day one

I’m pumped with nervous excitement on the morning of day 1. Still limping a little, but with my foot plastered up and armed with an arsenal of anti-inflammatory pills, pain killers and deep-freeze spray, somehow I have the confidence that it won’t be so bad. Still, the lack of knowledge with regards to the hills that I’ll have to climb is enough to keep me on the edge.

I arrive at the meeting point, an open field in front of a hotel by BlackHeath train station, and meet the other cyclists. Almost everyone has proper road bikes (some look like they spent a small fortune on cycling gear – with brands like Radioshack, SKY, or other usual cycling sponsors on their outfit) and the group of cyclists that I gravitated towards with the best kit talk amongst themselves about their personal best racing times during training and a 90 mile race they just recently participated in. “Shit” (i think) “What am I doing here?”

I don my cycling shoes for the first time in a month (images of me falling off while I try to click on and off my cleats flash through my mind) and Danny proceeds to get a group photo of all of us before we start (note to self – I need to get my hands on those photos). I intentionally position myself near the very back, as my objective for the first day is to just get through it without getting into the van because of either my knee, ilio-tibial band or right foot.

We get going, following our British cycle guide for the day called Guy who’s doing this as well for the first timeā€¦ “Team Sky” (as I called them because of their cycling kit) are up front looking eager to leave dust in our faces. I later learn their names are Sunny (a cute little chinese girl who starts of as the most eager racer), her boyfriend Andy (a blond Brit who is taller and lankier than me), their mate Luke (who incidentally was my roommate for the whole trip), brothers Steve and John (the former a sinner and the latter a saint) and Teo (probably the most obnoxious guy in everyone’s opinion).

I’m behind a charity group of seven cyclists called Chalvington, and in front of only four other people out of the 25 of us (my pride prevented me from staying at the rear).

We’re off! We start at a very moderate pace as we navigate ourselves out of Blackheath south-west towards Dover, stopping at many a traffic light and navigating through cars. Since I mapped out the whole terrain of day one, I knew that approximately only 4 miles into the trip we would climb the biggest hill of the day and do so for about 1.3 miles. We did and I was pleasantly surprised that the gradient was not as sharp as I thought it would be, even though it was enough to set a girl walking and other people panting their lungs out. I still maintained a steady pace the whole time, but I overtook the whole Chalvington team and started cycling with a tandem couple (who despite having their names painted beautifully on their bike, I cannot remember them), an Indian called Sanjeev and a 50 year old British marathon runner called Bernard. Looking back now, it is interesting that our pace matched up so early in the beginning because throughout the whole trip this fact continued to remain so.
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We continued battling with traffic lights and cars on the dual-carriage way for the first 38 miles on the way to our lunch. I wondered to myself when the beautiful scenery en route to Dover would materialise (it never really did, save for a few nice fields for a while). There was lots of starting and stopping while we waited for slow cyclists to catch up, which became one of the major annoyances of the day, and Teo from team sky probably stalled us for 15-30 minutes trying to fix his brakes. At this point I noticed Teo was very quick to try to race to the very front of the group when the terrain was flat or downhill, but once we hit any uphills of significant length he would struggle very visibly (and use the wrong gear as well, as a matter of fact). This lack of physical fitness I did not hold against him, until I realised he was an absolute asshole (pardon my French, but he was). Two very strong female cyclists from the North of England (who were referred to as The Northerners), were grumbling quite audibly about how he should be just thrown in the van so the group could continue. Sanjeev and Bernard seemed to agree.

Despite the delays, we eventually reached a big field where Luke (the designated driver of one of the vans for the whole trip and also the nicest guy you would ever meet) setup lunch for us. A was a bit late joining the queue for lunch (a mistake I never repeated) and hence missed out on all the tuna salad, so I had to settle for a salami, turkey, chorizo and cheese sandwich (basically as much protein as I could find to help my muscles recover) which I followed my two cups of coffee to fuel me for the rest of the afternoon. Everyone was a bit scattered, some lying on the grass and others examining their bikes, while myself, Sanjeev and Bernard proceeded to lather ourselves with sun block to combat the scorching heat (I’m still sporting my tan line right now from day one).

We continued on for the next 32 miles to the port of Dover through Canterbury, again punctuated with a lot of stops while some of our group struggled with the hills. The two cups of coffee was taking its toll on me, so the frequent stops were a blessing in disguise as they allowed me to relieve myself. There were two couples and a cyclist from Team Chalvington that probably caused the most delays. Of the two couples the girls were the ones that fought hard to keep up, sometimes walking up the hills that proved either too steep or too long, while their dutiful partners stayed by their side. A guy called Gareth from Team Chalvington also struggled with muscle cramps behind his knee, a puncture and his general fitness which also failed him when we had to deal with hills.

The views and the roads of the second half of our days journey was much better, with us going up and down some nice country roads. The main catastrophe of the trip, however, happened on one of these dirt roads as Sunny sped down it and couldn’t break in time to make the corner, so she proceeded to crash into a fence and bruise herself all over her legs (they did look quite bad). Luckily though, she flew over the barbed wire on the fence so she was not gashing with blood, and she suffered no further injuries.

Anyway, despite the delays and crashes, we all got to the port of dover in the end. I was suitably pleased I survived day one because that was literally my number one priority. Sanjeev, Bernard and myself has a celebratory meal of steak and wine in the ferry as it made its one hour and 40 minute trip to Calais. From there it was only a 4 mile ride to our Hotel Ibis (although this was stretched out by another puncture in the group), where we arrived for a well deserved victory drink by the bar while we all exchanged our experiences of that day of cycling. Team Sky were teasing each other about the mini-races up the hills they were doing during the day to entertain themselves. I found out Danny was a scuba diving in structure as well as founder of More Adventures and avid cyclist, which well impressed me as a life choice.
Day one was done, but there was still a long way to go.

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