Rhea Shah, a University of Warwick student and Breast Cancer Now supporter, shares the ups and downs of cycling from London to Paris.
I can’t talk about my experience of cycling from one country to another (around 300 miles) without feeling choked. I am both shocked and proud that I was able to cover such a distance within three days without any prior training and despite having Thalassemia Minor (an inherited blood disorder which affects the hemoglobin).
The challenge was mental, physical and emotional, but support from friends and family and the thought of those affected by breast cancer kept me peddling.
Day One: Befriending the ‘support van’
For some absurd reason, I had the notion that despite the lack of practice and training, I would be able to cycle over 220 miles without much trouble. Imagine my devastation when early into the first leg I already felt like giving up.
Panting. Sweating. I could see nobody ahead or behind me; every single person had already peddled ahead. If by chance I did see any cyclist, it would be for a brief moment, until they had overtaken me and disappeared ahead into the horizon. I reached a state of intense panic.
I stopped, got off my bicycle and broke down. Imagine my devastation when I realised that not only was I the first person to sit in the support vehicle, but I might also have to sit there for the rest of the three days! All the bottled up stress and frustration was overflowing. I felt hopeless. I sat in the van. Alone. Devastated. I was unable to calm myself down. Unable to be optimistic. Unable to remain motivated.
I sat in the van for the longest time until suddenly I had a moment of calm. And then I got out of the van and peddled away, smiling.
Day Two: Befriending the ‘silence’
By the end of the second day I felt like my world had toppled upside down. I reached a stage of being content. I was given a 20 minute head start. Just like day one I was cycling alone with nobody ahead or behind me. After about 10 miles the fastest group had overtaken me. As time passed, more and more groups began to catch up and then overtake me. Within a blink of an eye I was alone again. Yet I remained calm and collected. The constant support from every passing cyclist cheering "Come on Rhea. You can do it" kept me going. I must have cycled around 40 miles alone without even realising.
I was neither panting nor overthinking; in fact I found myself for the first time in a long time feeling truly independent and content. I was enjoying my own company and embracing the silence. At the end of the second day I realised that this trip had turned out to be more than just a charity cycle. Yes, the cycle covered a long distance, but the distance I covered emotionally has truly been the most inspirational one I could have asked for.
Day Three: Befriending ‘myself’
The most daunting part of the cycle would be tackling the hills. I walked up the first few. Every time I would try to cycle up I would go off balance and stop. But then, as the guides cycled passed and shouted support to me, “We know you can do it. You’ve come a long way”, I decided to go by the books and use the oldest formula for success: hard work.
I might have stopped to catch my breath about 10 times on every hill, but I was determined to cycle up each and every hill, however long and steep!
We finally made it. I had cycled from London to Paris. I think the real moment of realisation was during the celebratory dinner on the last night. The words of all the guides still echo in my head. I was given the "most determined award (with all heart and soul)", on which all the guides had unanimously agreed. That moment when everybody stood up and clapped for me, that was the moment when I began to believe in myself.
At the end of this trip I knew I had made friends for a lifetime. Not just the ones I cycled with, but also with the people we were able to help by taking part in this charity race. I might not have seen them or know who they are, but I hope to have touched their hearts the way they touched mine.
The London to Paris bike ride is not just about the cycling, it's about the whole experience and about helping others. So, if you're still wondering whether to sign up, take it from me - no matter how hard it is, you won't regret it.
Rhea Shah London to Paris Participant 2015, University of Warwick
To find out more about this incredible challenge and get your place today, visit our Cycle London to Paris page.