Ok, this is going to be a pretty boring post – unless you’re one of the participants in the Overlord ride in May. It’s simply me writing down a kit list to see what we’ll need to take with us. Then I can work our what I already have, what I’ll need to get hold of and finally I can work out how I get it all on a bike for eight days.
I’ll probably add to it over time and edit it here and there.
Three days worth of kit packed on the bike (plus a fourth day that will be worn on day 1). We’ll be able to wash stuff at the halfway point.
I’ve just realised that I wrote a post before we did the London to Brighton last year, but never got around to writing one afterwards…
Time to rectify that oversight.
I’d always wanted to do it but for some reason never got around to it. This time I saw the advert pop up (on Facebook I think) and signed up straight away. I managed to talk Anita into it as well – surprisingly easily actually. Really it was just a case of telling her that I’d already entered her… It was fundraising for the British Heart Foundation and although we did raise a little we felt a bit shady having just finished asking people for money for The Dutch Raid (which also raised money for the BHF).
It wasn’t necessarily going to be easy either. For starters, Anita was just over breaking her heel at the end of the Amsterdam ride in May. She had been off the crutches for a week or two and we’d managed to only get minimal training in as a result. Both of us were hoping that we were still reasonably in shape from the longer ride only a month earlier and we were both going to be riding the same bikes, Anita her 27.5″ wheeled Raleigh hardtail and me the DIY Mosso, although I had switched to slick tires for the day.
It looked desperately silly on slick tires…
Although we might have felt a little out of place as we weren’t riding road bikes or wearing full team kit there were people doing the route on folding bikes, BMXs and even Boris bikes; there was even a penny farthing – so we weren’t really that out of place. The ride itself is a similar distance and total climb to the first day of The Dutch Raid. Between 50 and 60 miles and about 3,000 feet – so we knew we could do it. Well, we knew we could a month beforehand at any rate. Once out of London the route pretty much follows the line of the M and A23 and finishes on Brighton seafront in a fenced off enclosure full up with an after party, massages, hydration points and sponsors support tents.
We got a lift into London and were dropped off about two miles from the start line at Clapham Common which at least gave us a gentle warm up before we set off properly. And talking of warming up, the weather really was from very early on. It developed into the hottest day of the year, June 18th – we were enormously grateful for the locals in the villages along the way who had the hosepipes and water pistols out for us!
The start line was well marshalled and we stocked up on freebies in the form of fruit and flapjack bars that were being given out by the event sponsors and then we got in our lane, set Strava and waited for the start time (which I think was 07:00).
The first few miles through central London were STRANGE! For starters neither of us normally cycle in such a large group or on such quiet roads. The route was well signposted and staffed not that it needed to be because it was really just a case of following the rest of the bikes. From memory there were rest stops after the first ten miles about every five miles. If nothing else they let you know how far you’d gone and how far you had left. We certainly didn’t feel the need to stop at all of them and tended to go to every other one if only to have a chat and refill the water bottles. The ones we did stop at had food, drinks, toilets, merchandise stands and more. They were all incredibly busy and there tended to be jams on the road getting in and out of them.
The one decent sized rest break came just before the start of the climb up Ditchling Beacon were we did have something to eat and drink. Unfortunately due to the time we got there it was unridable. There were so many people and it wasn’t laned at all so it was simply a case of hop off and push. I got to the top first (as I set off from the rest stop first hoping to ride it) and waited for Anita at the top.
From there it really was all downhill. You really can tell that Brighton has a Green Party MP… the speed limit for cars is 20 mph and the cycle lanes are fantastic. Although we were in traffic, it was no worse than the early morning in central London that was largely traffic free. I think it was about six miles into Brighton and along the seafront to the finishing line.
Once we’d picked up our medals we kept heading east along the seafront to a supermarket car park for something to eat and our lift home. We did it in a ride time of about 5.5 hours although that doesn’t include the rest stops. The participants were lovely, the organisation superb and it was great to be a part of it. About the only downside I can think of were the two accidents we went past on the way to the finish line. One was a head on with a car. The car won. The other was a head on with a cyclist who’d already finished and was heading back towards London against the flow of EVERYONE ELSE! The girl involved in that one we’d only been talking to at the bottom of Ditchling Beacon while stuffing burgers and Mars Bars into our faces.
Anita was chuffed to have made it (as much as I was proud of her for having done it) and we’re both looking at doing it again this year. She’s even taken the plunge and bought herself a road bike as a result (here she is looking as pleased as punch with her purchase).
Every now and then I get asked to fix up an old bike. Sometimes it’s beyond economical repair and ends up getting stripped for parts, other times it gets done and handed back. Sometimes though the request is so bats**t crazy I don’t even know where to begin.
My friend Neil has a classic Peugeot Premiere road bike in probably the largest frame size going. It’s HUGE! Anyway, he wants to ride the frame on the Normandy ride in May this year. It’ll be doing around 300 miles (a bit less than the rest of us as he’ll be getting a train back from Portsmouth to get back to work in time) and in that configuration it looks good for it.
This one’s been converted to single speed at some point, but the original was ten speed.
But rather than riding a vintage, drop barred road bike like this one, apparently he’d rather ride something like this, an old family photo of something affectionately known as “The Clown Bike”.
I don’t necessarily understand it, but we’ve ended up with something with a BMX stem and bars (which the original Clown Bike progressed onto after the bars shown in the picture broke), MTB brake levers, new cable outers, new brake blocks (rear ones still to be fitted), hybrid wheels and tires and two more gears than it had before. Neil seems to be quite happy with it. We’ve had to work out a few things on the fly, but we’ve got a bike that’s pretty much finished and with a few tweaks will be road worthy.
There are definitely some similarities between this year’s ride to Normandy and the 2017 journey to Amsterdam.
It’s largely the same people, it’s been organised in pretty much the same way, it’s a charity fundraiser and we’ll be visiting places of historical interest along the way… but there’s a few things that are going to be quite different as well. So different that as much as anything, this post is going to serve to tell the riders just how different it’s going to be in several important ways.
1. There’s no off-road sections.
Last year, much of the first day was spent traversing the Pilgrim’s Way through Kent. It was bumpy, rutted, rocky, rooty and hilly. Because of that our bikes were, by necessity, a mix of MTBs or hybrids all with front suspension. We were carrying a huge amount of kit, clothes, food, drink and we managed to bend a front wheel on a practice ride with no kit, so it wasn’t as a fashion statement.
This year, it should all be on-road, meaning the bikes can be a little less bouncy and thick-tired and instead be something lighter and sleeker.
We’re not going overboard. The wife and I will be doing it on road bikes, albeit road bikes with reasonably thick tires (32mm in my case, switched from the 23mm front and 25mm rear tires that had been fitted to it). So it’s drop bars, a bit more aerodynamic, higher gear ratios and a lot less rolling resistance. The slightly thicker than normal tires will make things a bit more comfortable and should be able to cope with the added weight of 8 days worth of kit. Kit which is going to have to include a few new items…
(This was just working out how to cram stuff on a road bike, there’s a tent there that we definitely won’t need to take!)
2. We’re going to have to carry more stuff.
As I’ve said above, we are going to be carrying more than before for a few reasons.
First, it’s a longer ride over more days than before. So that simply means either carrying more stuff or riding in dirty clothes. More stuff will win in most cases. Although we did manage to clean things on the go last year or ditch stuff as we got closer to the finish line that we didn’t need anymore.
Secondly, we’ll be riding in different conditions. Night time for a start. That will mean lights and not just the kind of flashing LEDs that allow cyclists to be seen by motorists, but also the kind of lights that allow you to see where you’re going on unfamiliar foreign roads on little sleep having just rolled off a ferry.
Third, we’ll need to take hi-vis vests, a requirement of Cherbourg ferry terminal. I don’t want a lack of hi-vis to prevent one or more of us from getting on the ferry, so we’re just going to have to take it.
And finally, no one is meeting us at the finish line with a change of clothes. We need ‘normal’ clothes for our rest day (because I’ll be buggered if I’m visiting a memorial to the fallen of D-Day in lycra!). Also, we’re not flying home while our bikes get to do the ride in the back of a car. We’re cycling there and back again. So there’s no chance to offload or swap stuff at any point.
3. It is a bit further than last year.
As already mentioned above, we’re going further this time, another 100 miles (give or take) and it’s over more days. The first few days are the toughest, then there’s a bit of fun in the middle and then it’s back up to longer days at the end again. But there’s definite potential for sore bums all round.
4. The charities are different.
This year I’ll be raising money online through Just Giving for Medway Maritime Hospital. I’ve set the target at £800. it’s high, but what’s the point of aiming low? Offline donations will go to Hospital Radio Medway. You can donate by following the link above or by getting in touch and pledging an amount to HRM.
Why should you donate?
Well the short answer is ‘It’s the NHS, stupid!’
The longer one is that for most of us, it’s been there since before our birth helping us through every health related problem in our lives. The NHS turns 70 this year and it is always there for you. You’ve probably seen the news or read the papers, you know the state it’s in and the pressure it’s under, so now is a chance to be there for the NHS.
It’s been a long time in the making, but we finally have a workable plan for our ride of the Normandy Beaches in May 2018.
Most of the guys who took part in this year’s Amsterdam ride wanted to try something else, so we had a look at the options and came up with Normandy. We’ve planned a rest day in the middle so that we can actually see the sights on and around the D-Day beaches, but there are mostly 55-65 mile days when we are in the saddle.
The first two or three days are really a case of getting our heads down and putting some miles under the tires as we won’t start getting to the bits of Normandy that we want to see until the end of the third day.
We’ve got 58.5 miles to cover on the first day from Chatham to Newhaven. We’ll go up the downs and through an area of outstanding natural beauty on our way to the ferry terminal in Sussex. Once there we’ll have some food and a rest before we catch the boat to Dieppe at 23:00
Day 2 will start on the ferry. It’s a four hour crossing and we’ll have to try and get some sleep onboard. We should arrive in France at around 04:00 and sunrise isn’t until after 06:00 so we’ll definitely need lights for the first part of the day. We’ll have 62.5 miles to cover but plenty of time to do it in and once we’re off the boat we’ll turn westward and aim for Le Havre.
The third day will find us heading towards the first couple of sites that we want to visit. Pegasus Bridge and the Canadian Cemetary at Beny sur Mer. It’s a 56.2 mile day, so the shortest so far, and hopefully we’ll be in our stride by this point. If we’re not we’ll be in trouble.
Pegasus Bridge was the site of a British glider-bourne infantry, Royal Engineers and 6th Airborne Division raid on the night of 5th June 1944. The aim was to prevent German tanks reinforcing the defence of Sword Beach to the north. The first allied soldier killed as part of the D-Day landings was Lieutenant Den Brotheridge who was fatally wounded crossing the bridge in the early stages of the assault. Unlike a lot of the airborne landings, most of the troops and gliders taking part in the operation landed close to the target – as you can see in the photo to the above.
The cemetery at Beny sur Mer, near our overnight stop, is predominantly for Canadian war dead, over 2,000 of them. In total 2044 Canadian and 3 British soldiers are buried there alongside 1 French Resistance fighter.
During the course of the fourth day we’ll visit four of the five D-Day Beaches, in order from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha before getting to our overnight stop in Carentan.
Carentan is one of those place names that could sound familiar to some of you, but you might not know why… if you’ve seen Band of Brothers it should definitely be familiar.
Carentan was initially attacked by elements of the 101st Airbourne on the morning of 6th June 1944. Just as in our ride, the town links the eastern four beaches to the westernmost, Utah Beach, so its capture was vital, as was the removal of the German regiments in the area. The attack began in earnest on the 10th June once the allies had had a chance to consolidate their position and by the 12th it had been taken, securing the beachhead and linking the allied forces. Prior to the attack on Carentan, the 101st Airbourne led an attack on German gun emplacements at nearby Brecourt Manor (which we’ll visit on our way to Cherbourg).
Unlike God, we’re going to rest on the fifth day, in Carentan within striking distance of any number of museums, memorials and sites of historic interest. The sixth day, however is back up to full speed. There’s the visit to Brecourt Manor, Utah Beach and then on to Cherbourg, another ferry and an overnight stop in Portsmouth.
And this is where our group will separate. At the moment we have 7 riders interested in taking part. Five will do the whole round trip, but two will visit the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth (which is where we took the picture of the Churchill tank below on a previous visit to the city) before catching the train back to Chatham a day earlier than the rest of us. We’ll carry on and do another 68.8 miles to Surbiton on day 7 and then the final day will be 44 miles from Surbiton back to Chatham via central London.
The total distance is a daunting 387.5 and we’ll try to raise money for Medway Maritime Hospital and Hospital Radio Medway.
As you’ve probably come to expect by now, there’s normally some sort of plan in the pipeline, and at the moment there are two.
The first is a medium distance ride over a few days not that far off (September) and it came from an idea a friend and I had while cycling through Portsmouth on another multi-day jaunt through southern England.
The Royal Navy was originally manned from three divisions, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham. Each of those towns has a Naval Memorial, all built to the same design, to commemorate the dead from their divisions.
I live in Chatham, and while riding through Portsmouth we did check how much further it was to Plymouth to see if we could visit all three. At the time, it was a bit too far, so we didn’t go ahead, but I’ve got a week off coming up and I’m getting itchy feet.
It’s a simple plan. Catch the train to Plymouth and then cycle back to Chatham via Portsmouth. I’ll be self-sufficient, taking the essentials and a lightweight, low-profile, one man tent and I’ll cycle when I can and stop when I need to. At most I hope it’ll take 5 days, it might take as few as three and the total distance is just under 300 miles.
The second ride is a much longer proposition, more along the lines of The Dutch Raid ride we did in May this year to mark the 350th anniversary of the Dutch attack on Chatham Naval Base. That was 280 miles over five days with a group of six and involved booking ferries, hotels, air travel and trains, so there was a lot more to organise. Next year we’re planning a ride along the D-Day beaches and a lot of the same stuff will need to be organised. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it with a bunch of riders again and have a rest day in the middle so we can go out and visit some of the museums and monuments instead of just cycling through them. Along the way we should visit Pegasus Bridge, all five of the beaches (OMAHA, UTAH, JUNO, GOLD and SWORD), Pointe du Hoc and locations featured in Band of Brothers, Brecourt Manor and Carentan. Some riders will only take part in the French section of the journey, but some will ride to Newhaven to catch the boat to Dieppe to start the cycle through Normandy and then after sailing from Cherbourg to Portsmouth will also cycle back from there. The UK legs of the journey total 180 miles and the French 185 for a combined total of 365.
It’s quite a distance, although the stretch along Normandy will be low mileage as there’s a lot we want to see, but there are several 100+ km days before and after that for those that want to do them. In order to make it as easy as possible the wife has even just forked (cycling pun) out for her first drop handled road bike and went out for her first ride last night.
We’re aiming for May again next year, so fingers crossed that we make it through the planning stages and actually work out an economical way to deliver it.
The London to Brighton is one of those bike rides I’ve always wanted to do, but for one reason or another I’ve never actually got around to. I think it’s always been partially down to not having anyone else to do it with… but following the completion of The Dutch Raid in early May, that has changed. Although it seems like two thirds of our number are otherwise engaged, Anita and I have signed up (with a day to spare) to complete this year’s ride from Clapham Common to Madeira Drive on 18th June. It’s about the same distance and only a little hillier than the first day was on The Dutch Raid. Obviously we’ll need to do a bit of training, but we only have three weeks to go, so we won’t be able to get much done in that time. And let’s not forget that Anita currently has a fractured heel and is making her way around in a wonderful boot on crutches.
That will (hopefully) be healed in time and maybe we can get out together with a week or so to spare. If not, or worse case if she’s really unable to cycle on it even by the 18th, we might have to look at our options. The 18th is the British Heart Foundation organised ride and there is a minimum fundraising target of £200 for each participant. If we manage to raise £700 we get a free jersey! Being a bit more realistic though, we are very aware that we’ve only just finished asking for donations for our last ride, so we won’t be labouring the point too much. If you do want to donate there’s a(nother) Just Giving page that’s been set up. I think this time we’ll try and do it in a different way though – cake sales, raffles (if I can organise some prizes in time) and so on. At least then people can feel like they’ve got something back for their money. I’ll also try to pester different people, so if you did donate to the last ride, you can relax a little.
So now you know about what we did and why we did it (and if not you can find out by going to the what and the why first), I figured it would be good to write a bit about the how.
This is the third time I’ve planned a multi-day long distance (as far as I’m concerned) bike ride.
The first, in 2015 was sub 200 miles over 3 days all in England – and it was successful. The second was only last year and was 1000 miles over 8 days in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Eire and England. That one wasn’t successful, but the planning was still valid and it taught me things that came in handy for planning and completing the recent 280 mile, 5 day ride to Amsterdam.
So where did we begin? With the route.
This is easy if you have something in mind. We rode to Amsterdam because that’s where the physical evidence of the raid on Chatham in 1667 by the Dutch is held. Everything else slotted in around that.
The daily distances determined the stopping points and the types of days we thought we’d have affected the flow of the week. The first day was medium distance and hilly, second and third days were a little longer, but much flatter, the fourth day was long distance and flat. We’d hopefully be in our stride by this point and able to manage it. The fifth and final day was deliberately a bit shorter than the rest so we could take it in and enjoy it.
Wherever it is you’re planning to go and why you’re going there is the start. Work out how much you want to do in a day. Is it a race? Do you want to have time to look around and meet people or is the destination more important than the journey? So you know all that, well then you also know roughly where you’ll be overnighting on the route.
It will also tell you some of the stuff you’ll need to plan. Passport, EHIC, currency, vaccinations… You can’t sort those out unless you know you need them.
This sort of thing is a lot easier (for most people) if they aren’t doing it by themselves. Some people are self-motivating, work better when they’re alone and can keep up a pace without the need for company, external motivation or simply someone there to chat to. And while I salute those people, I also know that I’m not one of them and I don’t think most people are.
Having other people around means you can chat, eat, laugh, rest, moan and cope with whatever difficulties the road might throw at you together. I don’t like riding in a large group – but the 6 people we had as a group this time wasn’t a large, strung out, difficult to manage peloton. It was a tight, close knit group and they worked well as a team.
If you have a team, make sure you have some team rules.
They don’t have to be restrictive or complicated. Ours mainly revolved around the following:
Make sure you are ready
Make sure your bike is ready
Wear a helmet
Take an agreed kit list (lights, first aid, tools and repairs etc)
It meant everyone was on a level playing field and that we could all be confident that everyone was prepared.
Once the team was set, the next thing that needed to be decided was how we were going to spend our evenings. I am quite literally a happy camper. But the overwhelming group decision was that hotels were the preferred method of overnight accommodation. Each has its advantages. Camping is typically cheaper, but undoubtedly heavier. Campsites aren’t as conveniently located as hotels in built up areas either (although we cycled past a lot of well signposted sites along the way). Hotels also tend to have nicer showers… and WIFI. Breakfasts… The list goes on.
Once that was set, booking.com became my new best friend. The route told me where we would want to stop so I simply searched for B&Bs, hotels and hostels that fitted the bill on the dates in question. You can research different venues really well on the site, secure a booking, contact the owners/managers and, if necessary, cancel with reasonable notice. You’ll know costs in advance and can then work out your budget.
Travel? Well that’s easy – we cycled. But there was more to it than that.
Think about it.
You’ve cycled to Amsterdam.
How are you getting home?
With your bikes. And all of the stuff you carried there. And six people.
We investigated buses (not cheap and up to 12 hours of journeying). We investigated trains (prohibitively expensive – I mean PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE). We even investigated air travel (which turned out the be the quickest, cheapest and easiest option – no, seriously).
It did require a bit more planning though. For starters, it was only cheap if you didn’t take any hold luggage, so no bikes, no “all of the stuff you carried there”, only hand luggage. You also have to get from the hotel to the airport – with no bike. So that meant a taxi transfer (which we were able to book in advance). Then what do you do with the bikes?! Well fortunately we have a large car and a very cooperative family, so we arranged for my mum and sister in law to pick up our car, drive to Amsterdam, pick up the bikes and then drive them home. We paid for the Dover-Calais / Calais-Dover ferries in advance, we filled the tank (although I suspect there was at least one refill that we haven’t been told about) and packed our non-cycling clothes in bags to be brought to us. Then we had to arrange train travel from Stansted Airport to south London where we could be picked up relatively easily. Again, that was pre-booked so we didn’t have to worry too much while we were in the middle of things.
All of this pre-booking does cost though. And trying to manage payments from 6 different people for their share of a 7 day holiday with ferries, air travel, 6 nights in 5 hotels, airport transfers and rail travel could have been a complete f**king nightmare.
Could have been.
A few years ago I had a Pay As You Go credit card. I loaded money on to it so that I had some protection when ordering online, or so that I could save up some money easily when I needed to – mainly because my credit rating was abysmal. Then the company that provided it stopped offering the service. But, on the off chance, I thought I’d have a look and see if anyone else did. Fortunately the search threw up a name I hadn’t heard of before – Pockit.
It’s a Mastercard, but also has an account number and sort code attached so you can transfer money onto it via a bank transfer (even your wages could be paid onto it). It turned up very quickly after a simple online application and was precisely no trouble at all in Europe. Everyone taking part loaded £300 onto it over the months before the ride, that money was then used to pay for the main ride costs. So we got all of that list above… The accommodation, the flights, the transfers, the ferries, the 7 day experience in 4 countries for 6 people for £300 each.
There’s a smartphone app that means you can track payments in and out, find the details quickly if you need to (even the PIN is available on the app) and show others the statements. We even added a little extra individually if we were buying things for the trip on eBay. It was a godsend and made the whole process a lot easier.
So that’s the how.
It was, realistically, an inexpensive and amazing experience.
As some of you might know, I’ve been a little busy over the last week or so.
Last Sunday my wife, Anita and I were joined at home by four friends, Neil, Sarah, Toni and Lauren. We ate – a lot. And then we slept. The following morning we left the house with everything we’d need for the next 5 days. A bike, spares, kit, clothes and ‘stuff’.
Here we all are at the start line. Don’t we look fresh faced and enthusiastic?
So… the first day was Chatham to Dover. We headed via the familiar route out of Medway, up Bluebell Hill (the highest point on the whole journey) and onto the North Downs Way. We dropped into Ashford (sneaky McDonalds) and then headed to Aldington, Hythe and Folkestone before starting the long, slow, steep climb up to Capel le Ferne (the second highest point on the whole journey) past the Battle of Britain Memorial and finishing up for the evening within sight of Dover Castle. It had been a long day and a real struggle for one of the group, but we knew it would get easier from that point on.
The second day started really early. We had to be at Dover ferry terminal at 06:30, so the alarms went off at 05:00 and we were all outside and ready to set off by 05:30. The ride into Dover was a long stretch of quiet, downhill road and then it all got a bit weird. Checking in on a roll on roll off ferry in a car is easy enough. And the one time I have done it on a bike (Cairnryan to Larne) I was put on a bus and driven onboard. This time though, we were directed to Lane 153, on our bikes, in the middle of articulated lorries, cars, vans and even a few motorbikes for good measure and simply waited to be told to board.
Once we were on and the bikes were locked up on the car deck we headed up for breakfast and then just enjoyed the ride. The clocks went forward an hour, we checked our phones were working (mine was a bit of a problem, but a quick call to EE later it was all ok), reunited with our bikes and waited – for every single other vehicle to get off the ferry… It took a while, but it was worth it because we were then riding on much quieter roads around Calais and getting used to being on the wrong side of the road.
Northern France was every bit as flat as we’d hoped it would be. There wasn’t much of a headwind but it was incredibly hot. Sunburn ensued. We cycled past old Second World War bunkers, little villages and cornfields, stopped at Gravelines and looked at the construction of the Jean Bart (linked to the Medway Queen Preservation Society) and then carried on towards Dunkirk where we somehow managed to find another tall ship (we didn’t do it deliberately I promise). After Dunkirk it was a straight shot to Middelkerke in Belgium. Or it would have been, except one of our group was struggling a bit so we split into two groups of three people, the lead group heading off in front about 25km out from the hotel. Anita, Lauren and I peddled at a slightly slower pace and made it to the beach front hotel only about 10-15 minutes behind Neil, Toni and Sarah.
Unfortunately due to the time we arrived, most of the local shops and restaurants were closed, but we managed to find a Chinese that was still open and chowed down before bed. Breakfast the following morning was a much easier proposition – and the view wasn’t bad either.
We even managed to cobble ourselves together some lunch for the day ahead.
But then it was back to business and we got the bikes ready and made for Breskens where we’d catch the ferry to Vlissingen, birthplace of Michiel de Ruyter.
There was much more of a headwind, so we decided to track inland a bit rather than go up the coast. That worked for a while, but at Ostend Lauren found it a bit too tough so we popped her on a train to Bruges where she’d transfer and carry on to Knokke (about half way for the day). She could either wait there for us, or start making her way to Breskens and meet us there when we arrived. We kept in touch throughout the day but carried on cycling through Belgium and into The Netherlands. We passed through Zeebrugge where we had to wait for a rather large ship to pass by before the road could be lowered back down and allow us to continue our journey but we made it in reasonably good time.
When we got to Breskens (and Lauren, who had succesfully got there before us) Google Maps had it’s one slight muck up of the five days and directed us to the wrong place – fortunately it was only out by about 500 metres and the Vlissingen ferry was well signposted.
The ferry ride was cheap and quick (it’s not a car ferry, just foot passengers and bikes) and we walked to the hotel less than two kilometres away. It was slightly strange… An old patrol station, the staircases were incredibly steep, the rooms were a little… Odd. But it was good enough to sleep in for one night. Anita wasn’t feeling very well, so she stayed at the hotel while the rest of us went out to find food. The food we found was cooked by a former Lieutenant Colonel in Iraq and Afghansitan with 2 Para (and yes, there were photos to prove it). Then it was back to the (odd) hotel for a bit of sleep.
Breakfast was easy, served in the hotel and we scavenged ourselves a lunch for the second time. Anita and Lauren headed to the train station to catch a ride to Rotterdam and the rest of us headed up the North Sea Coast for the longest ride of the week. We were set to break the 100km mark before reaching Rotterdam.
It was a strange day. We had really built ourselves up for a tough one. It was 106km – that’s quite a long way to do on mountain bikes loaded down with kit into a northerly headwind in strong sunlight. We were all starting to suffer from varying degrees of sun and/or wind burn. Regular applications of sunblock were being applied but Toni in particular was developing an interesting pattern of straps on her upper back and Neil had a very red right calf (the sun spent most of its time behind us on our right). It turned out that it was actually a day made up of quiet towpaths, inland cycle paths, flat bridges across the coastal lowlands, another disappearing road due to a boat and an average speed of well above 10 mph. It was a real shame we hadn’t all managed to be together on that day, but it was for the best as we were then all fit enough to do the last day.
Rotterdam is an amazing city. It would have been good to have enjoyed it a bit more, but the hotel was very nice and we all got ready for the final day rested, relaxed and raring to go.
The last day was less than 50 miles, the shortest of the week. It was the only day to have a tailwind – not a high tailwind to be honest, but a tailwind nonetheless. And we were all together. Lauren really pulled her finger out and kept up the speed. Anita was feeling better after her rest day day and it was another nice route – even if we did start off in the rain in the city centre. The last 5 miles or so were through parkland and were amazing fun.
Before we knew it we were at the Rijksmuseum posing for finish line selfies.
It was all over.
Between us, even with the odd train ride, we’d racked up over 1500 miles in 5 days, cycled in 4 countries and not had a single accident. Not so much as a punctured tire.
We found our accommodation, met my mum and loaded the bikes into the car and then went out for dinner and a celebratory drink.
Saturday was our one day to sightsee and we went to the Rijksmuseum to catch the exhibits concerned with the Dutch Raid on Chatham in 1667. Paintings, objects and the large stern carving from the captured flagship The Royal Charles.
We had a €5 lunch in a nice little restaurant and then went back to the hotel. I felt really bad in the afternoon – I think it was heatstroke. I slept most of the afternoon and through the night without a problem. The night was short though…
We were all up at 04:45 and in a minibus on our way to the airport at 05:30. The flight was supposed to be 40 minutes long but ended up landing at Stansted at the same time it took off (the clocks went back an hour on the flight). Train travel from Stansted to Greenwich took a couple of hours, leaving us enough time to have lunch together before being picked up at the Royal Observatory.
And now it’s really over. Back home. Back to work tomorrow.
The last job for me to do was to reassemble and clean all of the bikes, and I’ve just finished that.
I’d like to thank everyone who donated – you’ve helped us raise nearly a thousand pounds for our chosen charities. I’d like to thank my mum, Julie and sister in law, Carrie for driving to Amsterdam to pick up the bikes and drive them back to Kent. I’d like to thank my dad, David and Neil’s wife, Jo for picking everyone up from Greenwich.
More than anything though I’d like to thank the riders. Trips like this are special and so are the people that you choose to do them with. Thank you for the experience.
It’s 01:30 on D-Day minus 5, I can’t sleep so I’m thinking about the ride.
It’s pretty much all I think about at the moment… I’m practically at the point where everything is done though.
I checked the finances and as long as we’re sensible it’s come in on budget. All the bookings are still on. The kit has been checked and re-checked and it’s amazing what you can fit on a bike when you really squeeze it all in…
Puncture Repair Kit
First Aid Kit
Spare Batteries for Walkie Talkies
Packet of tissues (snot and bikes go hand in hand)
And it will hold my phone as well – but I’m planning on using it a bit in the next five days…
BIG Blue (Underseat) Bag
1 x Shorts
4 x T-Shirts
4 x Trainer Socks
4 x Cycling Shorts / Bibs
2 x Boxer Shorts
1 x Socks
1 x Base Leggings
Then there’s the Helmet and Camelbak.
This photo was taken a while ago, but this is pretty much the same set up – although the small bag in front of the seat post is no longer needed. The bottle cage has been removed as it was in the way and has been replaced with the camelbak.
Tomorrow (or later today) I’ll check the weather forecast and see whether anything needs to change. I might book the taxi to the airport or the train tickets from Stansted.