Earlier this year and before deciding to join the Crescent Wheelers Abi took part in a 4 day London to Paris Bike Ride. All the more impressive when you think that before this Abi hadn’t even considered cycling as a hobby !
A long report, but a very good read…enjoy !
Note that some photos are in this report, but for the full set please click on this link to ‘Flickr’ :
Report by Abigail Hockham
Team Thickbroom: Abigail Hockham, Lisa Petre, Marion Benton, Mark Payne, Joseph Illes, Trevor Williams.
It all started one late winter’s evening in the office when Joe and Lisa came up with the bright idea of doing a challenge for charity - who would have thought that one silly idea plucked out of thin air would have changed my life.
The following morning, an email was sent around which caused a few chuckles amongst colleagues. I honestly didn’t think they were being serious, but they were. Lisa was in, Joe was in, Mark and Marion were both excited by the idea, I kind of went along with it and the biggest surprise was Trevor who said “sign me up”. Team TB6 were soon formed.
Our names were on the London to Paris 2013 list and there was no going back. The charity we had chosen to cycle for was Muscular Dystrophy - a muscle degenerating disease. We had chosen this charity in-particular as Lisa had a brother had sadly died from this, so completing this ride was especially important to her.
What better way to start off our training than with a detailed spreadsheet - we’re accountants for goodness sake, it’s what we do best. The office became very competitive very quickly. For the first few months we trained on our own in our own spare time and recorded our mileage, whether it being on the gym bike or on the roads, on the spreadsheet. Soon enough, we began cycling as a group - which err didn’t last long! Mark was very competitive and always shot off in the lead. Marion, Lisa and I were close behind. For the one off time that Joe came, he was at the back whinging about the uncomfortable saddle. And Trevor was not far from Joe and determined as ever.
The months soon went by; November, December, January, February, March… It was hard work training through the winter months in the rain, wind, snow and hale, but we knew that if we were to stand a chance in cycling over 300 miles, we had to get as much mileage in as possible. By April, the weekends became exhausting and repetitive. 6am wake up calls to cycle to Cambridge and back on a Sunday in the pouring rain. And the home made flap jacks and never ending jelly babies just became unappealing. It was getting to the point of “I just want this ride out of the way”.
When we saw the money rolling in from family, friends and clients, it lifted our spirits to push on. We had managed to get ourselves in a few local newspapers The Harlow Star and the Mercury, which encouraged more sponsorship.
Anyway I am sure you are itching to find out how the ride actually went!
Day 1) London to Calais via Dover - May 8th 2013
The starting point was Crystal Palace 6.30am and there were a total of 133 cyclists. The girls, Marion, Lisa and I had booked a hotel the night before nearby so that we could get a good night’s sleep and familiarise ourselves with where we had to be.
We signed in, loaded our suitcases on the SkyLine van, Kenny gave a briefing and then we set off early in the pouring rain - told to follow the orange arrows. Lisa and I just went for it trying to cover as many miles as possible early on to be sure that we wouldn’t miss the ferry later on. We soon got talking with the other cyclists and we made a friend Alice who we continued to cycle with over the 4 days. Lisa and I were worrying about how far behind the others were but didn’t stop long at the first water stop to wait. The second stop was lunch, which we made extremely early as the food wasn’t even ready. While we were waiting, the rest of the ‘team’ soon caught up and we had our first group photo. Marion introduced Lisa and I to Pete who became another team member that we would be cycling with over the 4 days. Mark and Joe didn’t seem to be enjoying the weather or the Kent hills very much. And Joe was particularly unhappy after taking on such a challenge with next to no training and then got a puncture which almost tipped him over the edge. Alice whispered to Lisa and I, “He really doesn’t look happy and you and your team don’t seem to care very much”. By day 2 Alice’s opinion on the matter changed when she realised that we wasn’t completely heartless.
We soon arrived in Dover. The first members of Team Thickbroom to arrive were the girls Marion, Lisa and I with our new team members Alice and Pete. The ladies back at HQ in Waltham Cross were pleased that the girls were showing the boys up. We felt relieved that we had made the ferry on time, but as the clock was ticking we were getting worried for our other team mates who we hadn’t seen since lunch. The SkyLine crew informed us that people were being picked up on the ‘Love Bus’ so that they wouldn’t miss the ferry, which caused us concern.
Just as we thought they were not turning up, Joe and Mark arrived feeling exhausted. Joe collapsed on the floor wishing it was over, and Mark was just pleased that his knee hadn’t played up once (after enduring endless physiotherapy sessions in training). Trevor soon followed in with his partner Natasha - they had been encouraging each other all day to keep going. We were very pleased that we all made it without having to resort to the bus.
We were soon aboard P&O ferries having a well deserved rest and nosh up, before having to cycle a further 5 miles or so to get to our first night’s kip in the Holiday Inn in Calais. This was a great opportunity to speak to other cyclists on how they were finding the ride. Everyone was saying the same - do not like rain.
Day 2) - Calais to Abbeville - 9th May 2013.
Up early for a 7am start.The girls were at breakfast very early, taking in as many calories as possible. The boys strolled down half hour or so later believing sleep is the key to succeeding. After loading ourselves with croissants, bacon and coffee, we had the task of finding our bikes amongst 133 and then packing our suitcases and chucking it on the van for a second time. Lisa why did you pack so many handbags and shoes?! We are cycling not clubbing!
We hadn’t even done 5 miles and Mark was having gear problems, Lisa’s chain kept coming off, Joe had fallen off and it was windy and raining - again. Doesn’t look like a good start to day 2 but at least we didn’t have the pressure of a ferry to catch.
We hadn’t even made it to the first stop when Lisa had noticed a strange looking bulge on her front tyre. We stopped a SkyLine van to have a quick look and they said, “Oh you are going to need a real mechanic for this one - you can not continue cycling until this has been fixed”. Brilliant. The mechanic had been called for us and in the mean time we had taken some photos for our big sponsor Natterbox, and sat munching flapjacks. As time went on, Joe and Mark caught up and continued on - feeling pleased that the boys were now in the lead. Trevor and Natasha then came past wishing us luck. We were officially in last place. The mechanics came and replaced Lisa’s front tyre (not happy that her tyres were no longer matching) and we set off again, determined to catch up with some other cyclists.
We were making good progress and we couldn’t have been very far from lunch when there was a loud bang from in front of me - Lisa’s back tyre had blown up before my eyes. Some quick thinking from Pete, who bodged a repair on the rear tyre, stuck a new inner tube in, put some air in and off we set again. We must have been about 3 miles from lunch, when Lisa’s back tyre went yet again. We were starting to feel impatient and like we were getting absolutely nowhere. Lisa and I made the decision of telling Pete, Alice and Marion to continue cycling to lunch as it was only a few miles away and we would walk until the mechanic came. Lisa and I made a pact the day before London to Paris had began to stick together no matter what. So, we walked. Before long, the mechanic came and replaced Lisa’s back tyre. Hooray!
Marion, Pete and Alice cheered when we cycled in to lunch. We also met the rest of the team who shared their day with us. Joe had a cleat failure and was dying from exhaustion so had to retire to the Love Bus for the rest of the day (after falling asleep at the side of the road - which to this day he denies). Mark was feeling positive - having no knee complaints and just kept going. Trevor was full of complaints, but still cycling nevertheless.
Now by day 2 the girls of TB6 had a big problem they needed to address - toilets. Not a toilet in site and we were drinking gallons of water throughout the day. Alice and the rest of the women cyclists were comfortable in going for a wee in a bush. Marion, Lisa and I just did not have the confidence to do this and found it very unladylike. However, we were determined to get past this. So, day 2 lunch we went for it - and I won’t say anymore, it was a horrible experience (*cough* Lisa and the stinging nettles).
After lunch, we made great progress and eventually made it to the hotel in Abbeville. Tough day, but proud to have overcome all obstacles.
Day 3) Abbeville to Beauvais - 10th May 2013
Our bikes were left outside all night with 133 others in the pouring rain, and it was still raining. I was feeling very unmotivated for day 3 but the night before we were promised warm weather and sunshine so fingers crossed. The girls had taken their word for it and we put the shorts on.
Not even a mile in and the rain was coming down and it was coming down hard. Personally, this was the worst day for me.
By lunch time I was beyond depressed, shaking from the cold and hugging the tea urn in tears just wanting a little warmth. The SkyLine crew were fab - they lent me a thick coat and scarf while I had my lunch and drank my tea. It felt good to be warm once more. Though, it didn’t last long when the coat was removed and I was told to set off in the rain again. Not a happy bunny to say the least.
I just wanted to be back at the hotel and out of the rain. We tried talking to each other about holidays, families, and home to keep our minds off of the cold - and though it was working for the others, it was not working for me. I cycled on ahead getting my speed up to 23mph (hard to believe I know) but I figured the harder I pedalled the warmer I would be and I would get to the hotel quicker!
I turned my head and looked back and the others were no where to be seen, and then I realised - the rain had stopped and I was no longer shivering. I got myself up the next hill and waited for the others to catch up as I couldn’t abandon my team. They caught up and were impressed by my sudden change in speed. Pete said to me, “did the skyline crew put something in your tea?!”, in which I said “no, I’m just cold!”
As the afternoon continued, the rain hit hard again, and we had to make an unexpected stop at a local cafe in a French village. Some other cyclists had the same idea. While I dried out my cycling jersey and gloves under the hand dryer in the loos, the others got some hot chocolates in to warm us up. We got chatting to some professional cyclists who had come from Scotland for the challenge. We felt proud of ourselves that we were near the front with these guys - they said they were used to cycling in poor conditions.
Sadly, we had to get back on the bikes and pedal on. We were nearing the hotel when Lisa had a brainwave to take a detour and explore Beauvais - so we did. And what a great idea! The rain had stopped by this point and so we went to see the big cathedral and explore.
We made it back to the hotel in time for dinner. Joe and Mark were the first members of our team back, taking the tactic of “just keep cycling and don’t stop”, and Trevor and Natasha were yet to arrive. They were also finding day 3 a struggle after getting a puncture. Eventually we all made it back and no one had to resort to the Love Bus.
The food on night 3 was poor to say the least. Fortunately though, there was a McDonalds just around the corner and so after dinner Lisa had persuaded me to go with her to satisfy her chip craving - we were caught out by the Skyline Crew. Busted!
Bikes given a well deserved pat, and we off to bed for another night’s sleep - only 1 more day to go!
Day 4) Beauvais to Paris - 11th May 2013
This is it, the last day - and it’s still raining!
There was a strong smell of deep heat lingering around the hotel on the morning of day 4. We slowly made it down to breakfast, after lugging Lisa’s heavy suitcase on the van for the last time. Mine and Marion’s were not so heavy. We fueled ourselves with more pain au chocolats, rubbed our quad muscles with Marion’s special ‘massage stick’, a quick team Natterbox photo and we were off for the final time.
Day 4 was highly competitive between the boys and girls of Team Thickbroom (minus Trevor who was just happy to complete each day). We knew the boys had a head start so we kept our speed up in hope of overtaking. By the first water stop we had caught up with them but while we refilled our water bottles and got some multi-grain bars down our necks, Joe and Mark got a head start.
By lunch time the sun had come out and we were feeling positive. The food laid out by the caterers on day 4 was also by far the best out of the 4 days. After devouring a plate of pasta, pastries, wraps, ham, cake, chocolate brownies and washing it down with a nice cuppa Tetley, we were soon off again.
Pete was having a minor cleat trouble, Lisa’s chain was continuing to come off and Joe’s wheel didn’t have long to live. Marion and I were meanwhile talking to our bikes letting them know just how much we love them and politely asked not to cause any problems.
Despite a few minor issues, we made it to the last stop which was about 3 miles away from Paris. Here, we were all given blue London to Paris 2013 t-shirts to wear and a briefing for the last couple of miles. When the time had come, all 133 of us had to cycle together into Paris where we would finish by the Eiffel Tower.
The more confident cyclists were videoing the final cycle in to Paris on their phones. I wasn’t even comfortable drinking from my water bottle while cycling along - let alone taking a video. Out of nowhere, Marion’s husband and daughter came cycling in to the group which was very emotional for her. As we made our way around the Arc de Triomphe, and over the French cobbles I looked at Lisa and she cried. I turned around and Joe was still moaning about his wheel, saddles sores and hand blisters (we did suggest a pair of gloves - but you can’t tell him).
And there it was the Eiffel Tower. We had made it. We had to keep reminding ourselves of what we had just done because it felt so unreal. 6 accountants with no training and 127 other cyclists with their own stories to tell had all cycled from London to Paris, over 300 miles in 4 days.
Some further info:
Day 4 was Marion’s birthday which made it extra special.
Lisa had cycled this with a broken toe, which she had broken just 2 days before the ride. She refused to get it checked out due to not wanting to be told she couldn’t cycle. As a result, she had torn her Achilles heel and to this day she is no longer allowed to ride.
Collectively Team Thickbroom have raised well over our £20,000 for Muscular Dystrophy.
5 months on and I am still cycling:
When I said this event has changed my life, I wasn’t joking. Before being signed up to London to Paris, no one would have got me on a bike. I wasn’t really into fitness and I found cycling too much hard work.
Now I continue to enjoy my bike rides and have invested in a nicer bike and cycling shoes. I am also enjoying going out with the Crescent Wheelers Cycling Club on a Sunday, but they can’t expect me out in the rain due to me gaining a phobia of rain after a 4 day ordeal with it.
Will there be any more crazy bike rides?
I can’t say there won’t be because doing London to Paris is by far the proudest achievement of mine to date. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.