fun so I signed up. I’ll deal with the details later. And yes, this is actually true, I don’t know too much right now. I know it’s about 320km, I will get about 4 hours sleep if I’m lucky and I have to have a road bike, but that’s about it. My ex-husband always used to say I was a bit of an idealist and a bit of a dreamer, I guess he was kind of right. But, I know it will all be OK. I know I’ll be able to do it, because I’ll give it my bloody best shot. I figure I managed to cycle 600km around Tasmania without any training, minimal preparation and a heavy backpack and tent; so this should be a bit of a doddle (ha!). I didn’t have a road bike until last weekend, and haven’t had chance to get out and about on it yet but I will be starting a bit of training soon. I’ve still got a few months until May, right? It might take me that long to get used to the weird shoe-pedal clip things that came with my bike.

It’s the first thing I’ve signed up for this year so far. There’s other stuff, but that’s all probably a bit later. This just sounded like fun. Loads of fun. Something a bit different, a bit of a challenge and a way to see a bit of France. Not seen much of it yet so cycling through some of it should mean I get a good look. Anyone who’s done any cycle touring will know that it’s one of the absolute best ways to travel and see a country. There’s 200 places in the sportive so I’ll also get to meet some new people and hopefully have a laugh while doing it. Plus it’s May, it should be decent weather. Might get a tan. Also will get outside; which, as I hate sitting inside on the sofa for too long, will be wonderful. I get fidgety, as people who have ever tried to watch a film with me can testify.

And now I’ve got a road bike, I could possibly look at doing some triathalons later in the year. Just need to have a go at open water swimming first to see how I feel about it. Not really done much of that, barring the lake swim in The Wolf Run, but not sure that counts. We’ll see.

This year, now I’m back in the UK and in one place for a bit, is all about seeing what I can do. Trying a few challenges and carrying on saying yes to stuff. Getting back to being fit and seeing just how far I can push myself. Why? Why not? Life is for living, and it’s how I want to live it. This kind of stuff, this kind of mini adventure, is what puts a smile on my face and makes my heart happy. I don’t want to stand on the sideline of life.

If anyone fancies it, join in here: http://www.londontoparissportive.com/.

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Goodbye Thailand.

Chiang Mai was the last place we stayed in Thailand. It’s not the last place we visited, that was Chiang Khong, but as we were only there 1/2 hour before we crossed the river and the border to Laos it’s not really worth mentioning.

We were in Chiang Mai for about 5 days. It’s Thailand’s second biggest city and a popular place on the tourist trail, with umpteen million things to do, although most of these are extremely expensive for what they are, and compared to the price of other things in Thailand/Asia. First things first, the day we got there we had a wander around. This is customary for me and Nick now. Find somewhere to stay, dump the bags then go for a walk to figure out where we are and where the nearest facilities* are. We did this in style in Chiang Mai. We found a little guesthouse which was basic but clean and functional and in a great location for the cheapest price yet (around £2 per person per night). Just round the corner in a quiet soi was a bar with prime seats outside and 7/11 priced beer where we sat in the late afternoon sun people watching, putting the world to rights and chilling out with a beer or four. Or five. After a few we thought we’d best go get some food, and decided to be Westerners for the night and headed to Mike’s Burger Bar, a roadside burger joint with pricey burgers, good music, weird posters and smiley staff. Now, it might have been the beers, or the fact I’ve not had a burger in months but it was the BEST BURGER AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Fact. What we should have done then is stop drinking. But we didn’t, we went back and had more beers. Not before I had (apparently, I can’t quite remember the night from this bit onwards) stopped at a street stall, picked up a fedora hat and pretended to be Michael Jackson. And also told Nick that I didn’t need ANY help from ANY man to cross the road. And talked rubbish to some people from Ireland. Oooops. It was a tremaze night though, much fun and worth the fuzzy feeling the next day.

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Inside the city walls, Chiang Mai is very traveller orientated, with lots of little quiet soi’s full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and massage places. Very much traveller-town, however it doesn’t feel anything like Khao San Road. It’s very villagey, with no loud music or partying, just a very laid back relaxed atmosphere. We both liked it straight away, and enjoyed a few days of wandering around, finding street places to eat and having a few drinks in the late afternoon sun at our newly found local bar. We spent one day walking the perimeter of the city walls (it’s about 4 miles in total, 1 mile each side), another day having a picnic in the park and another hiring bikes to have a bit of an explore out of town (we ended up in the University area, getting down with all the trendy youths. Chiang Mai is also a surprisingly dirty city – I ended up caked in grime and grit after a day riding round through the traffic. Nice.).

One night we had a traditional Thai massage, which wasn’t anything like any massage I’d had before. Nothing like my sports massages, or oil-based relaxing massages. Nope, this one involved being pulled, stretched, punched, kicked, squeezed as well as knelt and walked on by a Thai lady, with my clothes on. It was relaxing, in a strange way, and afterwards I felt very chilled out. We didn’t do much afterwards, apart from loll around.

On the Sunday night there was a HUGE market where one of the main roads in the old city turned into a walking street where every handicraft under the sun was for sale, as well as all the Wat courtyards being turned into food courts. That night was Snack Night, a night to try lots of different little snacks rather than a full meal. Like omlettes cooked in a banana leaf, or a spicy sausage on a stick, or a little pile of noodles in a leaf, or BBQ chicken wings. Or a bag of insects. That one was Nicks. Although I did try a worm. After freaking out a bit that I thought one was still alive in the bag, and then picking up a worm, squishing it in my fingers and squeaking and dropping it. You know when, before I left to come away, I smugly said “When I go to Asia and see insects on sticks I’ll definitely try one, oh yes I will.”. Yeah. Now I’ve seen them, it’s not going to happen. Can’t do it. The worm was bad enough. Although, it was surprisingly tasty. But. I couldn’t get over the fact it was a worm.

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There was one odd thing that happened while we were walking down the street. Ever been offered a turtle/tortoise for sale by a random man that walks past you in the street? I have. No idea why he was carrying it, whether it was alive or dead, or why he thought I might want it. It’s about as random as the time me and The Marine had gone to Ilkley for the weekend and this eccentric old lady practically spat the words “Stop!..<pause>..Being so..<pause>..intelligent. And..<pause>..Fit!” at us. Weird.

I think I might have decided on my next tattoo. Well, it’s actually going to be an extension of the one I already have on my right wrist. But, I’m keeping the idea until the end of my travels, as I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the next few months too. It did take a bit of restraint not to go and get one done in Chiang Mai. I need to be 100% sure. And I think what I end up having will actually be a few things, some of which I don’t know yet. So I’ve got to be patient.

Chiang Mai was lovely, but as the days went on it was apparent there was less and less to do, unless you had loads of money to spend. A lot of the activities on offer didn’t really appeal to me, and I think we both felt we were probably there about a day too long. Having said that, it was a nice place to spend a few days chilling out, we ate some good food and did a fair bit of walking and biking. We got a bit of culture by visiting a few temples, and we got out of Traveller Town by walking into the outside areas on the last day. This included Seedy Street where there were many bars, full of young pretty Thai girls, to go to, including one called ‘Foxy Ladys a-go-go’. I’m sure you can work out what type of bar that was. And the tuk tuk drivers ask the men if they want to be taken to have a Good Time.

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The alarm was set for 5 am to catch a 6 hour Green Bus to Chiang Kong (the Thailand/Laos border). Heading out of the guesthouse at 5:35am the heavens decided to open. It hadn’t rained for about 4 days, it had been bright hot sunshine. Hmm. It wasn’t looking good, especially as we’d been told the tuk tuks didn’t start until 6am, so our default option was to be to head down the road towards the bus station, looking out for tuk tuks as we went. However, Travellers Serendipitous Luck occurred. Don’t know what this is? It’s when you’re in the right place and the right time. Speak to any traveller and you’ll find it’s probably happened at least once. This time, I had just stepped out of the guesthouse onto the street and what should be coming up the soi but a tuk tuk, it’s lights shining in the rainy darkness like rays from heaven! If there had been sound effects, it would have been a heavenly ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ sung by angels. Price bartered down (of course: standard practice), we got in and escaped getting a good soaking. This is Important when a) you have a 6 hour bus journey on a cold air conditioned bus b) when you don’t have many clothes and you have to dry them and c) you don’t want wet clothes in your backpack. They make everything else wet and smell like wet dog.

Looking forlornly out of the window at our last glimpses of Thailand, we waved a reluctant good bye and crossed the river in Chiang Khong to Houxay to start our adventure in Laos.

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Goodbye Thailand, you were home for a month and a half and I could have stayed longer. I loved your food, it was truly some of the best, cheapest and tastiest around. I tried new things, and enjoyed all of it. Your people are some of the most friendliest, happiest, smiliest and most helpful people I have met. I never heard a raised voice or an argument. No road rage or beeping horns. Everyone I smiled at smiled back. Everyone I said hello to smiled and said hello back. People would go out of their way to help, even when they weren’t asked. I never once felt pressured to buy something, or to have a tuk tuk ride. I never felt like people were only talking to me to get my money. Your landscape and scenery was beautiful and interesting, and all so different. You’ve got a history I enjoyed finding out about. I thought you were a place that I wasn’t fussed about visiting.

You changed my mind. I’ll see you again someday.

*bars with cheap beers

By the border.

Mae Sot is a border town; it’s not really a tourist/traveller destination. It’s not visited that much, it’s a bit out of the way and doesn’t really have many attractions as such. So, that was kind of the attraction for us. Let’s check out what others don’t.

It had a very different feel to the other places in Thailand that I’ve been to. Being a border town, and there being a Burmese refugee camp nearby, there was a large mix of different cultures and people, and it felt a bit like a town with no purpose and no character. A bit soulless I guess, and the people didn’t seem to be as friendly or welcoming as other places we’d been.

I was in a bit of a travel funk in Mae Sot I think. A bit tired from all the travelling, the guesthouse we stayed in was really hot and the fan didn’t really do much apart from just circulate hot air, and I wonder whether I was just a bit fed up for no particular reason, so I’m not sure whether this affected how I viewed the place. I’m pleased we went to visit, I’m pleased we saw it and I did have a good time and enjoyed all the stuff we did. But, I wasn’t too fussed to leave and I wouldn’t go back.

It had a huge and bustling market, where you could buy pretty much any fish, meat or vegetable you wanted. I even saw Angry Birds on sticks. No idea what they were made out of, and I probably don’t want to know. We’ve visited loads of markets now, and they’re all the same but different. All the smells, the sights and the stuff they’re selling. The market community, the food and the hustle and bustle. No matter how many we’ve been round, it never gets boring or the same. We love it.

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We hired bikes to get out into the countryside, to do a bit of exploring. This was an awesome day. The sun was out, the countryside was pretty, a lot of the people we saw we friendly and smiley and there were a few hills for a bit of cardio exercise, which is something I’m still not doing as much as I’d like. Oh, and these bikes had a much softer seat than the ones in Kanchanaburi. I felt about 10 years old again, free wheeling down the hills with my legs stuck out and then remembering that the brakes were a bit shit. Luckily there wasn’t any traffic, bar the odd farmer or old man on a motorbike, who, incidentally, appeared to find the simple fact we were cycling down the road highly amusing.

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The couple of days was topped off by some smokin’ Japanese food out of the back of a pick up van and the fact that there was a beer shop next door to the guesthouse that sold cheap beer. Although, the fact that I was in a travel funk meant I didn’t join Nick in any beers. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that we ate the cheapest meal we have had there. And cheap price did not mean bad food. Cheap price=very good food. 25 baht for a plateful. That’s 50p. 50p for a plateful of curry/vegetable/meat and rice. Ba-rg-ain.

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Like I said, I’m pleased we went, I’m pleased we experienced it, and I did have a good time. But, there was just something about the place that didn’t gel with me. But I can’t expect that everywhere will. I guess it’s just the first place that hasn’t really, and it surprised me.