As my wife and I were getting everything prepared, John, our intrepid organiser and man with the plan called just after 6pm. He called me to let me know two things :
1) he was on his way and
2) Williams Warriors came within a whisker of having no transport, therefore, no way of completing the London to Paris bike ride!
It transpires that even though John had booked the van months ago, the company seemed to be unaware of the reason it was being booked (ie taking it across the channel into Europe). This fairly important nugget of information came as a complete surprise to the hire company when John mentioned it when he picked it up on the afternoon of the 2 September and they proceeded to cancel the booking…………..The day before we supposed to be leaving!
Luckily for myself and the rest of the team, John sprung into action. As time ticked down, John somehow managed to source another van. Now, as a lot of you may know, this may generally be a simple task, but you have to take into account the fact that John needed to get a van big enough to carry 4 bikes, 4 riders and 3 support crew, PLUS provisions for 4 days on the road. Lady luck was definitely smiling down on us that day.
John Williams, you are a legend!
As we needed to get up at 5.30am, the Williams Warriors team comprising of myself, John, Henry Senior and Jaydeep Jadeja plus my wife, Minal and John’s wife, Emma, all crashed at John’s house in New Eltham. Once pizzas had been devoured and beers drunk, the various members of Williams Warriors hit the hay. John’s Dad (the driver) was due to meet us early in the morning. Very early!
It was going to be a VERY long weekend.
Chartwell House, Westerham, Kent 03/09/2011 8.50am
As the British Heart Foundation crew yelled ‘Go!’, our wheels set in motion. Unfortunately, for some of us, our wheels set off in motion slightly slower than others, due to the highest gear being used. I also have to mention that there was a rather steep hill to start off with, PLUS I was struggling to clip my shoes into the pedals. All these factors combined meant that I was struggling to pick up speed and steer at the same time, as this video filmed by one of the Williams Warriors crew members testifies……
At this rate, was I even going to complete a day’s cycling, let alone 3 day’s worth!
Luckily, I soon found out that the more you ride your bike, the easier it gets!
As the early morning mist and chill in the air gave way to a beautiful blue sky and warmth from the watery sun, it soon become apparent that the first day would be the easiest. Especially after checking the useful elevation profile we’d been handed in the morning seemed to suggest that the hills on the way to Folkestone Racecourse wasn’t as steep as we had feared.
A beautiful day in the English countryside
Before we left, we’d told our support crew that we would look to stop at the majority of the stop points to take on food and water. As we weaved our way through the Saturday morning traffic, it soon became apparent that we were being a bit more cautious than we needed to be as we had negotiated just over 10 miles in 35 minutes. In fact, our intrepid support crew were caught off guard by our fl
ying start and had only just managed to park up at the Flying Dutchman pub in Hildenborough as we came into view.
After a quick rethink, we all decided that we would try and attack the route as much as possible so as to finish as early as possible and give ourselves ample time to recuperate before starting all over again the following morning. Therefore, we decided to meet at the Vineyard in Lamberhurst at the 35 mile mark. After taking on water and stripping off any unwanted layers (the sun had become much stronger by 10am. Even to the point that I thought it best to slap on some sun cream!) Williams Warriors hit the road.
We had been incredibly lucky with the weather and it made the journey through the beautiful countryside of Kenteven more enjoyable, as we took in the bowling greens and churches of each village along the way.
Jay, one of the intrepid Warriors at Lamberhurst Vineyard
We found ourselves winding up the Vineyard pathway (35.2 miles; 11.30am) and as we jumped off our bikes, we realised that there was an important cog in our wheel missing (excuse the cycling pun!)…… Our support team! After calling my wife, we found out that they decided to make a quick detour via a pub garden and hadn’t realised that we would make it to the next stop in such good time. Once we’d taken advantage of the delicious homemade cakes and sugary tea, we pushed on towards our goal. Next stop Tenterden!
As the day progressed, we found that it was easier to spot the more cycling proficient teams, (which, we found that we were one of them, unbelievably!), as the teams started to thin out on the roads and there was not so much bunching up, which definitely made the journey more enjoyable.
It was at this point that we started to face some of the hilly terrain that we had been expecting/dreading and we were mildly surprised when it came and went (there were bigger hills to come in France….). Tenterden finally came into view (52 miles; 1.50pm) and we made our way to the Vine pub 76 High Street, Tenterden, which is where our support crew had made themselves comfortable. After spending an enjoyable hour and a half in the beer garden dodging marauding wasps and sampling the ales on tap, Williams Warriors made a fairly unsteady exit from this lovely little pub and back out on the road.
Did our outfits protect us from motorists, or make us targets?
Surprisingly, our refreshments had actually given us a second wind and as the temperatures started to cool, we started to speed through the remaining few villages that stood between us and Folkestone Racecourse. The remaining 18 miles were quickly rattled off and Williams Warriors reached our goal at just after 5pm.
One thing that was interesting was out of the 4 of us, John and I were definitely the most competitive and this was put to the test as we approached the racecourse I took the lead thinking I’d done enough but, as the finish comes into view, John eased his way past and pipped me to the post.