So as promised, an account of our final journey to Paris and the celebrations once we arrived…
I set out with around 10 others from the hotel we stayed at in Evreux at 6.30am. A little later than anticipated but I was convinced by the others that I had made good speed for the rest of the week and it would be good to cycle as much of the final day together as possible…
About 18 miles in and I was starting to wish I’d set out a little earlier… my legs didn’t really want to go and the headwind was punishing. Not only was it hard work doing the ascents but you didn’t seem to get much relief free-wheeling down the other side either.
The water and banana stop at 26 miles was out of bananas by the time I got there – I didn’t realise how much I had begun to depend on them! They had apples and chocolate though so suitable recharged I set off for the lunch stop at 52 miles…
Most of the next 26 miles seemed like they were uphill too so more grit and determination was required. I hadn’t failed to climb a single hill (why should I get off and walk when the hand bikers couldn’t if they wanted to) – and I wasn’t going to start today. Despite the many challenging climbs during the day I am happy to report that I got up each one, still in the saddle – a personal challenge of mine complete!
After another unplanned but popular refreshment stop on the way, I duly arrived at the lunch stop in Versailles at 11.30am. 52 miles in 5 hours wasn’t my fastest of the week but I reminded myself over lunch that it wasn’t a race and that I had done far better than I expected to get to the final day without feeling exhausted.
Lunch was the turning point really. There was a great sense of achievement from everyone there and everyone set off for the final 20 or so miles in a much more enthusiast manner than they arrived! There were a couple more hills to go around Versailles but then it seemed like downhill all the way into the Paris rush hour traffic. All week we had been following a route marked with little orange arrows and the centre of Paris was no different. We were searching out the arrows with sufficient warning to get into the correct lanes at junctions and lights. I have to say that French motorists, despite their apparent disregard for other motorists, treated us all week with the utmost respect and at times, it seemed so much nicer than cycling around Cambridge!
I was part of a small group entering the final few miles and we kept together until our rendezvous. It was so strange turning the final corner leading up to the Trocadero since we’d all been looking for something we recognised as we rode in to the centre. To inch past and finally see the Eiffel Tower was the most fantastic feeling. Most of us were overwhelmed with what we had achieved personally during the week and the view coupled with the most fantastic weather for our arrival in Paris was a fitting end to the cycling.
I arrived at the Trocadero at 1.30pm local time, around a 75 minute journey, and had chance for a little bit of a rest (and an Ice Cream!) while we waited for everyone to come in. We received a final briefing from Discover Adventure then continued cycling on to the Arc de Triomphe for the final ceremony and wreath laying of the week at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A lone bugler played the last post and a French military band played God Save the Queen and The Marseilles before we returned to our bikes for the final ride along the Champs Elysees to the Eiffel tower for a photo call and the finish of our adventure.
In keeping with the rest of the week, more orange arrows directed us on our Bikes from the Eiffel Tower to our respective hotels, but this time for as couple of miles through the mad city streets of Paris at rush hour on a Friday night. Upon arrival at the hotel, my bike was carefully loaded onto a truck to be transported to St. Pancras for collection on Saturday…
In the evening we were treated to a celebration reception on board a restaurant cruiser on the Seine. It was lovely to see Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night. It seems that Parisians (in good weather at least!) like to take some bread, wine and cheese and site by the river on a Friday night. Everywhere you looked people were having picnics. A most enjoyable dinner with 240 new friends followed before Bryn wrapped up the event and wished us all well.
A charity auction then followed for a Team Headley Court Cycling Jersey. Perhaps thankfully(!) my bid was outstripped rather rapidly, costing the luck winner £550.
A day’s sightseeing in Paris was the order of the day today. Someone suggested that I visit Sacré-Cœur – If I see them again, I’ll ask if they were having a laugh at my expense as when I got there I was faced with a mountain of steps to climb! Still the view was well worth it!
I then set about ticking off some of my other ‘must visit’ sights in Paris… The Opera House, Place De La Concorde, The Louvre and a walk alongside the Seine to Notre Dame. I’d love to come back and spend a little more time at each but I’m glad I got to see them before I headed off to Gare Du Nord to catch the train back to London and back home.
Thanks for keeping me company while I’ve been preparing for and undertaking this adventure. It’s been the most amazing week for so many reasons. I can’t thank you enough for your support and your contribution along the way.