Random things I learned while cycling from London to Paris......

A few months ago my wife, Nicki, suggested that we take part in this year’s London to Paris cycle challenge in support of the charity, Bloodwise... 500kms in four consecutive days.
I failed to squash the idea immediately and this week we arrived back in Edinburgh exhausted and relieved to have completed the challenge. Also, in my case slightly surprised, not having done anything particularly strenuous for over 40 years (and not much before that, to be honest).
While I’m recovering, here are a few random things I’ll remember.
Never judge people from first impressions

OK, I should know this from being in recruitment and from running businesses but it really hits you when the superhuman Ride Captain who’s helped push you up a hill at the 100km mark on day 3 and then gone back down to repeat it for a dozen other stragglers, takes his helmet off to reveal… not Chris Froome but a balding middle-aged accountant.

Or the loud guy driving you nuts by chatting constantly while you’re battling through the pain barrier turns out later to be warm-hearted and only trying to help, and is on his third Challenge to raise cash in memory of someone close who has died of some version of this nasty disease.

Next time you interview someone, do resist that instant 10-second judgment.

France has better roads than the UK

Or at least fewer potholes. There were far more holes between London and Dover (100km) than on the entire run from Calais to Paris (400km). Somehow the French look after their roads (and general infrastructure) much better than we do. Do they have more money? Do they care more? Don’t know. But it also seems that they’re much better at avoiding our small town blight of boarded up shops. As we road through town after town and village after village it didn’t look like their High Streets are dying.

We can learn stuff from them, and of course they can learn stuff from us. And we’re connected.

First time on the Eurostar and... surprise, surprise… it’s just like going from Birmingham to Manchester but with a dark bit in the middle!

Why are we even thinking about cutting ourselves off from our neighbours...?

But that’s another story.

You can always do more than you think

Four months ago I don’t think I’d been on a bike for fifty years. And as the old saying goes, if I ever felt the urge to exercise I’d sit down until the feeling passed. On my own, I would have given up every morning at about the 20km point. I was tired already, cold - Calais in the fog, in September, is freezing – and was staring at another 100km with 3000ft elevation. But necessity is a great motivator, and the potential humiliation of falling behind the peloton and being “thrown in the van” kept those feet turning. Just proves that I and I suspect most people, have at least another 50% more than they think. And the satisfaction of over-achieving is worth the pain.

Talking of pain – the odd thing is that my legs are fine. They’re about the only things that don’t hurt. Obviously the bum’s a bit sore (apparently “arselikeababoon” is the medical term) but the worst thing is neck and shoulders.

Not surprising really – your head weighs about 11lbs. Imagine holding two bags of sugar in an outstretched hand for 7 hours over 140km and you’ll understand why your neck’s a bit sore.

And a quick word about age. “Age is just a number” is a bit daft because we’re all going to run out of road eventually and physical things are tougher at 69 than at 19.

But not that much tougher if you stay vaguely in shape (a choice) and can avoid the nasties like blood cancer (just luck, I think).

So it’s not foolproof, but “use it or lose it” is a good guide, and trust me, it feels much better to be fit.

Parisians are not like you’d expect

Ok, there are all types in all countries and I’m talking about small samples here. But having been fed the image of arrogant, aloof, “too cool for school” inhabitants of the French capital I was expecting them to be particularly grumpy about their roads being closed off for 150 Brits, escorted by a team of motorcycle escorts, riding through red lights and straight over the busiest junctions, round the Arc de Triomphe, and on to the Eiffel Tower, all without stopping for a second.

But they were all smiles! Some even cheered. It really is true that the French like cyclists. To be honest, even on previous visits to Paris everyone has been friendly and helpful. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. 

French villages are in valleys, wind turbines are on summits

Pretty obvious, you’d think, and so what? Well, you notice these things after about 300km hard pedalling. After passing through our fiftieth village I realised why my heart was sinking every time I passed a sign with a red diagonal across it. It meant that we were leaving the village and a killer hill was just round the corner. 

sign.jpgBy contrast on the high plains between Abbeville and Beauvais, passing a wind turbine meant that you were on your way down, thank God.

Actually it all provided a real-life example of the difference between objective, strategy, and tactics (easy to forget when writing that umpteenth business plan).

Objective - to complete the whole journey raising cash for Bloodwise (and hopefully staying in one piece).

Strategy - to get over each successive horizon.

Tactics - to shelter behind a bunch of people while guzzling Herbalife bars and Percy Pigs, and pedal like hell.

Bloodwise needs our support – there’s no government funding!

For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t), Bloodwise covers a lot of cancer types like leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, and is still a bigger killer than breast and prostate cancer each year.

 Until day 3 I confess to having been a bit too self-obsessed – would I be fit enough to make the journey? How tired might I be? The real reason for being there was taking a back seat.

But on the third evening, we were given a brief talk by a young guy whose mother had died of blood cancer but was comforted to an extent that research had found ways of giving her a few extra years. It suddenly put into perspective why we were all there.

There’s lots of good news about how research is finding ways to combat these horrible diseases but more money is needed. Blood cancer is particularly hard on the children because they can’t put up with the drugs as well as adults.

Someone on the ride sent us this heartbreaking picture which stuck in my mind during the rest of the trip and kept these pedals going round.

And amazingly, to repeat again, the Government provides no funding. If any readers are in a position of influence, maybe we could get this changed.

Lots of our friends and colleagues have donated generously to our Just Giving page, but if anyone’s got to the end of this rather random blog and could share it more widely it would be great to just raise a little bit more, so that fewer kids in the future have to go through what this little boy had to.

Thanks so much.


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