Sarah Watson and her husband, Ant Watson, are long-term PHASE supporters. They have previously volunteered in our health posts in Nepal. They raised over £2500 during their London to Paris Challenge! They would like to thank all of their friends and family who sponsored them.
Our journey started by cycling the 4 miles from Mum’s house in Norwich to the station, rucksacks (which would be carried in the support vehicles on the ‘real’ ride) on our backs. Ant had investigated a good cycle route in advance and it worked well. This was the first time we had taken our bikes on a train, so it felt like an adventure from the beginning.
At Liverpool Street began the biggest challenge – cycling through the London rush hour! Again Ant had carefully researched a cycle route – but I knew it would be far from traffic free, and resolved to walk for any frightening bits (which I did!). It worked – and we were quite pleasantly surprised by London cycling – most car drivers seemed suitably respectful!
We cycled 3 miles from Herne Hill to meet up with the other 12 riders and the support team on Clapham Common. Everyone was in good spirits and excited! Ed, with Sarah, part of the support team, organised the challenge on behalf of PHASE. This minimised overheads and made sure that all funds raised went to the charity (we paid our own expenses for the trip).
With a warning from Ed about taking care in the London traffic, we set off. We fell naturally into faster and a slower groups, with the ‘Oldies’ taking up the rear position. Life got more pleasant as we travelled further from London, and we pedalled happily onwards at a steady rate. After around 20 miles the support team were waiting on a village common with much needed refreshments. The subsequent 13 miles, to our lunch stop, was the most unpleasant of the whole trip. We hadn’t trained in traffic and to us it seemed fast and horrible- drivers here were much less considerate than in London. To my surprise, all 12 of us survived unscathed, and the last 30 miles down to Newhaven was uneventful; some parts were even delightful, on small quiet roads. The last mile and a half to the youth hostel showed off the scenery to its best, with views of the sea and rolling downs, on a quiet traffic free lane.
After a wet evening and night, the rain stopped and we boarded the ferry for a 10 am departure to France. The crossing was quiet and dry, but the boat was delayed in docking, meaning we could not start our 50 mile cycle ride from Dieppe till 4pm (French time). Our friends, Derek and Catherine Scott, met us at Dieppe and waved us on our way – a delightful and unexpected surprise.
The delay turned out to be a blessing, as we’d avoided violent thunderstorms and enjoyed a glorious evening of cycling in sunshine. I’d never expected to enjoy myself so much! We followed the Avenue Verte – 34 miles of traffic free cycle way through idyllic Normandy countryside, past fields of poppies, wheat and barley. It was once a railway, so was even fairly flat! A puncture (or 2) in the first group meant that we actually came in first on both legs of the journey that day! I understood something of the huge psychological boost this can give to the legs – though of course this was a strictly non- competitive trip!
For the last stretch we were on small country roads, with a few long hills, which we were pleased to find didn’t tax the legs too painfully. We made it to our destination, Gournay en Bray, at around 9pm. We had no time for showers as we raced down the village street, to ensure that our pre-booked restaurant was still serving. It was, and we enjoyed an excellent meal, topped off with a birthday cake for Ed. I struggled to keep my eyes open as it crept towards midnight…
8am start for our slow group, 9am for the faster ones – with the aim of getting to Paris at a similar time! With an 82 mile day ahead of us, we felt the need to get on with the task in hand.
It was a really idyllic morning, again with sunshine and little wind, as we travelled through deserted country roads and sleepy villages. There were plenty of fairly long hills – both up and down – but our Lake District training seemed to have prepared us and we kept going without too much pain. On one occasion Ant propped his bike against a village road sign, which promptly clattered down its post, trapping the bike! Luckily Ant was wearing his helmet.
Our support team did us really proud, producing an amazing food bar of French bread and assorted goodies for us to feast on at 30 mile intervals. To cycle with a good support team is a wonderful feeling! This was also the only day in my life when I put away 2 complete and substantial lunches (as well as breakfast and dinner)! Oh the joys of consuming so much energy!
The approach to Paris became more challenging as the traffic built up, but continued to have good cycle routes; and once the Eiffel Tower was in sight, there was no stopping us! As we crossed the bridge to the Eiffel Tower our Team cheered us in – and we celebrated with a cold beer which went down exceptionally well. We then had photos – a quick shower – and a final dinner.
The rest of the team – and our own bikes – were off first thing in the morning to catch the ferry back home. We went on to enjoy a delightful few days in Paris, travelling home by Eurostar!
‘We really enjoyed the London to Paris challenge, much more than we expected! It was good fun having something to focus on in our training, and getting into some ‘serious’ cycling, which we had never done before. We discovered all sorts of lovely lanes and routes in our area during training.
I was dreading asking people for money, but actually this too was easier than expected. We emailed all our friends and relatives, many of whom were unexpectedly generous. We also had fundraising evenings at home, which was a fun and different way of entertaining.
As for the actual bike ride – it was amazing! The camaraderie of the other riders and the fantastic support team was amazing. Our support team supplied us with wonderful French goodies while we cycled through France. Everything except the actual peddling was taken out of our hands, to make the whole thing a rewarding experience.’
If you’re interested in joining our London to Paris challenge in 2016, or would like more information, then please: click here or email sarah@
To view all the PHASE challenge events click here