After riding a road bike five times and using clip-ins on just three occassions you could say I was a little underprepared going into my London to Paris adventure. I'd also taken on some work abroad prior to leaving so my training had been extremely limited.
Needless to say, once I began climbing the seventh never-ending hill of the first day, quads burning and breathing heavily, soaked to the bone as we encountered torrential rain, I was beginning to wonder what I had got myself into. Not least the fact that we had no support crew and were solely relying on GPS.
Fortunately we began our trip the day after the close of the Olympics which meant that I was given an extra boost. The thought of Victoria Pendleton's rapid spinning legs as she overtook in the Keirin to win gold was a memory that I clung to. Ok so I'm definitely not as quick as her but it allowed me to locate some energy from deep within to push myself up the steep climbs and through the tough weather conditions.
The fact that I was doing it for charity gave me even more of an incentive. The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust supported me as they do with many athletes when making the career transition after retiring from sport. They also assist young people by engaging them in sporting activities and I felt that by completing this challenge I was giving back in some way. A week before our trip an ex-England team mate of mine had completed the ride for breast cancer and a lot of the people I was travelling with were cycling for the Lord Taverners. When you are surrounded by so many people doing something positive it is hard to not feel inspired.
We arrived at Newhaven on the first night after two punctures, drenched, cold and hungry in time to catch the ferry across to Dieppe through the night. A few hours kip on the ferry and another couple in the hotel on the other side meant that we were ready to embark on Day 2. Dieppe is a quaint town with a cute harbour and it was a shame we could not have spent more time there.
We began the second day on the Avenue Verte which is a glorious cycle path of flat road for forty miles. It was so flat that fatigue began to set in and I nearly fell asleep on my bike although that tired feeling didn’t last long. As we approached our next stop at Gournay en Bray we were faced with twenty miles of undulating hills of which you could not stop climbing as there would be no momentum to start up again. There were a couple of occasions where I felt my stomach rumbling and I was overcome with a sickness as we got to the top. Despite this I actually really enjoyed the challenge as we closed in on our second overnight stop.
That night one of our team researched the route to Paris so we could avoid as many hills as possible. It just meant that we would have to do 80 miles as opposed to the 60 miles which was scheduled. I woke up feeling relatively energetic and surprised that the only sore body parts were my quads. Some of us prepared well by using breakfast to make sandwiches for lunch however some opted not to which proved to be a big mistake. What we didn’t realise was that it was a bank holiday in France which means that everything shuts down for a day. Every village that we stopped at was isolated and we would have been struggling had it not been for a nice French man who let us into his house so we could fill up our water bottles. Food was shared around but essentially we did not have a proper feed for nine hours.
The reason it took so long was that invariably we were lost for a good chunk of it. More punctures and the search for food also hindered our progress. Several garages along the way had closed and our determined spirit was beginning to fade especially when we got caught up the steepest and longest winding hill of the journey. Frustration also began to kick in as I fell off my bike for the sixth time out of ten over the course of the journey.
However, as an ex sportsman I had been fortunate to acquire the competitive quality of never giving up. I knew that we were going to get there. I just didn't know how long it would take! Morale was boosted when we spotted an open BP garage on the outskirts of Paris. It was probably the fastest that we had all moved throughout the trip!!
Our final challenge was to get to the bike storage unit on time as they had opened especially for us on bank holiday. I’d notified my boyfriend, who was waiting for us in Paris, to let them know we would be an hour late. Sadly my phone died along with everyone else's and the GPS had packed in too. Ten miles from the shop it occurred to all eight of us that it might have been a good idea to bring a map.
When we eventually got hold of one we were three hours later than expected. Fretting that the shop had closed and worried that we had nowhere to put our bikes we turned the corner towards our destination with a great deal of anticipation. You can imagine what a huge relief it was to find that they had stayed open after my boyfriend had kept the shop keeper entertained with beers. He also produced a big bottle of champagne which was the perfect ending to our epic journey. It’s funny how sweet champagne tastes when you’ve achieved something special.
Although we encountered some blips I will never forget riding through the country that particular day. It was the most scenic ride I have ever been on as we travelled via cornfields and vineyards basking in the sun in all it’s glory. It was a real delight and something I will remember for a long time.
Isa Guha is a former England cricketer who now presents ITV4's coverage of the IPL and is represented by Total Sport Promotions Ltd - www.totalsportpromotions.com