So I turned 44 years of age in October 2014, feeling overweight, unfit and generally stuck in a rut, I started to think back to when I was much younger & living in Essex and how I loved to get out on my road bike. The time was right to give myself a kick up the backside and do something more active.
I am not the most motivated person when it comes to something new, so in January 2015, when I heard about the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust organizing a 300 mile cycle challenge from London to Paris, I thought I’d go along and find out more. It all seemed to be quite daunting, a lot of fundraising, a heck of a lot of training to get fit, and the equipment to buy.
I signed up for the challenge, paid my entry fee, and the deed was done!
The bike I bought was in a sale online, and I was lent a turbo trainer from one of the bosses at work, who clearly knew I had a long way to go to get some level of fitness.
I found myself at 5.30am, almost every morning, sat on the bike using the turbo trainer, and a few months on, the weight was starting to fall off me, and my fitness was improving.
Truro Cycling Club were extremely kind and patient when I joined them for a few trips out on the road. The roads in Cornwall are very scary to cycle along, with drains a good 2” below the road surface, narrow lanes, drivers that aren’t very sympathetic, and plenty of road kill to avoid. But TCC encouraged me along and I gained confidence.
My main problem at this point was back pain and shoulder pain after cycling about 10 miles. As the date for the cycle challenge loomed closer, I was up to cycling 40 to 50 miles a day, but in a lot of discomfort.
Almost three weeks before departure date, a cyclist friend recommended I visit The Bike Chain in Redruth for some advice, and after some sleepless nights, I decided to visit the bike shop.
As I entered the shop, I was greeted by the staff and it wasn’t long before I was telling Ricci all about the cycle challenge, and my anxiety about being able to complete it. From the doorway of his store and looking at my bike on the car rack outside, Ricci was able to tell immediately what the problem was. My bike was the wrong size and dimensions for me, and he confirmed this by pointing to the exact points on my back and shoulders where I’d been experiencing pain.
Then, for the next couple of hours, Ricci and his staff talked me through what bike I should be using, suitable clothing, food supplements, and generally gave me peace of mind that this challenge would be achievable. I left the store with a new bike, and what a difference it made!!
Over the next few days I cycled to work and clocked up some good miles getting used to the gears and feel of the bike. I was now looking forward to the 4 day challenge.
The following week, I was back at The Bike Chain for cleats, and a few minor adjustments to the bike to make it even more comfortable.
Again, Ricci, George and Chris were great with their advice and I was beginning to feel a lot more confident.
10th September 2015
This was the day of departure from Cornwall. It was time to head up to London, and so with everything ready, and trying to keep my nerves in check, I headed up to CAAT Newquay to meet up with everyone taking part in this challenge.
Before we packed the bikes in the support vehicle and got on the coach we had a photo call.
We then headed to London, arriving late at the Travelodge in Southwark. The bikes had already been delivered to the hotel, so we had to collect our bikes and take them to our rooms. For security, we slept with our bikes next to our beds, and got all our kit ready for the 6am start next morning.
11th September 2015 – London to Calais – 90 miles
The alarm went at 5am, a quick breakfast in the room and then head downstairs to meet the 360 Expeditions team with all our kit and bikes. The support team and guides were in such good spirits, and my nerves started to calm as we were briefed on our start through London. The bags were loaded into the support vehicle and we headed off to the London Eye, our first time riding as a group.
On route to the London Eye, I came to a red light, and in the excitement of the occasion, I found I couldn’t unclip my shoe from the cleat, lost my balance, and fell right onto my knee!! By the time I got to the London Eye, the pain was incredible, but even with the pain, there was no way I was going to miss this event!!
After finding a plaster and taking some painkillers, I took my place with everyone at the start. Only 90 miles to go on day one, and I was already shaken up!
(Thats me, four in from the right!)
At 6.30am, we left the official start, and started heading towards Dover through the London traffic. Trying to stay together as one complete group in the London traffic was proving very difficult. We got spilt up into several groups as we battled our way through the morning rush hour in London trying to keep ahead of the traffic lights, but it was stop start for miles. It was so busy, with street lights everywhere and we got quite a bit of verbal abuse shouted at us, but it made it all very entertaining.
I’d mastered my cleats by now, and managed to avoid the occasional kamikaze London buses, and van divers!
We headed across Kent, after stopping at Gravesend for a water stop and lunch at Maidstone.By luch time we’d completed about 57 miles, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good I was feeling, and how good my new shorts were. The group of strangers were already becoming a firm group of friends, and it was great that we were looking out for one another, pointing out obsticles, giving support and encouragement, and advice on getting the most from your bike.
That afternoon we had nettlegate! We came to a hill, a long slow incline that lasted a couple of miles, so I got into my lowest gear and dug deep, but at one point, one of my fellow cyclists had a wobble, and she fell into the hedge. This caught my front wheel, and before I could do anything, I found myself lying in the stinging nettles by the side of the road. Everyone was pointing out the lumps that were appearing on the arms from the stinging nettles, but the pain in my knee was all I could feel!
The final waterstop was on the outskirts of Dover, and after refilling my water bottles and getting on the move again, I was for the first time that day beginning to feel like my legs were being pushed to the maximum. I have never been so happy as when we saw the signs for Dover, and I so enjoyed the downhill approach into Dover, and knew we were doing very well actually! My bike was comfortable, the £80 shorts Ricci had persuaded me to try were amazing, and I had no back pain. I was getting a second wind as we arrived in Dover, and my smile was definitely ear to ear!
(Texting everyone to let them know of my safe arrival in Dover!)
Dinner was a welcome rest on the ferry, and then there was about 3 miles to cycle once in Calais to the hotel and a very welcome shower and bed! That was 90 miles completed, time to check the tyres and get ready for an early start the next day. I also managed to get an ice pack on my knee, and take more pain killers.
In the bar that evening, everyone was chatting and getting to know one another. It was such a mixed group of abilities, and backgrounds, but everyone was totally committed to getting to Paris. There was a lot of talk about energy bars, energy drinks, and butt cream!!! I have laughed so much on this trip with people that were strangers, but are now friends, and know more about people’s butts than I ever thought possible!!
12th September 2015
The following morning we left early and even with the help of pain killers, I seriously didn’t know if I was going to make it through day two.
Cyling across the misty countryside in France gave us chance to chat amongst ourselves, and I found that we had a group of 5 of us that seemed to be sticking together. I really enjoyed getting to know our little team, and we certainly looked out for each other, helping with punctures and directions.
The weather started to change, and as it started to rain, some of the cyclists found their saddles were causing some problems in a rather delicate area!
During day two, after approximately 52 miles, and a heavy shower of rain, one of my fellow cyclists swerved to avoid another bike, and knocked my front wheel away from me. I fell on my injured knee again and also landed on top of her bike, breaking part of her frame, Ooops!
I now couldn’t put my leg to the floor, and the pain was incredible. Luckily, my bike was fine, but my cycling for day two was over. I returned to the hotel to be seen by a paramedic and wait for my team to complete the last 20 miles for that day.
I managed to rest my leg over night, and by the start of day three, I was ready to push on with the help of more tablets!
13th September 2015
Today, approximately 80 miles were planned across France, and it wasn’t long before the rain, wind and thunder storms accompanied us! We couldn’t believe how heavy the rain was falling, as we cycled through rivers of water and battled through gales. It became quite an amusing challenge as we worked as a team to help one another through the atrocious weather with positive attitudes and support. We were now a tight team of 5, and helped one another as on this day we suffered 3 chains coming off, and 5 punctures in one day. It was a wonderful feeling of comradery as we took on the elements at their worst, and eventually completed the miles for the day, wet through, exhausted, and freezing cold, but with a huge sense of achievement.
We arrived at the hotel on the third night, completely exhausted, but the challenge was on to get everything as dry as possible for the morning departure into Paris. We had dinner all together in a local restaurant, and tonight, we were all in excellent spirits as the final day loomed.
(My photo home to prove I was doing okay!)
14th September 2015
We were all up and ready to depart for Paris for our final day of the cycle challenge.
The excitement was incredible as we were ready for the final leg of our journey, and to finally arrive at the Eiffel Tower.
(Final bike checks on our last day)
(Everyone ready to depart on the final day)
As we set off, we were mostly cycling along dual carriageways, exceptionally busy roads, and yet the French drivers seem to be very sympathetic and courteous towards cyclists. Again, the morning brought heavy rain and strong winds, but we had about 60 miles to complete before we arrived in Paris.
This was the fourth day of cycling, and I was amazed at how great I actually felt. The cycle shorts had been a saving grace, and as I still say, the best £20 per day I have ever spent! The bike was so comfortable that I never had to think about adjusting my position to alleviate any back pain or shoulder pain. I was thanking Ricci and everyone at The Bike Chain as I cycled with everyone else on this personal challenge into Paris.
The traffic in Paris was busier than London, but the drivers respect cyclists and give way. It was so exhilarating cycling around the Arc de Triomphe with the traffic coming at us from all directions and yet drivers just stopped to let us pass through! And then the moment I saw the Eiffel Tower, it caught my breath, and I found myself feeling incredibly emotional! I had actually done it! Even with an injury, that now looked like an egg shaped lump on my knee cap! I had soldiered through, dealt with the pain in my knee, the pain of exhaustion, freezing rain, thunder storms and gales, and achieved my goal. I was so happy! With the help of so many people, I had actually cycled from London to Paris, a challenge I’d never thought possible, and managed to raise over £2000 for Cornwall Air Ambulance.
(The rain held off just long enough for us to arrive at the Eiffel Tower and have some photos taken, before the heavens opened once again.)
Thank you to Ricci and your staff at The Bike Chain Redruth, you really did give me one heck of a helping hand to get to Paris, and I appreciate all that you have done.
This was a personal challenge on many levels, and through this, I have a new love of cycling, new friends and I am a much fitter 44 year old!
Blog post by Jacqui Greenshields