We don't class ourselves as the jealous type but when you see all the rides on Strava titled 'Lovely Day in the Alps' or ' Just Cruising Around Belgium', our mind does start to get a bit envious. When Astriid offered us a place to join them and Salesforce on their L2P challenge, we started to practice the puppy dog eyes as we had to get permission from Mrs NITP (we are currently having some time off at home to look after lil NITP). We then also had to sweet talk Nanny NITP to babysit. Permission from both was granted and the preparation had begun.
It's probably one of the more popular charity rides to do, logistically on paper, ride to the coast, ferry over and ride to Paris. But there would be around 30 riders of all abilities and ages taking on the 190 miles or so to this iconic capital in the cycling world. Everyone would be riding in aid of Astriid. You'll be understandably forgiven if you have never heard of the charity but the story behind is quite something (here's a report on the BBC News). The man behind the charity, Steve, explained to me on the first night whilst 30 dinners were being dished out all at once (ordered a burger, ended up with super hot chilli chips - made for a sore morning ride!). His brother who tragically passed away due to cancer saw a hole which needed to be filled for people who were suffering from health issues. He felt people still had a lot to give employers and on the other side of the coin, it was a chance for employers to fill roles with expertise and skilled workers. A simple concept which should already be in place in our modern world and it was amazing to hear that over a million people find themselves in this position, still employable but who find it difficult to be employed because of their circumstances.
TFA were responsible for the logistics (travel -when not on the bike - food, accommodation etc). They liaise with companies and charities who need that support getting events and challenges going. The beginning of this 3 day adventure was Tower of London. TFA kindly took our bag in the night before as we were riding in from NITP HQ into London. We thought this would act as a good warm up even though it was 20 miles. In hindsight, we paid for it later in the day. It also gave us a chance to check out the development in the cycling infrastructure from West London. It was a bit hit and miss until you get into proper central. Cutting through Bushy and Richmond Park was like walking through a library in comparison to getting through Putney and Parsons Green. We were hitting central just after rush hour but the cycle superhighways were still popular and a blessing. One thing we weren't a fan of was the cyclists who ignored the traffic lights and jumped straight through pedestrians crossing. Just no need especially as we caught up with them again up the road...
We only really knew Simon and Amelie from the group as they took part in an interview for us about their reasons for taking part but throughout the day, we got to know names although with everyone in wet weather gear, it was hard to put names to faces! We were all a little late rolling out and getting through South London in the heavy rain was not enjoyable. Coupled with a certain someone getting the first puncture of the ride and the crap cycle lanes in this part of London, the first 10 miles took around 90 minutes! There were designated group riders who spread themselves around: Andy with his suped-up Dogma, Jennie keeping an eye out for the less experienced, Huw making sure people knowing the route and Gary who the rest called Micky Flanagan, I thought he was more of a Micky Thomas (Welshman who scored the winner in that famous cup win for Wrexham against Arsenal in the 90s - we were a bit of a football anoraak!). They were all backed up by Martin who also went by the name BikePimp, he was the main mechanic for the group and it was him and Gary who changed my puncture, I could of easily done it but I just observed at the military efficiency and speed these two worked at, we were all in good hands!
Once we all managed to get out of the hustle and bustle of South London, the roads started to become quieter but also a little lumpier. A climb up Farthing Downs (no link to Farthing Wood!) woke a few of us up. The wet roads made any descent a bit sketchy, no one wanted to come off this early and we still had roughly 40 miles to go! The back country lanes were welcomed though, less traffic and the rain came and went. The group itself fractured somewhat which was understandable and it wasn't a race, we all had each other's back and it showed when someone had a puncture or just needed a chat to take your mind off their weather. It was slow going though, our 'lunch' stop was the pub on top of Turners Hill, we forgot how nasty that climb is with a bit of mileage in your legs, remember we already had 20 miles done before the ride even officially set off! Lunch was a great spread but very late due to the slow going out of London so we worked hard to avoid the chocolate cake that was on offer!
The clouds started to darken again. The rain became biblical. We were towards the front end of the group with Paul, Northerner who was a pocket rocket on the little uphill digs. Our legs started to weaken too, on the flats we could keep up but had no kick for any type of gradient. We both managed to catch up with a group ahead and I heard a couple of moans when they saw the South Downs ridge but our route took us along the bottom towards our final destination of Newhaven. The light was fading and the traffic building too, considering we had been riding since 8am, it was a long day in the saddle. We arrived in Newhaven around 6.30pm, soaked and splattered in road grit, it was a race to the showers and then dinner. Everyone thankfully made it safely to the coast, looking back, that was one of the grimmest rides we've done for a while. No one can control the weather, you just need to be prepared for this and stick at it the best you can.
The ferry crossing was booked for 11pm and we all shared cabins with others. Straight away though I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep. No windows or air vents for that matter meant our cabin smelt like a rugby changing room and we can turn a bit murderous if we're surrounded by snorers so we didn't take the risk of being lead out in handcuffs in France shouting 'they had it coming those foghorns!'. So we opted for the lounge area which turned out to be just as bad as we covered every position in the sleeping karma sutra book all because of aches and awkward sleeping positions! To top it off, we forgot the ferry docked in France on French time which meant less recovery time! Doh! Oh well, only another 120 miles or so...
Special mention does have to go to Simon who opted for white socks for Day 1's weather, this was them mid-morning, not one spec of dirt...he must of taken a bus!!!