London to Paris – A Tale on Two Wheels – Day 2
It had turned out to be my mind over my matter (mainly thighs) thus far and so the theme continued on day 2. We assembled in the Premier or Travel Lodge car park at either 5 or 5.30 a.m. – a rag tag and motley crew waiting for roll call and to walk to the ferry. My mind had gotten me out of bed, my body would quite happily have still been snoring at this point. However, the recovery powers of the body were proving to be quite amazing. Although I was exhausted and not being asked to cycle yet, only shuffle seaward, I could sense my legs were in much better shape than 10 hours before – I think I may have thanked Jesus and all that is holy.
You may have noticed that aside from myself and 73 others my sister, Emily, was also in attendance at the start. She had also enaged upon the madcap scheme and we were now sharing each others pain and various double beds en route. She is not much of a morning person, neither am I, not much was said in the a.m. of day 2, apart from a bit of green-eyed verbal monster at the people innocently queueing for the ferry to start their holidays.
I had started reading “What I Talk About when I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami the day before. I knew nothing about the author and I had been looking for a book about cycling, but the cover appealed to me (as did the book’s slim profile). These are 10 things you need to know about him apparently, that I didn’t know at the time.
The bit I had read the night before had been profound. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. I was later to read that muscles are like dogs – inclined to indolence, you need to show them who’s boss, they might protest a bit before fairly quickly falling into line. All this was manna from heaven for me. Instead of retreating into my own private hell where my legs were dictating my mindset and I was struggling to redress the balance, I just took on this succinct thought. Of course there would be pain along the way but what I chose to make of that was up to me. Anything that mentions dogs helps too… It is true that muscles will just accept the demands placed on them if increased incrementally and with loving sterness. It was a metaphor I could work with.
http://www.exorcising-ghosts.co.uk/index.html – for more on Haruki Murakami and his books
We had an awfully rough crossing from Portsmouth on the gliding thing (was it a catamaran? I wasn’t paying attention). In my new-found zen state I shut my eyes and imagined I was a baby enjoying some violent, but loving, parental rocking. Despite the sounds (and smells) of vomiting all around I was not a bit seasick which is a first for me. It was actually quite enjoyable in a way. Once reunited with the bikes at Le Havre I put my saddle up an inch or so and it was a relief to get going. Every day before setting off I was gripped with anxiety in my stomach, fearful of what the day held. It was always better once we began. Maybe I should apply that to the rest of life!
Day 2 turned out to be mainly pleasant. We had some rain mid-afternoon and I hopped off and walked up the crest of a wet and slippery hill. We were seeing more of Groups 5 and 7, both lead by the eager rookie guides. Getting lost and technical issues seemed to be the reasons we “slow but steady” crew were bumping into the speedier merchants. So far we had had no punctures at all. A couple of chains had dropped off, mine included and usually on hills due to amateur spasms of gear-changing but more or less, so far so good. Apart from the regular interloper called cramp, some riders were complaining of saddle sores but I was pretty spot-on thankfully. With the rain though, came a wet derriere, swiftly followed by some ample chafing – a cyclist’s worst nightmare. By afternoon tea stop (huddled under a gazebo in the rain) the chafing was threatening to turn into something more substantial. That makes me think of James Cracknell et al in the Antarctic, frost nip can turn into frost bite and then things start dropping off! You get the picture.
Emily, having entertained a bit of this chafing upstart in training, had come well equipped with “Udder Cream” – moo. I having not had it before (like the cramp) had brought some Vaseline, but had foolishly left it packed in luggage and it wasn’t on the bike. Somehow I deduced that Emily had done the same with the Udder Cream and decided drastic action was needed if I was to avert a saddle sore disaster. I whipped out my Body Shop Vitamin E lip salve and applied it to a far larger surface area than its lipstick size is designed for. Obviously I didn’t do this in the tea tent, that would have been rude. Instead I had to hurry through the delicate process in the loo with a queue outside.
I felt immediate relief and was quite pleased with my make do and mend approach. I reported back to Emily and suggested she didn’t borrow the lip salve any time soon. It was only then she said the Udder Cream was on her bike all along! Too late, we had to set off. This cycling was paced, we were kept to the clock. No meandering about the lanes looking at stuff. No long leisurely lunch stops under the trees. It was all 5 minutes here and 1o minutes there and kick-on on the bikes to make the time. All this is inevitable if you have to cover a certain mileage in a day. What it means though is that although you were there, you never really feel like you were.
It’s less relaxing than driving although you are travelling more slowly (ok, perhaps not always). The concentration required to do about 12-15 miles an hour safely is considerable. You have to pay attention, not be too distracted by the sights around you. Be constantly alert to traffic, “car back” is a shout we heard hundreds of times over the three days. That said you can do things on a bike you can’t do when you are running. You can adjust your position, change your gear, have a drink, eat something, chat to your neighbour, free wheel and scandalously even enjoy the odd moment.
The moments I enjoyed looked very much like this.