“Right, unless there are broken bones – no one is backing out now” my chairman Chris signs off the email confirming I’ll be cycling from London to Paris in June 2019. Typical cocky me thought – how hard can this be? This is how hard…
So, first things first, I needed a bike. I looked for a few days (minutes) but quickly realised the style I wanted was way out of my price range, of course it’s what it looks like that matters (Right Paul?) Sense the sarcasm there. Luckily my trusty friend Keith at work said I’ve got a bike for sale I’ll do you a good deal. Sorted. Hard part over.
Having not ridden a bike since probably the late 90’s, my first, crisp, November morning ride was a big reality check. One: I am terribly unfit, 2: extremely overweight and 3: I have the balance of a toddler. 5 miles down and started to feel ok, I managed to get to 12 miles and remember feeling extremely chuffed. Over the next few months my 12 miles jumped to 22, then to 32 and then 72. I’m really getting the hang of this. now don’t get me wrong I have zero feeling in my bottom and I still have no idea how to turn 72 miles in to 300 but I’m excited.
It’s now April, my friend Ellie and I have been training weekly, getting excited about what France will be like, what outfits we are going to wear and how much wine we think we can get away with drinking each night. We cycled towards Gravesend, as I crossed the slip road to the motorway I broke sharply and slid off of my saddle down on to my crossbar. When I say I went blind with pain I am seriously under playing it. You know when you stub your toe and you hold on to it and someone says let’s have a look and you can’t let go? That feeling but so much worse! I managed to get across the road and finally home but over the next week my “lady area” changed to a deep, dark, scary shade of black and the bruising travelled nearly up to my belly button. Scarred for life, how was I going to ever ride a bike again?
A week off and gave it another go, I was OK, I was cautious but I was OK.
The office was buzzing as the trip grew closer, we all were so excited for something so daunting, well to Ellie and I anyway. Looking forward to seeing the beautiful French countryside, eating cheese and meeting my boyfriend in romantic Paris.
The day arrived. We all meet at the office, mum, uncle, boyfriend and in-laws all there to wish me well on my adventure. I’ve trained, I’m ready, padded pants on. We gather round for a group talk form the organisers and they give us a bit of information on what to expect from the first day. One thing sticks out to me at this point, the weather was forecasted to turn from the sunny, not too warm morning to rain and but I’m ok with that I’m prepared, I just got a new rain jacket £7.99 from eBay. Barg. We set off and before I know it my trainers are soaked through; my budget raincoat is wet inside and I’m secretly ready to turn around and go home. Spirits are still incredibly high despite the falls and punctures. We stop for lunch and stuff ourselves with sandwiches and chips. Making our way down to Dover we stopped off for a quick Brandy in a little pub, any excuse! By this point we were told we really needed to get a move on, the ferry was at 6:20pm and we were against the clock. 18 riders rolled up to the boarding point at 6:00pm. Close.
Ellie and I went to bed that night in our funny little French hotel and I thought to myself what the hell am I doing. This was a huge mistake. She agreed. Thank god!
Day 2 brought even harder rain and stronger winds. Great. I sobbed for the first hour and Chris and I battled the mountain of a hill together. Already soaked through and not even 10 miles in, I stripped off my wet clothes for dry and traded my crappy rain coat for Grandad Micks walking jacket. My bum was so sore by this point I could barely sit on my seat. The special botty butter you’re meant to use which I had lathered on squatting in my hotel room that morning had washed away in the rain with my spirit. This was harder than anything I had ever done and I was feeling so defeated, Ellie and I jumped in the van for 35 miles to dry off and try and cheer up. Oh, and give our bums a break. After lunch I jumped back on and thought no, I cannot give up, I have to try again. I’m doing this for charity and I really don’t want to let anyone down. Del and Gary got me through the worst of it. I am not a quitter. Girl power.
As I walked in to the dinner room that night I felt 10ft tall, a massive sense of pride in myself and once you feel that, you want more. Everyone was so happy for me that I’d managed to get back on and complete the day. What a feeling!
Day 3, Ellie and I were told that we would be able to go at our own pace without the pressure of trying to keep up with the other riders. We were only little slower than them, only a little. What a day, we laughed, we sang, the sun was shining, this is what we had signed up for. 10 hours just having a good old chin wag. We are pretty good at that. We had our own support vehicle, our Martin checked in on us, topped up our water bottles, egged us on and snapped some action shots. Abbeville to Beauvais was a good day and a day I don’t think I’ll ever forget. That night we drank and laughed and we all felt like we were on our ‘olidays.
The final day, I think we all woke up with fuzzy heads and the regret of having that final G&T. I knew today was only 54 measly miles until I saw my mum, my sister and my boyfriend waiting under the Eiffel Tower. Ellie and I were still buzzing from the day before so we were ready to get on the road. Not even a mile up the road and we take a wrong turn (typical) back on track in no time. The closer we got to Paris the less my bum started to hurt and the sadness that this is going to be over soon kicked in. We cycled to the Arc De Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées, emotions started to get the better of me and the tears had started. Jed rolled his eyes. As I cycled around the roundabout at the Eiffel Tower, I heard cheering and screaming and saw a huge banner that read “Well done Hayley” and my family. I have tears in my eyes just writing this. I could barely get off of my bike, the relief of feeling my mums’ arms around me finished me off. Everything leading up to this moment had been so worth it just for that. I felt like I was on top of the world. My boyfriend Matt and my sister Amy-Leigh rushed over and hugged me. Mum said “let’s get you some champagne” music to my ears, let’s. Behind my huge banner was my auntie Alison and my cousin Holly, what a surprise! I could have fainted! Without a doubt one of the best days of my life and 100% my biggest achievement.
All of the riders, support team, family and friends ate dinner together, drank and danced the night away. What a way to finish it off. I think Ellie and I got back to our room just before 5am. Sorry to everyone we woke up with our singing. Not.
I chose to do the ride for Verity because sadly I have only just recently found out they exist. Reading all of the information they provide was like nothing I had seen before; I was diagnosed with PCOS years ago now and I could have really used the support they offered when I was at school. If I can raise some money, any money that can help get accurate information out there then I’m game. At 29 I have started to experience some of the more challenging parts, I felt inadequate, not feminine, different and most of all a little lost. Having PCOS can make you feel down and it can make simple thing like losing a big of extra flab that bit harder but there’s no way I was letting that slow me down. With social media platforms like Facebook I have been able to speak with other girls, women that are going through exactly what I am. We laugh and we joke and most of all we help each other out. I was given the opportunity to be a group leader for Kent. So, thank you Verity. Thank you for all you do. I managed to raised £845 so that’s coming your way.
I was never a bike enthusiast or a gym bunny and doubt I ever will be but I bloody cycled from London to Paris across 4 days with some amazing, amazing people and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I’ve sold my bike to get a better one and I hope I can do something similar again one day… not too soon mind. But what I am is strong, it’s what I needed to prove to myself, I may be emotional and I may wear my heart on my sleeve but I am not weak. I have learnt so much about myself through this and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity. I have memories with my friends and family that will last a life time. I have LOVED every second despite how hard it was.
If I could give any advice to someone considering doing the ride from London to Paris, don’t.