London to Paris 2015: Life on Two Wheels

Written by the Explorer Scouts who cycled from London to Paris.

It all started with a flyer in my inbox – did I want to cycle to Paris in half term? I’ve never even rode my bike to school! Anyway, I went to the meeting and got a kit list, and went on a short practice ride with about 20 other Explorers around Muswell Hill and Ally Pally. Marlon explained the details for all the training we would do, because in 8 weeks we would leave for Paris. I said ‘OK’ – and that seemed to be that.

We had three training rides. Two were along the Thames and one was up the River Lee and we camped overnight at Danemead. We cycled from Scout Park to the canal in Camden and followed that through Hackney to Stratford, where we picked up the River Lee. That took us all the way to Broxbourne where we left the river and cycled up the hill to Danemead campsite. On the way Marlon made us all have a race changing tyres to see how fast we could change a puncture and the results ranged from 5 minutes to 35 minutes…. it was depressing…

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Our first day cycling with full kit

It was our first day cycling with all the kit and the things we learned were:

  1. Sleeping bags take up too much room
  2. Roll mats take up too much room
  3. Tents take up too much room
  4. There is always room for a Unicorn.

We set up camp in the sunshine and then cycled in the gathering darkness to Asda where we did all our shopping for dinner and breakfast.

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Our campsite for our first nights training

Sunday was only a half day – we cycled easily down the Lee to Tottenham where we left the river and finished at Scout Park. We had had brilliant weather for all the training rides and we were worried that the weather was getting worse for the half term.

 

We were ready…

 

Day 1: Scout Park to Broadstone Warren: 90km

Megan: As normal the trip started early at Scout Park. We loaded up the bikes with tents and stoves, tarps and first aid kits, maps, map cases and compasses and rolled out of the gates to head into central London. The trip continued with a coffee on the corner of Guildford street, just like any ordinary Monday commute. However, this marked the start of our week-long journey to Paris, with madness and adventure at every stage.

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Jason: I woke up on that cold Monday morning realising what I had put myself up against as I really thought I wasn’t up for this challenge. Getting to Scout Park and readying myself and the group for the trip was daunting, but before we could think about it we were off to Tower Bridge for the official start. Lesson One: Monday traffic is ridiculous.

Michal: We left London heading for Broadstone Warren campsite in the South Downs. My main memory from day 1 was that amazing downhill that was just 100% worth all that uphill we had to get through…

We were off. Paris or bust!

Jamal: As we finally got to camp at Broadstone warren around 6pm it was time to eat and pitch our tents. At this point everybody was exhausted from scaling the biggest hill ever and just wanted to sleep.

It had been a long day: Over 90km through busy London roads and over the North Downs.

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Camping at Broadstone Warren

Day 2: Broadstone Warren to YHA South Downs: 50km

Amy: Early the next day we woke up and packed all of the kit back onto our bikes before setting off on day 2. As we made good time, it was decided that we would go on an adventure by riding along the side of the river rather than on the road. What could go wrong?

The river banks we followed were extremely muddy, everything got covered, and a good amount of the mud even made it all the way to Paris!

Before we knew it the path had disappeared but we were committed. We were soon climbing over gates and fences, wading through bog and slowly making headway. Anything for a road!

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We quickly took over Lewes town centre

Ladford: This detour resulted in muddy bikes and explorers as well as a bit of risky riding through a river by Thomas Wheeler in order to win a £5 bet. After this we arrived in Lewes for Lunch and shopping. We then continued onto the youth hostel a little further on.

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After two days of cycling we were happy to get to a hostel

Fred: The hostel was nice, and allowed for some welcome bike maintenance, tent drying and Marlon tickling. There was a more pressing issue that arose though, although it wasn’t as much ‘pressing’ as it was ‘pulling’, and a bit of stuffing as well, maybe some whacking, bit of friendly violence, little bit of sewing and some good old fashioned unicorn surgery. Don’t ask.

Oh, and Lottie from Network (now at Uni in Brighton) came to visit us. Importantly she brought coffee – the only thing we forgot. Sadly it was Irish coffee, but we got used to it… Nice to see you, Lottie.

Day 3: YHA South Downs to Neufchatel en Bray: 60km

Thomas S: We woke bright and early on Wednesday morning to cycle to the ferry, just a short ride before a long wait for the ferry.

The long ferry crossing was useful because it allowed time to fix the worst mechanical of the trip so far: someone (not me for once) had bent their wheel by riding it into a gap in the ferry’s deck– it was pringle-shaped! A fair amount of bending, stamping, brute force and delicate manipulation of spokes got it back to a rideable condition.

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Our first day in France was on the gloriously flat Avenue Verte

On arrival in France we immediately had two punctures in short succession: the only two punctures of the trip that weren’t Marlon’s (he had three in total!), proving our point that France hates us!

Because we didn’t even start cycing in France until 3pm because of the ferry we finally arrived, under cover of darkness, in Neufchâtel en Bray at about 6pm. Marlon had arranged some home hospitality for us and we set up camp, went shopping and cooked dinner on the Avenue Verte.

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The Unicorns made it into France. We don’t know how. Or Why.

Cameron: That night was pretty cold, and we had to be really quiet about noise around the neighbours – something Explorers are not good at! We did at least get McDonalds, but it was French (translation: ‘of poor quality’), something you never see at McDonalds.

It also rained, I lost one of my bungee cords and it had been a really long day with lots of punctures, and my legs were sore. At least the nice lady who let us sleep in her garden for the night was nice… We rewarded her with a bottle of wine. Thank you so much…

Day 4: Neufchatel en Bray to Le Coudray st Germer: 65km

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Everyone made a new friend on the trip

Leah: The next morning we pulled off a relatively speedy pack up before setting off back into the Avenue Verte. However, unknown to us, the route was not as flat as it had been the day before and gears were lowered to get us up the many hills of the day. After completing the final, very long climb we arrived at the site in Le Coudray St Germer, set up camp, showered and ate.

We had learned a lot about how to pack our kit by this stage. We were no longer cycling-expedition rookies!

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Most of the group were absolutely shattered and decided to head in for an early night but 8 of us decided that 8:30 was far too early to go to bed and headed off into ‘town’. The next hour and a half consisted of piggybacks, huddles, 7UP, more piggybacks (although one ended up wth 2 of us on the wet and muddy grass) and ‘lost’ wallets. We then realised that we were sat in a church yard, in an isolated French town where NOTHING WAS OPEN and that it was only kind of slightly creepy.

So we headed back to camp and…

Day 5: Le Coudray st Germer to Jambville Scout Centre: 60km

We woke up to the 5th day of cycling to bright blue skies. The old rhyme ‘red sky at night…’ Had been proved true. We headed out of the camp to Serifontaine, 8km of continuous downhill riding. Our aim for lunch was Gisors, where we shopped at a local farmers market for dinner. We got thoroughly lost on the way out of town but eventually joined the gloriously flat and sunny Epte Valley Cycleway which took us all the way to Bray et Lu, from where we cycled uphill to Jambeville, a massive Scout Centre set in 52 acres around an old chateau.

Marlon: The Explorers were taking turns in navigating by this stage using the 1:100,000 touring maps that we had used on the last trip. Only a handful of mistakes were made and the Explorers did a very good job of keeping themselves entertained, enthused and focussed.

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The Epte Valley

Dearbhla: Let’s start with the fact that the Frenchies are absolutely bonkers. At the campsite our beautiful fire was easily outshined by the French who were 15 metres away.  Our entertainment was sorted for the evening. The French were jumping around, and, well, some might call it singing? Now, let’s make something clear, the French have the best scout campsite, easily 52 acres. This was the Jambville campsite. The route was an adventure, just this time the adventure was planned (I assure you though the trips down the hill and into a bog were not planed) and most of us gained another bruise that day, such fun.

Day 6: Jambville Scout Centre to La Defense, Paris: 60km

Our last day of cycling was all downhill, or so it seemed. We passed the Axe Majour and entered the chaotic Parisian traffic. We cycled the remaining 45km into Paris, finishing at La Defense. We had reached Paris!

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Sadly, and unlike last time, there was no specific moment to mark the ‘official’ end of the expedition and we moved on to our hotel where the van met us. It was a struggle to fit 17 bikes into the back of a small transit but we managed in the end! Everyone cheered when the doors were slammed shut, and we collapsed into our hotel, happy to have hot showers and proper beds. That evening we walked into Paris for a boat ride on the Seine, and the next day we went up the Eiffle tower before having an expedition debrief in the sunshine outside.

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