Day 4, The final day of London to Paris – Part 1

Day 4 is here. I had a good night’s sleep in my air-conditioned room, however to my amazement when I went for breakfast to stock up on croissants the temperature had dropped and the predicted high was only 23°C. Already it felt like a great day for cycling compared to the previous day.

I was ready for it, just over 50 miles until I hit the outskirts of Paris, 15 miles through the suburbs of this very large city and then meet at the Louis Vuitton museum for the final few miles in convoy into the centre of Paris.

I got everything ready to go, all m luggage and bike box was on the truck and the next time I would see everything was going to be in Paris. Emotions were a little mixed if I am honest as I knew 68 miles on the last day were achievable, my legs were good, but I was not looking forward to it with my miniature and heavy bike. I should have been excited, but I was not quite there yet.

One particular thing I was looking forward to was meeting my wife Jo in Paris, being away for 5 nights has not been known before and I could tell when I spoke to her she could feel the pain and frustration I had been going through in her voice during numerous conversations.

Off I went, I set off alone and had a steady few miles out of the town and then started going through forest areas which were nice and flat, it still was reasonably hard work and riding Betty it needed relentless turning of those pedals to keep her going. Several riders passed my on the flat which would not have occurred so easily on Charlie.

I hit a hilly wooded area and there were patches of hanging heat and humidity, as I passed by them you could not catch your breath. Brought back memories form the heat of yesterday.

Once I got through the woods, I made my way down a fantastic descent that lasted around 4 miles, however I still had to push on to keep betty moving, normally I would be able to relax on these sections. I got her going quite fast at one moment and I heard a creak and a sound of plastic skidding across tarmac, I looked back it was the reflector that had fallen off, not too worry I am not stopping!

I did have a moment where I fell off my bike, this happened twice. This was mainly due to the size of the bike, I got my rather large foot stuck in the front wheel spokes as I turned at a very slow junction and then I was off !

23 miles in and I made the first water / fuel stop in reasonable time, it was clear people had set off early this morning as the goal was to make it to Louis Vuitton by 3 pm. I had a quick snack and off I went again. I started climbing a little from the water stop and it was very exposed, and the wind picked up quiet dramatically. For the next 20 miles until lunch it was a complete slog into the wind on heavy Betty, it was tough going. But before I knew it, we had done lunch and arrived at the final water stop on the northern outskirts of Paris near Saint Denis.

From Saint Denis, the euphoria started to set in as I knew in 15 more miles, I would be at the resting point ready to go into central Paris, a day before the Tour de France was to be welcomed.

The riding from here was all road cycling and even 15 miles from the centre it was busy, and I certainly had to have my eyes peeled. I rode for a few miles with a couple of ladies who were not impressed with the traffic or the French road system, so I took the lead for a few miles to navigate us through the maze of junctions.

We had formed a group of around 20 of us. Many of these I had not spoken to before, but as there were 157 on the ride you met up with new people all the time. The roads got more compact and busier as we got more central and all of a sudden, we turned down a street and there is was the Louis Vuitton museum together with lots of riders having a break.   

Suddenly I realised I had done it…..  4 more miles and I would have achieved what I thought was the impossible, I knew I could get on Betty and finish this….. 

Day 3.5 – Another eventful day, 46 °C and a new bike called Betty

That was it I was off on Betty, she was seriously over weight and I was scrunched up as she was too small. I had a couple of incidents where I acutely fell off the bike as I got my foot stuck in the wheel as I turned from a junction.

The next section of 30 miles was at altitude and appeared to be a lovely undulating section. I think it would have been great on Charlie as she would have rolled up the small inclines after gathering speed coming down the hills. On Betty this was another mater. I had to really push downhill as I could not get momentum like I would have done with Charlie, this made the uphill sections a bit of a bind.

The weather had turned and at one point several cycling computers had registered 46°C. It was getting dangerous and we were relying on the support crew traveling backwards and forwards topping us up with water, whilst I was adding salt.

It got to a point where I joined a small ladies group (one I met on other days) and we planned to stop every 5 miles and have a break and take on fluids, it was getting more dangerous as we went. One of the ladies ended up abandoning as she felt ill and four others ended up in hospital due to dehydration.    

At one section on the top I noticed the cycling was getting harder and I noticed the tarmac had melted and I could see the tyre tracks from cyclist in front.

As I went along again, I noticed a large automatic agricultural watering sprinkler that had hit the road every so often, so I waited as the heat was getting more intense but to my disappointment it never came, so after 10 I had to carry on. After I finished the ride I did find a group who was successful… I don’t know what was in the water, but it looked wet!

I never did catch the water !
But this group did….

From the last pit stop there was a steady 5% climb to the summit and then a few miles down hill with stunning views. As I had Betty to keep rolling I did not take any pictures as it even took effort on the downhill section. I road along with a lady raising money for a local hospice charity for the rest of the ride (apart from the last two miles). This was great as it took my mind of the intense heat and got me to the last night stop in Compiegne.

We got to the bottom on the big descent but as we hit the last 5 miles on the flat my legs started to struggl with this heavy bike and I was spent. I kept up with my riding friend for so long and then my water bottle which was nearly empty again flew off the bike as I went across a traffic island in the middle of Compiegne.

I did the fatal thing and stopped to get my bottle, I was done. My legs seized and, in the afternoon, hot sun I had given up and took shelter for 30 minutes under a pavement advertising hording, whilst I tried to compose myself in the heat of 42°C.

I had finished all my water / fluids and after around 20 mins a lady on her own came past and recognised my arm band, we all had the same colour on so we knew we all belonged to the same group. She asked if I was ok and I had told her that enough was enough. She helped me on to Betty and together we completed the last two miles which seemed an eternity.

When I saw the hotel, I felt complete relief and went to my room and just sat on the floor of a cold shower and then laid down with the air conditioning set at 18°C.

I have to say this was the toughest day, not due to the distance or climbs of the ride but that it was due to the intense heat and sun with no shade and the fact I was not riding Charlie was not helpful. On this day I drunk 14 litres of fluid (28 pints in old money) and never went to pass any water from 10 am !

For anyone this would be exceptional but for me as a kidney patient it was incredible.

One thing I know is that I did it and one more sleep before the final day into Paris.

Day 3 – Another eventful day, 46 °C and a seriously ill Charlie

Day three was upon us and it was looking like a really good route with lots to see and undulating terrain past the 30 miles mark, then a big climb and then downhill to Compiegne.

First thing was to get my new pedals tighten by the mechanic. I found Stuart, a quick tweak with an 8 mm allen key and all was good to go. it was already hot and touching 26 degrees at 7 am, by the time I got to my first water stop at 20 miles, I had already managed to drink the full 2 litres of water I was carrying. I refilled and had salty snack and off I went again.

I felt pretty good to be fair and the first 20 miles although a little hilly were fine. We all passsed some war cemetries and I stopped a few times to taek a look.

I continued from the stop and around 5 miles in to the next section my knee started giving me some grief. I continued but it got a little more problematic and it brought back painful memories of problems I had previously, and the reason I started cycling. Also, as I changed my cleats and pedals I did wonder if I had not got them aligned very well and putting undue pressure on my joint.

I just approached a football war memorial (more later), and I decided to stop to take a look and see what the problem was. I just came to a standstill, tried to unclip and the pedal stopped on my shoe and I realised the pedal had broken free from crank arm. Real disaster. I had a closure look and found my new pedal had stripped the internal thread on the crank arm, it was all over, I just knew it.

Back to the football memorial for now. you will see the image below and you can magnify to read the actual script. But in essence this was to recognise he men that took part in the advice on Contalmaison on the 1st of July 1916. Some of these men were made from Scottish football clubs where were fierce rivals, they put this to one side and fought together.

ALT_TEXT_OF_IMAGE

I knew it was all over, I have spent many years in engineering this was not a road side fix. I called Jo my wife to give her the news and she could tell I was devastated and that I had been plagued by constant issues along this challenge and was truing into a challenge of the mind, more than physical. I was close to tears and felt finished to be honest. All the hard work I had put in and a simple screw and thread had let me down….. To make it worse the temperature was in the mid 30’s by now and I had to find some shade.

I made a call to the rescue rangers and in around 15 minutes Alex arrived and he told me what I already knew that it was the end of the road. he took me a few miles on to the lunch stop and told me he may have a spare bike I could ride. They looked at the possibility of swapping out the crank arms etc but as they were all differing sizes it just was not going to work.

I got to lunch and they revealed Betty to me, also sometimes she is known as the top gear bike. For those that don’t watch top gear when the three guys decide to do a challenge like crossing Africa in three separate inappropriate cars they always have a reserve which is something they would not want to travel in. So here is betty

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but this is. Betty looked ok from a distance, she had two wheels, a frame and dropped handlebars. However, I quickly discovered she was massively overweight (heavy) 2 sizes two small and only held a single litre of water and the time it was climbing to the late 30’s by now. The guys fitted my pedals and off I went.

To be continued….