Sunday, 10 August 2014

Our French adventure: 300km in under 24hr and why would you ride your bike at 4am

Inspired by Sophie Radcliffe's "London to Paris in under 24hr" ride, we've decided to go on our own adventure. Initially we intended to go London to Paris as well but due to a high price of Eurostar tickets the final destination has been changed to Calais, with the total distance the same. Also, living in London we starve for views during our bike rides - mountains, sea, fields... anything but houses and cars - and the idea of riding along the French coast seemed very appealing.

Similarly appealing, if a bit scary, was the distance. When I mention to Sean two weeks ago that I'd like to do a 300km ride, he said "Yeah, sure. But why?" :) I'd never done anything even close to that, one 140km being my previous max, and 300km seemed a bit extreme. But I never doubted we'd do it - what other choice would we have? :) We've booked the ferries, downloaded gps data and at 5:15pm on Friday we got on our bikes and set off towards Newhaven to catch the 11pm ferry to Dieppe.

Our route: London-Newhaven-Dieppe-Calais-Dover-London

We had to be in the port before 10pm so it seemed like we had a lot of time to cover 100km however with a few de-tours and navigating our way around bridle ways and fields, we had to push harder on the pedals for the last hour to make it in time. Torrential rain spiced up the first part of our adventure, within a few minutes we became completely soaked, with rain hitting our faces like thousands tiny needles, the roads turned into running rivers and we could hardly see in front of us. The water was steaming up from the hot tarmac, creating a weird, warm fog covering everything around and making the night world look magical and a bit spooky.

We got to the ferry with 5 minutes to spare, got on board and regretted for a moment that we'd decided to travel light which meant we were going to sit in the soaked clothes for the next 4 hours until we hit the roads again. We had a hot dinner that doubled as a post-ride and pre-ride meal. The dinner and hot whiskey warmed up our bodies and our spirits and we managed to get 2 hours sleep before we hit the French coast. A slow disembarking, a quick sandwich and a coffee and at 4am (5am French time) we were cycling on empty roads through small villages immersed in deep sleep.
With the sun getting up, we started to realise what a beautiful world was around us. Green fields were steaming up in the morning light, confused cows started to wake up, corn fields were buzzing quietly in the gentle wind and on the horizon to our left we could see the sea, towards which we were cycling.

We cycled through many pretty towns but Le Treport deserves a special mention because of it's fairytale-like crazy-colourful houses, with wooden, carved balconies, decorative roofs and ornamented brickwork, flower pots and narrow streets, a place you were going through with eyes wide open a big grin on your face.

The roads were beautifully smooth and pot-hole-less, majority of the drivers were overtaking us safely leaving loads of space (actually going onto the other lane) - a nice change from the everyday British routine. The breakfast on the side of a lake, at 8am after 4 hours ride, tasted like never before. Although we were riding faster than planned and had a lot of time ahead so were really enjoying the surrounding, even though we had to improvise in some places when the route was going into roads unsuitable for road bikes,we suddenly lost a lot of time when trying to find some food around lunchtime and realised that we had to really speed up. The legs lived up to the expectations and worked well in the rolling hills and a crosswind - a 40km time trial after a 260km ride feels surprisingly good. And the views again! Hard ups, fast downs, green grass around, white beaches and cliffs below, colourful kites and charming wooden summer houses - "here and now" and nothing else exists.

When we climbed the last hill and could see Calais down below, some 15km away, we also noticed the MyFerryLink ferry going towards the port. We were flying down the twisty roads at 60 km/h, seeing the ferry with the corner of our eyes, wondering who'll get there first - it felt like a race from some twisted episode of the Top Gear. We knew we had more then enough time but if felt great to race like that anyway :)

At 4pm French time we were in the port of Calais, having done 307km, 22 hours after starting from London. At 10pm we were back on the sofa at home, showered, fed and getting ready for a well-deserved rest. A 12.5-hour weekend training done and we still had the whole Sunday ahead of us! Seeing that we were capable of doing that, we're already planning another adventure.

Friday 5pm: Leave London
Friday 10pm: Arrive in Newhaven, ferry leaves 11pm
Saturday 4am (French time): Arrive in Dieppe
Saturday 5am-4pm (French time): cycle Dieppe to Calais
Saturday 5pm (French time): Ferry to Dover, then train to London

When planning the timetable, allow for:
- It takes ages to leave London, for first 50min riding, we were stopped for 20min.
- Approx. 45min for disembarking from the ferry
- Delay of the ferry

- A fact that it's not warm on the ferry (i.e. the air-conditioning is working well)

- GPS route sending you through dirt roads or private roads which you'll need to navigate around. Usually it is quite intuitive and if you keep going in the general correct direction, you'll be fine. If that makes you uncomfortable, have a map or roaming on your phone.

- Obviously, allow for mechanicals and traffic jams - they can reduce your average speed very quickly.
- And allow time for stopping and staring in awe at the world around :)

A question:
Having to avoid gluten, we always find it very hard to find nutritious food during our travels abroad. With restaurants opening up late, the only readily available food are croissants and sandwiches which we have to steer clear of or chocolate bars, and there are only that many Snickers bars you can eat. It seems that we always have to take most of the food with us, which becomes and issue when you're going on a 10hr ride and you'll need some 5000kcal - that's 25 energy bars and you won't fit that in your back pocket. In result, we always waste a lot of time trying to find food. Do you have any experience / advice in that matter? Any recipes for low-volume, high-calorie snacks?

Leaving London on Friday evening, still dry.
Friday midnight, already on the ferry, with the rain still pouring down. 

Hot midnight whiskey for soaked cyclists, an inspired idea.

Sean getting a bit of sleep on the way to Dieppe.

A quick bagel and coffee at 4am...
... and we're back on the road (not easy to take a night shot while riding ;) )
Empy, empty roads.
French 6am, the sun's going up.

We may have been the first people on the street in that town today.

Fantastic houses in Le Treport.
It wasn't just one street, the whole town looked like this!

We could see the sea for most of the 200km of the French part of the ride
French 9am, 85km done, time for breakfast.
It was hillier than I expected.
Idyllic views.
Yeah, we did it! 300km done, now ferry home!
The tastiest dinner ever? Sean waiting impatiently for me to take the photo.
Waiting for the train home. Adventure finished.

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