Hands, Solo, and the Force Was with Me

Well I knew it would be tough. And I’d done the preparation. But nothing could prepare me for the agony and the ecstasy of managing to cycle 285 miles from London to Paris in less than 24 hours on one of the toughest fundraising challenges around.

Or the mental anguish of thinking that with the finish line nearing, having ridden through sunshine, thick fog, mist and dawn dew, and rattling full of painkillers, I was going to miss the target by just a few minutes. All of that preparation, all the pain, and yet I could miss out by a whisker.

Thankfully, and with some fairly hasty, painful, heart-pumping riding around cobbled Parisian boulevards, I made it to the base of the Eiffel Tower in 23 hours, 55 minutes.

I could tell tales of this epic little adventure forever, but today everything aches, even my mouth, I think (colleagues will be pleased to know this). Besides, this is a blog post, so a list is mandatory. So here are 10 things I learned during (nearly) 24 hours in the saddle, for anyone daft enough to try the same:

  1. Puncture-resistant tires may be a little heavier and slower than racing ones, but given the amount of people delayed then trying to catch up after fixing flats, I was glad I’d played it safe. Not a single puncture.
  2. A powerful front light, 400 lumens-plus, may not be essential but without it in that fog, I’d never have made it.
  3. I’d factored in ferry crossing time but forgot about the waiting time at the port and the need to queue for food at rest stops. Meaning the actual time on the bike was more like 18.5 hours.
  4. Riding that long takes its toll in a few unexpected ways. For me and many of the riders, sore hands were a problem – by the finish, gripping the brakes was tough. Shaking them regularly to get blood circulation going was a must.
  5. It’s a long way, but tiredness was a bigger problem. Getting off a boat in darkness, already tired knowing that you’re not going to sleep that night was expected, nearly falling asleep while riding through the eerie parts of the Somme in thick fog was not. I had to keep slapping my face.
  6. Legs stay fairly warm at night over that distance, arms do not. So glad that I brought good arm warmers.
  7. Most people took a GPS device to help with directions and to keep pace. I didn’t, and thankfully found the way fine. As for pace, I couldn’t have done it any faster, so all a little academic.
  8. I’d anticipated riding with a group, but realized about half way through that I couldn’t keep up with the lead group but was leaving others behind. Cue 141 miles solo, through the night, dawn and into Paris. Still pinching myself that that happened. Loneliness wasn’t on the preparation list, and it was mentally as well as physically draining.
  9. How I made it through Parisian suburbs and the city centre within the target time I don’t know. I was tracking behind, caught up and then found some energy from somewhere, stood up and by the finish line had my lungs in my mouth. The force must’ve been with me.
  10. Finally, one thing I hadn’t prepared for was the emotion once it was all over. I just sat quietly in a doorway, trying to take it all in, remembering this all started as a tribute to family afflicted by Alzheimer's and as a thank you to the hospital that saved my youngest. So a few tears, and a lot of pride.

I wonder if I could do it in less than 23 hours?