Compared to a few others, we opted for an early night, we were still a little sleep drunk from the night before. Only nag about the morning was that the tea machine was broke! But that feeling quickly faded away when we found out Martin and Gary spent the afternoon cleaning and tuning up each and every single bike apart from one. Poor Mitch had a bad mechanical. His rear derailleur snapped off and the local bike shop in Beauvais didn't have the right one in so in true Top Gear style, he had to settle for the spare bike, a decent little hybrid though.
Morning briefing was for once in glorious blue skies, we all deserved a day in the sun. My Astriid jersey along with a lot of wet kit from others had been kindly washed by Arun (not literally - launderette!). It was decided by the lead riders we would all leave the town as one mass group and it was quite welcoming seeing smiles for a change instead of tears through the rain that we had to endure for the past 2 days! I decided to hang back at the group, plan was to move up through the groups in the day so I had the opportunity to grab everyone on the GoPro...well that was the idea anyway! I spent the morning chatting to ride leader Gary (aka Mickey T or Mickey F! depending who you talk to!), interesting to hear how he freelances in the cycling sector from rides like this to leading older generation on bike rides. We were tempted to let down his tyres when we heard he was a Chelsea fan but as this journey was about charity and looking out for others, I gave that thought a pass! Barbara and Kat was also enjoying the cruising speed and I think most would agree that they both had come along way since Tower Bridge (metaphorically speaking as well as literally!). We remember our first few rides on a road bike, the skinny wheels and light frame really unsettles you but these two began to look more comfortable as the ride went on and didn't let much phase them. Chapeau ladies!
After a small climb, we then descended into Cires-les-Mello for a mid morning munch. The TFA crew had raided a local bakery and brought out these giant pastries, I've seen calmer crowds at a Black Friday sale! The morning consisted of ticking off the local towns, roads were relatively quiet considering we were nearing Paris with each pedal stroke. The direction of the ride was to take an off-road turn though. For what is now known as 'fieldgate', the downloaded route took us up a farm road which resembled something out of Paris Roubaix (was this a surprise? Was there to be a race in a velodrome at the end?!). Well, even the pros would of turned around but the group I was with decided to tackle it head on. I brought up the rear and I think Harry was glad to know I knew how to mend his bent shifter after some very dodgy cracked tiling sent him tumbling. We both then looked up and realised the others ploughed (excuse the pun!) on. The pot holes and broken bricks made way for thick grass which just lead to all our bikes being clogged up. We all had to stop and phone calls/whatsapps were being sent back and forth trying to warn the others behind to avoid this treacherous section. Our group still didn't know how far it was until we saw tarmac again. Again, I stayed behind to support Andy has his beloved Dogma was probably wondering what it had to done to deserve this 50 shades of mud treatment! As the thick grass now turned into a sandy/clay surface, Justin, Arun's partner at TFA turned up with Steve in one of the support cars to make sure we were both ok. The problem did lie with the original gpx files, what might of possibly happened that it could of been re-routed automatically when uploaded. I had merged the 4 separate daily files into 3 full day ones but I didn't tamper with it or deviate, I didn't know the roads and I wouldn't do that anyway. But like I said to Andy, no one was hurt (apart from some mechs and chains!) and it added some character to the day! I do though now have manure stained side walls on my tyres...
Then the inevitable happened. Puncture #3. Ratio of one per day. Can you imagine how many tubes I'd require if I was cycling the world?! Would have to get PedalMeApp to lend me one of their cargo bikes! The roads noticeably started to get a bit busier, I found myself with Martin and Jennie with a few others. Even threw the idea to BikePimp about building a bike from scratch, definitely a project for the future. Lunch stop was in Margency and that was only because the restaurant booked had pulled out on TFA the day before so massive kudos to all the team putting together some pieces and thank god, tea! There was also a huge queue for the bucket and sponge to give the bikes a wipe down after the road who shall not be named...
From here on in, it was agreed to we would all stick together in one mass group. Think that was so no one would get lost in the middle of Paris and also it probably looked quite official everyone riding in their Astriid jerseys. But oh numnutt here nearly lost the group. I had to pull over to sort the GoPro out, I had managed the battery and memory so well but it started making beeps I had never heard before, I would of really thrown a few croissants at people if the camera had died, thankfully it hadn't and only because I had the route up on the Wahoo, I found myself sprinting between traffic lights trying to latch on to the back, it was really a 'notinthepeloton' moment! There was a really sweet moment with Gary (Mickey!) at the back when going through the suburbs (no he didn't take me out for dinner!), a small group of French kids on their BMXs had obviously seen the Astriid peloton come through their 'endz' and decided to join us. Gary tried his best to communicate with them but it did sound dodgy when they were trying to send us a different way to the centre!
It was slow going through the centre of this wonderful city which was not surprising because it was rush hour on a Friday afternoon but it was better than going through South London! We have visited Paris before as a little treat to Mrs NITP and it is a great city to visit, so much architecture, art, food, culture and it's just also really interesting to see how other cities live life. The cycle lanes I thought weren't as bold as our blue highways but then we never felt threatened on the roads even through heavy traffic, it might of helped that we were all in one massive group and obviously on a charity ride. The Eiffel Tower was our final destination and it was some sight seeing it tower above us all as we crossed the Pont d'lena bridge. The French offices of Salesforce had come out to give the team a cheer through as we took the side gravel path past the tower, really thoughtful gesture from their Parisian colleagues. But we joined the main road again at the South side of this iconic landmark to all roll in properly together. Photos were taken hugs were shared. We didn't get much of that as we were mobbed by a Chinese family who wanted a picture with us for their scrapbook!
3 days. 190 miles. Done and dusted!
Straight away, the street sellers were on us like....*you can fill in this bit! We did challenge George, an ex rugby pro turned cyclist with the most fashionable wearing knee pads (he wore them over his calves in the end!), to buy a bottle of champagne to spray for € 5, it didn't take much haggling but then again it didn't take much spraying either! It was some achievement especially from those who haven't done that sort of mileage before. We were just privileged to be part of the challenge, have the chance to ride to Paris and raise some much appreciated funds for a great cause. I'd be lying if it didn't make us feel like what it would be like doing it on our own. People have been known to ride the route in a day, that's an idea we would like to revisit...
As the salesforce team made their way to their comfy beds and warm showers in their hotels, we jumped in with Richard, Martin, Mickey and Jennie to take the van and the trailer full of bikes back to England. This journey was probably as eventful as any of the 3 days thanks to the hardest Pulp Fiction known to man and watching an illegal immigrant raid at the ferry port! Gary thinks he spotted 3 stowaways in the back of a van which was being searched through by UK border control, the driver looked so cool about it I was expecting him to rip off a mask to reveal he's actually Fonzie out of Happy Days (if you were born post 2000, doubt you will get that reference!). A tasty lasagne on the ferry (I heard there was a pizza left over in Paris with my name on - not happy!) and a short nap, we were back on home soil. The drive to Addlestone was quite quick, the others had left their cars there. Me though, there was still a 10 mile ride at 5am in the dark with a big travel backpack and no tubes! So nice though, literally no traffic, wasn't cold, if I didn't cherish sleep so much, this would be a great riding time!
It's only really reading through the comments post-Paris on the whatsapp group that I have truly understood what it meant for the Salesforce group to ride to Paris together. You can tell how much respect and care they hold in Astriid and what it meant to Steve seeing them all arrive in Paris together. You really can't underestimate the exposure and momentum it gives smaller charities having events like this being put on. For some of the riders, they have ridden more miles than they have even done, for others, it was all about bonding with their colleagues better which will definitely benefit them all when the swivel desk chairs replace that bike saddle that had seen them through nearly every weather condition known to man, anyone see any snow?! But it was about Astriid. I received a card and a badge from Steve after the event which was quite touching, think that says it all about the ethos of the charity, simply looking out for others...
When writing a blog or a write up, it can be hard to end with something relevant or fitting but the 3 days had left an everlasting impression on Mitch (derailleur broke guy?! He aptly named the replacement bike The B******!) who has kindly agreed for me to use his poem as an appropriate finale to this memorable journey from one great capital to another for one invaluable charity all by the power of the bike...
The Spirit of the Ride
In a time of monumental adversity
David Schutts had a moment of monumental clarity
He realised he could positively impact the lives of others
And as a gift, to the invisible, fallen-through-the-cracks,
Give-me-back-my-identity! talent... he sowed the seed of parity
Fast forward a year or so, and in support of this inspirational cause,
30 wannabe Trotts and Wiggins decide to help raise awareness
... and enjoy ourselves, in fairness
By cycling to Paris for 'charity'.
Mechanicals, wrong turns, burning thighs, watering eyes
All were present - although spirits remained unaffected
But sweet Jesus and the orphans
It rained on us more than expected
Across the full spectrum of cycling experience,
We shed blood, sweat, derailleurs, layers, calories and tears
To compensate, we consumed soup, chips, crisps and cake
(Sometimes all on the same plate!)
And, sunk plenty of beers
And for each one of us, as Ambassadors, Champions, Evangelists or friends,
Inspired forever (whatever the weather)
To Astriid, we will always.
Always, be connected.