Day Four: Excuse-moi; Je n’ai pas de crabes, dame (Beauvais to Paris)

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.

Oh crap.

The rest of the conversation is below. I have not made any of it up.

ME: errr…CAN-I-STAN

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.

ME: NOOOO!

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:

Team Facebook (Simon, Tony, Luke, Me & Sarah) give the two-thumbed Macca seal of approval.
Team HARD, being hard.

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:

Obligatory “cycle above head” shot


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.

Not that I’m smug or anything…

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?

My sponsorship page is still open – please feel free to donate to the fabulous charity, Mind.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/cathyconneff

Day Three: When Nettles Attack! (Abbeville to Beauvais)

After a much needed eight hours of shut – eye, I was awake and raring to go (my dreams tonight had obviously been much more eventful – woke up with both pillows on my face, maybe someone had brought some biscuits into the council planning meeting this time. Maybe Sarah had had enough with my biscuit obsession. Who knows?). Sadly it wasn’t just my head that was keen to “make a movement”…

After four trips to the ladies room before breakfast, it became clear just HOW bad an idea the seven hard-boiled eggs had been and I was worried that I may not be able to get very far in this state. Luckily, I had remembered to pack a “leading brand of diarrhoea treatment” in my day pack, so soon enough (after a couple more trips to the ladies’), I felt much better.

Off I shot and this morning I decided that an apt motivation would be sing the entirety of the Beatles’ White Album (sincere apologies to everyone in earshot, especially for Don’t Make Me Cry, which was accompanied by bobbing perkily up and down in the saddle like a sweaty, deranged Dick Van Dyke).

Luckily for me, this morning we were doing a staggered start, so not everyone had set off at the same time and it didn’t take as long as I thought to catch up with my pals (After a quick photo stop on a bridge with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus – see below).  I think that Sarah, Luke and Simon possess magical powers of some variety, as the morning was pretty much entirely uphill, including some quite steep climbs, but today proved tear free and I managed to stay on the bike (extremely hard as that was at points!)

We did have a touch of rain, but it was a miniscule amount – just enough to make it fun, but not enough to soak you to the skin. I think my constant shouting of “plip-plop splish splash” was possibly a lot more annoying than the actual rain anyway. But it pretty much stopped as abruptly as it started and it took all of about 5 minutes to dry off completely. Result! It also made the road damp, which made an impressive “whooshing” sound and also made everyone in front of you look like they had pooed their pants.  In retrospect, maybe I could have got away without the Immodium after all…

Today was also the day for the tractor enthusiast, as we seemed to pass about 30 of them in about an hour.  I do enjoy a good tractor, but as I failed to take any actual pictures of any, please make do with this approximation (NB: Model may have had beret and ‘tache added in post-production):

After not that long, (although long enough for the speedy types to have come thundering past us, managing in 40 minutes what had taken us about 2 hours – sigh), we reached the first water stop which was by this lovely church:

More wondrous crisps, oranges, bananas and cereal bars along with some yummy passion fruit cordial helped us muchly. It was all going rather well, we thought.  Everyone was feeling a bit jolly and the cooler weather had helped us to feel a bit less groggy (and hallucinatey) than yesterday.

It was time for another toilet stop.

Although the stop was picturesque, it didn’t offer much in the way of cover, so I gingerly hopped into the largest patch of bushes could find, until I found the least exposed bit. It has taken a while and I was feeling a little bit smug. I had my aloe vera paper and hand sanitiser at the ready. I was free! I was at peace! I was…sitting on a nettle!

Now I can’t imagine that lowering one’s bits on to a nettle is pleasant at the very best of times, but I can assure you that having cycled the best part of 200 miles by now, it was deeply traumatic. So much so that I leapt up, emptying much of the content of the hand sanitiser over myself. Awesome. Ah well, at least I was free from harmful bacteria. Everyone else genuinely tried not to laugh, but it was too much. Another comedic medical moment from the Conneff. (You should come to my smear tests, they’re an absolute hoot! Not really; please don’t)

I just sat on a nettle

However, somehow I survived this deadly nettle strike and soon we were ready for the off. We managed about 20 yards before we noticed a large group of other cyclists taking pictures of a beautiful chateau. We joined them and discussed various means of infiltrating it and getting a cup of tea and some ginger nuts from the owners. Posing as window cleaners and finding a massive coat and sitting on each other’s shoulders were discussed as possible methods, but we soon realised we should probably just get on with it.   But not before maturity levels hit a new low. (I was clearly affected by the nettle venom, your honour):

Now the next bit was one of my favourite stretches of the whole thing; lots of lovely, rolling hills, sunny, but not too hot weather and more gorgeous countryside – wonderful!  It also provided one of the conundrums of the trip – one of the arrows was at the very top of a motorway bridge – had they stopped on the motorway, risking life and limb to show us the right way – or had they employed the sitting on each other’s shoulders method??? I wonder if they got any ginger nuts?

I was still pondering these pertinent questions when we reached the coffee (or Thé, in my case), stop.  I was very happy, as I got to use my ridiculously large bike lock, which had been sitting round my waist for the past two and a half days, doing very little indeed – hoorah!  Sarah bought the drinks and some Snickers bars too – I was elated!

One thing which was noticed at this point was the lack of people in the villages we had been through today – true enough there were the proprietors of the Café, but there was also a school (empty) a post office and several offices in this village – all of which seemed to be completely empty.  Where had all the people gone? Maybe they knew we were coming. Maybe they had gone to buy some gingernuts. Who can tell?

One thing’s for sure, there was no shortage of cyclists here – with the large rabble squeezed into the café, I half expected the ghost of Norris McWhirter to pop out with his clipboard at any moment and award us with some sort of trophy.

Only a short stop here, for we wanted to get to lunch in some sort of semi-reasonable time, so we soon departed and arrived there a lot quicker than expected. I was pleased as punch – the weather was now gloriously sunny, the food was GORGEOUS (Black pudding and pickled onions? – YES PLEASE!) and everyone was having a bit of a sunbathe on the lawn of this beautiful church:

And enjoying this guy. (I don’t know who this is a statue of, but he’s rather handsome, isn’t he?):

Pretty perfect all round really. Until James got a phone call heralding that the front of the pack had FINISHED and wanted directions to the hotel… Imagine a balloon, a happy, red balloon (I was quite burnt at this point) bobbling around in the sky. Now imagine a hot air balloon going very fast, passing the regular balloon and the little balloon slowly becoming flaccid and falling slowly out of the sky. This was that moment.

I set off.

Although I was having a lovely time, during the course of the afternoon, my left arm started to go mental – It was hurting like crazy and it kept going into this weird spasm thingy, requiring me to wildly flail it about like a derranged harpy. (Shut up, Chris, I said like a deranged harpy), so I cunningly moved my wrist bandage up to the top of my arm and it slightly dulled the pain – good enough for me!

I had fallen quite substantially behind after all this shilly shallying and I felt I was in serious danger of being picked up by the Love Bus (the minibus used to carry the infirm, the injured and the in….in……ummmm……slower people), so I went for it, sometimes riding in excess of TWELVE MILES PER HOUR! (In your face, Barry Sheen!) until I saw what looked very much like a tandem. Wow. Who would ride a tandem up and down these hills? I soon realised it wasn’t a tandem, but rather Sian and Hayley, peddling in PERFECT UNISON. It was really impressive, actually.  Sian very kindly offered her ibroprufen gel at the rest stop and this put a big smile on my face.

In fact, I was even happier when I realised that it was just at the top of this “Slight Undulation”. (Ok, I was happy when I got to the summit, there was much grumbling and some choice language when I saw it from the bottom!)

After some painkillers, picnic and a piddle we set off again, up through a gorgeous little village (with people in it!), past some more tractors and on to a massive dual carriage way. This wasn’t great, the road surface seemed to comprise of muesli and glass and was full of people coming home from a busy day of le working. Also the others were following me and after last time, I wasn’t feeling hugely capable of that job!

We eventually got of the dual carriageway, and onto a cycle path (everyone still together, thankfully) the most confusing cycle path in the world (with the exception of Cycle superhighway number 2 and its lane-jumping ways). After about another half-hour of hernia-inducing exertion, we arrived at the hotel, desperate for a shower and some eye drops.

I haven’t had hayfever much this year, but somehow, Sarah and I had contracted MEGA OVERKILL hayfever and were both pretty much looking like this:

There were no pharmacies about, so we made do with RINSING OUR EYES and taking some hayfever tablets. This seemed to have a slight impact. However, our mood was soon elevated by beer and the French version of “Four Weddings” (the TV show, not the film). We were then further delighted by the free flip flops in our room:

It must be said that I had a fair few beers and maybe even some wine this evening and over our (amazing) dinner, and ended up imparting way too much information about “spidermanning” your ladyfriend, (please do not google this if your squeamish or easily offended), discussing what “batmanning” your ladyfriend might involve (sitting and sulking all night, we thought) and revealing my obsession with nerdy computer games, which at this stage was taken as a euphemism for something entirely different.

Oh, how we laughed! (Actually I think I was the only one laughing, but there you go.) Then Sarah’s vegetarian meal arrived. It was a fish. Called Colin, (no, really).

Then we really did laugh.

And then, little miss inappropriate and her friends went to sleep.

My sponsorship page is till open – please feel free to donate to the fabulous charity, Mind.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/cathyconneff

Day Two: My legs! My precious legs! (Calais to Abbeville)

My alarm is a horrible sound at the best of times: In the middle of a dream (which, incidentally was about a council planning meeting for a new school – how thrilling is my subconscious mind, eh?), after cycling uphill for the best part of a whole day, it is verging on apocalyptic.

It was 6.16am and it was time to get up.

Thankfully, we had both showered the night before, so we just had to roll out of bed and get lycra’d up. Being the fun sorts that we are, we decided to do this in the style of zombies. Well, I did, anyway. And it wasn’t really a choice.

It was amazing to find that the bag it had taken three days to pack, could be re-packed in under four minutes when you just rammed everything back in and sat on it, whilst uttering a range of expletives that was pretty impressive for the time of day.

The previous day, it had become clear that the behemoth that was Sarah’s pannier bag, was too heavy and made her bike sound like a helicopter, so we took it off the bike. However, we were then faced with a new problem – where was she going to keep her stuff?

Now ladies and gentlemen, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but surely on this occasion, we took the ingenuity of McGiver, mixed it with the magical voodoo powers of the A-Team and the pluck of Valerie Singleton, multiplied it by a trillion and came up with … this:

 

 Yes. That is Chris’ washbag and that is Sarah’s belt, or rather they used to be. They were now THE ULTIMATE IN COMPACT PANNIER BAGS!!!!!!

We were ready and raring to go (please read “we were tired and a bit grumbly and it really hurt when we sat on our bikes”) and soon we were off to meet the others at the Holiday Inn.

My grump got worse when I found out that the Holiday Inn people had had sausages for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong; our breakfast was lovely, ham – good, cheese – good, crepes with banana and Nutella – extra good.  I just wanted my share of hooves and trotters, is all. However, everyone was very impressed, (if you count suppressed laughter as praise,) with the tartan pannier of genius, so this lifted my spirits somewhat.

Soon we were off and even in the dim light, the scenery was breath-taking (Oy! Give it back – I need that!) My knees were a bit sore, but as we got going, the pain subsided and soon only my groin was in immeasurable pain. Huzzah!

 

I was really enjoying the ride, gentle slopes, (actual undulations!), picturesque villages, a lovely Skyline….but oh!  What is this I spied in the distance, beyond the tractor? A hill. Glum face.

Ah! But we are turning away from the hill – in your face, hill! I spit on your children! I am turning up this road which is completely…. Oh, Jesus wept… completely a cliff face, practically. (Ok, not at all a cliff face, but this is me you’re talking to here and I am prone to slight exaggeration from time to time….)

I would love to tell you that I managed to MTFU and take the hill in my stride, but the fact of the matter is that poor Simon had to listen to my whimpering (too dehydrated to manage tears) for the next ten minutes as we climbed the hill V E R Y  S L O W L Y indeed.  There were little signs from Skyline telling us they loved us as we went up. This did make me cry.  Oh lord, now I was getting hormonal as well as stinky and incompetent.

Thank god we got up the hill to the rest stop before I started singing Eric Carmen and sobbing at pictures of babies.

After a rousing bag of salt and vinegar crisps, I managed to at least look like I wasn’t a gibbering wreck and was ready to answer the call of nature. Literally. It was the moment I had been dreading – peeing in a bush.

I know, you’re now probably aghast that I have never had a widdle al fresco before, but I’m a bit high maintenance when it comes to excreting, (It took me 27 years before I could bring myself to poo in a toilet away from home.) This is the closest I was ever going to get to being Bear Grylls, so off I went, searching out a suitably inconspicuous location, gingerly readied myself and…ooooh – look at the view!

 

 It was much less traumatic than anticipated. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. It was liberating and nice and yes, I still had Andrex aloe vera loo roll and a sandwich bag to put it in afterwards and some antibacterial hand sanitiser, but hey – apart from that I was at one with nature! Woo!

The next hour or so was a blur. I don’t really remember anything apart from an overwhelming sense of how alone I was and panicking that I was lost, so I stopped and had a look at the map, propping my bike up against a hedge…when a tiny little snake popped out.  It was quite cute in retrospect, but I have never moved so fast, yelping all the way. Snakey went back into his house, probably wondering what was up with the crazy women – he was only saying Bonjour.

Back onto the bike and still in a bit of a trance I passed a chocolatier. I can tell you that it truly too a will of iron to carry on at the point but I was spurred into action by the passing Skyline bus, who sang Bob Marley at me – I was going the right way – yay!

So happy was I, I started waving to every person I saw, small child, old lady and a gent with an odd expression on his face (half smile, half grimace), who was standing by his car. I thought he must be a bit simple and I smiled and greeted him.  (I later found out that he was actually a flasher and had actually been waving his baguette and profiteroles at me. Ten out of ten for observation, Conneff).

I was beginning to flag (again) but I was soon greeted by a truly wonderful sight – everyone stopped at a coffee shop! I was so overwhelmed with joy, I started crying again. God almighty, I hadn’t cried this much since Bros split up. I blame the water.

After a thé au lait (see, Madame Bettany, I DID remember something!) and a civilised trip to the indoor toilet, I was off again.

At this point I realised that I hadn’t eaten nearly enough – my tummy was rumbling and I started seeing things. I had my one and only energy bar of the trip (Want any energy bars? They’re going cheap, people!) and one of those blackcurrant gels, which have a consistency very much like….

…anyway, somehow I made it to lunch, where Monsieur Flash was the talk of the town and I felt very daft for not noticing, but this time I did not cry (thank god for that!). I just gorged on chocolate cake – wonderful, wonderful chocolate cake, yummers!

Lunch was held by a small, tranquil lake, which was gorgeous with plenty of places to try out my new found hobby of peeing in a bush. They also had some banging tunes today – Spanish Flea, Agadoo – I was in heaven!

There was a little drama when one of the guys’ tyres exploded. This is no exaggeration – it literally exploded – we all thought someone had got a bit too annoyed with Bucks Fizz and was taking pot shots at the cd player for a moment, but then we saw a little plume of smoke coming up from his bike. Scary stuff. But he was soon fixed up with a new tyre and tube and on his way.

I don’t know what came over me after lunch, but I had a new surge of energy (probably from that half a cake I ate) and the afternoon seemed a million timed easier. I managed to do the last 24 miles in two hours (which is good for me! It had taken me over six hours to get to lunch!)  and after a little saunter up a dual carriage way, we were at the hotel!

Just in time for beer o’clock! Hurrah!

(I have discovered Grimbergen and I am in love! It is also much, much cheaper than lager – double yay!)

Dinner was puzzling, I wondered if for a moment I was asleep and was dreaming the entire plot of Cool Hand Luke, when we were presented with coleslaw, cold mushroom stroganoff and boiled eggs. Hundreds of boiled eggs.

It transpired that I was indeed awake and also the next day it would transpire that eating 7 boiled eggs in a row was an immensely stupid idea (more on this later). But we had a lot of fun over dinner (for fun, please read beer) speaking of diverse topics including flashers, hills and HARD mattresses.

Then it was briefing and sleepy time.

For the second time in a row I fell asleep mid-

My sponsorship page is till open – please feel free to donate to the fabulous charity, Mind.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/cathyconneff

Day One: Off we trot. (Crystal Palace to Calais)

The day began bright and early; up at 4.43am (ouch!) and immediately to panic stations, crossing off a (literal) list which seemed only to get longer as the seconds progressed.

Shower – check

Dry hair – check

Clothes – check

Breakfast (bizarre combo of bacon, eggs and golden syrup, which was amazing, actually) – check

And off to Crystal Palace I set, (I say I, a very unimpressed Chris was driving me and the bike there). Arrived in good time, put one label on my bike and one on my… hang on, wasn’t there some sort of massive bag that I had been packing for three days solid also supposed to come?

Ah crap.

So off pootled Chris, back home, whilst I sat and did some breathing on the floor, in a car park, in Crystal Palace, at 5.55am.

I met up with my fellow cyclists Luke and Sarah, (Also hiya Mr & Mrs Sings!)  and soon my bag (and Chris) joined us too.

At this point I was so excited I was genuinely worried I might pop, which I tried to disguise by pretending that I knew how to warm up (what was that thing I used to do in movement class before the bizarre, unco-ordinated flailing of arms and legs out of synch with the music, everyone else and possibly humanity itself?)

We then had our briefing and it was at this point we first heard the word “undulations”. This phrase will figure heavily in this tale, for reasons which I won’t go into now, as I imagine I will spend quite a lot of time on that later. 😉

AND AWAY!

This was very exciting indeed. Off we flew and soon enough, London was behind us and we were into the glorious Kent countryside, down Jackass Lane, (How can this fail to make anyone laugh? What? We’re over eleven years old? Oh, I see….), and past my favourite place, Cake in Downe.

A nice surprise here – we were missing the hill of death with the scary dogs – awesome!  You know, this one:

 

However, we did not get off scott-free: there were still quite a few hills undulations and I was quite pleased when we reached some downhill. Too pleased. So pleased in fact, that I failed to spot the lack of anyone in front of me or indeed any arrows.

“WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE……ah, crap”

I got to the bottom of the hill and figured that the A21 was not the correct route. Ah well, Google Maps should sort this one out. Then I realised I was not alone: a group of about ten people also came to a halt.

“I think we’re a bit lost”, I said, meekly.

“Oh,” disappointed faces looking around at each other. “We were following you, cause you looked like you knew what you were doing”.

Suddenly I felt like the Pied Piper when he went all evil and trapped the kiddies in Burnley, or whatever. Another black mark in the surely now Encyclopaedia-Britannica-sized black mark file that the man upstairs has on me.

We looked at the map provided for a couple of moments, before it became apparent that none of us knew how to read a map and had no idea which road was which.

Out came Google maps.

“Hi James” (the in-charge guy from Skyline)” We’re a bit lost. We’re in a place called Green Street Green.”

He had no idea where this was either, so I did my best and had another look at Google maps and the map map.

“There’s Pratt’s Bottom, hahahahaha…!” (Not the time, I realised)

Soon, we were back on track and within 20 mins back in the group, after merely a 6 mile detour… (ahem) and to the rest stop.

Clearly not everyone held it against me and I spent the rest of the day cycling with a lady called Claire (Hi Claire!), who had an amazing bike and didn’t mind my feckless banter.

The terrain was flat, the weather was glorious and the scenery breath-taking and we were at lunch (50 miles) by noon, which I was very pleased about!). It was on a very English village green, with tennis courts and a cricket pavilion (also the final purpose-built toilet at a water/food stop on the journey – more on that later!)

Here it is:

 

 The catering guys were amazing – providing wonderful, filling (but not too filling) food and some tunes too (not to everyone’s taste, admittedly, but if like me, you are obsessed with Tijuana Sound of Brass and Culturebeat, then it was awesome!)

We were held at lunch until people had a chance to catch up and then we were free to go off to Dover – exciting!

The scenery in the afternoon was incredible:

 

 Even my appearance in the photograph didn’t totally destroy the loveliness!

 

 Then we reached what had been described as the “undulations”. Now in my mind, (and, it appears, Dr Johnson’s), the word undulation means:

undulation

[uhn-juh-ley-shuhn]

noun

1.

an act of undulating; a wavelike motion.

2.

a wavy form or outline.

3.

one of a series of wavelike bends, curves, or elevations.

Apparently, myself and the good doctor are wrong.

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

In fact, it should read:

undulation

[uhn-juh-ley-shuhn]

noun

1.

A hill

2.

A f***ing great, big hill

3.

Actually, scrap all that, an actual MOUNTAIN!

It was tough and by this time I had slowed down so much, I had lost Claire and possibly my marbles and started changing song lyrics, masterfully and wittily replacing the word “hill” with the word “undulation”.

This works well in a number of songs, highlights being “Climb ev’ry Undulation”, “The Sound of Music” and especially “Run to the Undulations” (apologies to Rogers, Hammerstein and Iron Maiden). “Wuthering Undulations” didn’t pan out so well and “The Fool on the Undulation” positively sucked, especially when I tried to mimic a descant recorder, which sounded very much like a cat with a hernia.

Eventually I panted my way (very slowly) into Dover at a ten to four – plenty of time of a replenishing half of Guinness – ahhhh! (That’s the sound of a granddad drinking tea, BTW).

Then, the most dreaded part of the journey – the ferry.  I am a person with not the firmest constitution and the last time I went on a ferry, I spent much of it with my head down the toilet (Vomiting, I mean.  I’ve not got some weird, sexual fetish with lavatory bowls or anything).

We waited a good while outside of the ferry, where I got the chance to catch up with my chums Sian and Hayley (Howdy Ladies!) and eventually we piled onto the ferry and up the stairs. I put on my (extremely attractive – hahahaha!) compression tights and had a photo frenzy on deck.

See?:

 

FEEDING FRENZY TIME:  I had the most expensive fish, chips and mushy peas I’ve ever eaten, Monster Munch and a rocky road pudding. Then, whilst everyone else sat/slept, I had a massive sugar rush, running around the boat, giggling and chatting with my chums Sarah, Simon and Luke (Hi Team Facebook!). I am pleased to report that the anticipated sea sickness did not occur. Maybe it was the sugar.

After much (genuine) excitement watching my phone switch from T-Mobile to Bouygues-Fr, we made it across the channel. Nobody wanted to sing my cunning reworking of Gerry and the Pacemakers with me (which I was most disappointed by), so we donned our hi-vis shizzle and literally squeezed our way through the lorries on the car deck, back to our bikes.

I did come up with the catchphrase “I’m so viz right now”, but for some reason it didn’t catch on…humph!

Then ring ring, peddle peddle, we were En France! WOOO!

Back on solid ground we had a briefing about the “half hour” (hahaha!) cycle back to the hotels. It was dark, we were in France, in fluorescent jackets. Even the burning sensation in my nethers couldn’t dampen my spirits! And an hour and a quarter later, we were at our hotel!

 

Even better news – my room-mate for duration of the trip was going to be none other than Sarah, whom I had been talking to for weeks on the book of Faces – hoorah! We got into a bed and….

That’s all I rememeber.

My sponsorship page is till open – please feel free to donate to the fabulous charity, Mind.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/cathyconneff

Peace, perfect peace.

A bit of an eventful week in my neck of the woods, but have also had a great week of training, which has been lovely!

On Sunday I did a shorter version of the London to Surrey Cycle classic, which is being held this Sunday as a practice run for the Olympic road race. I did 74 miles and the women’s race will be 82 miles, so almost there (albeit MUCH SLOWER!).

There were some stunning views along the way, especially around Ranmore Common, Box Hill and Epsom Downs.

I took this photo using Photosynth  on my phone at Ranmore common:

As far as hills were concerned, there weren’t anywhere near as many as the route we’re going on to Dover, so I guess I’ll have to make up for that this weekend!

Also have to give a mention to The Medicine Garden in Cobham, where I enjoyed a lovely Victoria Sponge made with cinnamon and marmalade, which is gorgeous and also their beautiful gardens:

Lovely!

I arrived home as rumours of a disturbance in Brixton were first hitting the news (and Twitter). Didn’t think too much of it until the sirens and helicopters started. Now, whilst I don’t live in Brixton, the limited amount of information (as well as aforementioned  sirens and helicopters) made for a most uneasy night and I didn’t really sleep, which wasn’t great.

The next morning I was determined to  keep calm and carry on (the training!) so I cycled in a different route, taking in Peckham and Old Kent Road, an option sadly not available that evening! The looters were ten minutes away from my work when I left and I saw about 40 – 50 riot vans on my way home.   Many people at work couldn’t go home, as their homes were in the middle of the troubled areas,  so I counted my blessings as I huffed and puffed my way round Stockwell and Streatham (arriving at Streatham Hill about 15 minutes before the looters- hoorah!)

After reports of looters mugging cyclists for their bikes, I had a day off in Tuesday, which was good as I hadn’t slept and we were evacuated from work at 5pm. Thankfully the extra police had been deployed and businesses closed and boarded up at about 3pm, so there was nothing to loot, pretty much.

That evening I took part in Operation Cup of tea, the very British answer to the riots. It was nice to connect with other people and for things to start feeling a bit more normal.

All in all this week, so far I have managed to do about 140 miles (including Sunday) and I’m hoping to rack up some big miles this weekend.

If you wish to sponsor me (I am raising money for Mind), you can do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/cathyconneff


Keep safe everyone.

TTFN

Tillyflop xxx

OMFG!

If there ever was a time when the category death by cycling was close to the mark, that time would be right about…now.

I decided to have a “practice session” on Sunday to try to get in some miles in the general direction of Dover, so decided to cycle to Ashford in Kent.

There is only one way I can explain this journey to you.

Views like this:

 

Climbs like this:

 

 

 

Cakes like this:

 

 

Climbs like this:

 

I didn’t quite make it to Ashford, ended up getting the train back from Pluckley, after 67 miles of PAIN!  However the scenery was stunning and the weather awesome and I did feel a sense of achievement afterwards, in between panting and hurting.

I thought I would check out if the route for the first day was on a different route, but apparently not:

That’s meters ^  (?!?!?!)

Sounds gruelling, but I’m sure it will be a little easier when in a group and also with the time pressure of catching the ferry hopefully I can make a better go of it.  I am, however, going to invest in some compression tights to try and take some of the pain out of it.  Hopefully…

One of my tweeps did the Londo to Paris last week and has written a great blog about it (vey funny!): Two Wheels to Paris  sounds scary!

Well, will be doind a few big uns in the coming weeks and some stretchy things and that to get ready.

If you wish to soften the blow of the forthcoming doom,please sponsor me here it will go to a great cause, Mind.

And yet again it is tomorrow (cripes!) so I must love you and leave you.

TTFN

Tillyflop x

Angry Cycling

Today I did some angry cycling for the first time (proper blood boiling stuff – the only sort which can only be caused by talking to a complete moron who is supposed to be helping you, but yet seems incapable of understanding even the most basic premise).

 

And it was great! Like angry sex only without the making up afterward (even better!) I wasn’t really that fast, but I enjoyed it so much, I can’t tell you!

This is good because I had a cycle out on Sunday which was pretty poor and I was really struggling to carry on (I gave up after 30 miles and got the train, which is really not at all like me – I usually am that akward!) and I was worried that I was no longer going to enjoy cycling (which would be crap given that I’m about to cycle 100 miles a day for three days in a few weeks!)

So in this case Anger = Enjoyment. Not so good when dealing with small children or working in a place of worship.

Please sponsor me and I promise I will angrily cycle more!  Click here