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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.