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Two years ago the idea of cycling London to Paris was raised.  At that point I was busy planning a 3,000 mile month long cycle around the Gold Post Boxes, so committed to 2015.  Ali Hall, who had cycled West to East and a section of LEJOG and a day of the Gold Post Boxes, was delighted by this having never been to Paris (or France) before.  Lucas' brother-n-law, Paul Hayes, had actually suggested the idea originally, and purchased bike and said equipment.  His idea, but Lucas was left to plan it, albeit with some challenges to the plans along the way!

From this, a team of 4 more runners joined the trip.  Paul's mate, Simon Moseley, and one of their bosses at Sercon, Steve Walsh.  (The Sercon Flyers!) Steve had done an ironman a few years earlier but admitted he was out of practice on the bike.  Simon had run a half marathon but was a novel cyclist.  Pete Edwardson, whose daughter, Becky, is engaged to Simon, tagged along - another relatively inexperienced cyclist. The seventh member of the team was Gordon Balfour, who's wife is the sister of Lucas's sister-in-law, Rachel! Gordy and Lucas are fellow Norwich City fans and attend matches as they can.  Having cycled the last day of the Gold Post Boxes, Gordy had indicated a desire to do such a challenge, oblivious at the time Lucas was already planning it!

Any cycle challenge of this nature needs a good support team.  Having completed three such challenges before, one of Lucas' best friends, Liz Dunning, offered (yes she offered not coerced!) to cover the whole trip, despite having never driven in France, let alone the idea of driving a van through London and Paris!  Lucas recruited another three time cycle support expert, Lesley Boyle, to help on the team and give Liz someone to discuss Lucas' many merits (and one or two foibles) with!

Four charities would benefit from the team's fundraising - Prostate Cancer UK (Gordy), Pancreatic Cancer UK (Pete and the Sercon Flyers), Macmillan Cancer Support (Ali and Lucas) and St Luke's hospice, Plymouth (Lucas).

The team never met as a whole until the eve of the trip, having all arrived in London, mostly compliments of Virgin Trains.  In fact, no one knew everyone in the group, so the first reassurance was that 'banter' was quickly flying amongst the team over dinner and the pre ride briefing.  Lucas was renamed chief (not to his choice or liking!) and the 280 approximate mile cycle was bound to commence.

London - Paris cycle 7-10 July 2015

At Trafalgar Square to start - from left - Paul, Simon, Gordy, Steve, Pete, Ali and Lucas

Day 1

There had been some discussion over departure time from London with 81 miles to cover from Trafalgar Square to Dover. 7am was the designated set off, which meant leaving the hotel in Cricklewood at 6:30am to cover the initial 5 miles to the start. (A little warm up!) This gave a taste of London cycling as well as the group facing the challenge of getting seven cyclists through each set of lights in one go.  7:15am all were in Trafalgar Square and pictures were taken to mark the start of the adventure.  

It was agreed the group would aim to cycle as one group for the trip, Lucas leading the way, Gordy generally taking back marker.  At 7:30am the seven snaked out of Trafalgar Square and onto the Embankment heading east.  The first photo opportunity was going over Tower Bridge, before the route headed along much of the London Marathon route (Lucas giving a running commentary to Steve, who'd also run the route but didn't recognise it).  Passed the Cutty Sark and over the Greenwich Meriden Line, traffic eased off as they headed up their first hill away from the Thames estuary and to Welling, Bexley and Dartford.  Not accidents, but Simon had a near miss with a driver who failed to indicate left and Simon was forced to do the same.  Gordy remarked on the good spirit of many other cyclists and drivers, tooting and wishing everyone good luck.

Dartford was the first stop, where the support crew had gone directly from the hotel.  They had it all under control and quickly produced tea and cakes and took the lunchtime orders.   We'd made it out of London and not lost anyone or had any major incidents.  Next stop would be lunch!

From Dartford the route followed some cycle paths alongside the A2/M2 - at one point quite literally!  The surrealness of a cycle path running tandem parallel with a motorway was a little daunting, but was a decent route and enabled some speed as a light drizzle crossed.  Given the forecast had been heavy rain, this was quite reasonable and the only precipitation of the day (aside from sweat!)  The route headed over the River Medway in north Kent and through the historic town of Rochester (one of those anomalies of town's with a cathedral!)  As we headed out of Rochester, the biggest hill of the day so far arrived and first incident too as Simon came off his bike half way up.  Cramp had hit him as he made good progress up the climb and with his feet clipped into the pedals he couldn't get them out and had no choice but to fall onto the pavement.  No injuries, and after a recovery, Simon finished the hill (pedalling) and rejoined everyone at the top.  On through Sittingbourne, following the A2 and therefore a busy road, before turning off onto some lanes and the lunch stop.

With the sun now out and the temperature rising, it was a welcome stop and a chance to enjoy the sun. Liz and Lesley did an excellent job at providing an excellent spread whilst we established where the next cycle shop was in order to get a valve for the road bike tyres (the pump in the support didn't have the adjustment) and Simon also decided to get some clip free pedals having had another near miss with cramp.

From lunch the route followed a cycle route which took in some off road sections and the first wrong turn - into a farmyard, only a couple hundred metres off route.  However, it did slow the pace with the slower surface and, at one point, being atop an embankment nearing Faversham  following a waterway.  Lucas had not intended to follow the cycle path as much and Faversham never seemed to get any closer either, being taken on a loop rather than a straight road!  In Faversham Simon spotted the cycle shop and sorted the pedal issue, the shop kindly fitting them for free.

From Faversham another challenging hill took them up towards Canterbury,  This was the biggest hill of the day - a long climb in the sun and split the group considerably as Simon had more cramp issues, Ali kept going, maintaining a steady pace on all undulations and Pete started to become the king of the hills.  (Steve had shown he was the master of downhill having hit 43mph at one point and hurtling past Lucas!  Three quarters of the way and a final official stop for tea and snacks and allowed everyone to recover, as well as talk tactics to ensure the back of the group didn't lose the front when the gap had spread.  (Lucas' plans to go solo failing!).  

The final chunk of the day took the group through Canterbury, where they took a small detour to see the Cathedral.  However, unbeknown to them you can't just get to it as it's surrounded by a wall!  Having walked through the city centre's busy pedestrian zone, Lucas negotiated entry far enough to get a picture of the Cathedral with each cyclists and their bike, before they carried on their way, with 20 miles to Dover. Well, it should have been 20 miles, but it seemed what looked like an obvious route in planning wasn't the case in reality.  Avoiding the A2 dual carriageway was a challenge and involved a bigger loop than hoped to reach the village of Lydden.  Fatigue had hit and Paul finally conceded defeat on one hill, having a little push.  To be fair to Paul, Pete, Si and Gordy, they'd all broken their previous distance records on a bike by now and we'd already passed the 81 mile point! (or even 86 miles if you included the hotel to start section).

We finally came into Dover at around 8pm and located the hotel, a short cycle from the port.  Checked in, showered and time for food.  The mileage for the day had ended up as 94 miles from Trafalgar Square, a massive 13 extra miles having been added, nearly all post lunch, but everyone had made it through the day.  

Day 2

We headed off at 7:30am to check onto the ferry, a one mile cycle from the hotel.  Two of the bikes went in the support van to save costs, Paul and Ali.  Aboard the ferry gave time for breakfast and to look at the route for the day and the prospect of cycling on the wrong side of the road and less sure about how busy the roads might be.

Having docked in Calais, we regrouped and agreed our first meeting point with the support whilst they then went in search of food supplies.  Out of the dock and we pretty much u turned to head into a very strong headwind!  Once we'd navigated our way out of Calais it was a fairly straight forward route for a while out into the French countryside.  The weather was cool and threatening rain whilst the wind didn't really help, more often being against us.  This made our first long hill climb that much tougher.  The roads were noticeably quieter in France with villages more spread out too.

We met the support team at Colembert, missing one turn on the way. Liz and Lesley had found a good location and much needed snacks were had with drinks.  A nearby cafe's toilet was utilised too, though this didn't seem to go down well with the proprietor as we weren't paying customers and none of us had sufficient command of the French language to explain what we were doing!  Having upset the locals, we carried on though more villages and Desvres, where another wrong turn resulted in the need to back track rather than reroute - not well received by the group as it involved going back up an incline.

Back on route and over another large hill, we carried on to make our lunch stop in Zoteux, in a garage yard with a friendly French cat.  The weather was still overcast with the wind still being an issue but the rain was holding off.  Lunch consumed, the route took a south east turn and out of the headwind.  However, the next challenge it was discovered was the seven valleys route!  This was  discovered as we passed a sign heading down the D108, which Lucas hoped no one would notice and Steve ambitiously hoped would be the end of the valley or not the route we were to follow! Alas, it was as they flew downhill into the first valley, swiftly followed by a climb out.  Given the likely continued hill climbs, the group carried on along the road at their own paces, giving Gordy and Pete the chance to challenge for king of the hills, Steve a chance to hurtle down the other side while Simon's cramp issues had eased off and Paul and Ali maintained steady paces. Lucas moved amongst the field - partly to make sure no one was left too far behind.  In the process they cycled past the support van without seeing them!

As the route neared the north side of Hesdin, the support van caught up with the cyclists and a stop was had for toilets and supplies.  This time Lucas managed enough pigeon French to gain use of a toilet at the camp site while it turned out the gas stove Liz had brought along for boiling water had melted and was no longer working!  The next challenge for them was to find  place to buy a new stove!  As they set off for the final section of the day, the first puncture occurred - Simon had dropped off a kerb and in the process popped the tyre.  Four cyclists and 40 minutes later they'd changed the tyre and got enough air into the wheel for Simon to be happy to carry on.

We headed off north east of Hesdin and on towards Vaulx, where the support team had arrived first at our gites and were on busy cooking tea.  The final few miles had been a struggle with a bit more headwind and tiredness settling in.  Once we arrived, with around 80 miles on the clock, we were well fed by Liz and Lesley and recoiled the days adventures.  Our gites was a brilliant find, allowing all nine of us to sleep in this delightful village house for £70!  Lucas uploaded pictures and updates on social media and checked the next day's route details whilst everyone else relaxed and then to bed, with over half the journey complete.

Day 1 - London to Dover  

Day 3 - Vaulx to Beauvais                       

Day 2 - Dover  to Calais to Vaulx

Day 4 - Baeuvais to Paris                       

The support team - Liz Dunning & Lesley Boyle

On the ferry from Dover to Calais

Arriving in Vaulx

Day 3

Liz and Lesley had breakfast under control before most of us were up.  Once we were fed and bikes had been checked we headed off around 9am.  First mistake - Lucas forgot he was in France and wondered why the oncoming car was on his side of the road before registering!  The route was a nice stretch, fairly flat all the way to the outskirts of Doullens, where the plan was to head towards  a war cemetery.  However, as they climbed a hill out of the area, Lucas eventually realised he'd missed the turning right they needed.  With little option of a shorter cut off, it was agreed to forgo the war cemetery - which Lesley and Liz had arrived at, and head across an alternative route to pick up the road south.  As it turned out, in glorious sunshine, the new route headed across some quieter roads through cornfields and felt what was expected o f a cycle through the French countryside.  

The route finally rejoined the original plan at Rubempre and not too far out of the village the support crew arrived with supplies for the first break of the day.  The sun was shining, the countryside was great and France was offering weather that had been expected.  Now the only issue was flies as we ate in a field gateway!

Once the route continued, it was on into the biggest city of the trip since arriving in France, Amiens.  No plans to stop in the city, so the challenge was to navigate seven bikes through the centre without losing anyone or getting lost.  Gordy, as backmarker, found himself caught at red lights a few times, whilst Lucas navigated the route through, stopping once to check the map at a larger interchange.  The sign for Paris wasn't necessarily any help when you don't want the motorway! Remarkably, the trip through the city went exactly as planned, and aside from getting split at traffic lights a few times, the team headed south of the city and made it to Plachy Buyon for lunch - a plethora of French baguettes, cheeses, meats and cakes. A few hedges were used by the men in the absence of other facilities!

With lunch complete, the route followed a relatively quiet B road equivalent for some time, which eventually turned up a gradual climb from Croissy sur Celle to Francastel .  The group spread out along the section, enjoying the sunshine and the open space and view.  Gordy and Pete powered up the hills, Lucas took opportunity to get pictures of the team and Paul and Ali took a leisurely pace.  Francastel was the final stopping point for refreshments.  Ali was in need a toilet and there was a lack of hot water left, so Lucas headed into the nearby boulangerie and, using his pigeon French, managed to explain what they were doing, that Ali needed a toilet and could they have some boiling hot water.  He happily let Ali use their toilet and supplied very hot water - which enabled tea to be made, albeit not the greatest cup! It turned out that just round the corner from where we stopped was a camping shop and Liz was able to buy a new camping stove. (Having looked through the towns and Amiens, it was ironic a small village came up trumps).

The final section was a good flat run but took in a busy road once Luchy was passed as the team headed to Beauvais.  This the busiest road in France so far outside the centre of Amiens, and the group split up for safety.  Once on the outskirts of the town they regrouped - though Steve almost sailed off on his own not realising everyone was stopping to ensure they headed through Beauvais together to get to the accommodation on the far side of the town. The town was busy as the crossed, but they managed to stick together. eventually reaching a retail area.  A brief map check and they carried on (not on the originally planned route) down to the motel they were staying in for the night, the Campanile.  Successfully at the motel, check in was a challenge!  The receptionist spoke no English and was struggling with Lucas' basic French.  Not aided by Lucas having the reservation number, she required the names for each room.  With 5 rooms between nine of them, Lucas wasn't sure which names he'd booked them all in, so their ensued a lengthy check of all the names to finally find all the rooms.  In the process, Gordy had understood the reception when she had put her head in her hands and said something out loud in French, we turned out to be "****ing hell".  We decided the broken blind was more hassle than it was worth to raise with reception!  Thankfully eating in the evening was a bit more straight forward!  Three days down, Paris was getting closer!

The French food above, complimented by Battenburgs!

Heading to Francastel

Day 4

Breakfast was eaten from the van, before setting off down what were expected to be the busier roads from Beauvais.  Despite following an N road for some way, it was reasonably light traffic wise as it ran parallel with a motorway.  This enabled the group to switch about a bit as they had a long stretch on the same road, which included the biggest climb of the day early on.  It was another warm day and the hill was a challenge.  However, everyone cycled up it in full and later regrouped as agreed.  Si's cramp issues had abated and Pete and Gordy continued to battle it out for king of the hills.  

Once the route came off the N road it was more pleasant, as they headed towards Henonville, passing a lovely aristocratic house on the way.  The route wound through some forest and was, in the main, fairly easy going, warm and clear.  After Henonville the support team were parked up with some forest shade for the first break of the day.  The next stop would be on the outskirts of Paris for lunch!

It didn't seem to take long to cover the final section of the route in the country before the long urban sprawl of Paris began.  Pontoise was the last section that felt "country" as, from there, the route followed a long, very tedious section on a very straight road through what seemed like a massive industrial area.  With endless traffic lights, it was stop/start, and by this stage it had got very warm, so every time they stopped they felt like they were cooking.  It also became a challenge to stick together as everyone was getting caught by traffic lights.  After what seemed a long period, the route finally entered a more housing and shop type affair, as expected, and the support team were located in Sannois. Lunch was had in a car park, trying to find shade due to the 32C+ temperature.  The respite was welcomed but the heat was a little too warm!

Lunch complete, contact was made with the welcome committee at the finish to advise of our eta.  We then headed off on the final section, right into the heart of Paris.  The challenge remained keeping 7 cyclists together through traffic lights, turnings and the challenges of a busy city.  Lucas couldn't always see if he definitely had 6 cyclists still behind him and couldn't always hear a shout to wait for whomever (usually Gordy) was stuck at a red light.  Much to his own surprise, Lucas kept on the route much as planned actually whooped when he navigated round Place Porte Maillot correctly without any causalities.  The Eiffel Tower had been spotted some way out of the city but the Seine had to be crossed thrice on route and then one of the last streets Lucas was going to cut down was a dead end.  However, they quickly tuned left soon after and cycled up to the Eiffel Tower as close as they could to be greeted by a cheering welcome committee of 8, who'd travelled over to see respective loved ones arrive, including Lucas' niece, Lowenna, who was over from Australia.  

Sadly, Liz and Lesley had got delayed getting in from where they'd left the van and missed out on the celebration under the Eiffel Tower, but did get to meet them on the Champs Elysees.  Some tourists thought the group were someone famous and wanted pictures with everyone, so it was an eventful arrival!  But the supported charities, Prostrate Cancer UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and St Luke's Hospice, had benefitted to an accumulated figure of over £5,000.  

From the Eiffel Tower, the final challenge was to the Champs Elysees, to briefly meet Liz and Lesley, and then to get to Gare du Nord to drop the bikes off ready for them to head back to the UK on Eurostar.  This part of the cycle was with rush hour traffic and proved as challenging as the combined previous four days.  But no one seemed sad to say farewell to their bike for a few days!

A fantastic achievement was marked in the evening and over breakfast the next day, when sore backsides were rested and everyone could enjoy what they'd achieved.  Gordy was awarded king of the hills; Simon seemed to have been accident prone, Steve had been the done hill champion; Ali had retained consistent pace and survived as the lone female - even if she didn't pay much attention to traffic lights if the cycle in front of her was still moving!  Lucas had successfully navigated them the route (and just kept is under 300 miles with some wrong turns!); Pete was recognised for his novel design of a mud guard, which was cast aside in a bin on day 3 and Paul was thanked for suggesting the whole idea and actually doing better than he expected!  However, the team would not have survived without the excellent support of Lesley and Liz in the van, who kept everyone supplied with food, Battenberg's, tea, Battenberg's and more Battenberg's.  

Vive le France!!

For full gallery go to 2015 Ldn-Paris or check it out on the Facebook page

Setting off on the final day

Having arrived under the Eiffel Tower  

On the Champs Elysee with Lesley & Liz