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The Lifetrain Epic Adventure - Box Hill to Paris 2013

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An Epic Adventure

 

Box Hill to Paris – 29 Jun – 2 Jul 2013

 

And so it was that the Arc de Triomphe, the Napoleonic homecoming for thousands of French troops since 1836, was the zenith for 8 splendid cyclists from Surrey.  The last 15 miles of our epic 222 mile adventure took us over 2 ½ hours, through a very congested Paris, but you could feel the excitement building throughout the morning. As we finally rode up the Avenue de Grande Armée the monument came into view and I’m sure I was not the only one who was overwhelmed by the emotion. The sun was brilliant, the streets were packed and the traffic was impossible but we rode right up to the centre and whooped with joy as we finally arrived at our destination. What a magnificent sight and what a tremendous effort!

 

Our terrific support crew were already waiting and quickly turned up with the champagne and camera as we revelled in our absolute success.  From 16 -58, from riding and training for years to ‘hopped on a bike a few weeks ago’, from fit and well to ‘getting through each day on panadol and ibuprofen’; and from racing up each and every hill to trailing in last each time – that was me – but, hey, always said built for distance not speed J.  Everyone was committed from the first to the last day.

 

DAY 1 Box Hill to Dorking – 67 miles (supposed to be 60)

 

We set off from Box Hill School, tentative but excited. I quickly shed the latter as we meandered through Surrey Hills and I struggled to keep up through the maze of leafy lanes and at one point fell over into a bed of nettles.  I did not give way to sulking but I’m sure that there were some mutterings under my breath. Oh and as for the A29 monster hill – who invented that? I got off and pushed – and wondered what I had let myself in for. But we made it down to the ferry terminal, the wrong one then the right one, in time for a quick dinner before boarding the ferry. It had been hot and sunny during the day, but the temperature for t-shirts quickly dissipated and being left at the dock side whilst all the cars were being boarded became increasingly unfunny. When we were told that we would have to carry our bags on board as well as cycle, things became a little heated. DFDS cannot be famed for their customer service but we finally boarded – and yes phew pushed our cycles on board!

 

DAY 2 Le Havre to Evreux – 75 miles (supposed to be 70)

 

This was always going to be my biggest challenge (!) When I drove over in April, I could not find my way out of Le Havre and that’s one thing if you are in a car, but quite another if you are in a team of cyclists who have already done a hard days’ cycling. There is only one way to Evreux for cyclists – across  Pont Normandie – and these pictures do not show the first bridge that was just as steep but had no space to cycle and we had to push our bicycles over to get to the second. In this case you just have to focus on the path in front of you, block out the noise and proximity of the traffic - and breathe and pedal. We made it and stopped for some fine pain au chocolat et café at a small Bistro in Fiquefleur.  Our very grateful thanks to the wonderful French cyclist who saw us puzzling over our map and went well out of his way to guide us to the road leading to Pont Normandie.

 

Our amazing weather continued and our even more amazing support team would drive ahead in the transit van with all of our baggage, spare bike parts and provisions and set up camp and have delicious sandwiches and drinks and bags of humour to keep us going.  Louise was also on hand to give physio massage for aching necks/ backs/ feet etc – and lots of words of encouragement. Paul (support crew) very quickly became a dab hand at working out the routes - from one town to the next with Simon/ Dave (riders). The French towns and villages were lovely, beautiful, but I think we only ever saw human beings in a few of them – very, very quiet. James took fantastic shots (over 300) throughout that will keep us all laughing and reminiscing for a long time to come.

 

By Sunday afternoon we were racing across 40 miles of very flat countryside – corn and barley fields dotted with poppies or lavender – blissfully peaceful and blazingly hot. We had settled into 2 pelotons – the 2 teenage lads (Harry & Sam) at the front with fantastic energy and attitude accompanied by Joe & Dave. Adrian and Simon (Harry & Sam’s dads) led the rear team with Heather & I. We were having a terrific second day, despite a touch of cramp.

 

Coming up to Evreux I was confident that we would soon be in the Campanile hotel – but oh, not quite! The small village I visited in April (what I thought was Evreux) must have been a mirage – here was a sprawling town and the sign for the Campanile was up a ruddy great hill – wicked. Worse still, when we got to the top the signs disappeared and everyone who was asked directions pointed a different way! The others coped better, I felt clobbered. Still, we got there and it was a lovely little hotel – but I was out for the count and went to bed.

 

DAY 3 Evreux to Versailles – 65 miles (supposed to be 55)

 

Having climbed the big hill into Evreux at least we were downhill going out and although this was another long day of cycling the rolling hills were all doable and we again had wonderful long stretches of fast cross country cycling. My fastest speed downhill was 27.6mph – which scared the living daylights out of me, but was as well exhilarating. The others though were easily cracking 35mph.  The front peloton was still always about 15 mins ahead of us – so no steadying out over the days.

 

We had plans for Versailles – the Palace, dinner in the town – grand stuff. But there was this hill up to Voisins le Bretonneux – not even sure how we ended up this far south of our original intended route – it must have been a mile long and it was steep and unrelenting. After we had left the UK I did not get off my bike once when faced with a difficult hill, I learned to change my breathing and really slow my pace. This was no different. But the traffic was very close and fast and I was struggling to breathe and the cramp in my left foot was crippling. When I finally got to the top I sat at the side of the road and cried – big sobs! Relief at getting there without giving up and the bloody awful pain. It subsided. It still took us ages to get to the hotel though and as it turned out they had a mighty fine restaurant and they managed to squeeze 11 people around a table for 6 and we all shared our stories and great humour over good food and glasses of wine.

 

DAY 4 Versailles to Paris – 15 miles ( finally got that bit right – but totally underestimated the timing)

 

The support team were waiting for us to arrive and ready to load all of our bags and cycles up then drive to Calais; whilst we were going to do the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. But we were so late! After our moment of glory we quickly moved round to the van, changed clothes in the street and with meticulous precision wrapped the bikes in bubble wrap and pipe lagging and loaded them up onto the van – in my enthusiasm for the task everyone collapsed laughing when they realised I was bubble-wrapping the pedals of someone else’s bike – chained to a railing! As the van sped off, we went to lunch at a very fine and aptly named restaurant L’Aventure – right next to L’Arc de Triomphe.

 

Superb – we are all fine friends now and the fantastic charity that is The Lifetrain trust will hopefully benefit to the tune of around £9000 at the end of all our efforts.

 

 

 

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