Early September view of the Sussex Downs on my last training ride 

 

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker

 

Topsy Trustee, Jeff Rodrigue's humourous, insightful, highly descriptive and self deprecatory account of his London to Paris Bike ride.

 

BEFORE

Fundraising is going well, training is going well and the sun is out more and more which means Sussex is drying out and I can get back from the gym into the saddle.  

I have lost 6kgs, increased resistances on all training equipment by about 25% and increased cadence by about the same.

But things didn't start very well - I got hit by a car while stationary, well I was stationary before I got hit! - Luckily, at low speed but the bike was a write off. Then a six week asthma crisis over Christmas but, as soon as that was over, I worked hard and now feel really good.

I injured my left gluteal muscle in the accident and that remains a little painful. The muscle rests on the hardest part of my new so-called ergonomic (ie excruciating) saddle -a pain in the butt- so I'll have to do something about this...ideas?

 

DAY 1

Sunny departure from Waterloo early this morning. Lovely light and shadow of the trees along the Thames, then light dancing on the water at Kingston Bridge. Arrived in Portsmouth around 6pm. We're at a community centre in what seems to be some sort of estate. Probably £250k of bikes lined up in the rather pretty gardens...might be tempting!

 

Around 80 people on this trip, most of whom seem to be in groups. The Fast Boys are all in their twenties or early thirties, smile little and seem effortlessly fast. Plugged into the earth's energy by their relative youth, they glide up the steepest inclines rhythmically and with inaudible breath: statues with moving parts. One in particular simply grunts in a smirking, sullen sort of way when he turns up late and is mildly bollocked.. A late thirties Dutchman joins them occasionally and is as strong as they are and thus humanises them with his humour and ability to connect with the oldest of the riders.

Speaking of which (spaghetti) I am sick and tired of pasta. I 'preloaded' with carbs last week and shortly before this ride, each meal to the point of discomfort. I'm not sure that I can face anymore. Ever. We use about 4000 calories a day on this ride. You might think "oh, a great way to lose weight!"...but it does not work like that. If you don't eat lots of stuff before, during and after you just can't do this sort of ride.

The oldest is probably a woman in her seventies from Oxford.  Voice louder than needed for a normal conversation but not too loud to shock anyone as vulgar yet loud enough for everyone to know she's there.  Of course, and deservedly, the darling of the group. Also a man in his seventies from Canada (ex-London); skinny legs and thigh gap good enough for a fashion model; airbrush him any more and you would end up with a ravioli on two pieces of spaghetti. As active in the saddle as a search engine. Then I am probably next, quiet and a little shy (except here!).

 

You also have to drink four litres during the day and then you are still dehydrated at the end. Otherwise you feel ill for the whole evening and night and anyway you hit a wall within three hours and you're dead as far as any more cycling goes. Also dangerous, as you lose concentration -not good in the evening traffic. Some of the energy stuff is truly horrid. There is a gel that you can use when you feel your carbs running out -it's gloopy, truly horrid and like sucking on a slug.

Of course everyone is fundraising for their chosen causes. I wonder how a modest performer on the bike but backed by a super group of sponsors could ask this question without seeming a total nerd...

The cancer charities are well represented. Most are the big charities who are generally comparatively well-funded. But there are many small cancer charities that, often, get formed when a loved one has died and a friend or relative sets out to raise a revenue stream for research into that condition. Topsy is miniscule by comparison, but I seem to have raised more than anyone else I have talked to...thanks to your generosity.

OMG! Dinner in the community, once it was served, was three sausages, onions, peas, mashed potato and gravy. The Canadian sitting next to me kept making vaguely sexual sounds as he wolfed down his food.  Don't they have 'herby' sausages and peas that ping around the plate because they have been picked too late or not well enough cooked in Canada?

DAY 2
Spent the night with three strange men. A four berth cabin is just about manageable with a partner and two children but with four grown men...everyone was charming, made room for each other, polite about who could pee first (those four litres don't just go up in sweat). In bed by 10.30. I thought it might be windy and with no port window I worried about my asthma but it was fine. There is a sort of comfort with rhythmic snoring -nothing compared to my Camp Dad experience but that's another story- so the night was restful and when it was more than that I must have been asleep.

 

Sullen Boy - subset of the Fast Boys- smiled at me and wished me a good morning on the dock at Caen! Have I done something? Do I smell especially good in the mornings?

The first two hours this morning were painful. In spite of all my post-exercise science-in-sport preparation, my thighs not just ached - I can cope with the pain - but seemed without any fuel. The Wall ten minutes after starting from Caen! After twenty miles it all eased up and the gunk and electrolytes I was putting into my body did the trick.

 

6.30 Getting ready to set off, having just disembarked  from the Portsmouth ferry

 

06.30 Getting ready to set off, just having disembarked from the Portsmouth ferry.


 

Rode along the dock from the ferry in what was left of the pre-morning light after it had filtered through mist, to the Pegasus Bridge and the monument to the British Army Air Corps who landed their gliders here just metres away form the bridge and the German gun emplacement. I was very grateful to be able to honour these amazing men, especially in this year of war commemorations.Went through lovely villages, with timbered houses, the smell of bread still in the ovens of boulangeries. Some look prosperous still but many look like the wealth that built the grand Hotels de Villes and imposing churches has long deserted them. The second half of the ride to Exreux was tedious - just putting kilometres in through France's end-to-end wheat bowl. I was most surprised to find many farms in the early part of the day still offering cider and Calvados with stills that they continue to operate in their barns. Would have loved to sample a few. The last time I was here was in 1971, driving a Vauxhall van converted to be a bedroom and sort of kitchen (yes I was cooking even then!) and the place was full of farms selling Calva.


 

Pretty restaurants in villages that we just cycle past but are destined never to eat in. What we do eat is carby sweet stuff and cold food from Sainsburys, often in the open air and with no where to sit on. Today I could not believe it when we were given penne with pesto, with tomato sauce and with cream and bacon - unimaginably welcome!

I am writing this from my own bedroom in a hotel in Evreux!! God knows what the forty and fifty something  riders will think who have to share their rooms. The hotel is jam packed with us. However, this last group of men seem to think nothing of downing a couple of beers and then doing a steep and long climb with utter composure.
Must go -the second sitting of dinner will be starting soon and this will be my first proper meal since my brother's last supper for me on Wednesday night.

 

Getting ready to set off, just having disembarked from the Portsmouth ferry. It’s 06.30 at the Pegasus bridge. Hard to believe the six Horsa gliders landed within 50 metres of where I am standing, with 28 men on board each and German gun emplacement just by the bridge and more or less got away with it….. several pretty village restaurants serving regional cuisine that we did NOT stop at…instead we stopped in car parks and village halls to take ion water, calories and more gloop

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR WISHES AND KIND THOUGHTS THAT PING IN TO MY iPHONE as I pedal along, often, for long stretches on my own as I seem to ride some way between the quick riders and the slow ones.

DAY 3

 

75 miles to Paris. Overcast, as was yesterday. More wheat universes to pedal through and long undulating roads that stretch in fairly straight lines into the receding distance. After the water stop the terrain begins to improve, pretty villages, tributaries of the Seine, Saturday markets, and long slow hills -the latter made easier if you can hit a cadence that works for your body, the road and the incline. Sun starts to emerge. Lots of banter among those who cycle in groups, their sounds expanding and contracting as they/you pull away - but the hills soon string us out and quiet descends. A lot of long distance cycling is a lone experience, even if there are 88 of you as on this trip. Short-length preoccupations tend to be whether the aches in your thighs are just stiffness or a sign of calorie/salt depletion and the pain in my left butt which has been increasing in the last 24 hours and has become very sensitive -the site of the injury I sustained when hit by a car last June. Otherwise , as you hit a rhythm and roll the miles off, thoughts return to Julie in Brighton, Maria in London, and Izzi at Bestival on the IoW, how I might improve my golf swing, how to tackle the workshop I am doing in Bridgend next week, what I talked about with my mate Diane and so on. Then someone passes me and I realise that I have slowed a little so pick up my pace and the short-length focus returns.

 

Then we are only 20 miles from Paris and we have to re-group and travel in four blocks so that cars cannot  pass amongst us and have to treat us as a vehicle and overtake appropriately. Everything slows up as we try to stay compact, hit red lights that split there peloton repeatedly and cycle at the pace of the slowest. We stop and re-group again 7 miles from the Eiffel Tower and then begin what seems to take more than an hour to negotiate the Saturday afternoon traffic towards the Arche de Triomphe and then the Champs Elysees. We finally arrive about 17.00, having finished the 75 miles for the day. We do a second lap around the roundabout, mildly embarrassing shouts of ‘oggi, oggi, oggi’ from the groups, with the slightly sinister English ‘oi, oi, oi’ response reverberating across the huge rondpoint in front of the tower. Tourists wave from the site-seeing buses, pedestrians look on quizzically.  The organiser’s leader keeps referring to hurrying up as we are eating into drinking time and I am so pleased that I will be having a quiet evening with friends in a village just  outside Paris rather than a bucolic, pound and raucous time.  

A woman who hears me saying I won’t be there for the evening celebrations turns sharply and says, “after travelling together all this way you’re not staying?!”…I think these are the first words she has addressed to me in three days but do feel a pang of (short-lived) guilt. I am maybe becoming a cliche of a grumpy old man or, perhaps more realistically, I have always felt an outsider in this country and among these people I love so much but amongst whom I sit ambivalently, or maybe I just prefer small groups that I know. After all, I trained alone, raised my funds on my own and came on this ride alone. Anyway, you can see me in front of the Eiffel Tower in the classical pose in the websitephoto!

 

That’s it guys. It turns out that I have raised -that is you have given me- the most funds for my charity of all the participants. But there is a little time for my mates who have still not got round to it, to click on the following link to my web page: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeffRodrigues. 

 

My sponsors have given me nearly £6000 so far, and I am hoping this becomes £7000 over the next few weeks. This means that Topsy UK can send our people in South Africa between 100,000 and 130,000 Rand. This will buy six months of seed for the food growing project and half a year’s uniforms for the children who have become orphaned by their mothers’ passing”.