While some may have been overdosing on Easter eggs over the recent Bank Holiday, Take The Three’s chocolate gluttony was guilt-free.
Chocolate is a pretty good source of energy, we’re told, and energy is what you need when embarking on a 500km+ bike ride from London to Paris, especially when preparation for the endeavour by yours truly involved buying a road bike a month beforehand and only using it twice briefly before heading out for the main event.
If you’ve been following the developments of Steve Henry and his Arctic Rugby Challenge associates, this will all fall into place as the ride was Take The Three’s attempt at supporting this amazing cause that aims to raise a huge amount of cash for Wooden Spoon, the UK’s leading grant-making charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged children and young people through the power of rugby.
A few days later, I was one of six exhausted individuals sat round a small café table a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, enjoying a glass of the local pop, and discussion turned to how we’d have done things differently. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Day 1. London to Portsmouth – ‘It Started So Well’ (approx. 130km 150km)
Fresh-eyed, bright and breezy, six enthusiastic, lycra-laden adventurers and a smartly stickered Freelander (the phrase “All the gear, no idea” comes to mind) congregated at Marble Arch in London. The aim? To triumphantly cruise into Paris four days later having taken in some of the finest sights northern France (and Surrey) has to offer.
We thought nothing of the 15min delay in getting started as Steve (he’s the intrepid explorer after all) led us on a simple saunter through the quiet streets of London on Good Friday and a tootle through Hyde Park and Fulham before we crossed the river and meandered through Richmond Park, where we … realised an old, worn tyre needed replacing.
After a stop off at the Kingston branch of Evans Cycles to replace the tyre and stock up on additional kit (so “Some of the gear, but still no idea” would be more accurate!), it was a short pedal to Hampton Court Palace, where our bacon butty breakfast order was aptly issued by way of a numbered wooden spoon; no.1 no less! This really was the Tour of the Wooden Spoon, or more appropriately, ‘Le Tour de Cuillère En Bois’.
But it turned out that the Kingston pit-stop was the first in a series of hitches that our courageous leader Steve could not have foreseen, such as muddy Thames-side paths, punctures and various Garmin-related navigational mishaps, including one particular cycle-path coming to an abrupt end on the side of the A3 and the need to wheel the bikes 500m down the grass verge and climb over a fence. Admittedly you could argue we didn’t ‘technically’ cycle the whole way to Paris.
All this meant that, come early evening, the team faced a race against time to reach Portsmouth in time for the overnight ferry crossing. An annoying drizzle and the undulating climbs of the Surrey Hills are not conducive to speed cycling but a couple of punts at our vague southerly direction later and we crawled into the Portsmouth ferry terminal with 15minutes to spare. “15? That’s loads,” you say. Not when the original itinerary had us enjoying a tour of the local Hambledon vineyard and still having an hour to kill before ferry check-in!
Still, we made it, limbs (and bums) sore but just about intact – all that remained was a bit of casual stretching on-board the ferry … whilst holding a much deserved glass of wine of course.
Day2. St Malo to Domfront – ‘Société nationale des chemins de fer velo’ (approx. 130km)
A bad night’s sleep later, partly due to cabins being booked for the wrong evening and having to camp out in the overly air-conditioned ferry cinema (adding to Friday’s comedy of errors), and Brittany Ferries safely delivered us into the port of St Malo. Here the decision was taken to enjoy a stereotypically French leisurely breakfast, rather than saddling up and putting some miles behind us, so the local café whipped us up a couple of even more stereotypical croque-monsieurs (a couple each in some cases).
Even though it was a short ride to the stunning Mont Saint-Michel, this early delay meant the sights of the historic commune, one of France’s most recognisable landmarks, were taken in from afar in the car park, rather than the originally planned tour of the island!
Pockets loaded with Lucozade gels, we continued east through rural Normandy, following the Sélune River and passing through small villages such as Ceaux and Pontaubault, where a charming local eatery allowed us the lunch options of ‘starter’ and ‘main-course’, without any indication as to the dishes’ ingredients or sign of a menu.
From here though, the route delightfully navigated itself as we joined a greenway along a disused railway line, passing quaint converted station buildings-turned-houses in an area of quiet countryside known for its Calvados and apple cider. Despite the idyllic, traffic-free cycling conditions there was, however, no time for tastings as the daylight hours dwindled and we passed the villages of Mortain and Ducey.
Again cutting it fine before the light disappeared completely, a fatigued team arrived in the medieval town of Domfront, where the hotel fortunately doubled up as the local steak restaurant.
Steve and his fellow Arctic adventurers set off for the North Pole this week, where they will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most northern game of rugby ever played. You can track their progress at www.arcticrugbychallenge.org/ and there is still plenty of time to donate to this fantastic cause via Take The Three’s Justgiving page at: www.justgiving.com/JamesArchtoArcCycle/.