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