Sunday, 28 July 2013

London to Paris - Part 1: London to Dover - and Calais

Tuesday 16th July 2013

We travelled down in the early afternoon. It was hot and sunny and our trip started with all the forethought and seriousness of a proper expedition; our bags were stuffed with enough Lycra to equip a Tour de France team and our bikes were firmly anchored to the roof bars. The journey was relatively easy, no stressful traffic hold-ups and almost before we knew it we were circumnavigating the M25 looking for Croydon.

Croydon is a pleasant residential suburb for commuters into London - it was the location of London's main airport until the second world war and there has been much regeneration since. But we were more interested in the roads - in particular the gradients. We noticed it was hilly. We drove up a long twisting rise that silenced us as we contemplated what the possibility would be of riding up such a gradient on a bike. None according to Gary.

Selsdon Park Hotel
We arrived at The Selsdon Park Hotel and Golf Course - a picturesque country resort, once the seat of the Bishops of Rochester, situated in 205 acres of finely manicured Surrey countryside. It's an impressive looking place. We booked in and took our bags up to the room - which was adequate - but sooooo hot! - it felt as though someone had left the heating on - I tried opening the windows but the security arrangements meant that the maximum aperture was only around 25mm - insufficient!

We adjourned to the bar - the air conditioning was working at full tilt in there and we felt comfortable. It was 4.00pm, we'd already had two pints - this might not go to plan.

As we looked out over the car park we watched more and more cyclists arriving - the anticipation was becoming more noticeable - the palms sweatier. Two more pints and we are watching highlights from the days stage of The Tour on the big screen TV - we are joined by Stephen who introduces himself and asks if we are riding - we enjoy some chit-chat about bikes and training before he wanders off to join the group dining experience in the adjoining restaurant - we didn't bother booking in for that.

At about 7.00pm we are joined by Dave who is riding with us - he got held up at work and then had to get across London in the rush hour - we go down to register and pick up our luggage labels and route maps - and that's it we're about done. We retire to bed early - its and early start tomorrow morning.


Wednesday 17th July 2013

We're up at 5.30 and down for breakfast by 6.00am - the hotel room was unbearably hot, we didn't get much sleep - in fact the whole of the hotel is sauna-like (except the bar - best avoided at this time). The breakfast room is full with cyclists - cursory nods are given in the way of greeting and everyone stocks up on full English with coffee and orange juice.

After that we check out and take our bags down to the awaiting trucks, then get our bikes and join the masses at the front of the hotel. As you might expect there are delays, late arrivals etc and it is 7.20am before we start rolling out of the car park on route for Dover. It's baking hot again, even at this early hour, I suspect it will be tough by midday.

video

There are 150 cyclists suddenly spilling onto the busy roads of Croydon - motorists are impatient; it isn't long before horns are papping and I can hear expletives being exchanged. We make gentle progress through the leafy suburbs before heading into quieter country. The Ministry of Agriculture has to take some blame for what is happening down here - medieval copses have morphed into paintball playgounds or corporate bonding camps. Ancient barns turned over to aromatherapy temples, Hop farms into holiday cottages. As we journey along narrow, untidy roads the peloton forms into separate groups, we're part of a group of 40 or so, strung out single file, so that we snake through the countryside. There is a protocol when riding in a group like this, a series of hand signals to warn those behind of potholes or obstacles in the road, or simple shouts to warn of cars either approaching from behind or in front. The shouts went something like this:
"Car"
"Car up"
"Car"
"Badger"

A dead badger creates quite a hazard to a group descending a hill at maybe 30mph.

Oast Houses
There was quite a long climb up to the first waterstop - by now the field has thinned dramatically - I climb the final half mile alone - having somehow lost the others. We stop at a pub and fill our bidons with fresh water, there are energy bars, bananas and chocolate for those who need it. We fill our bottles take a banana and we're off. The sun is rising and gaining strength as we head deeper into the 'Garden of England'. It's a big shock to be honest; much hillier than we'd expected, and the hills are steep. One after another they roll on - like a natural rollercoaster, all taking place in a shimmering heat-haze. Gary and I get lost around lunchtime - somehow we missed a turning and have to retrace our steps to find the village hall that is our midday stop-off point. Lunch is excellent, a shaded bivouac with trestle tables containing an abundance of freshly prepared dishes for our sustainance. There's bread, cheese, lots of pasta dishes, salads, coleslaw, ham etc etc - plus a good selection of cakey things for dessert - it's all good and we relish a rest in the shade and off the bike.

Soon we're off again - more hills - it really is a relentless grind now - and each one seems a little harder than the one before - all the time the sun is hotter and everyone's pace is distinctively slower than this morning. We pass through a small village 'Wye' and decide to stop at a roadside pub - we have plenty of time before the ferry departure and the heat is making the temptation irresistable. We secure our bikes and step into the bar for a refreshing, cool lager-shandy - perfect. Other riders pass but none join us. We contemplate another but decide to press on.

Just another twenty or so miles to Dover - a few more hills and we're there - the last part of the ride is flat or downhill as we roll into the port and find a space on the grassy patch opposite the ferry terminal - now it's a question of waiting. Our ferry leaves at 5.30 - we have an hour wait. There are people arriving all the time - and a few in our bunch who are missing -  as time presses on I hear the organiser say he will have to go out in the van to scoop them up - just then they arrive in, the last few cyclists, visibly drained and looking tired. This was a tough first stage - and we've still got a few miles to ride in France to get to our hotel.



video


Riding onto the ferry was an experience - a bunch of 150 or so riders holding up the traffic and making its way over various roundabouts, ramps and obstacles before coming to a halt just on the edge of England - The white cliffs were right beside us as we awaited to be checked in/on. The last few yards had to be negotiated on foot, and we were given a complete bay to ourselves for our bikes. By now its about 5.30 - the sun is still strong and the sea calm as we set off across the Channel. We get to the restaurant but there's not much of a selection and I'm still feeling full from lunch - I opt for just a sandwich whilst the others get chicken and chips. Add on the hour time difference and it's near enough 7.30pm by the time we get off the boat in Calais. Then its a ride of about 5 miles to our hotel - This one has air-conditioned rooms (hooray!) - We queue for our room passes, get our bikes sorted, find our bags, get showered and its bed time - no time or energy for a drink at the bar - just need sleep!

Statistics:
Max speed: 30.1 mph
Height gained: 4859ft
Max temperature - 104f
Miles: 85.45
Calories used: 7582


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