Where: London to Paris
No. of Cyclists: 27
Charity Partner: Medical Aid for Palestinians UK
Amount Fundraised: £90,000
An account from Flavio, one of our cyclists from the 2009 London to Paris challenge:
“All I can say is that I haven’t had such a rewarding experience as well as so much fun in a long time. Disparate perhaps but I felt we really gelled as a group right from Day 1 and everyone was mutually supportive while allowing ourselves the occasional competitive burst of energy (and why not) just to push ourselves and see what we were capable of. In my case, my involvement was pure serendipity, chancing upon Seif and Lulu [2 of the founders of Cycling4Gaza] on Wimbledon Broadway in May at the end of one their training sessions, and being intrigued by their story and instantly hooked when offered the chance to join them (despite nursing an injured calf muscle at the time – I wasn’t going to let such a minor irritant stop me!)
The first day was not without its mishaps which were, in chronological order as far as I remember, as follows:
– Houssam realising he was bikeless at Crystal Palace.
– The strap to Avi’s helmet coming undone just before our first fruit stop.
– Houssam having his first puncture at the second fruit stop.
– Losing Thamer (or Thamer missing a sign and taking a wrong turn – a mistake I would also definitely have made had Fouad not been on the ball and called me back) just before the steep hill-climb on the approach to Turners Hill.
– Fieras sustaining a spectacular fall then brushing it off as well as the stitches administered by Nick the medic, with great aplomb.
– Finding Thamer just as Houssam realises he’s got a puncture again at The Crown in Turners Hill.
– The great tour de force of the day: I mistake another event’s sign for one of ours and stand on the spot and make sure everyone goes in the wrong direction.
– The ferry is 4 hours late leaving and takes an extra 2 hours to make the crossing and we arrive in Dieppe 6 hours late, with barely time to grab le petit dejeuner, allez, allez, shower and get back on our velos for the second day’s journey to Gournay.
– Did I forget Houssam’s third puncture? Probably.
Perhaps it was those mishaps on the first day that made the adventure such a success. Having learnt to overcome adversity as a group early on, we were prepared for anything. But in fact the rest of the trip went remarkably smoothly and incident-free. The Lebanese debkahs and Scottish caeliedhs staged by our chief entertainer and stand-up comic Hazem and our Gaelic contingent Tabrez and Zara to lift our spirits in Newhaven became regular features and a sort of signature for the event – we became the ‘singing and dancing cyclistes’. Later, from the sheer exhilaration of it all, our procession from the Bois de Boulogne to the Eiffel Tower was to turn into a spontaneous and cheerful ‘manifestation roulante’ with chants of ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Palestine vivera et le mur tombera’ – so appealing was the moment that a couple of French girls on roller skates even joined us for a while.
Other ‘moments’ that made the experience memorable for me were, in no particular order, having un petit café with Avi and Gwyn in a bar/tabac in a sleepy village near Saint Saens while discussing the finer points of the real prospects for a two-state solution and the Saudi peace plan (trying not to think about the 60 kms yet to cover that day!); the undulating corn fields and the urgent chirping of skylarks; cycling with Monem and Houssam and getting to the next fruit stop ahead of Gary and his van; the blue skies and cirrus clouds and poppies lining the road; the copious lunches at Bosque Eveline and Cergy; sharing a room with Hazem and Houssam (!); more dancing under a red sky at night at Gournay en Bray and a hotel neon sign that just read ‘HOT…’; setting off at 7.30 am on our last day to the sound of church bells and already soaked by brilliant sunshine; our triumphant arrival in Paris knowing that we’d done it through pure pedal-power and zero CO2 emissions (well, except maybe for the car ahead, the van behind and the boat!); the three days of excitement and anticipation before and relief and satisfaction after each leg; the solidarity, camaraderie and looking out for each other; and of course, underscoring all of that, the reason for it all – the message to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten.”