From 12th – 15th June, a team of Ergro staff, clients and friends made a 300+ mile journey from Dartford to Paris on bicycles in order to raise money for charities…
Pedaling to Paris – An Account by Ergro MD, Paul Martin
Wednesday 12th June – 69 Miles
The morning started well, all riders assembled at our Head Office in Dartford and although there had been talk of the weather worsening, the sun was shining.
After a briefing from Martin & Joe of Adventure Café and a final check of our bikes, we set off just before 9:00am.
At a reasonably slow pace of 10 mph we arrived at our first stop fairly soon afterwards in the historic town of Rochester and as we sipped coffee the rain began.
Our next challenge was the hills out of Rochester and Chatham, the first where we were held up by a bus (never a good thing on a hill) and the long drag up Chatham Hill.
The ride then wiggled us out through the towns of Rainham and Sittingbourne with the multiple traffic lights, getting everyone used to clipping/unclipping from their peddles.
Our lunch stop was at The Three Horseshoes near Faversham and had been organised in the beer garden but with the rain getting worse this was hastily rearranged to be in the pub. As we left, the weather took a turn for the worse and there was a flurry of jackets being collected out of the back of the support vehicles.
The weather was now so bad that you took every opportunity to shelter and the memory of riders sheltering under a bus stop outside a Primary School somewhere in Kent will stay with me forever.
Up and out of Canterbury without issue and then the towns fell away as we rode along country lanes across the top of the Downs. Our first accident! Dave Playford came off his bike after being caught in a rut in the road and then had to be treated for cramp. Lesley Quinn, our QSHE Director then told us that she had fallen off (this would become a theme).
Five miles further, due to her fall, Lesley’s bike fell to pieces. The spare bike provided by Adventure Café was swiftly brought into use (I’m sure much sooner than they anticipated).
We then were asked to ride down a muddy path, streaming with water from the torrential rain, something I wouldn’t have wanted to do in a 4×4, but we all somehow made it down safely.
By this point everyone was soaked, watching Mark Flanagan squeezing pints of water out of his gloves showed how much rain we had ridden through.
Our final stop of the day, the Jackdaw Inn in Denton, 20 miles from Dover, Matt Gray came up with the brilliant idea of shots of brandy to warm us through, nobody abstained. After a brief stop and apologies for making the floor like an ice rink from the water pouring off us, we got on the bikes again for the final push to Dover.
Dover was a bit of a blur, principally because as we pulled up in a car park just outside the ferry terminal, Martin – Adventure Café’s Team Leader told us we had 5 minutes to get checked in! We rode through the terminal, up to the ferry and then waited 30 minutes to board. Freezing cold, tired and just wanted to get on board and have a hot meal.
On arriving in Calais, we were back on the bikes with a 2 mile trip to the hotel. The rain had stopped, the sky clearing, but then Dean Rolfe and Jed Wollen got their wheels stuck in tram tracks and both went over.
Arrival at the hotel, check in and beers!
Chris Wollen had arranged for an awards ceremony for various achievements throughout the day, however this was disrupted by Jamie Lamont collapsing due to too much caffeine. It had been a long day and bed was calling.
Thursday 13th June – 80 miles
As we left the Hotel Calais Plage, the rain began again. Martin had decided on a King of the Mountain challenge, a van at the bottom of the hill and one at the top, timing to see who got to the top fastest. What he hadn’t arranged was the torrential rain, hail and 30 mph headwind. I have never ridden in such appalling conditions and just getting to the top was going to be an achievement. True to form the race would be between Keith Chapman and Dean Rolfe, with Keith pipping him at the line. The rest of us were just pleased to be alive.
Today was the longest ride, approximately 80 miles and when you are doing 7 mph because of the wind, it was going to be a long day. Hayley and Ellie were starting to feel the strain and the decision was taken to split the group to allow everyone to ride at a speed they were comfortable with.
Normally, lunch would be a picnic of local produce sitting by the side of the road, taking in the atmosphere, but due to the weather all these plans had gone out of the window. We had what could easily be described as the worst omelette in the world in a café in Boulogne sur Mer, and we still had 55 miles to go.
Punctures were now coming thick and fast, Chris had three and Joe our lead cyclist had four. The last, we left him to sort out while we all sheltered under a tree. Obviously, the hotel was on top of a hill, leading out of Abbeville, so one last push before arrival and a well-earned rest.
Friday 14th June – 64 miles
The day started as expected, with light rain, but soon the sun was shining and everyone’s mood lifted. Having ridden the L2P before I knew that the third day would be the best. You are riding inland, away from the large towns, and the scenery and roads improve.
The miles fly by when you are riding at speed and chatting with friends and before we knew it we were camped by the side of the road eating a picnic provided by the support crew of Mick, Ray and John. As we ate, Hayley and Ellie arrived having made their journey with Martin in the support van.
Back on the bikes, for a sprint to Beauvais. By now we were all getting to know each other’s riding style and felt more comfortable riding at speed in close formation, a peleton. If you haven’t tried this, I urge you to give it a go. The sense of teamwork as you fly down hills and speed along straight stretches of road is exhilarating. However, it was every man for himself on the hills!
As we were making good time, we took the decision to head straight for Beauvais and a bar. Two beers and pizzas and then the last few miles to our hotel.
Saturday 15th June – 55 Miles
Our final and shortest day of riding. Some of us had had one too many sherbets the night before and heads were fuzzy as we set off for Paris.
After a brief coffee stop at Meru, interesting place, we took off again for Pontoise, a town beside the River Oise. You could feel we were getting close to the capital, the area was more cosmopolitan and we plotted up next to a group of trapeze artists and watched them practice for their afternoon show. Del Parcell even considered giving it a go as his back was playing up.
We were now following the Seine as it snaked its way towards the capital and as we got close to the outskirts of Paris we were asked to get in a close group, so as not to get split up by traffic.
The ride into Central Paris is slow but made much slower by Lesley falling off, again! This time it was bad though and we thought she had broken something. Miraculously a French ambulance was passing within seconds of her coming off and they attended to her at the scene. She was not going to quit now, not so close to the finish line, and she was straight back on her bike.
We continued our journey and then I got a puncture, of all the places, a mile from the end.
We weaved our way through the streets and then Hayley shouted “I can see the Eiffel Tower”.
Unfortunately to get to the finish, you have to navigate the maddest roundabout in entire the world – the Arc de Triomphe! To do this in a car is mad enough, to do it on a bike is suicide, but as a group of 15 we just put our heads down and followed Joe and Martin. How no one was mowed down is a miracle but we made it and we pulled up at the Trocadero in full view of the Eiffel Tower, we had made it!
The pride that I felt was not for my own personal achievement, but for our Ergro staff and clients who had trained so hard and pushed themselves to persevere at all times, for the fantastic trip organisation by Chris Wollen and Martin & Joe from Adventure Café, for the immense amount of hard work put in by our support vehicle crew and for the £13k raised for good causes.
A fantastic journey. Now then, where to next?….