Here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for, my round-up of how I got from London to Paris on two wheels. To get up to date you can have a read of how training went here, a list of all the kit I took here and my nutrition plan for the ride here.
Stratford, London -> Dieppe
We met bright and early at the Velodrome at the Olympic Park in Stratford because that’s where all our training rides had started and ended and it felt right that the real thing started from there too. By 06:45 we were on the road with very little fanfare and by 08:30 we were heading out of London towards the south coast (with a 45 minute stop for a pesky puncture/coffee/wees in Clapham).
The weather was perfect for cycling with gorgeous sunshine, a lovely breeze and the most beautiful views as we pedalled through the Surrey and Sussex countryside. We’d cycled from London to Brighton a few weeks before to recce the route and see what was ahead of us. That practice ride was one of the hardest we did in training as I felt nauseous the whole way and ended up walking up nearly every hill trying not to vom into the hedges. In complete contrast our ride on the actual day felt much easier and nearly pleasant.
I managed to cycle up every single hill (with a couple of stops to catch my breath and let the lactic acid out of my legs) which gave me such a confidence boost. The peanut butter and jam sandwich that I’d packed to eat at the top of Turners Hill (if you know, you know) really helped to keep me moving too. Before we knew it we were approaching Newhaven in plenty of time. The ferry was booked for 17:30 and we made it to the port by 14:30, leaving us time to gorge on burgers and chips before locking our bikes up on the ferry and claiming a table next to the bar.
A couple of beers down and my stomach started to rebel. By the time we got off the ferry I was so bloated that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed but we still had a couple of miles to ride to the hotel, all uphill. We put our heads down and trudged up the hill before showering and collapsing in bed. Day one, done.
Dieppe -> Beauvais
Pain factor: 6.5/10
Day 2 started with a massive breakfast buffet consisting of all the pastries, plenty of nutella and fresh French baguettes. We made some nutella sandwiches to take on the road and set off by 09:30. Overshare warning: I ended up being on my period by this point and all I’m going to say about that is THE CHAFING, THINK OF THE CHAFING. Ugh.
The first 3 hours of day 2 were along the Avenue Verte, a paved ex-railway that carved its way through the French countryside in a very straight line. We’d been looking forward to this as a car-free cycle path and it did end up being that but it felt tough from the first metre. We only realised when we stopped for lunch that those first 30 miles had been steadily uphill, sapping our legs of all energy without us being aware that we were actually climbing. There’s nothing like a sneaky hill to destroy all confidence in your cycling ability.
After a lunch of croque madames and chips we were back on the road to some rolling hills along the French roads. In general the French drivers were much more courteous than the English ones, passing us with plenty of room. One even stopped to check we were ok when I was lying on the ground by the side of the road trying to stretch out my back. He thought I was dead… Luckily I wasn’t. At this point we had a few more mechanical problems with a couple of the bikes so the mood was a little low. I put on some music on my phone which was easy to do as it was right in front of me thanks to my Quadlock.
Eventually we turned off the roads onto the Trans’Oise, another car-free cycle path, and everyone put their own music on. To this point we’d be cruising at around 12mph but as soon as the music hit us our speed went up to 15mph as we all thought we were in a spin class. In fact, there was so much dancing going on on the bikes that my triceps were sore the next day. We flew along the final 20 miles and made it to Beauvais and bed, after stuffing our faces with sushi. Day two, done.
Beauvais -> Paris
Pain factor: 9/10
Getting back on the bikes in the morning of the third day was painful. My quads were really tight, my wrists were sore from the pressure on the handlebars, my fingers were numb and my lady bits were chafed and sore. You can see where this day 3 round-up is going.
From the start I struggled. We hit a hill pretty early on, at around mile 10, and I pushed my way up it, refusing to walk even an inch. Once we’d conquered that hill my quads seemed to ease a bit and for the next 20 miles we cruised along. If I’m totally honest, a lot of day 3 has become a blur of stopping to stretch, shaking out my hands and ramming food down my throat to keep my body fuelled. All I wanted to do was arrive in Paris and not have to get back on my bike again.
The final 20 miles or so, we cycled through increasingly bigger towns as we approached Paris so even the cycling itself wasn’t fun. As we hit the outskirts of Paris we had to deal with the French taxi drivers who were the most dangerous road-users that we encountered. All of us at one point or another got cut up and had to gesticulate angrily, which they completely ignored. The final 5 miles were hell as road after road was closed and we were all exhausted and grouchy. Even the arrival at the Eiffel Tower was an anti-climax because I was so done with the whole experience.
After the obligatory photos at the Eiffel Tower with plastered on fake smiles, we had to cycle another 6 miles back across Paris to drop our bikes off at the Eurostar luggage office at Gare du Nord. About 2 hours after reaching the Eiffel Tower we eventually reached the hotel where it started to sink in, with the help of some beer.
The next day we’d planned to take it easy and mainly sit in coffee shops eating cake but we ended up walking miles across Paris in the blazing sunshine because it would have been a shame to miss out on the weather and not make the most of being in Paris. The Eurostar home was a very quiet affair with baguettes, snoozing and quiet contemplation of what we’d achieved.
Watch out next week for a post containing all of the details of trip, including which hotels we stayed in, where we ate and the actual routes that we took as well as some tips and lessons for anyone else thinking of doing the same ride.