GURNING GRIMPEURS’ PARIS DIARY

DAY ONE

GREENWICH TO CALAIS – DISTANCE 126.9km, CLIMBING 1164m

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Day One with ‘That Hill’
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Photograph: Michael Hobster

Was it really a year ago that we rode from London to Paris for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research? Now renamed Bloodwise, the charity has Gurning Grimpeur support again in 2015.

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Gurning Grimpeurs in Paris 2014

All five ‘gurneurs’ piled into Maureen’s car – bikes, cases, school ties and all – incredibly early in the morning to drive us (Iain and Jackie) to the start at Greenwich Park. Molly and Patrick had been determined to come along even although it was a school day.

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Molly & Patrick can’t believe they still have to go to school after such an early start

The hubbub at Greenwich was infectiously exciting (and somewhat unsettling) as the gathered riders got on with jittery last minute preparations. We spotted familiar faces in the crowds. Bloodwise organiser Bekah sporting a multi-coloured wig got us all in the right frame of mind.

John Gavigan from Killybegs was there with his family seeing him off. We’d been on some training runs to Box Hill with John in the lead-up to the event proper. This was the real thing.

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Ready for the big send off
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You’re more than just a number
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Just seconds away from that first pedal stroke

Leaving Maureen to negotiate the rush hour traffic to transport Molly and Patrick to school, we pedalled off towards Folkestone – recognising parts of the route as we sped along.

It wasn’t such a mad dash as last year. What was the same however, was the punishing climb up Lympne Hill near the end. Ouch! It hasn’t got any flatter in the last 12 months – strange that. We were soon on the coach though and hurtling under the Channel bound for Calais. Day One under our belts already.

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Checking the Eurotunnel timetable?

DAY TWO

CALAIS TO ABBEVILLE – DISTANCE 136.7km, CLIMBING 1179M

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Day Two – “Shut up legs!”

We left Calais with the roads all to ourselves – at least our side of the roads, thanks to the rolling closures provided by the amazing moto outriders.

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We were privileged to have moto support and rolling road closures

It was time to get into the French groove, enjoy the countryside and cruise along in a relaxed fashion. Wrong!

First of all I (Iain) got a puncture in the first mile and had to get a replacement wheel from Nigel in the mechanic’s van. And before very long we found ourselves gurning laboriously up endless hills and sloshing our way through a truly Biblical downpour which didn’t let up for most of the day. But riding appropriately, two by two, the Bloodwise pedallers kept smiling despite the ‘hostile environment’.

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Samer means lunch and cobbles
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Those Bloodwise rain jackets were needed on Day Two
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Scott after a time trial

We were billeted in the lovely and familiar Mercure Hotel in the centre of Beauvais again. If my feet had felt like fairground goldfish sloshing around inside my waterproof socks during the ride, it was appropriate that I was soon consoling myself with a goldfish-bowl-sized glass of Affligem Belgian beer in the bar.

Jackie and I met Scott Holt at our dinner table. The three of us inadvertently benefited from the unfortunate John Gavigan being shipped off to a different hotel (sorry John). We’d kept a place for him, bought him a drink and made sure his food was set down at his vacant seat. We waited – and waited.

John’s phone had died and when his message got to us, via word of mouth, that he was now at the other hotel, it meant his meal had to beaten by someone – that would be us. And his truly enormous glass of Belgian beer had to be downed by someone – that would be me (Iain)! A delicious – not to mention convivial – end to a soggy Day Two. All that was missing was John’s company.

DAY THREE

ABBEVILLE TO BEAUVAIS – DISTANCE 115.3kM, CLIMBING 786m

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No jagged ‘teeth’ today

Out third day on the road was less hilly. It stayed dry and we did manage to appreciate our surroundings. Lots of friendly and curious locals, barking dogs and diffident drivers. A man caught on the pavement in front of his house in his dressing gown did not appear to be phased by a Bloodwise peleton of riders rushing past. An elderly lady clutching fresh baguettes also gazed on appreciatively as we whooshed by.

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Photograph: Michael Hobster

On his invitation, I tagged onto the back of ride captain, Nic Backster, during the timed section only for him to ramp up the pace. I strained every sinew – and anything else that was strainable – to keep on his wheel. As we passed other riders he breezily exclaimed, “Grab the wheel and try and stay behind.” Some did for a while, only to drop off the back. I pushed myself to stay glued to that strip of tyre spinning in front of me. It was exhilarating. But my high five with Nic after we’d crossed the line was not going to be the last of it.

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Nic Backster impersonates Dick Whittington with the stick he used to help handbike rider Dr William Tan
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William ready to hit the road

Beauvais, our Day Three destination was as quirky and charming as last year. Quirky, because the venue again was the Sapeur-Pompiers centre – our bikes were spending the night amongst the town’s fire engines. Charming, because again the deputy mayor made a formal presentation thanking Bloodwise for fighting blood cancer. This was accompanied by wine and drinks, proffered by waiters and waitresses, lined up beside the stark concrete hangar. The warm welcome extended to us here should have been no surprise, we’d just cycled up Avenue Winston Churchill to reach the main centre of the fire station.

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French fire engine fit for a grimpeur.
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Beauvais welcomes Bloodwise
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Madame Francois Bramard made a heartfelt speech
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Beauvais’s fire service proud to host Bloodwise

DAY FOUR

BEAUVAIS TO PARIS – DISTANCE 102km, CLIMBING 948m

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The one nasty descent is probably worse than the day’s uphills

The morning of Day Four took us back to the fire engines. Ride Captain Nic Backster collared me with a giggle saying, “You’ve made some people in the fast group very unhappy.” They had been studying the results for the time trial on the DB Max website. The fact that I (an interloper from the social group) had placed higher than some fast group riders had caused a bit of a stir. Noses were out of joint and Nic Backster thought it hilarious.

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Fluy TT – 25.4 mph pace no less!

We pedalled back out onto Avenue Winston Churchill, our destination Paris. It’s a gentler ride on Day Four and it’s the shortest, That’s not to say there aren’t a couple of hills at the start. After lunch there’s a treacherous descent which was the scene of one rider having a very bad fall last year.

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The physios kept us going every day
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Getting into the French groove on Day Four

This time the ride captains refrained from chivying us along on this section as they had done in 2014. Slow but sure this time. And seeing the potholes and degraded tarmac at the edge of the road, it’s a wonder not more of us had come to grief on it before.

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Waiting patiently at the finish line

We were soon pedaling through residential areas – and could sense the French capital was close. Before you know it you’re on cobbles, then you realize the Arc de Triomphe is towering before you at the end of the road. We passed several groups of supporters waving flags and cheering for their loved ones. Round the roundabout and down the second cobbled street, it’s amazing to sail past all the massed traffic held at bay by the motos. Unlike in the countryside it seemed clear that Parisian drivers were none too amused about being held up. Cue much revving of engines and angry staring.

But we were smiling – some of us also crying – as we started pedalling across the Seine with the Eiffel Tower to our right. We had made it. Cue hugs, bottles of beer and that crazy group photo.

Of course our fellow ‘gurneurs’, Molly, Patrick and Maureen were at the finish line to meet us – M and P having swapped the school ties for their Look Mum No Hands cycling caps. All five Gurning Grimpeurs were back in Paris again – time for the ‘posh dinner’!

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With John Gavigan in Paris

PARIS ‘POSH DINNER’ – OUR 15 MINUTES OF FAME

The Cyclevox film crew was buzzing around everywhere getting the shots they needed for the parody video of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’. Jacqueline and me had been shrinking violets when it came to the ‘Happy’ video in 2014, so we did our best to get our faces in front of the camera when we could. Our efforts were rewarded. When the video was aired during the Paris dinner, we appeared pedalling along singing part of the chorus.

Next year? Mmmm?

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Not gurning but grinning – happy to be in Paris for the second time

ALL HANDS TO THE PUMP

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It was all hands to the pump at Look Mum No Hands for our last ‘turbo-thon’ of the year. Molly and Patrick looked the part in their 2015 Bloodwise jerseys. Their legs have almost stretched far enough for them to reach the pedals on the turbo bikes without coming off the saddle – almost. And now they know exactly where their cycling caps came from.

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A modest pace was set – it was only a week to the day since Iain and Jackie had cycled into Paris after all. So, we met our 70 mile target easily.

We had a good spot at the Old Street cycling haunt – right next to piles of empty beer kegs. And yes, the barrels were empty already, before we got there. The yard was inhabited by hungry customers eating breakfast and lunch – and flocks of equally hungry pigeons. The fake owl perched on the ledge to deter these feathered interlopers was totally ineffectual. It seemed that most of the pigeons had actually taken a shine to this inanimate impostor.

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Thank you to Peter and Martin for coming along and turning the cranks for a while. Fellow London to Paris veteran, John Gavigan, stopped in with his family to say hello, en route to watching Ireland in the Rugby World Cup at Wembley. And it was great to see our old friend Nicola.

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With no obvious pun knowingly avoided, we should say that Alexandra and Lewin from Look Mum No Hands deserve a big hand (oh yes) for giving us the chance once again, to raise money for Bloodwise by pedalling precisely nowhere. It was great fun and the cakes were delicious!P1030473

UPMINSTER ASKS, GOT ANY GRAPES?

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Inspired possibly by the Youtube duck shopping for grapes, Molly and Patrick, put on a yard sale to raise money for Bloodwise. Their customers had more luck than the hapless duck however.


Image 3Molly and Patrick were admirably selfless in what they offered for sale. The toddlers’ table and chairs they’d loved to use went for a good price. Molly’s dressing up-box and its contents were also sold.

The children’s special car seats found a new home and of course, there were plenty of books for ‘customers’ to choose from.  Friends and neighbours, as ever, were great supporters of the sale and the effort to raise money for Bloodwise. So they deserve a big thank you.

Squash, biscuits and cakes were available at what turned out to be another very successful Gurning Grimpeur fundraising drive.

However no ducks came to browse the merchandise. And that’s just as well because in case you’re wondering, Molly and Patrick didn’t have any grapes for sale.

‘Waddle, waddle’ – it’s a kid thing!

RAIN FAILS TO STOP PLAY


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Another huge thank you is in order. This time to all of Maureen and Jacqueline’s friends and family in Killybegs in County Donegal in Ireland. The town’s Bayview Hotel provided us with a venue plus unlimited tea and coffee for our Donegal coffee afternoon.

Under the organisational guidance of Marian Breslin, the aforementioned friends and relatives came up with a seemingly endless supply of home-baked cakes. Furthermore, people were not deterred from attending by the torrential rain and howling wind (Donegal summer in full swing) – which latter swirled viciously into the bar every time someone walked in off the street.

Molly did a great job writing and handing out raffle tickets. And Patrick made sure all the children present had some ‘thunder sticks’ to take home with them.  Although their parents were less impressed with these gifts than their offspring. We should have thought to sell them ear plugs in aid of LLR.

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A big thank you also to Roslaeen Boyle who – with Sandra’s Run – has raised so much money for a leukaemia-linked cause. She attracted an enthusiastic audience with an accordion performance which really added to the occasion.

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So, cake-‘creators’, tart-‘technicians’, biscuit-‘builders’, sponge-‘specialists’, loaf-‘logisticians’ and chocolate-‘champions’ all – thank you very much for helping make the event such a success.  Weare delighted to reveal that despite the soggy conditions outside, but no soggy bottoms inside, we raised a staggering 900 euros-plus, in just a couple of hours! Chapeau!

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TOUR-BO MANIA HITS KINGSTON

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The three oldest members of the Gurning Grimpeurs are extremely proud of the two youngest. Not only did Molly and Patrick shake our collection bucket with panache and dole out LLR stickers with a smile, they pedalled us over the 100 mile, finish line, at our turbo trainer challenge in Kingston’s Bentall Centre on Sunday 5th July.

Collectively we cycled 200 miles – according to Garmin – in just under six hours and raised £240 for LLR. A huge thank you to the staff at the shopping centre and to all the shoppers who gave so generously.

We almost certainly broke some records. Iain managed to get a puncture while riding on the turbo. We’re still not sure how this happened. Heat? Excessive friction? It’s got to be a first. We also think we’re the first turbo cyclists to keep pedalling whilst eating frozen yoghurt. Jackie’s primary motivation to keep pedalling was the thought of stopping for a ‘Snog’ at the 40 mile mark. Very nice it was too!

We met lots of people who’d been touched by leukaemia and lymphoma in some way. Yaser Martini and his friends came over to say hello. Yaser – along with family and friends – has founded a charity to highlight the difficulties people of mixed ethnicity can have in finding a suitable bone marrow donor. This was the situation his 14 month old daughter Margot was in in 2013. She eventually found a donor – coincidentally the same month, February 2014 in which Molly & Patrick’s dad, Mike, died.  Sadly Margot also passed away in October 2014. Team Margotis determined to get as many potential donors registered as possible – and especially people with a mixed genealogy.

Gurning Grimpeurs’ next challenge? Who knows? There are mutterings about a yard sale (sounds a bit American), a cake sale, more turbo shenanigans and a quiz night. Keep gurning and watch this space.

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GRILLED GRIMPEUR

Peleton & Co have been ‘turbo-ed’. A huge thank you to Jamie, Paul and all the amazing staff, not least for the endless supplies of iced water – and cider (ahem) ‘recovery’ drink! Also, the other Paul, Georgina -and her staff  at Spitalfelds Market were very supportive and made the whole thing possible – not least by giving us a parking space, on a weekday, in the centre of the City!

It’s not that Iain got sunburnt during the challenge. The street in front of Peleton & Co is under cover after all. But it’s a transparent ceiling which actually made the heat of the sun more intense. Despite the valiant efforts of Peleton staff with a hastily erected gazebo (the sun was in the wrong place for this to provide any shade) Iain was broiled after six hours-plus in the saddle. Limp forward one very grilled grimpeur.

It was a great day nevertheless. The Garmin – which does not lie – stated that 120 miles had been covered in 6 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds. It claimed an average speed of 17.7 mph. No wonder the grimpeur was wilting by the end.

A huge thank you to Bekah for the brilliant ‘Making Every Mile Count’ banner which really attracted people’s attention. It’s sobering how many of those who dropped some loose change in the bucket had been affected by blood cancer. One lad said his mum had died of lymphoma and his father was in remission from leukaemia. He then proceeded to empty every single coin out of his pockets into the tin.

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CAKES & COFFEE TO WIPE THE GURN OFF YOUR FACE

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Molly and Patrick’s schools – Upminster Infants and Upminster Juniors –  did us proud for our first real fund raising event this summer. A coffee morning, organised for us at the school, by the PTA, raised a staggering £700 in just over an hour. Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who baked so many delicious cakes, put on the raffle and served tea and coffee – not to mention all those who gave up their time to come down and support us. For our next trick, watch out for Iain grinding the pedals on a turbo trainer outside Peleton & Co in Spitalfields Market on Friday 3rd July. And on Sunday 5th July, the Gurning Grimpeurs appear in full. Molly, Patrick and Maureen will be on hand with collection buckets as Jacqueline and Iain pedal their way to exhaustion in the Bentalls shopping centre in Kingston.

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WHY WE’RE GURNING AND GRIMPING

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After all the amazing support from friends, family and complete strangers last year, we hope to raise more funds and awareness for Bloodwise (formerly known as Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research) – that’s why we’re tackling London to Paris once more in 2015.

“Never again”, is a common cry heard issuing from the lips of those who’ve endured a heavy night on the tiles, or a strenuous exploit, such as cycling 500km from London to Paris. The prevailing sentiment however amongst many of Bloodwise’s, L2P riders is, “Bring it on”.

No surprise then, that Iain and Jacqueline are back for another Parisien spin of the pedals. Together with Molly, Patrick and Maureen – just call us the ‘Gurning Grimpeurs’ – we’ll be straining every sinew to fundraise between now and September.

It’s just over a year since Molly and Patrick’s dad, Maureen’s husband and Iain & Jackie’s brother-in-law, Mike, passed away after living with acute myleloid leukaemia (AML) for 11 months.

We were inspired to take on the daunting 2014 London to Paris challenge during a chat with Mike in his hospital room, the day he’d received his bone marrow transplant. Let’s hope we can do him and Bloodwise proud again, this time round.

Mike in LLR jersey on the day of hist ransplant
Mike in LLR jersey on the day of his transplant