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JPP Law Blog

London to Paris Cycle Challenge - Mission Accomplished

Neither Anne nor I are particularly experienced cyclists. In the last nine months whilst training we have both cycled about 80 miles in one day but neither of us have cycled the mileage we are just about to endure, 95 miles with 3856 ft of climbing, and neither of us have cycled long distance on four consecutive days.

We have no idea if we have the ability to complete this challenge, so I guess the pre-challenge nerves we are both experiencing are to be expected. Anne and I meet in Crystal Place and, despite an early bedtime, spend a very sleepless and anxious night in a local hotel.

Day 1: Crystal Palace to Calais

We have opted for an organised challenge and our trip was organised and fully supported by Skyline.

Up at 5.15, breakfast consumed, stay perfect mascara applied (much to Anne's amusement) and we are ready. Due to the size of our backpacks we walk the bikes and bags half a mile to the meeting point. We rendezvous with our 61 fellow participants at 6,15am and it was immediately obvious that we were not the only ones feeling the nerves. It's an interesting group, more men than women but maybe a third / two third split and a vast age range, approximately 25 to 70. Registration complete, a quick briefing from Skyline, navigation systems ready to go and we are off at 7.30am and it's cold, really cold and the London roads are busy. Fortunately for us the cold should be temporary as the weather forecast is good and we are only a few miles away from rolling hills and quiet country roads.

The first stop is in 30 miles. That doesn't seem so bad and there is water, snacks and a nice cup of tea to look forward to. It's amazing how soon we hit beautiful countryside and as the temperature rises, the nerves calm we can at last enjoy the ride.

Stop one is at a lovely pub in Kent and the location of my first fall. Sitting stationary on my bike, with my foot resting on the peddle chatting to one of the crew and I decided to get off the bike. I just forgot my foot was clipped into the peddle and so both me and the bike hit the floor. Remember that classic scene from Only Fools and Horses where Delboy misses the bar? This was the cyclist's version:

Back on the bikes, 30 miles to lunch and despite the snacks we are already hungry but a distraction from hunger is provided by the absolutely stunning scenery of the Kent Downs but today we are up against the clock so no time to take photos. We have to be in Dover by 5pm to catch the ferry and if at any point the support crew think we are unlikely to make it on time they will insist that we stop cycling and get a lift with the support van. Now Anne and I are not the quickest, slow and steady but if we ever have to enter that van, we feel it's an instant challenge fail.  We WILL NOT be on that van.

Lunch was at another lovely Kent pub and I wouldn't have said that chicken curry was the obvious choice to feed 63 starving cyclists, but it was an absolute treat.  There was also bread, quiche and cakes and we devoured everything. For anyone considering a challenge like this because they want to lose weight, think again. The amount of calories consumed on the trip was ludicrous but necessary to fuel for this epic challenge.

Following lunch it's 29 miles to Dover with a quick water stop in 15 miles. More stunning scenery but we are starting to feel the strain. My shoulders, neck and lower back are aching and my bum knows it's been sat on a saddle for several hours but on we go. Our deadline is 5pm. Anne and I make it a 4.50PM. Perfect! A quick stop before the entire group ride in convoy to the ferry. On the ferry we can opt for the food hall or the more expensive Brasserie. Anne and I opt for the latter but hey, surely we have earnt a good meal and a large glass vino?

On the other side we all cycle in convoy for the final 6 miles to our hotel but it takes time to get such a large group organised. We finally get to bed, me slathered in Tiger Balm, at around midnight (local time). It was a long day.

Day 2: Calais to Abbeville

Up at 6.45am, stay perfect mascara applied.  Neither of us are used to or wanting a big breakfast but we stuff a pile of 'fuel' down before getting back on the bikes at 8am. Another cold start but once again the forecast is good. Amazingly my shoulders, neck and lower back feel fine, wish I could say the same about my bum.  We are both looking forward today to a shorter ride (75 miles and 3,741ft of climbing) without the ferry deadline and the promise of better roads and a new kind of scenery.  On this day we opted to wear our very (very) green charity cycle shirts and we blended in perfectly with our surroundings. One of the interesting parts of the ride was finding out what had motivated people to do this arduous challenge. My motivation is explained on my Just Giving page and most were doing it for a charity, some were doing it as a holiday, some to support their fundraising friend and others to prove a point to friends who said they could never do it (he did).

We were right to be optimistic, another gorgeous day passing through the vast open French countryside so different from the UK largely due to the lack of hedgerows. Views literally spanning for miles made us feel very small and insignificant. Lunch was at a beautiful monastery before taking a fairly leisurely pace for the afternoon cycle to Abbeville where we arrived to the rapturous applause of the bulk of the group who had already arrived and were sitting in the sunshine drinking beer. It would have been rude not to join them.

Day 3: Abbeville to Beauvais

The ay perfect mascara stays in the bag. Who am I trying to kid? Days on dusty roads with temperatures rising no mascara , not even stay perfect, will disguise the purple, dirty, sweaty face!  Today we have to cycle 68.4 miles and climb 2987 ft, or so they said.

This is the day I was always worried about, the day I thought the fatigue would really set in. Skyline set new rules, rather than everyone leaving at the same time they recommended a staggered start. 7am for the slow ones to give them a head start and anything up to 8.45 for the fast ones. Anne and I were not really sure where we fitted into this new arrangement. We did seem to be coming in as one of the last at every stop but we really didn't fancy the 7am start so we asked the organisers. We were pleased with the response, "Why would you want to start at 7am, that's for the people who are not at your level".  We were so unbelievably chuffed, we did not know we had a level!!! Turns out that we may have appeared to be at the back but only because people behind us were jumping in the van and getting to the rest stops before us. Slow and steady but we pedalled every mile under our own steam.

Feeling energised by our 'level' status we had a lovely start to the day when about a mile in we reached the river Somme and witnessed the tail end of a very mystical sunrise. The initial euphoria was soon dissipated with the following hills, miles and miles of steep hills but we were not defeated (cyclists at our 'level' do not get defeated). Fortunately, the hills stopped after our first break but that's when the winds started. Today was the day I missed the English hedgerows, 30 mph winds with no shelter. I lost Anne for a while, she had discovered that riding alongside a six foot Scottish chap called Colin offered the protection of a hedgerow...clever lady!

I do not deny that I struggled on this day not so much physically (sore bottom aside) but because of mental exhaustion. After lunch we cycled about a mile when I realised I had forgotten to put on my helmet (Doh!), I'd left it at the lunch venue. I left Anne by the roadside to cycle back to collect my helmet, just what I wanted today an extra 2 miles.  And that wasn't the only extra mileage, roadworks blocked a road on our route so, Skyline had to devise a quick detour which added another 4 or 5 miles to the day and an extremely steep and long hill.  My language cycling up that unexpected hill should not be repeated. On this day Anne was a rock for me. I cannot say that her motivational techniques were tende,r but they were certainly effective. Statements such as, "Julie, if that tractor runs you over and amputates both your legs then, and only then, can you get on that support van."

Today I also found an unorthodox aid for my saddle sore. At lunch I took some extra French bread and stuck it in my jacket pocket which was tied around my waist. Per chance I sat on the bread and it was heavenly, it just offered enough additional padding to ease my discomfort.

We reached Abbeville at about 5pm on a Friday, rush hour and the roads were really busy and this was the site of my second fall. We had to navigate our way through the centre and I was mentally exhausted. We nearly missed a turn but I saw it just in time and swung around the corner but I suddenly became confused about which side of the road I should have been on, panicked, stopped but couldn't get my feet out of the pedals quickly enough and down I went. Fortunately, I hit the pavement and not the busy road but I was shaken up with a bloody arm and knee.  In her tough love way Anne made me feel better. As she was mopping up my wounds and applying plasters she says, "Julie, if this is your attempt to get on that van it's pitiful!". I got back on my bike and cycled the remaining three miles to the hotel and ordered a very large beer. 

Day 4. Beauvais to Paris

Woohoo the final day, team spirits are high and I feel refreshed and only 49 miles and 1885 ft. It's a staggered start again the aim is to meet at a point 2 miles outside of Paris before we all cycle in convoy to arrive at the Eiffel Tower together.  Breakfast done, extra bread / saddle padding acquired, and we are off. The first part of the ride is pleasant, we are still in the county although it's getting less and less rural.  The first water stop is directly outside Van Gogh's house in Auvers-sur-Oise and the point where the journey changed. From this point on we are dealing with heavy traffic. Knowing my nervousness one of the Skyline team offered to cycle with us which Anne and I were very grateful for as it eased the burden of navigation. Today was the shortest distance but the longest journey with the stop and start cycle but we made it to what turned out to be a long lunch just 12 miles outside of Paris. The Skyline team had to investigate the impact of the Paris protests on our route. Both Yellow Vest protestors and climate change activists were out in full force. There were no reports of violence but the police had blocked off many roads but in the end the road closures worked in our favour.

We hopped back on our bikes to cycle another ten miles to the rendezvous point just two miles outside of Paris. All 63 cyclists changed into our blue Skyline t-shirts and started in convoy. We shouldn't have gone this way but the road closures reduced traffic so much that it made it possible for us to cycle around the normally chaotic Arc de triomphe, the first Parisian landmark - we were nearly there!

Not long after we spotted the Eiffel Tower and then the convey got stuck behind a very smelly refuge car, which kind of spoilt the romance a touch. We cycled around three sides of the tower before finally reaching our destination. We did it!!!!!!

Elation doesn't come close but it was a bitter sweet finish for me. In times gone by, whenever I have done anything like this, the man who would always be there to greet me at the finish, alongside my mum wasn't there and never will be again. Somehow this challenge has enabled me to keep him with me, even introduce him to new people via my Just Giving page. I am proud to have completed this challenge in memory of him, my amazing dad, Bob Draper.

I am also proud to have been awarded the Best Buns awards at the celebration meal that evening. Entirely related to my innovative use of bread rolls!

Day 5 Paris to London

Amazingly both Anne and I feel fine today.  Slightly stiff quads but that aside, no ill effects, in fact I feel great. We have time to take a boat trip on the Seine and to grab some lunch before heading off to catch the Eurostar. To the person who thought we were cycling back and has requested half their sponsorship back as we only did half the challenge the answer is no (he was joking). Would I do it again, hell no but never say never.

I would like to thank Skyline for their incredible organisation and support. I would also like to thank Mark Glenister, JPP's founder. Last December, when he offered me some serious sponsorship if I did this there was no going back. Thank you, Mark, for your support and your very generous donation.

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