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Date: Saturday October 10th, 2015
Distance: 139.0km | Elevation: 1,473m
Start kms: 7,731.5km | End kms: 7,870.5 | % complete: 78.7%

Destinations: London – Canterbury – Dover

Having spent the past ten months providing my view from the bike, I felt it was time to offer a fresh perspective. The first of what I hope will be a number of guest posts from the people I have the pleasure of riding with, Saul provides a new view from a different saddle. 

- RF.

It's just over a year since I bought my first road bike.

I had been determined to get into cycling for years, but various things (lack of funds, injuries, ex-girlfriends) had always got in the way. So I was full of excitement when I first picked up my shiny new BMC from the shop and raced it home through the London traffic. I say race, it was more careering desperately around exasperated cars and pedestrians as I tried to work out how to clip in and out.

But I promptly went travelling for six weeks, picking up a recurring knee injury – and so my bike sat in my room looking pretty throughout the dark months.

Come February though, and I was raring to go. I set out for my first proper ride with an introduction to Regent's Park by Alex G. I fell off.

The next week I set out for a jaunt around Richmond Park with Richard and Alex H. I fell off again.

They were also zooming ahead of me, dropping me on the hills and waiting for me to catch up – all the while providing polite, gentle encouragement. Not usually one to accept being the worst at something, I began a year of consistently up-scaling my rides: pre-work morning laps of Regents Park; hill repeats of Swains Lane; a trip from London to Bruges with friends (I didn't fall off); the London Revolution – almost two-hundred miles over a weekend with Richard (yes, I fell off); Chiltern climbing; Knatts Valley; Royal Tunbridge Wells; Brighton and back; a few others and some triathlons thrown in for good measure.

Cycling was my summer 2015.

Come October then and I was pretty confident I had got this cycling thing down. Richard dropped me a text and suggested a decent ride out from London with a train journey back. London to Bristol seemed a bit excessive in the colder weather – London to Windsor not far enough. So we settled on London to Dover, plotting out a nice 130km route. A week of reading around the route and reconnoitring via Street View gave a tweaked distance of just shy of 140km.

And so, the night before the ride (post a few hours in pub), with my kit laid out, tyres pumped up and bike squeaky clean, I slept easily.

Too easily I realised with panic as my (second) back-up alarm woke me up, about 10 minutes before I was supposed to be in New Cross – a 12km ride away. Downing some water, chugging back a banana and throwing my kit on I ran outside and raced down the road. It was a beatifully crisp morning, the leaves in London having just started dropping and the traffic still light on the roads. But my head was freezing cold for some reason. Putting my hand to my brow, it was clear I had forgotten my helmet. Cursing myself, I sprinted back for my helmet and started again – rolling up half an hour later to a patiently waiting Richard.

In no time at all we were rolling over the M25 and down Crockenhill Road, the lush green of Kent stretching out its delicate folds below. From there we seemed to gallop through the countryside like Shadowfax, quickly hitting Pilgrim’s way. If you’ve never cycled that stretch of road, then I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I informed Richard that it was named after the route for pilgrims to walk from London to the shrine of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury, but Wikipedia corrects that as apocryphal. Apparently it actually follows an ancient stone age trackway cutting through the Kent Downs. All I know is that it is beatiful, undulating and fast. Very fast. We put the hammer down, and by drafting off each other, seemed to hit a rough average speed for that stretch of road of close to what I would (ambitously) bet was about 40 km/h. It was like blasting though a long, winding green tunnel, an occasional break in foliage revealing another autumnal Kentish vista, a farm, or a line-out of tweed-clad men grasping shotguns.

Somewhere along the route, I don’t know its name, we hit an extremely long hill that seemed to suck all the air out of my lungs. Richard was a good few lengths ahead of me, but also felt the burn. I think it was here, roughly 80 km in, that the morning’s shenanigans finally caught up with me. My head went down, and I started counting down the kms to our rest stop at Cantebury. We expected to be there by about 90km (bearing in mind the extra distance I had done earlier), but 90km came and went, and the signs to Canterbury still hadn’t started appearing. The conversation died, and we tried to keep up the pace, thoughts of lunch occupying us for the next 30km.

So it was with relief that we pulled up outside Water Lane Coffee for a pretty stunning lunch of giant sausage rolls, foccacia and ricotta with honey-glazed peaches and some much needed coffee.

Reluctantly we left Water Lane and started to chase down the final leg to Dover. At this point it was all I could do to keep up with Richard, whose vastly greater distances during the end of the summer were really starting to show, and he was in great form as was rolled the final 5km downhill into town. Luckily I was so far behind that he couldn’t see my painfully contorted face and shivering hands.

Grabbing a hot chocolate and much confectionary from the station shop we jumped on the high speed train back to London, took a quick selfie and a settled in for a relaxed hour of half-sleep, celebrating a final total of 139km and a job well done.