Today was it, then. One final push and we were there.
We were alive and kicking, (with some minor, yet annoying infirmities, which I won’t go into…yet) and we actually started to believe we could do this!
Just one thing was between us and the finish line…a fifty –mile cycle and..oh…. ok
Just two things stood between us and the finish line – a fifty mile cycle and breakfast. And what breakfast it was.
I have four words for you : Make your own omlette. Genius. I made several of my own own omlettes (yup, the wretched boiled egg-fest taught me nothing, it would appear) and stuffed them with ham and cheese and salmon and lots of other goodies (Not at the same time – ham and slamon is something even I draw the line at.)
Just a quick fiddle with the bikes – gave the chain a quick clean and …er…pulled the chain off. (Great start, Conneff). Luckily the mechanics were on hand to fix it (I know how to fix it, before we get any satirical comments about my mechanical ability, but this would mean going back into the hotel loo to scrub my hands and quite frankly, having done this three time already today, I couldn’t be arsed with that level of faf-factor).
There was a price for this repair though – having oil smeared on my face. I wiped off as much as I could with my anti-bac wipes (they don’t work on my now gnarled and weather-beaten hands,) and off we pootled.
This morning was overcast and, goshdarnit, a bit chilly. Not that I am complaining – it seemed to enhance my performance no end (yup, I am one of those winter-loving odd-bods) and I managed the hills OK (after day two, OK was the equivalent of the four minute mile) even the big one.
I’m not saying it didn’t hurt incredibly (it REALLY DID), but I managed it one go, instead of my usual stop-start method. So pleased was I when I got to the top, that I didn’t stop to take a picture. In fact I was *almost* unphased when I realised that there was another massive hill straight away. (Please read “I *almost* cried”).
Soon enough though, I did encounter a problem in that I was absolutely desperate for the ladies’ room. And sure enough, this coincided with the only time during the whole four days where there was NOWHERE to pee! No bushes, no ditches, no trees, nada. Poo-bags. (Actually at this point, some form of poo bag would have been very useful). So I was very pleased when we approached a village with a tabac which was open – joy of joys!
Hurriedly locking up my bike to the railings outside, I raced into the Tabac with a look of desperation on my face.
“Excuse-moi, avez vous une VC?” although they smiled and gave me the key, I couldn’t help but notice a few smirks and giggles as I raced through to the toilet. Oh god, was my French that terrible? No time to worry though as I really had to go NOW. I had a go at unlocking the door, but I couldn’t get it to work, I kept trying different methods (all of which were very much violently ramming the key in a trying to force it round whilst begging the door to open.) Three minutes later and no success, I rushed back in and asked the lady to help me open the door. She tittered and then followed me, opening the door, much to my relief.
Okay, I was in lycra, I was red in the face and I was desperate for the loo, but really, was it that damn funny?! Had these people never been caught short whilst dressed as a power ranger? I was busy grumbling to myself, when I stood up to wash my hands and then catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realised that not only had I NOT got the oil off my face, but the oil that was on my face was on the tip of my nose and looked very much like I had painted on a dog nose and that my attempts to wipe off the oil had not so much removed the oil on my cheeks as spread it around so it looked very much like whiskers. I was dressed as either a bizarre children’s entertainer or a bizarre sex-pervert. Marvellous.
I managed to get off the vast majority of the oil and tried to creep anonymously back through to the front. Then I realised that when your outfit is made entirely out of lycra, this is not possible. I also realised that now everyone would know that the dog-face was accidental, which suddenly seemed all the more shameful than if I had done it on purpose.
I did the only respectable thing I could think of – leaving the key on the counter and running away – FAST!
Before we move on, I really must mention the markers which Skyline had left for us, which today excelled themselves. They could have just had plain pointers, but they left us little messages of encouragement: “No pain, no gain”, “We love you” on day two, we had the legendary “party bus” sign (in reality a bus stop with little cardboard faces with party hats on, blu-tacked into each window). But todays signs were even better, my favourite being “Mange-tout, Rodney. Mange tout”, which made me laugh even though I was at the time gasping for air at the top of a particularly unexpected climb. They were of great assistance, especially today!
After a few more undulations, I arrived at the water stop, had a quick bag of crisps, a jimmy riddle and I was off again. Only ten miles to the coffee stop which was in a town. Good news as my face was beginning to swell up in a horrifying fashion again and I was assured there was a chemist nearby. All good.
At this point we were going downhill over some gorgeous planes, however, as beautiful as it was, it was very much like driving through a wind-tunnel (sideways) and instead of the glorious standing up off the saddle that I had been planning, I pretty much had to curl up into a ball on top of my bike (although this did have the side effect of making me go much faster – hoorah!).
We started to move from countryside to suburbs, (I did cycle with a lovely French family for a while and we had a chat as much as we could whilst not really speaking each other’s’ language that well. Sadly they reached their destination and wished me luck. Shame that, I was hoping I could persuade the dad to let me have one of his cute children a souvenir) and after only eight miles we were at the coffee shop. I was overjoyed.
This was not to last for long.
Now, I was initially wary of sharing the following information with you lovely people, but as it is already THE most cringingly embarrassing experience of my entire life, I’m not entirely sure how it could get any worse that it was at that moment, so here we go.
I shall start by explaining, to those not familiar with the day to day workings of the ermm,…..lady garden that it is a very delicate ecosystem down there, and the slightest chemical imbalance can cause many an issue. Just a reminder that at this point I have been riding a bike for three days solid, in padded, lycra shorts in (mostly) hot weather. I had been sweating profusely and this had caused certain…uh…lady problems.
I practically sprinted to the chemist, as not only did I feel like I was sat on an ant’s nest but my eyes were also getting in the act and swelling up like a bouncy castle.
I assumed that the pharmacist would recognise the latin for the problem and began to explain issue. Blank face.
The rest of the conversation is below. I have not made any of it up.
PHARM: (Blank stare)
ME: oh, errr… I’ll google it.
PHARM: (Nods furiously, clearly having no idea what I am saying)
At this point, my phone ceases to work. At all, in any way, and I can’t even open the web browser. I am busy cursing to myself, when:
RANDOM FEMALE CUSTOMER: Oh, bonjour, I speak English! I can translate for you!
ME: Oh, thank you so much, I have (mumble name of medical issue)
RANDOM FEMALE CUSTOMER: (Blank stare) Tweet tweet?
ME: (Oh shit) oh non! Er…ummm. (pointing at my nethers) itchy, and …
RANDOM FEMALE CUSTOMER: Your period?
ME: Not quite, no
At this point I have given up any chance of retaining any sort of dignity and begin miming. THE WHOLE SHOP joins in guessing.
RANDOM FEMALE CUSTOMER: Does it burn when you toilet?
ME: No, just itchy (Really massive mime of scratching my bits)
RANDOM MALE CUSTOMER #2: Gonorrhea?
Random shout outs of various hideous ailments from various members of the public who are browsing, until:
PHARMACIST: I know! (Everyone gazes hopefully at her) CRABS!
I just stand there a moment, with my chin on the floor and all the other customers looking me in anticipation, simultaneously looking slightly disgusted.
At this point my phone decided it had had enough fun at my expense and decided to work (at last!) and everybody was very relieved to finally know my ailment.
The pharmacist suddenly realised just how horrific the last five minutes had been and apologised profusely. (On a good note, French medicine is MUCH cheaper than British medicine – Canestan take note!)
So there you have it – one of the most hideous moments of my life which sounds very much like it came from the writers of “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em”.
After some tea, cake and intense psychotherapy we were back en route to gay Paris!!!
Look at the excitement!
I was quite excited. Ok, I was giggling like a three-year-old going to Disneyworld and the next stretch was pretty much downhill and through more urban areas, so a lot of short bursts between traffic lights – it was very much like south London, except with slightly nicer buildings and slightly angrier drivers.
I did also get to play nurse, fixing up someone’s finger (with my ridiculously large first aid kit – they probably didn’t need an adhesive patch and surgical tape in retrospect, but I insisted and he seemed to appreciate the gesture.)
I was certainly back in my comfort zone as we approached the city – I’ll admit the c-bomb was dropped (several times), with the added benefit of them having no clue what I was saying.
When I got to lunch I could hardly believe it – we had almost cycled 300 miles – me!? The fat ginger blob who finds it difficult to walk all the way to the fridge?! As it very much appeared to be me standing there by the banks of the Seine, I guess I had managed it.
To celebrate I had 5 very liberal helpings of the amazing chilli jam pasta and two pieces of apple pie. And then used our first proper “French loo”, which appeared to be in Noah’s ark. At this point squatting was tantamount to stabbing myself repeatedly in the leg, but I was so hyped up, I didn’t even care any more.
After a pause to let everyone catch up, we set off to the meeting point for the final leg.
I was so elated, I decided to sprint for a bit and managed the eight miles in just under half an hour – I’m pretty sure I will never manage this again!
At this point, I am not ashamed to admit that I got a bit emotional. I think it’s when they handed me the t-shirt with “I cycled London to Paris” written on it. I had to take a little minute to myself and then it was time for some photos of me and the gang:
When everyone had arrived and changed into their shirts, it was time to head to the end – (the tower !!!!!!!!!!) in a convoy. I have never felt so tremendous in my whole life.
James was hanging out the window of the love bus with a claxon horn, we were all whistling, ringing our bells, singing, yelling and taking photos from our bikes. In short, a health and safety officer’s worst nightmare. But we had no time for such petty concerns! We were kings of the world!!!
Look! It’s the Arch de Triomphe!
People on the streets were cheering us, the folks on the tour buses were taking our picture, teenagers were trying to high-five us and in what seemed like about 30 seconds (probably closer to half an hour) we were there.
And I was in floods.
But time, tide and cheesy photo ops wait for no man, so I picked up my champagne and my bike and the following ensued:
There was hugging and cheering and general wonder.
After that it was one huge blur, the tower, the hotel, the meal, the pub and then it was all over.
I cycled to Paris. I am still in shock.
When I think of this though I am also reminded of all the amazing work that Mind do every day with absolutely no adulation or rewards at all.
This time last year, they answered a phone call from a desperate soul who didn’t know what the matter was or indeed whether she was imagining everything that was happening to her. She found it difficult to go outside because she was always convinced she had left the front door open and they helped turned her life around by pointing her in the right direction and helping her get treatment. Also helping her realise that this was a hereditary disease, not something she had made up (This girl is me, if you hadn’t guessed, before I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and OCD. I actually don’t know what I would be doing right now if it wasn’t for these guys. Okay, I do – eating cakes and maxing out my credit cards and then crying about it).
So yeah, I cycled a bit and raised some money for some great guys.
I hope to raise some more and cycle some more – LEJOG, anyone?