London to Paris – A Tale on Two Wheels – AM Day 1
It felt during the spring as if I had devoted my life to some strange cult I knew nothing about. One where punctures were feared and carbon fibre revered. As an uninitiated member I was merely pedalling about in the vain hope of someday getting “it” – the “why” of why anyone would bother risking saddle sores and injury to whizz about the highways and byways of the countryside on two wheels. I barely enjoyed the training – pressures of a family and job and the need to cover enough miles without getting punctures with which I seemed to be plagued. I ruined my back for a while on a bike with a frame too big (which I have mentioned in the blog some months ago) and crashed to the ground outside my front door smashing up my knee on my brief experimentation with being “clipped in”. Actually I was “strapped in” and that, some may say, is not a bad place for me . I stressed about the fundraising and worried about the hills. In the end, I just got in my car (bike in boot) to spend the night in Twickenham before we set off with not so much as a “can do” attitude as a “let me just get this over with and get my life back!” approach. My rotten family didn’t even wave goodbye, so underwhelmed were they by my proposed endeavour! In Twickenham I lay awake in a borrowed bed listening to the rain in the early hours of Thursday morning before our 7.30 a.m. start utterly filled with dread. Cycling in the rain is do able, setting off in it is fearfully depressing.
Fortunately the rain had stopped by the start time (which was about 9.30 a.m.) after we had been corralled in a hall for the purposes of briefing for over an hour. What you don’t want before setting off on an epic bike ride is a bit of a conference type effort beforehand (with clapping) trussed up in your padded shorts. There were breakfasty bits to be had, but although the heart was willing, the stomach was weak. I saved a cereal bar for later – these are of course totally disgusting, but I soon learnt if eating whatever unpalatable thing is on offer makes the difference between your legs working or going on strike, then down the hatch it goes. Down my hatch went (in no particular order and over three days, not in one go):- bananas, chocolate biscuits, fig rolls, crisps, salted nuts, energy gels, cereal bars and boiled sweets which also helped regulate the gasping for breath up hills. Yeah, so maybe if you want to lose weight don’t think of doing it on a “randonee”.
Part of being trapped in the conference hall was so we (75) could be divided into ability based groups. This system was fairly unscientific based partly on the type of bike you rolled up with and what you had revealed to be your ability. Group 1 was the elite, down to Group 8 who turned out to be the “ones who walked up hills”. I was in 5 which seemed ok but actually it wasn’t. It was filled with young guns. I am more of an 18th century musket myself and although I could keep with their pace (just), the group leader was quite anxious it seemed to keep our position (it turned out to be his first gig) and by elevenses on the first day I asked to drop to Group 6 to save my sanity and preserve my body for medical science and more immediate future use.
I am not going to make any bones about this, the first day was all about me, me, me. So often in life I have issues with my mind messing with my body and by lunchtime on this first day of three the body was up in arms and messing with my mind. The first scenario I have had practice with but the second is completely new to me and I thought I might meltdown. It happened like this. If I say Surrey to you,what do you think of? I think Virginia Waters, rhodedendrons, stockbrokers and sandy soil. Now I just think hills. Nasty, vicious, unforgiving hills – all before lunch. Given that I hadn’t had a great deal of breakfast and that the youth of Group 5 had bustled me up for a couple of hours I wasn’t surprised I was suffering as we approached the lunch stop. I was shocked however that it seemed to take the form of really painful cramp in my legs (thighs to be precise and I believe the largest muscle in our bodies – cruelly two thighs – two biggest muscles to cramp). I have barely had cramp ever, certainly not in my thighs and it was kicking in with vengeance when we stopped and not before I had managed to start a full-on panic about what the hell was wrong with my legs. I queued for lunch but actually couldn’t eat as I was now on the verge of hurling. Shaky – tick, upset stomach – check, pain in legs – you bet. I didn’t cry but I sure as hell felt like it. I was in a bad place and it was called Haslemere, Surrey.