In July of this year, after many fundraising activities, trustee Garry Taylor and his sister-in-law Emma Hardy undertook the 4 day London to Paris cycle ride to raise money for the Dylan Howells Foundation. In total, over £3000 was raised by their efforts. This is Emma’s recount of their epic journey:
London to Paris 24 – 27 July 2019
Day 1 – Croydon, London to Calais, via Dover
With the fundraising over, my target hit and lots of money raised for the fabulous Dylan Howells Foundation, I now had to do what I said I would do and cycle from London to Paris!!!!
In the lead up to our epic bike ride, my biggest concern was hills! Hill’s are my nemesis, I hate them, and they hate me. Even though I train with hills, and my training routes are quite hilly, usually covering about 3000ft in climbs, I still get to a certain point and the hill takes over and I just go at a snail’s pace.
I knew day one was the hilliest of the 4 days, but I’m not sure I was prepared for the number of hills or the 6000ft of climbing that we did getting to Dover!
Arriving at Croydon at a very early hour, we had a team talk by the Global Challenge guy Stuart, who gave us our instructions for the coming days and what became a bit of a moto for the rest of the four days; JUST FOLLOW THE ARROWS!
We were also told, which we already knew, that this was going to be heatwave week, well why not, if you’re going to cycle to Paris you may as well do it on the hottest week of the year! We were given the news that the 2 nd day and our first day in France was potentially going to be the hottest on record and that provisions were being put in place to deal with this, with the most drastic action being that day 2 is CANCELLED, not an option in our books, we’ll deal with that when it comes, we’ve got to get to Dover first!
It was a warm day already at 7am when we set off, we turned the first corner and the first hill of the day was there right in front of us, a very long, big hill and they just kept coming. It seemed that every time I turned a corner there was another hill!
My fundraising was not far from my mind on the journey, I had raised all of this money from friends and family for The Dylan Howells Foundation and this thought really did push me through.
Lunch stop at a village hall was a welcome break, after realising at the first stop that nature breaks for the ladies would be just that, amongst nature and that facilities would be few and far between. My feet were really painful, the pressure I was putting on the balls of my feet through my cleats getting up the hills had already started to take its toll and I was really wondering how on earth I was going to get through another 3 & ½ days; what had I done, crazy to think I could cycle all the way to Paris.
Well it was too late now, there was no turning back! It had really started to warm up now and we set off on the second half of our journey down to Dover to get the ferry over to Calais. As it was so hilly, Garry kept having to wait for me at the top of most of them, we didn’t really get into any bigger groups, so it was quite a struggle just plodding on, just the two of us, not really getting into any kind of routine. I must admit I did walk up the last couple of big hills, I just couldn’t face them.
We finally arrived in Dover about 4pm, a very hard and long 85 miles later, but we made it and the meeting place was a pub with an very cold well-deserved beer!
Then came the long wait for the ferry, we finally set off and arrived in Calais about 11pm; after collecting our bikes from the car/lorry deck, we all put on our high vis jackets and set off on the few miles to our hotel. Quite a scary feat of riding on the other side of the road (which later in the trip was forgotten by me a few times, I’m surprised it was just a couple!) and in the pitch black, just following a long line of other cyclists. After a slight hitch of going to the wrong hotel we finally made it to our bed for the evening about midnight.
Whilst off loading our bikes into the lorry and collecting our luggage, we were informed that as Day 2 was going to be very hot and to get through some miles before sunrise, breakfast was at 4.30am and we were due to set off at 5am.
So here we were, probably for me doing the hilliest and hardest cycle I had done, was being told I had just 4 hours sleep before setting off again on our bikes for another 80-mile trip; well my resilience and ability would certainly be tested over the next few days.
Day 2 – Calais to Arras
4.30am – I think the shortest time I’ve ever stayed in a hotel room! Up for breakfast feeling remarkably refreshed and raring to go! Garry had an annoying clicking on his bike and although the support team looked they couldn’t really see what the issue was, so we set off in the dark and Garry and I hooked up with a group of about 4 or 5 others to cycle with; the first 40 miles was great, it wasn’t too hot yet and reasonably flat. Legs feeling okay from the previous day at the moment.
We cycled as a group and at times Garry said that he thought the clicking was getting worse but still couldn’t see what the issue was. We reached the lunch stop about 9.30am, given we had started out so early it was weird having lunch at this time but much needed. It was the highlight of the stops being able to eat as many salt and vinegar crisps as I wanted and Haribo, at any time of the day, without feeling guilty! I think today was also going to be the day when the salt tablets we had bought would come in very handy!
The support team had already said that a coach had been laid on for those who felt it was going to be too hot to continue the ride today, but Garry and I, and the others we had hooked up with felt we wanted to continue; to go steady and ensure we kept hydrated- this was okay although even at this time of the day, our water bottles were filled up and not long into the ride it was like drinking hot water as they heated up in the sun.
As well as keeping hydrated the need to throw water over myself to keep me cool was a welcome idea although towards the end of the day, it was like getting into a hot shower!!
2nd half of the ride was like riding into a hot oven with wind like a hairdryer being blown on you at full speed; the heat was crazy, I trained last year for the London Prudential in a very hot summer, but even that heat was no way near what we were experiencing; not helped that we were cycling through open corn fields, with no shade for miles and miles.
Along the way, we did try and stop whenever we saw some shade, to try and keep cool and dish out the salt tablets; these by the way were what kept me going! They almost certainly helped a number of people along the way who we encountered who were struggling with the heat and dehydration. We stopped at a little bakery in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure she had seen so many people in lycra crying out for water; which she run out of so ice-cold coke had to do.
The last stop which was 15 miles or so from Arras was when Garry realised that the annoying clicking noise was actually his Crank that had cracked and news from the support team was to wait a number of hours for a replacement bike or take it easy and try and get through the last 15 miles or so. He took the latter option and proceeded to pedal almost one legged for the remainder of the journey. Given the heat was not hitting 43 degrees, this was not easy!
A final stop a few miles from the end to collect one of our fellow cyclists who felt he couldn’t push on in the heat; leading him into a very welcome, air- conditioned Lidl, at which point I stuck my head in the freezer to cool down! Lots of cold water purchased to cool down and slowly then making our way into Arras.
We had made it, on the hottest day of the year, 43-degree heat, cycling 82 miles on about 4 hours sleep, Garry almost cycling one legged with a cracked crank and part of a small group that made it the whole way without being picked up by the support bus; very pleased with myself and wondering how on earth I managed it, but I did!!
Now to get the crank fixed and try and get some sleep in a non-air-conditioned hotel!
Day 3 – Arras to Compiegne
After a very very warm nights broken sleep, it was up again at 5am for breakfast, ready to set off for Compiegne.
This was definitely my favourite day of the ride; it had cooled down dramatically and although still warm there was a nice cool breeze. Today was due to be a lot less hilly, although still some 2500ft of climbs.
I had a great day, I really enjoyed being able to coast on someone’s wheel at times but then pushing off in front of the group and leading along some really great flat open roads. I love cycling on the flat (who doesn’t!) but these were long flat open roads where you could see for miles, amazing and such a great day. We stuck with the same group of people and had really started to make some good friends and felt that we were all supporting each other and helping each other get through any tough times.
Garry’s exhausting day before with his broken crank and the heat had taken its toll and although my best day, maybe Garry would feel it was his worst day of the ride; it’s clear and scary how the heat can affect people in different ways and made me realise how tough this ride was and how lucky I was that I felt good; was feeling fitter each day and how I could have just cycled on for days!!
Today was also a day for some sightseeing; passing through Somme and taking time to reflect and take in the WW1 site in Somme. Also meant that we could take it a little easy on this day but still covering off 74 miles.
Day 4 – Compiegne to Paris
How different Day 4 could be compared to the last 3 days; Rain, rain, rain and more rain, from the time we set off at 6.30am to when we got to just outside of Paris about 3pm to meet the group so we could all cycle to the Eiffel Tower together.
I had it in my head that this day was not going to be too hilly, but with 2500ft of climbs to do, there were still a few hills to combat. The first was up through the forest and a very very long slow hill up and up; it seemed never ending but it was a very lovely ride; then later on in the morning we had a great decent coming down hill back through the forest around some very tight hair pin bends and quite a large lorry trying to overtake on those bends made it even more scary; but it was great fun once I’d got to the bottom.
The rain was relentless and at the first stop, which as usual is our support team pitched up by the side of the road under a gazebo with a selection of snacks and water, but it was decided to push on for a few miles and try and find a warm place to stop for a nice cuppa.
We cycled on and quite a few miles in come across an amazing chateaux hotel where we stopped for a very welcome cuppa tea and a dry place to camp out for a while.
Once leaving there we realised that we only really had a short time to get ourselves to the lunch stop and then final stop just outside of Paris where we regrouped. We got to lunch and were the last group to arrive; lunch was a fabulous array of meatballs and pasta, bread, chocolate cake; all of my favourites but I managed to be reserved in what I ate as I didn’t need indigestion on the final miles. We questioned the support staff as to the final route, not many hills now he said, then its relatively flat into Paris. Thank god, I really couldn’t manage many more hills. He wasn’t telling the whole truth, we got a mile up the road and probably hit one of the steepest hills we’d come across over the last 3 days, it did take all of my energy reserves to get myself up that hill, but again, I did, unsure where all of this energy was coming from!
As we came into Paris, still a good few miles away, there in the distance was the Eiffel Tower, it was at that point that Garry said to me, we’ve done it Em, we’ve cycled from London to Paris, brings a tear to my eye and gives me goose bumps still to this day when I think about it.
A few miles further, through the down and outs of Paris suburbs, meeting up with the rest of the 100 riders at the Versace building and then travelling on mass to the Eiffel Tower was just the icing on the cake. As we reached the Arc de Triumph, stick to the middle was the advice, I think it ended up more like just ride, the cars will have to get out of the way! We survived that and finally arrived, emotional and very tired at the Eiffel Tower. Still had the energy to lift my bike above my head for the obligatory photo in front of the tower – how I ever had the energy to do that I’ll never know, adrenaline is a powerful thing and had kept me going for 4 days.
With over 300 miles cycled, a ridiculous number of hills conquered, crazy heat, crazy rain, meeting some great people and an amazing experience that I will never forget.