OMG we rode our bikes to Paris! My ten tips for success.

Monday, July 24, 2017

It is hard for me to accurately describe what the four day #3PTsToParis trip was like.  Of course, we have the Strava stats (see below), but it doesn't go into all the thoughts I had while in my saddle for many hours,  the pain I felt in my Achilles tendons with each pedal stroke, or the pleasure I took in refuelling myself during our trip with Nutella.

If you didn't know about #3PTsToParis, you can read about the idea here and what I was packing in my bags here.  Elle and Sophie have written up their accounts if you would like an additional perspective to mine below.  If you just want my tips on how to make the trip a success, scroll to the bottom of the post.

Hello from the road, very far from Central London

Day 1 was quite similar to our ride to Brighton a few weeks ago, but everyone (and every bike) was in top form.  We met at 6:30am at the Velodrome in Queen Elizabeth Park.  There was a brief debate during our ride to Brighton whether we should take a train to south London outskirts and skip all the morning traffic, but we agreed it would be inauthentic to our goal.  We were doing ok until James got a puncture in Clapham (conveniently outside an Evans).  It took a while to replace the inner tube, get a coffee, use the loo, and pump up the inner tube properly.  We then went along the same route but Sophie and I felt fine this time and Kate's bike was changing gears like a dream.  We took a well-deserved break at the top of Turner's Hill for some refreshments.  We didn't want to stay too long, as we were trying to make the 17:30 ferry from New Haven to Dieppe.  We decided to continue on and eat on the ferry if we needed to skip a late lunch.  We were doing ok for time so far but after the puncture in the morning, we wanted to have a cushion of time.  Missing the ferry would have been a bad way to start the trip.

To get to New Haven, you turn left at the bottom of Ditchling Beacon, which made us very happy.  There were still a few 'inclines' as James would say, but it was nice to see the top of the Beacon from below.  The sun was shining with a few clouds in the sky and everyone was in high spirits.  We made it to the ferry with two hours to spare before boarding began and used Google to find a yummy pub a short ride down the road.  I had mozzarella sticks (one of my major food groups as a child) and a burger with sweet potato fries.

Boarding the ferry

Boarding the ferry took a while between border control (my passport was stamped), random searches, and locking up the bikes on the automobile levels.  For some reason, I thought we had assigned seats, but I was wrong.  The sun looked gorgeous on the harbor as we left the dock.   We put our stuff on some nice chairs (more comfortable than airline seats) but spent most of our time chatting to a bike builder we met in line.  I figured I would probably sleep most of the way, but I didn't.  Of course, as we left the ferry and entered the dark French night, I wish I had.  The ride to the hotel seemed to be entirely uphill and really slow.

Gorgeous sunshine on the deck

We stayed at Touvotel Citotel Hotel Dieppe, which seemed to be a brand new hotel as it was very clean and modern.  It was really disappointing that the secure place to leave our bikes was in the front lobby (with walls made of glass) for the night desk staff to watch.  We locked our bikes together and hoped for the best as we went up to our rooms.  I was exhausted but happy to know our dream of riding to Paris was starting to come true.

Here is what we did on Day 1.  Thank you Strava.

Day 2 started with continental breakfast of mostly bread, cereal, cheese, and Nutella.  We also found some hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and yogurt.  We ate our fill and left the hotel about 30 minutes later than we planned.  Turns out, the more people in our group, the slower you move as a unit.  This was a common theme throughout the trip.  We weren't in any rush though and were looking forward to a more relaxed ride.

Eager to set off for Day 2

Most of the route was along the part of L'Avenue Vert, Decouberte Nature en Siene-Maritime (according to the sign, with a few more accents), an old railway that had been paved.  We had sunshine again, and it was lovely not to have to deal with traffic.  There were lots of other people also using the path, which was refreshing to see.  It felt great to be outdoors in nature with my friends, enjoying everything but the tiredness in my legs and pain in my Achilles.

We stopped for lunch in Forge les Eaux, a small town with a few shops and cafes.  We found a place with outdoor seating (and salads for Kate) and order up lunch.  Originally, I thought I would want to sit in the shade and avoid becoming dehydrated.  But it turns out I love being in the sunshine.  It completely changes my outlook on life to have sun on my skin.  I need to keep this in mind once winter comes to London.  Fueled again by Diet Coke and my water bottles refilled, we continued on but this time had to ride on the road.  Sophie was feeling it by this point and we had to stop to let her stretch after a big hill climb.  Elle randomly had brake trouble too which meant she had to stay in front in case she needed to stop quickly.

Cycling away from traffic is the best.

Soon, we were back on the railroad path which made us feel like we were going faster but after two long days in the saddle, we were all dragging a bit.  Sophie decided to put some Bob Marley on and soon everyone had their own playlists motivating their legs to peddle faster.  James was listening to cricket so he didn't mind us riding to our own beat along the way.  Elle was choreographing a spin class out in front, Kate had her latest spin mix on, and Sophie was tuning in to her running playlist.  I don' hear very well on my bike, making me reluctant to put on music.  All my companions were in their own worlds with their personal radios blasting so I put on the only music I had on my phone, Podrunner.  It helped me peddle a little faster, which was exactly what I needed.

Beauvais was our destination and we got there in the late afternoon.  The London 2 Paris website recommended the Chenal Hotel Le Chenal because they apparently offered bike storage.  Unfortunately, they did not, just enough space for 1 bike because there was rubbish in the shed instead.  We had to chain our bikes to a window bars in a gated courtyard.  Once again, we were hoping and praying our bikes would still be in there in the morning.

Beauvais Cathedral

Our hotel room had a tub, so I decided to try a hot bath for my Achilles tendons before dinner.  The town had a huge cathedral and square with many restaurants.  Elle was craving noodles which lead us to a sushi restaurant.  It was a nice change from all the carb-loading we have been eating in the weeks leading up to the ride.  Kate, James and I went  in search for crepes after dinner while Sophie and Elle headed back to the hotel.  After a few blocks, we found an amazing crepe place that put the ice cream inside the crepe (genius!).  I was a bit tipsy after a few glasses of wine at dinner and we went back to the hotel after dessert.  It was just after 9pm but felt much later after the long day we had.

Crepe with ice cream on the inside.  #controversial

Strava stats for Day 2:

I think we were all glad to be on day 3.  It meant we were nearly at the Eiffel Tower- the goal we had been focused on for the last eight weeks.  We were all feeling tired and eager to get to Paris.  The hotel breakfast wasn't great but it was convenient so James and I got our fill before heading back to the room to finish packing.  Once we got to the Eiffel Tower, I knew I wanted a photo in each jersey I wore, so I made sure these were easily accessible.  I also had lots of smelly dirty clothes by now, which I tried to keep separate from the one set of street clothes I had.  The food and drink supplies I brought with me were getting low, so I put the heaviest stuff (my gels) in my jersey to consume early on.

Trying to organize everything one more time.
We didn't get very far before we saw a giant sign for London to Paris tours.  Kate is one of the most enthusiastic people I know in London, so I couldn't help but get excited to get a photo with her.  The day's ride was tough for me from the start.  My Achilles were not keen on more cycling and the legs still heavy.  Sophie and I were happy to make more stops on this ride for a quick stretch than we had the previous two days.  She was experiencing pain in her lady bits and her hands had gone numb.

We had started to run out of water as it was hot in the sunshine and tried to find a small shop to refill and buy something for lunch.  We took a guess at where a town center should be (at the bottom of a short hill) and were disappointed to learn the nearest village was five kilometers away.  We ended up in the shade under a weeping willow to eat the nutella sandwiches we made a breakfast and rest.  I stretched some more and peed in the woods (remember I am almost out of water here) before we headed on the road again.  Not too much further along, we found a small town where we picked up water at a small bar while Elle and Sophie had fun taking photos in the town square.

James' view for most of the ride- me in lycra!

We continued on and wanted to make one more stop before entering Paris.  A few of us needed to use the bathroom and I was jonesing for a Diet Coke which brought us to a huge McDonald's.  It took us a minute to find the bathroom and then were shocked to find a man in there (who later said something to me and Kate, in French, as we walked by).  Armed with a belly full of full fat Coke and fries, I tried to pep the group up with some Queen.  "Bicycle Race" didn't have the effect I wanted, so I quickly changed to "Don't Stop Me Now."  My power clap got everyone laughing, including the homeless people sitting outside McDonald's.  Spirits high, we set off on the last bit of our journey.

It took us an eternity to actually get through Paris due to road closures on our route, one way streets and lots of traffic.  We passed through one of the scariest intersections I have ever been through- cobblestones, four to eight lanes wide and NO PAINTED LINES ON THE ROAD.  Once we got on the same road of the Eiffel Tower, we realized how challenging it would be to approach it.  There were throngs of people and gates surrounding the bottom of the tower.  We were able to carefully pass through the crowds though and find some space for a deflating photo shoot.  Why was it such a let down?  It was super crowded with tourists, there was a crane in the shot, and we were bloody tired.  Plus we still had to ride to the train station to drop off our bikes and then take the Metro to the hotel.  It was several hours until meal time.

We did it!
After various combinations of clothes, people, bike lifts, and cameras, we got back on our bikes to ride to the train station and drop off our bikes.  For 29 Euros, Eurostar will transport your bike back to London and it should arrive within a few days, depending on how busy the service is.  We had to take all accessories off of the bikes (pumps, lights, saddle bags, puncture kits) and then carried all this plus our bags back to the hotel.  Luckily, the Campanile Paris 19 was only a short Metro ride (in rush hour traffic) and then less than a five minute walk from the tion to the hotel.  This is when it hit us that we should be celebrating!  Some of us had a drink at the bar while others showered and napped.  We actually did what we set out to do!  We could now relax and enjoy the time we had in Paris.

We went to dinner about 8pm within walking distance of the hotel.  I had a burger and french fries, eating everything on my plate.  James, Kate and I took a short walk afterwards in the search for dessert but ended up with pre-packaged ice cream from a small shop as a consolation.  Once again, we had an early bedtime but we were able to sleep in the next day, knowing we didn't have to get back on the bike.

Day 3 ride details:

Inspired to give this a try adventure a try with some friends?

Here are my ten tips on how to make it success.

1.  Build long training rides into your plan on sequential days.  You need to get your body ready for lots of miles in a short amount of time.  Or mentally train on how to push through the discomfort you will experience.

2.  Practice your fuel strategy.  Yes, every training for every sport says this because it is true.  You don't want to struggle because you didn't eat enough or what you did eat made you feel sick.  In addition, if you can identify food that you can pick up along the way, you will have less to carry in your bags.

Don't worry, we didn't bring all of this on the trip.

3.  Always carry local currency, secure locks, and a portable battery charger.  You don't know where you will end up on this adventure so it is best to be prepared.

4.  Discuss what everyone does (or doesn't eat) ahead of time, or select restaurants before you set off.  You will end up spending time looking on Trip Advisor looking for restaurants that are nearby the hotel, open, and caters to all preferences as you grow increasingly hangry.

5.  Pack more painkillers than you think you will need, along with a small foam roller and magnesium salt spray. Just in case.

6.  Plan routes ahead of time and make sure the majority of the group have access to these.  Agree on an average pace to manage everyone's expectations of how long the ride will take.

7.  Avoid big cities because you will go no where fast in the traffic while being vulnerable to bad drivers.  The most enjoyable bit for me was the paved railroad on Day 2.

Much better place for photos with the Eiffel Tower.

8.  Use a shared spreadsheet to collate all reservation details, emergency contact info, packing lists, and route details.  WhatsApp is useful too (but can be consuming!).

9.  When training, use the opportunity to practice packing (make sure everything fits in your bags) and riding with extra weight.  The added weight makes the bike handle differently beneath you.

10.  Ask the hotel for a quiet room.  If you are on a noisy road or above a bar, it will hinder the sleep you so desperately need for the next day.

Tell me about your adventures on a bicycle in the comments below.  Where did you go and why?

We are thinking of Amsterdam next year and James is toying with the idea of following Le Tour de France, which wouldn't be my first choice.  But we will see where the road takes us!

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