Friday, 8 August 2014

London to Paris by Bicycle

I am a housing solicitor. This has led me to having a particular interest in the plight of the homeless. This led to me participating (for the 2nd time) from 24th-27th July in the Big Issue London to Paris bike ride to raise money for that charity.

We set off from Twickenham after some rousing words from the charity’s event organiser who was also riding, as well as the guide organisation- PIE (Perfection in Events) and then finally Bob, or rather Bob’s owner - former methadone addict James Bowen. You may have read about these two in the series of books he wrote: A Street Cat Named Bob and The World According to Bob.

The ginger cat was on his shoulder all the time he addressed us, a visible testament to the symbiosis. He credits the need to look after this cat with his recovery from methadone addiction

“I believe it came down to this little man. He came and asked me for help, and he needed me more than I needed to abuse my own body. He is what I wake up for every day now... he’s definitely given me the right direction to live my life.”

However he also credits the Big Issue for enabling him to keep going when homeless on the streets.

We were about 30 in all, a motley crew made up of teachers, lawyers, charity workers, IT etc and former Big Issue vendors. The youngest was 15 and the oldest somewhere in his 60s (didn’t like to ask exactly how old…). On my previous trip there was a woman who was 75 participating for her 35th year in a row.

We were divided up into slow, medium and fast groups. There was a certain eyeing up of each other’s kit and bicycles which ranged from the absurdly stolid and heavy ones (my 20 year old Dawes town bike/leviathan would be one of them) to the ultra cool Bianchi so light you have to sit on it to avoid it flying up into the air.

Day 1
London to Portsmouth

After a last photo...

we left at 9am and cycled through salubrious South West London, Hampton Court, Bushy Park, Cobham etc. We stopped after about 1.5 hours and then again for lunch in Hazelmere, refuelling on carbs – cheese sandwiches, crisps, sporty nutriton drinks, cups of tea, fruit and thankfully my favourite; Tunnock’s Caramel wafer bars (5 layers of wafer, 4 layers of caramel, fully coated in real milk chocolate).

Lunch was welcome on what was a hot day as a chance to get in out of the sun and guiltlessly stuff one’s face.

There was one quite enormous hill - actually I think it was probably a mountain - which all bar two of our group ended up walking up. Has no place in a bike ride and they should consider moving it somewhere useful like the Himalayas.

We arrived at Portsmouth at about 6.30pm, and after a stretch and a shower hit the hotel pub. Ah that first ale after a day cycling. I sought out Steve the team medic early on to get some anti-inflammatory drugs (all right, pain-killers) as my right knee was sore.

Day 2 started at stupid o’clock assembling without bikes for the walk to the ferry. The journey over to Le Havre was calm and serene, most people sleeping or just sitting getting into the zone and preserving energy.

Day 2
Le Havre to Evreux

There is a massive bridge - the Pont de Normandie.

The Pont de Normandie is a cable-stayed road bridge that spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy, northern France. Its total length is 2,143.21 metres (7,032 ft) – 856 metres (2,808 ft) between the two piers. It is also the last bridge to cross the Seine before it empties into the ocean.

Crossing the Seine:

Many picturesque Norman villages and connecting “lumps” later, we struggled into Evreux for the 2nd night. Knee really jolly painful by now despite borderline illegal quantities of ibuprofen, deep heat and a knee bandage.

Lovely city, good market, wonderful beer. Should have stayed.

Day 3
Evreux to Paris.

We had a nasty start. The guides decided to put together groups 1 and 2, that’s the competitive types in group 1 with the 'too proud to admit I should be in the slowest group', group 2; and there was this huge hill to get out of Evreux. That did for me. My knee giving out. Took a breather in the van going to the next rest point, only to have to suffer the driver from PIE, Ian, an older man than me, telling me about his 6 iron man competitions - his best time 10 hours for - swimming 2 ½ miles in open water, cycling 110 miles and then running  a marathon. That worked. I got on my bike to get away.

After that the day passed quickly. We cycled round the lake at Versailles (wow the scale of that place), the outskirts of Paris, then the Bois du Boulogne, the Champs Elysees, the Arch de Triomphe (so much better than Marble Arch or Hyde Park Corner) and, drumroll,  the Eiffel Tower.

I was glad to arrive but it felt a little bathetic, as Gertrude Stein said “when you get there, there’s no there.” At the party after I received the Lance Armstrong best doper award, testament to my body’s capacity for drugs.

Sunday spent hobbling around avoiding bicycles eating for Britain. I have so far raised about £1200 of a target of £1500 for the Big Issue (not the Croatian football team, though they look strangely familiar...)

My knee has now finally recovered. Met some great people and enjoyed some lovely countryside through gritted teeth. Definitely have to give a 3rd time a wide berth!

If you want to contribute here is the link:


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