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Journal

THE NOT QUITE NORTH COAST 500 | PT. II

10,000km.cc

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There was no overnight miracle. 

Dragging ourselves out of our beds, down the stairs and into the hallway, Saul’s bike still rested forlornly against the wall, its front tyre flat and his chain wrapped precariously round parts of his frame.

We discussed plans over breakfast, but they were loose and un-robust. 

Should we botch a fix together to get him to the train station? Was there a bike shop nearby? Should he get the train to Ullapool, tonight’s stopover, in the hope of finding one there? 

No phone reception or WiFi meant the only thing that held the answers to any of these questions was a copy of the Yellow Pages sat next to the B&B’s landline. 

After half a morning of calls it transpired that there was nowhere we could rely on in Ullapool. The closest train station was 16 miles away. And the only train was at 16:30 that afternoon. 

The only reliable plan we were able to hit on at 09:30 on a Sunday was for Saul to walk him and his bike back to where we’d had dinner the night before and hitch a ride to the station. We’d see him in Inverness.

And so, reluctantly, four became three. 

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Back on the roads and into the mist and/or drizzle (mizzle), The Highlands reasserted their power over us almost immediately. An enormous gust of wind blew from one side of the valley and to the other and took us with it. Forced from one side of the road to the other, the blast did an about turn and came back the other way, carrying us back to where we started.

These roads did not belong to us and they’d do whatever they wanted whilst we were on them.

We were just glad not to be riding deep sections.

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The weather slowly started to improve as we made our way into the first half of the second day, which would be taking us to Ullapool. The sun started to break through the clouds and as we swung eastwards we were fortunate enough to grab a tailwind that helped the first 50km evaporate beneath our wheels.

The fantastic conditions and stark contrast of the terrain to the previous day were cause for a celebratory Irn Bru at our first and only stop of the day. 

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Placing our bikes against a bench, we pushed through the heavy, arched, church-like door and followed the signs in the hallway that invited ys further inside. Standing in an empty room, we looked on at the empty bar.

The lights were on and the shelves and fridges were stocked, but we weren’t sure if anyone was home. Then we read the A4 printout:

“Please ring the bell. FIRMLY. 

We will be with you shortly.

Thank you.”

We did as we were told.

We rang the bell.

Firmly.

Two or three minutes later, a chap with a broad Essex accent wandered into the room.

“‘Ello, gents. What can I getchoo?”

Placing an Irn Bru and a glass on the bar, he glided out of the room for another few minutes before returning with the second two-thirds of our order, a couple of black coffees. 

“We’ve got the fire on in the lounge if you wanna head through there”, he said, gesturing towards a conservatory containing a couple of thick-cushioned couches gathered round a coffee table.

We did as we were told. We drank our drinks in front of the fire. We broke out some ride snacks as we revelled in what had been a relatively easy start to the day. And then we got up, put our empty cups and glass on the bar and we left.

We didn’t see our host again after he’s ushered us into his lounge.

“What was that place?” One of us shouted over our shoulder to the others as we began peddling up a growing incline into what was becoming a prevailing headwind. 

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Neither let up for the next two hours and it’s relentless was slowly eroding Gorrod’s pain threshold. His knee had started to niggle the day before, with Bealach na Bà having worked its way in and not left since. Deja vu took hold as Hendo and I found ourselves sandwiching another rider between our front and back wheels in a bid to make their lives ever so slightly easier.

The elements did their best to give almost as much as they took, a rainbow over a reservoir providing what might have been a perfect metaphor for or circumstances had we had a better opportunity to analyse it. 

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But as we were spat out onto the final descent into Ullapool, we were soaked through and shivering. Having rolled through another beautifully bleak expanse of moorland, nothing brings warmth to the heart of an otherwise cold-limbed, red-faced cyclist than the sight of a fish and chip shop and the words “deep”, “fried” and “haggis”.

Thawing from the inside out, we made full use of a room in our hostel for the evening that we’d never encountered before: the drying room.

There are few other parts of the world that require such an amenity, we guessed, as we put down plates that had been holding pizza, and picked up our pints of ice cream.  

View the route.

THE NOT QUITE NORTH COAST 500 | PT. 1

10,000km.cc

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"I'll be honest with you. The Full English is good, but it's not £9.00 good. Now the smoked salmon and scrambled egg is better value at £8.00 – it's quite substantial, you get a bit more for your money".

It was half past eight on a Friday night in Euston station and, as we stood outside our cabin and room for the night, our train guard, Robert, gave us a thorough rundown of our breakfast options for the following morning. 

"And then you've got porridge with honey, granola with yoghurt. Four porridge and four coffees? No problem at all. 

And what time would you like to to come and wake you up? We're due in at 8:38am, so a knock and breakfast at 07:30? Perfect".

Single file, heads bowed and torsos angled slightly off centre, we walked down the narrow corridor of the Caledonian Sleeper Train, squeezed into our four bunk room and climbed into our beds. 

We were heading for The Scottish Highlands and, by the time the sun was up and Robert was bringing us our breakfast, we'd be there. 

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It wasn't all that long ago that this trip was just a proposition; a precarious pipe dream that was always intended but never quite executed. 

The four of us had been looking at taking on The North Coast 500 by bike for a few years, but it took the prospect of one of us leaving the UK to force us into action. And even then we were a little too late; available holiday was few and far between and we'd slipped into the portion of the year where the weather had become even more temperamental than usual and daylight had dwindled. 

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So it was with smiles on our faces and a sense of relief that we rode out of Inverness, passing its expansive lochs under blue skies and a bright, low-lying sun.

A-roads and lanes are one and the same in these parts and it wasn't long before the slow trickle of traffic dried up. Any obvious signs of inhabitants became sparse – a farm house here and a seemingly unreachable cottage there were fleeting specks on otherwise rugged and weathered hillsides and moorlands. 

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It was somewhere between 70 and 80km that we saw the first building that might serve food. We were keen to push on into what was our longest day of the three, but no one liked our odds on finding anywhere else in the next few hours and, more importantly, before the biggest and toughest leg of the day.

Wheeling up outside Ledgowan Lodge Hotel, we clopped and clattered under the watchful gaze of stuffed deer heads and what looked to be the hotels only two guests to their reception. Not looking at our watches, it's difficult to know how long we spent in the high-ceilinged, empty-except-for-us dining room, but if food and drink is an acceptable unit of time, it was a sandwich and two pots of coffees. Whatever the unit of measurement, it was long enough for the weather to swing from the bright and sunny to the wet and misty. 

To begin with, it wasn't raining – the air was just wet. The mist combined with forward momentum to slowly but surely make sure every accessible inch of us and our bikes became suitably saturated. As we pedalled on, the wet air became more assertive, transforming from droplets into globules that were unarguably heavy rain. 

A well-timed puncture made sure we were able to appreciate it in all its torrential glory.

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"Whatever happens, we have to do the longest route option on day one. It's the only way we'll be able to do Bealach na Bà".

Fickle weather and limited light meant Hendo, our routemaster, had planned several routes for each of our three days in The Highlands. Knowing our options to get back to our starting point were limited beyond the bike, it gave us contingency plans should we need them. But there was one iconic climb we refused to side-step having come this far: Bealach na Bà.

Idiots.

Otherwise known as Applecross Pass, this almost-10km stretch of ascending, winding tarmac is widely billed as the toughest climb in Britain. With 120km in our legs and our ham and cheese sandwiches having just begun to settle, we reached its base.

The climb is a con man. And like any con man worth their salt, it introduces itself amicably, a gentle, steady climb taking you up and away from Loch Kishorn. You warm to it; almost start to enjoy it.  

But despite the friendly introduction, the early warning signs are there, forcing you to quieten the voice in your head that's telling you it might not be as bad as you thought. 

"Road normally impassable in wintry conditions" read a red, all-caps sign next to an open gate that felt as though it might be closed at any minute. 

It was just before the halfway point of the climb, where the road took a harsh right-hand hairpin, that the climb showed its true colours. 

The road banked. 

There was a headwind.

And, after 20 minutes of grinding and pedal dancing, you could see in no uncertain terms just how far away the top of the climb remained.

I let out a groan as the weight of my saddle bag and the harsh gradient of the climb forced my front tyre from the tarmac in a momentary wheelie. My knuckles whitened as I gripped my handlebars tightly to counteract the strong wind that was determined to turn said wheel to a 45 degree angle. 

I watched as cars carefully crawl pass me. I wondered how feasible holding onto the side of a vehicle and letting them drag me up was.

Approaching the final three hairpins of the climb, I looked back over my left shoulder at what we'd left behind. If the process of reaching the top of this climb hadn't devoid me of almost every molecule of oxygen floating through my body, what lay below might have taken my breath away. 

A harsh cliff face plummeted into a valley where a river ran like a loan vein back toward the loch we'd left behind and below in the distance. 

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In another context it might've been beautiful.  In this one, it was drowned out by the sound of my heart beating in my ears, the ruthless wind whistling round them and obscured by the burning sensation in my eyes from the sweat as it relentlessly ran into them.

Despite beginning to imagine there wasn't one, we reached the top of the climb. Although after such an ordeal, it feels fairer to call it a summit. 

It was windy up there too. We were blown about as we admired the views into the valleys below and watched the clouds move quickly across the sky (which we weren't so much below as in). 

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And so to the fruit of any labourious uphill labour: the descent. A smooth and narrow road traced the side of the mountain over 10km. It unfolded smoothly before us. There were no surprises. Every turn could be suitably anticipated; every straight prepared for. There were no cars obstructing the route to the bottom. Nothing slowing us down on the gleeful race to our second food stop.

Apart from a puncture 500m out. But not even that could ruin the journey back to the bottom.

The adrenaline rush of the descent, the caffeine kick from the round of cappuccinos and the sugar spike from a hefty wedge of cake at our second and final stop were all short lived and did little to bring us back to life. As we sat around the table and made sure our lights were ready for the inevitable ride into the dark, we sighed, we shook our heads, we raised our eyes to the ceiling and, every now and then, we looked at each other and laughed.

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We were down, but not out.

But we were close.   

We worked our way along Scotland's undulating west coast. Snaking in and out from its shoreline, we did our best to avoid the increasing number of sheep sitting by the side of the road. They were coiled springs; nervous, on edge and ready to bolt across our path at any given moment. 

The large, dusky skies were a deep, dark purple-blue. They provided an epic and seemingly endless backdrop as we meandered through marshland and through and between streams, rivers and ponds. 

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The major climbs of the day were done, but the hills hadn't finished. We rolled our way up and down the final 40km and, as darkness finally set in, so did the cramp. We only needed to look at an incline for our calves and hamstrings to begin tightening and if the last few kicks weren't the final nail in the coffin, they were almost definitely the penultimate one. 

It was heads-down hour. The roads were quiet and so were we. We'd all silently agreed that this final leg was to be tackled alone, at our own marching pace. We'd reconvene at the top of climbs and chip away at this, staring intently at the narrow strip of road illuminated by our lights as bats began their working day overhead, bit by bit until it was done.

At the top of the final climb, we were two of four. We stood, waited and listened. After a few minutes, we wondered whether cramp had finally got the better of Saul and Hendo and forced them off the bike. A few minutes more and we saw the flash of two lights and the silence was broken of what we thought was the sound of cleats scraping and scratching on tarmac.

As they neared, we realised it wasn't. It was the unfamiliar but unmistakable sound of a chain and derailleur dragging against the road. Somewhere in the final ascent, an inner-tube that Saul had tucked into the top of his saddle bag had worked its way loose and into his rear cassette. That had then ripped  his hanger clean off, leaving his derailleur and chain dragging limply and helplessly along the ground.

We looked at the issue and knew we could do nothing. We still had 5km to our finish point. As had been the case for much of the day, there was nothing and no one around.

Our only option was to get to our finish point by any means necessary. That meant freewheeling and scooting the remainder of the way. Thankfully, for the first time that day, the wind and the road were on our side. 

We sandwiched Saul between the three of us. One at the front, another at the back and the final to his right, we rode tentatively, squeezing the brakes as we were pushed by the wind downhill towards a hot meal.

Put in a quiet corner of a busy restaurant in Torridon (is this where half of The Highlands population had been all day?), we tried our best to formulate something that resembled a plan over haggis, pies, sticky toffee puddings and beers. 

We didn't get very far and much of what made its way out of our mouths as words made little sense and tailed off partway through.

This was a challenge for tomorrow.

Putting our wet kit into the airing cupboard and over every radiator available in our accommodation for the evening, we heard a loud pop and a slow, constant hiss from the hallway.

Saul's tyre had burst, signalling the official end of day one. 

View the route. 

RELATIVITY: TOBY CUMMINS.

10,000km.cc

We truly believe that distance is relative. 'Far' is dictated by a multitude of factors ranging from responsibilities and commitments to fitness and access.

RELATIVITY is a new series that tells the stories of our Collective Members and how they keep their pedals turning toward their annual Milestone. 

First up is Toby Cummins -- husband and father of three, he spends four days a week working in London and the remaining three at home near the Lake District, where he devotes an increasing amount of time to his not-so-much-a-side-project-anymore, Cold Dark North. 

Riding on a family holiday. One place where it's certainly not about how fast, and all about how far (and how often) you're able to ride. 

But first a little context.

I'm a married father of three small boys (nine, seven and 18 months), so my annual target of 5,000km is only possible because I have an incredibly tolerant (non-cyclist) wife and kids that can be persuaded to try anything once.

I'm the sort of rider that needs to be out every few days to maintain my mental and (at least ostensibly) my physical wellbeing. My wife knows this; I suspect it's a large part of her tolerance when we're at home. Family Holiday is her break too though, and that tolerance can be understandably stretched when we're all away together. 

Following a period out of work, I'm currently consulting and therefore both money and time are of a premium. So we decided on a week's holiday to the Scottish island of Mull in the glorious summer sunshine (every droplet of it). 

Driving from our home just south of the beautiful Lake District for the best part of 10 hours with various detours and ferries meant an initial challenge of how much stuff we could pack into and onto our SMax.

It inevitably led to an early conversation about bikes.

I wanted to bring everyones'... My cross bike, her hybrid (with baby seat), the older boys' mountain bikes, helmets, shoes, etc. It was possible but not popular. We settled, or rather it was settled, that I would bring both the eldest's and my road bikes. The middle one has just started riding his older brother's roadie so this gave three of us a sporting chance.

Well that's lovely then. We're on holiday, in a stunningly beautiful place with over 200km of single track tarmac roads on the island and virtually no traffic. There's our cottage at the top of a mile long twisty 20% switchback-fest and the weather forecast is actually pretty decent for at least half the week.

Nothing to do but continue pedalling toward that Milestone. 

With almost a decade of negotiating ride time on Family Holidays, I have some tips for anyone who finds themselves in a similar position:

[1] Preparing
I love to plan routes but pre-holiday it's especially important. You need to have 4-5 routes of a set distance (and more importantly, time) ready to go at a moment's notice. This is not the time or the place for dithering or getting lost. You're on a Goodfellas pasta-sauce stirring style timescale here. An hour to an hour and a half max, taking into account the terrain (and Mull is a 2%av gradient kind of spot), bringing you home in time to do breakfast, bathtime or bedtime as needed. Strava's route planner adjusts average time of routes to account for your usual speeds and the gradients of the route. Win. 

[2] Timing
Your ride should always get you where you need to be in plenty of time for whatever it is you need to do next. So book in well in advance. As I said, my wife is tolerant, but she's rightfully not a fan of the "oh look, it's sunny, I'm just off for an hour" just as the 3pm tantrums start to kick in. I try to get out early and be back just after/for breakfast or go out after the baby is asleep at 7.30/8pm. Thankfully it's light very late up in Mull. Also see 3.

[3] Multitasking
Even better than a loop home to find you shouldn't have gone out at all is the ride to (or often better from) the place you're going to anyway. Family off to the beach, ride there. Family going to the cafe, ride home from there. As long as it's not too far away, the journey time is dead time you could make use of without putting too many noses out of joint. Short, sharp rides often enough are better than trying to get a proper long ride in. Also see 4.

[4] Incorporating
My 9 year old is a decent road rider, he prefers his rugby, but he can tap away for 25-30km without too much complaint - snacks are the key, but that's a different blog altogether. So what better way to satisfy the need to cycle than to do it with him? He immediately wanted to try the climb up to the house (punchy!). He was happy to ride to the beach on Day 3 (10km over a proper mountain). He's even keen to ride back sometime. Perfect.

[5] Considering
As I may have mentioned before, my wife is tolerant of my cycling addiction. But there's a natural snapping point. Every day, too much. Long rides, too much. Middle of the day, too much. But more importantly, she needs time to do whatever it is non-cyclists do to unwind too. So, whilst it feels like it's a bit cold and programmatic, there is a certain amount of tit-for-tat in the Family Holiday. We all need to be better at considering our other half's priorities. Be caring and earn your time on a bike, even if you're religiously observing Tips 1-4.

All things considered, it is possible to ride on a Family Holiday, stay married and civil. Some might even say happier and healthier. I think I might have unlocked the next level the other day when I rode a pre-planned hour long loop pre-breakfast, served a fry-up for the family and then rode to the beach with my eldest for a day of fun in the freezing surf. But that's just from my perspective. 

Mull Holiday Stats:
Distance Ridden - 107km
Rides - 5
Longest Ride - 1hr 12 mins
Highland Cow Blockades - 1
Relatively Happy Families - 1

10,000 / 100 = 100km.

10,000km.cc

We've written about relativity and normalisation quite a lot in previous posts. 200km rides seem unachievable until they're not. Rolling out of the house at 06:00 seems outrageously early until it's the new normal.

A few of The Collective have started winding those early starts back, getting out onto the empty roads earlier and earlier, allowing those pre-work kilometres to creep higher and higher. 

And now it's become a thing: The Pre-Work 100 Club. We're not out to pummel PB's or snatch Strava segments. We're just doing it to find out if we can.

Collective Member Owen Blandy offers a touch more insight to the apparent idiocy. 

Milestones are significant in our lives. We inherently need benchmarks, yardsticks, goals, objectives and challenges to gauge our own abilities and measure ourselves against.

So, when I receive a message to the effect of “Fancy a pre-work 100k next Tuesday?”, the challenge has been set.

Most of the time we (certainly I) ride with no set distance or benchmark in mind, just a route we wish to follow or a time we need to be back for.

But every so often, we need to shake the tree -- to mess things up just to see what happens. 

And so it begins:

Wake up at 4am.
Espresso.
Don the cycling kit you carefully laid out the night before. 
Hit the streets.
Enjoy the rarity of empty roads through the heart of a furiously busy city.
See the lone blinking light in the distance and know it's your friends already lapping the park.
Join them.
Hide the clock, turn the pedals and watch the last of night turn to dawn turn to day.
Hit 100km.
Stop.
Coffee (maybe two. And a pastry).
Work.
Quietly bask in post-ride euphoria, knowing you've bagged triple figures before others have even finished their Weetabix. 

Owen rides for East London Fixed and he doesn't just go far, he goes fast, representing them in a number of city-based crits and races throughout the year. We choose to join him in the saddle on his slower, longer-distance days and cheer him from the sidelines when he's racing. 

TOUR DE PAYS DE GALLES: THREE DAYS IN THE VALLEYS.

10,000km.cc

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Wales is binary. 

I speak from a point of complete bias, basing that on nothing other than firsthand experience over a three-day period, but I can say with relative confidence that in the 72-hours I spent riding from its top to its bottom, I didn't see a flat piece of tarmac.

There was up. There was down. There was no in between. 

It was just after 7 a.m. on Saturday 29th April that six of us convened outside of a cafe in Chester's centre. We looked forlornly through its window as the barista made his preparations for a day of trading, knowing that it would be some 60km before we sat down to our own breakfast.

That didn't matter though.

We had routes on our ride computers, excitement in our eyes and hope in our hearts. We were ready to begin a long and ambitious weekend of riding that would see us covering the length of a country in search of new roads and experiences.

DAY ONE: CHESTER TO ABERYSTWYTH
Distance: 176km | Elevation: 2,830m

The weekend's tone was very quickly set as we found ourselves ascending World's End, leaving the houses of the nearby villages behind. Following the Minera Road, we climbed steadily onwards, alternating between power stretches driven from the saddle and fleeting moments of energetic pedal dancing. Neither felt easier than the other, but they were different and that was enough. 

The formalities of the road officialdom fell away as we proceeded on towards the top. Markings became faded, sheep roamed as they wished and reliable tarmac became flecked with loose asphalt and gravel. Meanwhile, the surrounds went from metal barricades to stretches of moorland. 

Long, winding, gradual and picturesque, this was climbing at its best.

Having pored over each days' itinerary, we knew the routes. But knowing the route doesn't mean you know the route; it wasn't until we began a climb, tackled a descent or rounded a blind bend that we truly knew what it was the roads had in store for us. 

We rode hard on our brakes on the descents, and harder still at the sight of an overflowing stream that had made the road its home. On some of the steeper, less reliable stretches this was challenging for the able-bodied amongst us, but the fact Ele -- whose recently broken hand was still bandaged and in the process of healing -- continually found her way to the bottom of each climb is testament to her strength (or belligerence) 

Grinding through our pedals up a seriously steep, unfathomably long and entirely unexpected hill, we were able to muster half a breath to curse the road, write-off Wales and chastise our route master for not warning us of its presence (which only would have served to make the struggle worse). 

For those looking to be forewarned, the climb in question was Pen Ffridd.

But take my word for it, ignorance is bliss. 

DAY TWO: ABERYSTWTH TO  LLANDEILO
Distance: 131km | Elevation: 2,700m

Every now and then a ride entirely recalibrates your view of cycling. Something happens that alters the way you see the thing you love and, for better or for worse, you look at riding your bike in an entirely different way. 

Day Two was one such day. 

The effects of Day One hadn't gone unnoticed by our bodies and neither had the lack of sleep. Regardless, the promise of ice cream by the seaside for breakfast was enough to buoy our energy levels and push us onwards through the rapeseed and green, green grass that Tom Jones immortalised in song during the first 50km.

We were four climbs into what was set to be a 3,700m day by the time we reached the coast. The fig rolls dished out by Gorrod at crucial moments and the endless stream of sweets supplied by Jess and Ele had no doubt helped to get us there. As we sat around a pastel pink table in a pastel pink room, we talked dismissively about the headwind. 

"It's not as bad as was forecast", we observed as we tucked into a breakfast roll and a slice of apple pie. 

"It's not all that noticeable, is it?", we concurred as we sank another Dr. Pepper with a cappuccino chaser. 

Looking down at our average speed at the top of our eleventh climb of the day, I took back everything I'd said and thought. With 110km logged, less than 20kph on the clock and the day slipping away with each pedal stroke, I was happy to be on the approach to our lunch stop where we'd have a chance to take stock, recoup and regroup. 

That's when a stranger uttered the five words that crushed me and the group:

"Sorry, we've stopped serving food".

It was Sunday. We were in rural Wales. The next town was off course and another 15km away (and on the other side of a hill). And it had just started to rain. 

We had no alternative.

Reluctantly remounting our bikes, we put our heads down and cycled onwards onto the incline and into the rain. 

A roast dinner didn't alter our circumstances. We were still 15km off course (with another 15km to go if we wanted to right ourselves).

It didn't reinvigorate us in the way we'd hoped, either. We might have been less ready to throttle no one in particular for little reason other than hanger, but we were all still paying the price for having ridden headlong into a deceptively strong headwind. 

But it did allow us a moment of clarity. The big climb of the day, Black Mountain, would still be there tomorrow. So too would the other roads we'd planned to ride. What was the use in killing ourselves just to ensure we covered the planned route? We still needed to get to Cardiff. What's more, we were here to enjoy ourselves and what Wales had to offer, not to suffer unnecessarily.

We made a decision and took a beeline straight for Llandailo, where we'd re-route, get an early night and hit the road recharged with enthusiasm. 

DAY THREE: LLANDEILO TO CARDIFF
Distance: 154km | Elevation: 2,270m

The final day was going to be the best day.

We'd gone to bed on a whisky. We'd woken up to a packed lunch put together by the pub we'd stayed the night in. The drunk Welsh teenagers dancing and singing to the live entertainment of the night before hadn't kept us up.

All the signs were there.

Staring at the saddle of my bike, I revisited the previous days ride and wondered whether I was in fact the passionate cyclist I thought I was. Was riding far all it was cracked up to be? Was there equal merit to kicking back on the sofa with a packet of crisps, a couple of beers and a tub of ice cream without doing a weekend's worth of riding beforehand?

Perhaps. 

The mist eveloped us as we began the first of three Top 100 Climbs for the day and the light drizzle helped to mitigate our rising body temperatures as we ploughed on up the 5.5km ascent. I watched Simon, Ele, Gorrod, Chris and Jess get swallowed into the white haze as I settled into the rhythm of the slope.

These were fitting conditions for making our way up Black Mountain. 

Reconvening at the top, our hollers and laughs drowned out the sound of our cleats unclipping from our pedals. Our eyes darted from one another, to the road that had brought us there, to the valley (and seemingly infinite descent) that stretched out before us as we all let out a metaphorical (and in my case physcial) sigh of relief. 

This was better than crisps and ice cream on the sofa. 

Leaning through the corners of the descent, we flew ecastatically towards Rhigos and on to Bwylch. Our zipped down jackets flailed in the wind as the sun began to shine and our backsides left our saddles for another gradual, beautiful ascent that turned towns into model villages and struggles through headwinds into distant memories.

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Our new found sense of confidence arguably tipped into arrogance as we began to close in on Cardiff. Sweeping round towards the coast, the roads become smaller and narrower as we sought to keep off the increasingly busy A roads. These lanes soon turned to mud and rock. We powered on through, waiting for the what would only have been the second puncture of the trip as we bunny-hopped large rocks and tried to stay upright on the sections of deeper mud. 

Eventually, we were forced to dismount when faced with what looked like a small, dried up waterfall. We'd all met our bike-handling match and, with our bikes over our shoulders, we marvelled at the fact our tyres had survived and prayed our cleats would do the same. 

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Your best friends tend to be the people you know so much about that you hate them a little bit. You know their faults, what it is about them that's annoying, what grates, where their weaknesses lie. But that level of knowledge comes only from knowing a person in intimate detail; from having spent so much time with them you've not just seen how they operate, but looked intensely under the bonnet. You understand their mechanics and how those dirtier, messier parts of their personality contribute to the greater good of their whole. You don't necessarily love them in spite of their faults, but they do help make the things you love about them shine that bit brighter. 

So it is with anything you love. If everything is brilliant, easy, fun, then nothing is. What is passion without context -- highs, lows and in betweens? What is a phenomenal day on the bike without a confidence-knocking one to give it substance?

The good days will always outlive the bad and the happy memories quickly and readily replace the unhappier ones. 

Here's to the next one. 

THE COAL ROAD CHALLENGE 2017

10,000km.cc

A few of the collective are heading to the Cold Dark North on Sunday 26th February to take part in The Coal Road Challenge. 

The 105km reliability ride takes in the road connecting the abandoned mines between Garsdale Head and Dentdale and includes a little over 1,500m of climbing. At its steepest point, that includes a 20% incline. 

We're getting involved because it's neither a race nor a sportive. It's about finishing and enjoying a long-held tradition within the Lune Racing Cycling Club.

It's incredibly reasonably priced (just £5 to enter). 

And it's also going to allow us to ride roads like those pictured.

Fancy joiing us? Find out more here, watch the video from 2015s ride here and get in touch to ride with us. 

5 LESSONS FROM 15,000KM

10,000km.cc

2016 marked the first year of 10,000km.cc. What was originally a personal challenge became a collective of riders with a shared passion and ethos towards riding their bike. 

We had hundreds of riders from around the world pledge their milestones, as each vowed to consistently chip away at a challenging distance.

In the process we organised a number of rides from our HQ in London. We made the most of an extra day. We warmed up for summer. We celebrated its departure. We rode to the sea. We rode through the darkness. We drank a lot of coffee. We ate a lot of cake (sometimes for breakfast). 

Collectively, we rode over 3.6 million kilometres in the 12 months of 2016. That's the equivalent of riding to the moon and back just shy of five times. 

Personally, I pledged to ride an extra 50% on last year, setting my sights on the 15,000km milestone. In the process, I learnt a number of things, some of which surprised me and all of which apply to each and every milestone, whether 1,000 or 20,000 kilometres. 

In no particular order, here they are. 

Be open.

10kkm is, at its core, a group of strangers.

Or at least that's what we were. 

Invitations to Yorkshire, riding with cyclists from Seoul, incredible coffee stop hospitality, last minute sportive entires, bikepacking across the country, pizzas on pavements, photo shoots, jaw-dropping vistas, local tour guides, mid-ride rest stops in riders kitchens: it's safe to say that interesting things happen when you do interesting things. 

By bringing together individuals through a shared passion, shared experiences and stories, for me the collective hasn't just been a platform for organising great rides, but for forging very sudden but very real friendships. 

Surround yourself with exceptional people. 

There's little better motivation than clinging onto the back wheel of people better than you. 

It normalises the ridiculous; makes the outrageous ordinary.

290km every week for fifty-two weeks seems silly in isolation. But contextualise it with those preparing to ride across a country or a continent; the riders I've met taking on some of the best amateur athletes in races across the world; the Iron(wo)men and endurance athletes; those representing their country in the saddle, in the water and/or on foot; those that have been forced to start again from scratch; the riders with families and commitments that still find the time to be out there with you.

Suddenly, 42km per day doesn't just feel reasonable – it becomes paltry.

What's more, behind those achievements and endeavours lie the people themselves: the true reason we continually set our morning alarm for 05:30.  

It's okay to try and fail.

15,000km was one of numerous challenges I aimed to compete this year.

I wanted to complete Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire, but thanks to some poor planning and a minor bike issue, my race was over a mere 5km into the bike leg.

I wanted to complete all 12 Strava Climbing Challenges throughout the year, but two of them alluded me. 

I wanted to finish the Festive 500 for the third year running, but only made it to 300km.  

It's fine. They'll all be there next year. 

In the meantime, I rode over 15,000km, ran a half marathon every month, completed a number of other triathlons and sportives, and experienced the proudest and momentous day of my life so far when I married my now wife on 30th December.

Challenges are not just there to be achieved. They're there to drive, to motivate and to provide focus. If you completed everything you set out to do in 2016, congratulations.

But maybe you should dare to dream a little bigger this year? 

Impose Balance.  

I get FOMO. 

I'm not great at accepting opportunity cost, the idea that in order to pursue one course of action, something else must give in its place.

At the beginning of the year, I wanted to keep riding far. 

I also wanted to start swimming. And run further. And keep up the gym. And organise a wedding. And have a social life. 

Needless to say, each and every one of these things was the victim of another throughout the year.

You can't do everything. 

Accept that and, where you can, embrace it. Forget riding for pizza (or coffee, or cake or anything else for that matter). Just gather up your friends, leave the bikes and the Lycra at home and just go and have the pizza.

It's in doing this that you create the time to reflect and appreciate what you've achieved. It's easy to forget, moving all too quickly on to the next challenge.

Don't ride your bike.

I managed to juggle a number of commitments for seven or eight months, but then I started to feel the consequences of burning the candle at both ends and straight up the middle. 

I didn't reach my limit, but I did discover a border that separates tiredness from burnout and, having toed that line, chose to take a few steps back (see lesson Number 4).

I've written previously that routine is your enabler. It removes the need to think and allows you to just do. But in dragging yourself out of bed on another early morning, mindlessly brushing off your bodies cries of "please, just one more hour!", there's also a need to remain self aware. 

I found myself in danger of getting on the bike not because I wanted to or even because I had to, but simply because it's what I'd done the day, week or month before.

And that's not why I ride. 

When you've kilometres to cover, rest seems counterintuitive. Sometimes it feels downright detrimental. But you're in this for the long haul, so give your body what it needs: some extra sleep, a lazy morning and a second cup of coffee or a late night and a few extra glasses of whisky.

You won't go as far tomorrow, but you'll be better placed to keep going the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that...

Besides, it won't be long before that little voice inside your head is willing you back onto the roads, hungry for more views, conversations and stories.  

I've spent the first ten days of 2017 doing just that and I'm ready for the year ahead.

More rides. More news. More early mornings. More new projects. And, most importantly, more wonderful people, both old and new.

Onwards.

#DARKSIDERIDE

10,000km.cc

There's no denying it. There comes a point in the year where riding becomes difficult. 

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, that time is around now.

Daylight dwindles. The number of hours spent in entire or partial darkness increases. The roads are strewn with all manner of debris that make for a slippery surface under-wheel or an increased likelihood of punctures (and in most cases both).

That's not to mention the increased chance of rain, the various treachery it brings with it and the falling temperatures. 

It's true that skin is waterproof.

The maxim that there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad kit also holds true. But when the high-pitched wail of your 05:45am alarm pierces through the monotonous sound of unrelenting rain bouncing off the tarmac outside of your bedroom window and you open your eyes to middle-of-the-night-style darkness, even the more hardened and sadistic of riders would be forgiven for thinking twice. 

It was this that inspired our latest collective ride. The day before the clocks went back (taking with them another hour of evening daylight), riders from across London met on London Bridge to ride once more on our #DarkSideRide

We didn't ride to go far (c. 100km all in) and we certainly didn't ride to go fast. We rode to remind ourselves of why it is we ride: not just for the roads, the sunrises or the stolen hours. Neither is it solely for the undiscovered corners, picture-perfect sunsets or even for the well-planned (and thoroughly researched) rest stops.

It's for the company and conversations from faces old and new. 

As we slide slowly into winter, it won't be the conditions calling us into the saddle and onto the road. 

It will be the people. 

Thanks to each and every one of the riders that joined us on Saturday's ride. It was a a pleasure to share the roads with you. 

Until next time. 

THERE & BACK AGAIN: #LDNBTNLDN

10,000km.cc

Our latest collective ride was not an easy one. Only 10km longer than our #BlueEggAudax, it included an extra 1,000m of elevation that included the somewhat fabled Ditching Beacon, a 1.5km climb a little over 10km outside of Brighton that averages out at 9% (and kicked tantalising close to our first rest stop of the day).

We had quiet lanes, descents through forests and beautiful eclectic array of riders. We had busy roads, wrong-turns, rain and spills. We even had some sun. 

Once again, the moments that made the journey were captured by the group throughout the day, but special thanks must go to Ele Suggett and Abi Williams for having an SLR slung over each of their shoulders for every single one of the 220kms we covered. 

Thanks too to Brighton's n+1 cafe for their hospitality. 

-- RF. 

Same time, same place. 

We convene on the south side of London Bridge just before 07.00. As the group for the day makes itself apparent, we make our introductions to new faces and welcome those we recognise. 

07.01.

Brighton was waiting.

We rolled out. 

Up ahead in the distance. 

Our route takes us south, up and over Crystal Palace, offering the chance to see the roads and route that lie ahead. 

It's green. It's quiet. It's getting closer by the minute. 

On top. 

Nothing breaks up a group better than a long ascent. Ditchling Beacon might not be the steepest or the hardest climb out there, but 90km from our starting point and 10km for our first rest stop, it was enough to see conversation quiten and groups become individuals.

But it didn't matter. 

We reconvened at its crest, congratulating those riders that had summited before us and those that followed behind. 

We gasped in air.

We drank in views.

We waited for every last collective member to join us. 

A warm welcome. 

We rolled into Brighton hungry and ready to enjoy some time off the bike. Warmly welcomed by Dan at n+1 cafe, we chowed down on sandwiches, coffees and flapjacks. 

Some of us repeated that process more than once. 

Despite having only been on the road together for four hours we were clearly comfortable in one another's company, joshing one another across the table and over our flat whites.  

We laughed until it hurt.

We got back on our bikes.

We continued. 

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The group is alive. 

Riding further and further from London, the 10kkm group continued to grow as riders joined us along the way. 

We reached our zenith as we pedalled along Brighton's seafront, with a second team of riders joining us at n+1 for much of our second leg to Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

Fresh legs, fresh faces and fresh conversation helped distract from one of the busiest parts of the route. 

It never rains, it pours. 

Both metaphorically and literally. 

Not far outside of Brighton, we found ourselves under a rain cloud. Despite our best efforts, it seemed to be charting the same route as us, mirroring our every turn.

As it got progressively harder, we sought respite under the canopy of a group of trees by the roadside. We found shelter, but it was fleeting, abruptly broken by a series of fast-moving cars creating head-height tsunamis of water that left us soaked and forced us to keep moving. 

As we navigated the increasingly wet roads, the group separated, with one half finding themselves lost. Navigating six lanes of motorway traffic, they rejoined the group as it gathered around a series of punctures. 

Three riders fell victim to the same 10m stretch of pathway. Advice was dolled out with reckless abandon. Tips were given, pumps offered, foreign and obscure objects pulled from jersey pocket in a bid to make things easier. 

Many hands didn't necessarily make for light work, but they got the job done. 

Peer pressure. 

It may have negative connotations, but sometimes you need the encouragement of the wider group to help you to keep going. 

As we sat around our table at our final stop of the day, The Velo House, the strain of the day had started to set in. Royal Tunbridge Wells station and its direct links back to London lay just metres away. It was a Siren to sore legs, luring us towards it with the sweet song of respite.

But as the final cleat of the group clicked into its pedal, we headed for London with the same number of riders that had stopped in RTW.

Delirium. 

Something happens when you've been riding for a number of hours. 

Boundaries and barriers fall away and conversation becomes more fluid and open. Subjects quickly move on from the formal to the incredibly informal as the discussions move as quickly as the pedals beneath your feet. 

But there comes a point -- normally in the final 20% of a ride -- where a cocktail of giddy excitement, exhaustion and elation combine to create a wild, frenzied and altogether incoherent series of events.

None of us will likely remember what we spoke about, but we won't forget the way those final 60km felt. 

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10KKM COLLECTIVE RIDE: #LDNBTNLDN

10,000km.cc

The days are as long as they're going to get and we want to make the most of that. 

Our latest event sees us heading to the seaside and back again, as we depart from London and make a b-line for Brighton before returning to London via Ashdown Forrest and Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

As the tail-backs and tower blocks of London fade away, they'll give way to wild flower-lined lanes, expaneses of green and -- weather permitting -- excellent views.

We want to have as many people involved as possible and so will have two groups of different paces heading off half an hour apart. The first, departing at 07.00, will average a pace of c. 21-22kph, whilst the second, departing at 07.30, will average 25-26kph. 

We'll reconvene over coffee at each rest stop. 

The planned route offers the opportunity to end the ride at three different distance points if you're not comfortable (or available) for the entire distance. Fast and frequent trains back to London will allow riders to call it a day at either of our two rest stops in Brighton (c. 105km) or Royal Tunbridge Wells (c. 160km) if they don't want to roll all the way back to London and complete the 220km loop.  

Our first stop will be at the expceptionally named cycle cafe n+1 Cafe, where 10kkm riders will be able to enjoy a well-deserved, sandwich, cake, energy bar and coffee for £6.50. Our second stop lies on the other side of Ashdown Forest at the ever-excellent The Velo House.

All abilities welcome.  

THE DETAILS.

Roll out: 07.00 and 07.30

Meet & Finish: Evans Cycles, London Bridge South Side

Distance(s): c. 220km (with 105km and 160km options)

Speed(s): 07.00 Group: 21-22kph || 07.30 Group: 25-26kph

Elevation: 2,843m

THE ESSENTIALS...

- Bidons (filled with water or a liquid of your choosing)
- 2 x inner-tubes
- 1 x hand pump or similar
- Ride snacks (just in case)
- Credit/Debit Card & Cash
- Mobile phone (with Strava/Garmin route saved)

N.B. This ride will be unsupported and un-signposted. We will ride together and we will have fun, but ultimately you are responsible for yourself and your equipment. You'll be riding at your own risk. Ride safely, ride consideratlely and respect other road users and cyclists. 

THE JOY OF NO EXPECTATIONS.

10,000km.cc

The best journeys are often the ones you don't plan for.

Many months ago, Saul and I signed ourselves up to the London Revolution for the second year in a row. We'd taken part in 2015 and had enjoyed a fantastic weekend of roads, food and weather as we took on the two-day course that snakes around the perimeter of London. Entry paid and with months between us and the event itself, it was stored somewhere towards the back of our minds to creep closer. 

A day out from the event, things changed. With less than 24 hours to go until we were due to convene under an inflatable start line, our two-man group more than doubled. Three of the collective had found themselves at a loose end and were able to track down incredibly last minute entry, taking our weekend contingent to five.

Sleeping bags were sourced and last minute ride snacks were bought as one message frenetically clamoured over another, and another, with everyone trying to ensure they hadn't forgotten anything essential in their haste. 

A sweep past Dalston Junction station at 06.15 allowed five lone riders to become a group that would become inseparable until Sunday evening and, as quickly as the decision had been made to ride together, we were on the following the black-on-yellow route signs over Tower Bridge and out into Kent.

The route, atmosphere and event were undeniably fantastic. Its ethos rings all too true with our own: the 250km, two-day route is not a race, it's a ride. The emphasis is therefore not on completing the course as quickly as possible, but to allow a vast and eclectic mix of people the opportunity to ride far and to ride together.

The rest stops are created not as a smash and grab affair, but to encourage riders to stop, enjoy and indulge in the company, the journey and, of course, the plethora of snacks on offer.

The seamless organisation of every face of the weekend leaves you with nothing to do but to focus on pedalling through the well-planned lanes. 

All no doubt played their part in the revelry we enjoyed out on the sunlit roads and the lucid, heat- and fatigue-induced conversations that took place over beers under the fluorescent strip lighting of the Ascot Racecourse bar. 

But most of the enjoyment stemmed from the unplanned nature of everything we experienced.

We'd had no time to create and develop expectations. There had been little opportunity for conjecture. No moment to think. There was something wonderfully serendipitous about the entire weekend. Everything just seemed to align: we were all available, as were tickets; the sun was out; our bikes behaved from beginning to end. The minutes and hours simply happened, time unfurling before us like the Greater London roads we rolled across. 

Like I say, those are the best kind of rides.

-- RF. 

WHY I'M CYCLING ROUND RICHMOND PARK. AGAIN AND AGAIN. FOR 24 HOURS.

10,000km.cc

Since the beginning of the year, collective member Chris Hall has been putting in some serious distance with a serious purpose. 

Thus far, he's accumulated over 7,000km as he readies himself for a 24-hour ride around Richmond Park on 18th and 19th June, 2016. He and his team mate, a second Chris, will be the first to spend so long and cover so many kilometres in one of London's most iconic cycling spots.

We won't be able to join him for the entirety of the challenge due to regulations of the day, but we will be accompanying him for as much as possible to provide a change of scenery, conversation and some relatively fresh legs. We highly encourage you to do the same – be it for one lap or 15 – and ask that you RSVP here. 

Below, Chris to rationalise just why he's taking notes on this audacious and ambitious challenge.

-- RF. 

We all go out for our regular weekend rides. We have a leisurely coffee stop. We eat some cake. We pedal home. 

85km with brilliant company is a great ride and a full morning on the road. 160km spent exploring is one of the most perfect ways to make the most of every hour offered up by the long, bright, sunny days of summer.  

But what happens when you keep going? When you've seen the sun come up and watched it set again? When you've turn on your lights on and pedal into the darkening road ahead with no intention of going home? 

What happens when you spend 24 hours straight on the bike?

I've always been one for a spontaneous challenge. Each year these seem to become more and more unrealistic, as I set myself targets that are daunting, but just the right side of the achievable to remain tantalising doable (just). 

Most recently, I spent the last few days of summer 2015 cycling across Romania and climbing the legendary Transfăgărășan and Carpathian Mountain range. Covering 800km in 5 days, and taking in more than 13,200m of climbing, I rode with a team of riders across Romania. From Bacau, we headed over the Transfăgărășan (voted the most beautiful road in the world), across the Carpathian Mountains, into Transylvania and finished exhausted, sick from altitude and and sun stroke, but incredibly proud at Sinana.

With pain and suffering from the last challenge having faded, leaving behind just the enjoyable memories collected along the way, the question soon reared its head: what's next? 

In a bid to answer it, I thought about my strengths. I used to race track. I train for power. I can go flat out over short distances. 

And then I headed to the other end of the spectrum: endurance. Going far is something I know, but not well. I've never truly tested how far I can go (both literally and metaphorically speaking) and where my limits lie. In that unknown lies the excitement, the trepidation and the challenge.

That's why, on the 18th and ‪19th June 2016 – the weekend of the summer solstice – myself and Chris Pressdee will be cycling around Richmond Park for 24 Hours.

The ride is not just an opportunity to hammer myself into the ground. It has a greater purpose: to raise money for The PACE Centre, a charity my cycle team, Ripcor, has supported for 10 years. A family-centred charity, PACE provides an innovative education for life to children with sensory motor disorders. It's based on a belief in each child’s ability to learn and they tailor that service to their individual needs. The unrelenting, inspiring work of every member of staff transforms the lives of the children that they help. 

On the Richmond 24, the aim is to get as many other riders and clubs involved as possible. Minute men, pace setters, wind buffers, friendly faces, domestiques, fresh legs, a change in conversation – the involvement of everyone and anyone will be integral to getting us through the daylight element of the challenge. 

When night falls, it will just be Chris and I, grinding it out in the dark. Our only company will be each other and the deer that roam the park. 

Until then, the training continues. So far, it's been weeks of as big a distances as I can muster. Anything from 240-320km can climb to more than double that as I head out on long, weekend rides. With seven weeks to go, the mileage keeps increasing. I'm mixing early morning rides with cycles that begin in the middle of the night and high intensity turbo sessions as I try to acclimatise my (increasingly aching) body to functioning well on a bike at during its darkest hours. Advised to focus on my heart rate (and keeping it low), attacks off the front and chasing down those riders in the distance remains tempting, but is something I'm learning to do less of. 

I've no doubt that what lies ahead is going to be brutal. There are going to be times when I want to throw down my bike and admit defeat. Beyond the support of the day, I know what will get me through each of those 1,440 increasingly grueling minutes will be the effect the money raised as a result of the challenge will have on The PACE Centre and the lives it touches.

Distance and hours on the bike remain King. I don't know how many kilometres we'll have clocked up by the time we see our second dawn, but whatever it is, it'll be a first and a Richmond Park record. 

True to 10,000km.cc's credo, it's not going by to be about going fast. It's going to be about going far. 

Please feel free to join in during the day time or early hours of the morning for a few laps.

#BLUEEGGAUDAX

10,000km.cc

Saturday April 23rd was a day of firsts. It was our first big ride of the year. It was the first time many members of the 10,000km.cc collective had met one another. For many, it was the first time this year they'd had the opportunity to ride without arm or leg warmers (at least briefly). 

In keeping with that theme, this is the first of a different kind of journal post. With so many phenomenal photos captured by riders, we wanted to share as many of those as possible. The below is as much a photo essay as it is an event report. 

Thanks to everyone for their contributions and in particular to Ele Suggett for carrying an SLR with her for more than 200km. 

See you at the next event. 

-- RF. 

07.00 | The Arrival.
30 riders congregate on the south side of London Bridge. The sun's out, there's a chill in the air that lingers alongside the excitement of the day ahead.  

07.05 | The Depart.
We roll out and North. Traffic remains light, but the roads are distinctly urban for the first 20km as we look to leave the city behind for the majority of the day. 

08.15 | A Welcome Relief. 
One left turn can make all the difference. Veering off the A104, we leave behind what will be one of the last of the busy roads we'll see for another 150km. The pace settles, the smiles form, the conversation flows more easily. 

We peddle on. 

09.30 | The Split. 
30 riders and the last of the winter's debris mean the odds were always stacked against us when it came to punctures and mechanicals. The first of the day offers a chance to stop and enjoy the surroundings and for the group to spread out a little. 

No (wo)man gets left behind. 

10.30 | The Rest Stop. 
The collective reconvenes over coffee and a warm breakfast (with a side of cake). Stories are swapped and more formal greetings given, as everyone waxes lyrical on the fortuitous weather and a chance to reintroduce the feeling to their fingers. 

11.30 | Onwards. 
Spirits lifted by sugar and caffeine, everyone's raring to hit the road. That enthusiasm is quickly directed towards the second puncture of the day. 29 people standing around proffering advice and tips on how best to change an inner-tube quickly and efficiently isn't particularly constructive, but it is hilarious. 

For some, the stop also acted as a photo opportunity. 

13.00 | Roads Less Travelled.
What's a ride without some challenging terrain? A few farmers roads presented themselves as we moved closer to the 200km mark and anyone hoping to have avoided changing a flat waved goodbye to the prospect. Alongside the fun of not-quite-tarmac beneath rubber sat a mass tube change.

At least five of the group huddled around their wheels (all of them the back -- it's never the front) and got to work. 

14.50 | A Chance Encounter. 
In the same way the best roads are the ones you didn't plan, the best rest stops are those you didn't intend to take. 

50km lie between us and our Central London finish point as we roll past what will likely be the last place where we can stop, savour the ride and compose ourselves. 

Who are we to argue with fate? 

15.15 | The Approach. 
"This is where people start to flag".

The words escaped from somewhere inside the group as heads begin to hang. Conversation continues in earnest, but the threads are starting to show as the strain sets in.

A strong, unrelenting and vocal desire for Haribo has its epicentre somewhere deep within the pack and ripples out through every rider. 

16.30 | The Final Leg. 
The traffic lights appear. The stop-start, stop-start begins again. We become increasingly enveloped by cars and lorries. 

The spell is broken. The lanes have been left behind. We are back in London. 

Tall glass buildings confirm the fact and The Shard stands proudly in the distance. It's our North Star, towering above its smaller counterparts and directing us towards our final destination. 

We finish. We congratulate one another. We thank each rider for the company and the support (in some cases mechanical, in others moral).

Inexplicably, we get back on our bikes and we cycle back to our respective homes. 

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Distance: 213km | Elevation: 1,539km | See the route. 

TOUR DE MARCH | DAY TWO: TRING - LONDON

10,000km.cc

The cyclical ringing from my iPhone’s alarm brought me to.

I reached out to where I roughly thought the noise was emanating from and clumsily fumbled for the phone to silence it. My fumble continued as I felt for my glasses and then the remote for the television. 

The black screen flickered as I hit the red button before fading into life, filling the still-dark room with its bright, fluorescent light. 

"At the top of The Chilterns, visibility is as little as 30 metres today,” warned the weatherman filling the bottom quarter of the screen. "When it comes to fog, that's about as bad as it gets". 

Still coming to, I took stock of my surroundings for a moment.

I was in a single bed and my bike was rested up against the wall next to Hendo’s. He was in the second single bed on the other side of the room.

This was definitely not my bedroom. I was therefore most certainly still in Tring. That meant today was the day I — we —would be rolling through The Chilterns. 

I looked out of the window in a bid to prove the weather forecaster wrong. My attempts were in vain as I strained to see through the thick morning mist enveloping the top of the hill where we’d spent the night. 

The first (and possibly only) guests to grace the pub for breakfast that morning, we spoke excitedly about the day ahead. Stirring the milk into our teas, we reexamined the route and the climbing for the day, trying to establish where the hardest point lay.

So intent were we on analysing forthcoming elevation, our minds wandered from the more imminent task of monitoring our toast. Before we’d had a chance to clock the plumes of smoke bellowing from the pub’s half-broken toaster, a fire alarm kicked-in with a deafening ring. 

Indicative of the style of the pub-slash-B&B we’d spent the evening, the alarm was verging on vintage. More akin to the school bell we all used to spend the day waiting for than the electronic siren of an office block it brought quickly back into the room and racing too late toward the toaster in an attempt to silence it.

Assured by the lady behind the bar that we’d woken up her boss, we slinked sheepishly back to our rooms to collect our bikes and hurried onto the road. 

The fog came in waves as we peaked and trough to the tops and the bottoms of The Chilterns lumps. As the hills kicked on and the ruling pedals beneath our legs began to slow, it would creep in slowly, swallowing our surroundings and narrowing our peripheral vision (either that or the shortness of breath brought on by the hills was doing strange things to my head). Arcing over the top and onto the descent, it would then begin to clear allowing us to pick up some pace to make up for lost time. 

When it comes to route planning, we all tend to be pretty meticulous. If we can’t get out and ride the route in segments beforehand, we’ll generally do a Google Maps walk-through to make sure we’re not being led figuratively (or in some cases literally) down the garden path.

However, from time to time, we do get caught short and somewhere on our way to Henley, we found our blind spot. Pulling to a stop at the top of what we were being informed by our Garmin’s was a right turn onto a road, we surveyed the gravel beneath our wheels. Our eyes followed it further and further down the path until it disappeared around a gentle leftward bend. 

Looking for alternatives, we couldn’t see much a of a viable way round it. Besides, we had our winter tyres on and it didn’t look like it went on for very long.

2.5km later, as we did our best to clean the thick layers of mud from our bikes and selves with sticks and I surveyed the kit damage I’d endured from a run-in with a barbed wire fence, it turned out winter road tyres are still no match for thick mud and narrow, rock-ridden paths. 

We laughed. This was the reason we set out on rides like this: for the paths less travelled, the unplanned adventure and the unexpected results. 

By the time we hit our rest stop in Henley-on-Thames, the sun had burned through the fog allowing for spectacular views of the river as we tucked in to our second breakfast and a piece of cake at The Chocolate Cafe.

Elevation conquered and battle scars gained, we knew that lurking not far beyond the bridge over the Thames was our route back into London. Fuelled by cake, caffeine and unrefined sugar, we put our heads down and formed a four-man chain gang as we powered through Windsor and it's less glamorous neighbours, continuing on to the familiar (and by the time we arrived, incredibly busy) Richmond Park. 

Energised by familiar surroundings and a drop-off in what had been a growing amount of traffic as we edged closer to central London, we doubled-down through the park for the unofficial final leg.

Out the other side, three out of four of us pulled in to our finish before the finish: The Dynamo in Putney. Hendo chose to power on home to finally recuperate after a relentless week of work (and prepare for the one that lay just a few hours ahead). 

Meanwhile, Saul, Gorrod and I saw no harm in hanging up our bikes and enjoying one more coffee before we crossed The Thames a final time. 

-- RF.

Distance: 152.2km | Elevation: 1,297m | See the route. 

TOUR DE MARCH 2016 | DAY ONE — LONDON TO TRING.

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Idly glancing over the planned route one last time, I traced the bold, red line indicating my route out of central London with my cursor. Over the river, heading north through the city before veering westwards to take us towards Hitchen. 

Sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, I traced and then retraced the route. Over The Thames, due North to Highbury & Islington, veering ever so slightly westwards along Holloway Road and then onto Highgate Hill.

Highgate Hill.

By no means the most difficult or challenging climb on offer inside or outside of London, it nevertheless fills me with a mild but niggling sense of dread. It’s not steep, but it’s long. It’s not cramp-inducing, but it’s never not filled with traffic. And then there’s the ongoing threat of traffic lights; the ever-present possibility that the encouraging green orb egging you on will suddenly switch to a more sinister amber and then the inevitable, authoritative red. Any momentum you might have gained drains as you slow to a stop, desperately clicking away at your gears to give yourself the best possible chance of taking off again. 

Defiantly crawling my way up the hill first thing on Saturday morning, trying to convince myself I was having a good time and this was exactly how I wanted my day to begin — on a hill, familiarising myself with my granny gears less than 20km into a ride, watching my heart rate creep up — I looked around at the people plodding the pavements. 

Some chatted casually as they beelined for the surrounding parks. Others wandered in and out of the local shops and cafes, clutching takeaway coffees as they prepared to start their day.

One lent precariously against the wall of a bus shelter. I focused in on him. He held himself up with one arm and was hunched over slightly. His head lowered further, his head moving closer towards his knees until his torso sat at a right angle to his legs. A horrible retching sound carried itself form the pavement and across the road to where I rode and was followed quickly by the splatter of liquid on paving stones. 

On a universal scale, my morning had just become infinitely better. 

The spirits amongst the four of us were high at the prospect of two days on the bike for the first time this year. We moved through the thin layer of fog listening out for the familiar hum of a motorway. We knew that the moment we rolled over the top of the M25, the six-lane threshold hurtling along below us would bring forth the lanes we were all seeking. 

Our first stop lay just beyond Hitchin in Southill. Leaning our bikes against the wall of Southill Tearoom, the sun won its battle with the morning fog and made the white benches in the front gardens look like the best option for a spot of breakfast. In another first of the year, we took the opportunity to have our first extended rest stop of the year outside. Arguably a little premature in our decision, the remaining chill in the air was nothing a couple of cappuccinos and a breakfast bap couldn’t stifle. 

To add a little more meat to our route, we continued North a little further once back on the bikes. Heading as far up as Henlow, we began going vaguely back on ourselves towards Tring, our final destination for the day. 

The busy roads had been entirely left behind, meaning we'd all loosened up on the pedals. Without the didactic cues put in place by town planners to keep the flow of traffic moving efficiently, we'd subconsciously slowed to revel in the pleasure of our own pace and our surroundings. 

The increasingly tree-lined roads zig-zagged in both directions. Vertically they created undulations that brought him an ebb and flow to our momentum. Horizontally they did the same to produce visually and aesthetically satisfying kinks in the roads that were a joy to see and ride through. 

Thick layers of forest framed our conversations as we made our final approach to Tring. A call came from the back of the group, Hendo shouting "On your right!". Our heads turned in unison to see a small group of deer running alongside us. Our amazement quickly turned to panic as they took a sudden, aggressive turn to their left . As awe-inspiring as their majestic beauty might have seemed from a distance, the danger of those enormous antlers being propelled towards you at 20mph by more than 150kg of body weight is not something worth hanging around to pontificate on.

Thankfully, Gorrod, Hendo and I were safely out of their path, but there's every possibility that Saul watched his life flash before his eyes as he brought himself out of the saddle and sprinted as hard as he could to avoid having them charge straight through him and his bike. I'm willing to bet that, hidden within his data for the day, is a substantial and visible spike in his heart rate. I'm also willing to bet that this wasn't caused by a challenging hill, but by these startled deer.

Perhaps egged on by our near miss, we arrived in Tring a lot earlier than we'd anticipated. No mechanicals, punctures or mammal-based collisions saw us arrive at 14.00. Thankfully, we'd scheduled in a finish before the finish; an opportunity to kick back over some food and coffee before tackling the final few kilometres to our room for the night. 

Dismounting outside The Espresso Lounge, its  owner enthusiastically greeted us on the pavement, as though he'd been expecting us. Securely storing our bikes in the back, he rearranged furniture, carried out extra tables and set us up in the mid-afternoon sun. We sat around for far longer than we needed to, enjoying the food, the fact that Saul was very much still alive and the subtle, but nonetheless tangible, feeling of the sun on our backs.

-- RF

Distance: 145.1km| Elevation: 1,302m| See the route. 

LEADING FROM THE BACK.

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Everyone around you talks effortlessly amongst themselves. They laugh, converse using full sentences and, if they’re breaking any form of sweat, it’s all happening out of sight. 

Meanwhile, you work through the pedals, each stroke making itself known in your increasingly exhausted, aching legs. The conversation moves your way and the group looks for a response; the best you can do is nod or shake your head and let out a . The kilometres don’t slip away. They crawl by slowly, inching your calves closer to the inevitability of cramp. Your stomach is a cavernous pit and there’s not a ride snack nor gel that goes any way in beginning to fill it. 

You started the ride running on vapours and now you’ve got nothing. 

It’s a scene that will be all too familiar to anyone that’s spent any decent amount of time covering a challenging amount of distance. You didn’t eat enough before you left the house (or sneak anything away whilst on the bike). You’ve been ill. You stayed up too late the night before. You had one too many glasses of wine (probably whilst staying up too late the night before). 

Last weekend, in the first Sportive of the year, it happened to one of our group. Six of us rolled across the start line of the Huntingdon Sportive on a mild, mostly dry day in Cambridgeshire. A little over four and a half hours later, only five of us crossed the finish line. 

It all started exactly as it should’ve. An undulating but relatively flat course meant we were able to cover the first 50km fairly quickly, accidentally tucking into our first batch fig rolls from the feed station with an average speed of 30kph on the clock. The threat of rain hung heavy in the darkening clouds overhead, so we didn’t stick around for longer than we need to. 

About 20 minutes out of the first feed station, one of our six-man chain-gang started to flag. The drive and persistence were still there as Saul hung on through gritted teeth and white-knuckle-persistence, but a fortnight of on-and-off illness had him struggling. 

Had it been a race, that would have been it. The pack would’ve ploughed on ahead, leaving his head hanging heavier and heavier towards the handlebars as he attempted to put in solo effort to drive him towards the finish line.

But this was a group ride. We weren’t sizing one another up. No one was trying to second-guess the threshold of their counterpart. Psychological warfare was not being waged on longstanding opponents. We were out to enjoy the roads, the company and the snacks, supporting rather than competing against one another. 

So when Saul lifted his head to announce that he had nothing left and tell us to go on without him, there was only one possible response. We gave an adamant and resounding “no" and tightened up as a group. Sandwiching him into the centre of our small peloton, we attempted to take some of the effort out of the ride and carry him through to the second and final feed station, where he had already committed to withdrawing from the ride. 

Saul dictated the pace and at least one of us stayed alongside him, doing our best to distract from those final few torturous kilometres. We didn’t know where the final feed station was on the route, so I could feel his spirits lift and hopes rise each and every time we approached anything that bore the slightest resemblance to civilisation. The realisation that yet another Hamlet didn’t contain his end point became more and more palpable each time it happened. It was brutal. 

The ‘Feed Station’ sign eventually came into view and with it, an almost audible sigh of relief not just from Saul, but his constantly cramping legs. Desperate to get off his bike, he threw his leg over the top tube to bring both feet back onto solid ground. Relaxing just enough to let his guard down, the cramp took on a new lease of life, surging forward with a force so relentless that it instantly floored him.

We made him as comfortable as we could as he waited around on the gravel of the community hall car park, waiting for the lactic acid to relinquish control of his quads and calves. Forcing any food we had available into his hand, we ensured his bike was securely fastened to the roof of the support car and that Saul was safely and comfortably sat in the back before hitting the road one last time for the final 30km. 

Sitting around a tiny, circular table and waiting for our steaming hot flat whites to be cool enough to not burn our tongues, I considered the the plethora of differences between racing and riding.

There are many, but perhaps the defining distinction is that races are led from the front, but group rides are led from the back.

#ONEMOREDAY

10,000km.cc

2016 is a leap year. 

That means you're being the equivalent of a bonus day; 24 extra hours to shave just that little bit more distance off your milestone. An extra opportunity to ride the roads you love. Another chance to feel the climate softening and the temperature rising. 

You have one more day. How are you going to use it?

To celebrate, we're going to hosting a double-headed ride out of our London base. 

On Monday morning, we'll meet on Putney Bridge at 06.30 sharp and head on to Richmond Park to dodge deer, chase the sunrise and get in some pre-work laps. 

Come sundown, we’ll keep in central with laps of Regent's Park from 18.45.

RSVP for either (or both) rides below. 

Not in London? Good.  

Why not ride 29km on the 29th wherever you are? Organise your own group ride. Head out on your own. Find others nearby that are looking to do the same.

Push past the morning commute, do something different and keep putting in the distance. 

RSVP FOR #ONEMOREDAY LDN HERE. 

ON THE UP.

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Driving through the UK on long-weekends away from London, I'm often left gawping out of the window and wondering at what might of been were I moving through them on two wheels instead of four. 

It's not always possible (not to mention practical) to have a bike permanently strapped to the back of a car you don't own, ready and waiting for any eventuality. Roads and routes are noted down and saved for later until the opportunity to revisit comes around. 

With a bike squeezed into the back of the car and a short window of opportunity, I had the chance to tick one of those off my list. 

In the depths of Somerset, sandwiched between two towering walls of craggy, grey cliff faces are several miles of winding, inclining tarmac snaking its way up to open expanses of countryside.

Starting in the town of Cheddar itself, the matter-of-factly-named Cliff Road — which brings you through Cheddar Gorge itself — kicks suddenly and aggressively, throwing up gradients of 16% within the first few bends. The road pulses as you push your way along it; thinning to squeeze through the jutted outcrop of an overhanging cliff-face; widening once more to frame the twists and turns of the next few hundred metres. 

Levelling out, the road looked to be proffering a truce. I started to settle back into the saddle and my breathing levelled out. My legs settled into a steadier rhythm. With sight of the top came the realisation that the apparent truce was in fact a pause the breath, as the ground rose rapidly before me for one final attack that brought out of the saddle and over my handlebars once more. 

From the top of the climb, I veered ninety degrees to my left, taking me onto narrower, still quieter lanes (and through a few more hills for good measure). Turning left at every opportunity, I closed the loop on the short blast of a route and soon began to keep the rewards of the climb. The fast, steep descents provide the first real test of the ride on my 1980’s, steel-framed commuter bike. As my speed moves up towards the 70kph mark, I feel myself physically fighting with it. The handlebars shook; the frame fed back every lump, bump and divot in the roads surface; the brakes let out a pained, high-pitched squeal. 

This wasn’t just a fast and fun descent. It was a wrestling match. 

Quickly finding myself back in there trough of Cheddar, I moved slowly behind the cars of passing sight-seers, past the cheese-based souvenir shops and tourist-trap coffee stops to bring myself back to the car. Front wheel off, boot open, bike in and, as quickly as I’d arrived, I was off again to head home to London. 

One to be repeated and extended. 

-- RF. 

WHAT'S YOUR STORY?

10,000km.cc

We know you're out there riding. You've been showing us every single day of 2016 so far.

What's more, we know each and every one of you has a remarkable, interesting and unique story to tell from the saddle.

And we want to help you tell it.

The ride may have just taken place. It could be a near-forgotten struggle or warm but distant memory. It might not even be about one ride in particular, but about a feeling or a thought you've been pondering for some time.

Regardless, we want to hear about it.

Get writing, get in touch and keep on getting outside to create more stories.

We'll publish the best of them on our Journal.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY. 

Filthy.

10,000km.cc

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Setting out on dark winter mornings from Central London is misleading.

Unless rain is hammering off the tarmac or you can hear the wind whistling through the tiniest of cracks in your front door, it’s difficult to know if the weather’s going to conform to what’s been forecast as the sky is still black and dark.

Meanwhile, the roads look relatively dry and debris free. It’s London, after all, so thanks to the onslaught of traffic, nothing sticks around for very long. 

In most cases, it's better to be safe than sorry and so, as I prepared for another Sunday morning ride, I wrestled my overshoes over my cycling shoes and donned an extra pair of gloves. I'm glad I did. 

It was a motley crew that gathered at Highbury Corner at 8am and set out to the lanes beyond North London. Totalling six, most of us had ventured out from different parts of London or, at worst, Surrey. However, one rider joined us from the other side of the world. Phill, founder of Gentlemen.cc, was in London for a few days and was welcomed into the fold. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: getting out of North London is hard work. The first hour of the ride is an urban sprawl — high-rises, traffic lights, lanes of traffic. Setting off early is an opportunity to avoid the worst of this. Soon, it al fell away as quickly as the cars were overtaking us.

One right turn at a junction and dual-carriage ways turned into narrow thoroughfares.

Traffic turned into cattle. 

Tarmac turned to filth. 

Thanks to a week of stop-start rain, the roads to Aylesford weren’t so much paved with gold as strewn with grit, gravel and debris. We powered on two abreast through the puddles and around the potholes. We all took turns at the front, not to give other riders a break, but to seek respite from the spray   that was building a layer of dirt on each of our faces. 

We stopped. We wiped the road from our faces. We regrouped.

As we hung over the tops of our bars, we chatted as we passed around ride snacks created, packaged and brought along by Riley (AKA The Pedal Bites). A lawyer, a chef and cycle tour guide, an app creator, someone from the coffee world and cycle shop owner. Not the beginnings of a bad joke, but an unlikely group of people talking about nothing in particular and sharing in the enjoyment of quiet, endless roads. 

Soon, the inevitable happened and once it started, it didn’t stop until the ride did. We huddled around the first puncture and helped collective member Saul get back on the road as quickly as we could. 

Another followed. Same wheel. Same ten minute window. Second tube gone. 

Phill was next to succumb to the will of the roads and his front tyre began to deflate. Changing it out with F1-style efficiency, we were back on the road in no time.

We were off it just as quickly a fourth and then a fifth time. As the last puncture took hold, I found myself at the bottom of a long descent before I noticed that there was no one sat behind me. I began the long, arduous climb to find Phill standing next to his ride, surrounded by now-useless inner-tubes as he thoroughly examined his tyres for any miscreant objects. 

I handed him him my — and the groups — final inner-tube. It was our last chance to make it to our end point. Conscious of every lump and bump in the road, we descended back towards the city. In the distance, the needle-sharp point of The Shard acted as our North Star, informing us we weren’t far from caffeine, sugar, warmth and rest. 

We had started the morning as six. Due to time constraints and delays, some had to turn off early, whilst others had to power on. By the time we rolled through a cobbled lane ready to park up, only six feet unclipped from their pedals.

The three of us piled our bikes against a lamppost and let out a thankful sigh at the sight of an espresso machine and stacks of pastries. Unashamed (and somewhat unaware) of our dishevelled, grubby appearance, we clip-clopped our way up to the counter, ordered a lot and savoured every bit of it as we discussed an eventful, difficult, enjoyable ride. 

At the beginning of the ride, Phill had told us he often faced temperatures of -18°c in South Korea at this time of year. We may have been able to feel our fingers for the duration of the ride, but I'm confident we did a good job of showcasing that winter riding in the UK brings with it its own trials and tribulations, too. 

— RF.