Congratulations to Pete McQuade the founder of the Paris to Hayling Cycle Challenge,

Last Friday evening Meridian News ran an article on the Hayling Island Cycle Ride reaching its 30th Birthday in July this year having raised nearly 1.5 million pounds for a wide variety of worthy causes. This is an event I feel privileged and honoured to have been part of the event since the 90s until 2005 as both a participant and also as Secretary and assisting in Support & Logistics and was even especially in Route Planning under the auspices of Mad Fred.

What started my involvement? Well, I needed to give up smoking, badly. Will power alone wasn’t going to do it: I needed a challenge. Then I saw a news article on the Paris to Hayling Cycle Ride with a picture of 3 rather fetching young ladies with their bikes. ‘That’ll do it for me’ I thought and entered there and then. That first ride was one to remember, and most of it I can but I regret to say that having reached Paris I was rather thirsty and joined other riders at the Hotel Bar in Le Defence. The following events I regret to say are a blur but the next day was my first experience in Riding in France and with so many cyclists (100+) my heavy head was soon forgotten.

Having completed the event plus two or three further events I felt it was time to ‘give something back’ and became a member of the organising committee. Among many things, this did allow, me along with my new fellow cycling buddies Mad Fred, Reg the Hedge, Hobbitt, and Marko: I for my part was named Podge the Puffer on account of age (derivative of Codge), size and hill climbing abilities (almost, a famous five but commonly known as The Reccecrew). And just like the famous five, we had many, many adventures most of which entailed us either getting Lost in France or sampling French Hospitality in bars or café. We tried to document our adventures under the title of Lost in France. An extract of such an adventure is below where we to undertake a ‘recce’ of the proposed route for the coming years Paris to Hayling ride. Naturally, this was all done by bike and naturally, we had to find refreshment stops. But, it wasn’t all easy.


Normandy in France

Recce’s – they’re a doddle, pootle over to France, eat nice food, laze in bed, drink lots of wine, write a few notes.

Well that might be the Chairman’s view but he, and you, should have been with Mad Fred, Podge, Reg the Hedge, Hobbitt, and Marko, when they went to France in March to establish the route for the 5-Day Ride.

The trip to Cherbourg was uneventful. However the weather when we emerged into the darkness in Cherbourg was definitely English ! Windy but mild, and fortunately for us a tail-wind to boot ! Recce’s sometimes mean that we have to retrace our steps and Hobbitt soon found we had to do this within 2 kilometers of the ferry port – straight back into a headwind. While the rest of us munched apple turnovers and pain au chocolate he blasted back to check what turns out to be a very well surfaced and convenient cycle track leading out of the ferry port.

The job done we tackled the first climb ‘Hobbitt’s Early Riser’ – scant reward for his efforts so far. From the top of the hill to Quettenhou the quiet roads follow a plateau and river valleys, OK and one hill, but pretty soon we reached the east coast of the Contin Peninsular and while Mad Fred ploughed on ahead the rest of us piled into a great Bike Shop (well worth stopping at in July).

By the time we reassembled in a bar on the D-Day Beaches the wind was blowing into us at 90 degrees which was pretty hairy but fortunately the roads were totally deserted.  We batted on southwards until the estuary turned us inland and into the headwind for a very painfully slow crawl to Carentan. In the summer this will be a very pretty route but in March it was hell ! Over lunch in Carentan we were all falling asleep.

Moving on after a good feed however, the wind was behind us and with the sun out it was very pleasant as we bowled along towards Bayeaux for the night. We witnessed the strange sight of a large dog bounding trafficwards in the fast lane of the route national, whether the mutt survived was never known but it caused a fair degree of chaos.

We’d picked out a river valley to lead us the last 20 kilometres into Bayeaux but nothing had forewarned us of the flooding we were about to encounter. The valley floor was a giant lake, extending as far as the eye could see with little islands dotted here and there, we pushed on through it and up onto higher ground, getting wet and taking a few photos just to prove the point ! Approaching Bayeaux Hobbitt and Marko went ahead while Mad Fred and Podge planned a route around the ring road being built around this historic town. An early night was spent in Bayeaux as we had a 7am start the next day and we were spent!

From Bayeaux to Caen is quite a nice spin and with a sunny morning it was very pleasant – even with having to contend with ‘Podge’s Puffer’ which is a nice little climb. But there’s always a ‘but’ and in this case it was a slight confusion over where we were going. Marko and Hobbitt were under the impression that they were to meet up with Mad Fred and Podge in……..(‘Lost in France bit’)…..but the latter didn’t share the same view and after an hour of ‘being lost’ we met up, funnily, in a bar (turned out we were never more than a kilometer away from each other). Ploughing on towards Caen we encountered the floods once again, only this time the water was at least a metre deep and right across the road we used to exit Caen last year on the ride to Gorron, and which this year we wanted to use to enter Caen. Podge and Hobbitt vainly attempted to cycle through it, once to see how deep it was, and after proving to themselves that you cannot do a U turn on a cycle loaded with your luggage and up to the axle in water,  once again to pose for the camera. Time to retire to the bar and plot a way around it !

Mission completed we moved on, narrowly avoiding a very serious involvement with the local cycling club who were turning out in force for an afternoon road race. Pukka bikes and riders who understandably ignored the pannier-laden Recce Crew. The skies grew darker and Mad Fred’s unfair admonishment of the French for having moved road numbers and planted a farm in the way of us only served to contribute towards the impending gloom, it was going to rain, and there was going to be lots of it !

We became wetter and colder and more and more miserable so an executive decision was made in the bar – head for Troarn, find a hotel and dry out !

Success with this raised our spirits, helped by a few bottles of red wine, glasses of calvados, and a hot supper. By midnight we felt in reasonable shape to get up at 6am and battle on towards Le Havre, but it was still raining…..!

Sunday morning at 6am and it was still dark, this was the morning after the clocks were altered and to be quite honest we weren’t sure what time it really was. We snuck out of the hotel (having paid the previous night) only to encounter half a dozen Frenchmen having an early coffee and brandy in the hotel bar.

The road from Troarn to Pont l’Eveque is as boring as hell – long, straight, slow hills, and more flooding – anywhere flat seemed to be under masses of water. Mad Fred was some way behind us when we got to Pont l’Eveque and stopped at the first bar – rule number one is if you get separated stop in the first bar and wait, leave your bikes on prominent display so they can’t be missed by the estranged recce crew member. Rule number two is that Mad Fred doesn’t know about rule number one, so we lost him, again.

Reunited we plodded on towards Honfleur where we needed to recce the route off the Pont d’Normandie (BIG bridge to you and Podge who moaned and groaned his way to the top), and onto it for the 4-Day Ride. At the top of the bridge a helpful instrument told us the wind was 40kph, and the temperature was wavering between 4c and 5c. It felt, and was, cold !

Things brightened up once we were over the bridge and pedalling along the nice quiet roads on the industrial approach to Le Havre and with an hour to spare before the ferry left we found an extremely nice restaurant for lunch. Well 2/3 of our lunch, we didn’t have time for the dessert so we’ll go back for that in July. We did have time for 2 courses, and a litre of wine each – hell we’d deserved it, over 200 miles though some pretty miserable weather, now it was time to relax !

Onboard the ship we bumped into Syme and Michelle, two former riders who’d just enjoyed a romantic weekend and now had to face reality in the shape of a hammering in the bar. We failed miserably in the onboard quiz, drank loads of Guinness, a couple of bottles of wine, and a few brandy’s, and wobbled off the ship into the Ship and Castle by the Ferryport. None of us remember much after that !


And, if you want to enjoy such adventures though with less wind and rain, and if the ride continues beyond 2015, I can’t recommend it highly enough..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s