Date: Saturday 1st August, 2015
Distance: 231.7km | Elevation: 1,838m
Starts kms: 5,387.2km | Finish kms: 5,609.9km | % complete: 56.4%
Destinations: New Cross — London Bridge — East Worldham — South Downs — New Forest — Poole — Bournemouth
Today was the day that our navigation team grew by 100%.
Hendo had bought himself a Garmin Edge 810, which meant that the responsibility for (and pressure of) directing us through our two-day route could be equally split. That left me as the last remaining free-loader, following the twists and turns of their wheels, the signals from their arms and — on the brief occasions I found myself at the front — the calls on where to veer off or carry on straight.
With half of London and Surreys key roads on lock-down ahead of Sundays Ride100 sportive, we were keen to get this part of the ride behind us early to avoid any major diversions or hold-ups. It was therefore another start from London Bridge at 06.00.
Heading out to Richmond and beyond into Esher, the roads and kilometres dissipated with the morning dew and chilly start (the arm warmers stayed on until well into the mid-morning).
Trying to find a more practical — and, I’ll admit, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing — way of carrying two days worth of equipment, food and chargers, I’d attached a third bottle cage to the back of my saddle. The idea was to house the usual two water bottles on the bike, along with a cylindrical tool container stuffed with bike tools, tyre levers, inner-tubes, energy gels, iPhone and Garmin USB cables and anything else that might fit.
In principle, it worked well. My jersey pockets felt light (especially after I’d got through the bagel I’d shoved in there) and the look was a little sleeker than a saggy saddlebag. The (in)practicalities, however, soon made themselves known. As the morning wore on, the weight of my bottle and the rattling of the road prised the cage wider, loosening its grip on my water bottle slowly – but very surely – until a mis-timed bump propelled it from its rightful home, into the air and onto the road.
Luckily, Hendo, who was behind me at the time, was able to swerve out of the way as my bidon hit the floor and broke into its component parts. I was two hours in and down to one water bottle until the end of the day.
That’s where vanity gets you. I told myself to keep the sweating to a minimum.
Trying to continue the trend of the first rest stop being beyond the first 100km, our hand was somewhat forced by our stomachs and our location. Approaching the South Downs, our options were limited, with most of the pubs we passed still being closed. Seeing an open door and activity, we seized the opportunity to stop about 500m short of the 3-figure mark.
Fuelled by the generosity of The Three Horseshoes (who weren’t actually due to open for another 2 hours, but prepared us coffee and toast), we pressed on into our first of two National Parks of the day and, subsequently, our first prolonged period of road porn.
Cutting across its upper edge, we traversed South-West up and down short climbs and winding through the large, smooth and quiet roads. The coffees had taken immediate effect and we excitedly drank in the surrounding fields of barley, wild flowers, alfalfa and the occasional poppy.
Stopping at a junction, I turned to look back and was able to do so for miles, taking in the road and the seemingly never-ending fields, with their hedgerows running through them like the stitching on a blanket.
The roads being long, predominantly straight and relatively quiet offered a chance to adapt to an alternative position for short periods of time: no hands. Not something we’d fancy doing when being overtaken by cars, avoiding potholes or manoeuvring loose tarmac, it felt good to stretch out the lower back and shoulders — two of the body parts that seem to be the first to cry out in discomfort on longer rides nowadays.
Hendo, having not quite mastered the no hands position, took this as an opportunity to practice, pointing out that he’d be needing every possible position he could find for our Manchester to London ride next month.
Shortly before the days highlight came its unquestionable lowlight: Carlos Tea Room. I won’t dwell on what was, at best, an average lunch in a glorified canteen (not a tea room), but do want as many people as possible to be aware that they refused to fill up our water bottles from their taps. Despite us having bought sandwiches, cakes and coffees, they didn’t want to set a precedent whereby the occasional customer might request a tap water and force them to give away a polystyrene cup. The cost was too much to bear.
I was suitably outraged, but the silver-lining was that had we not stopped here, we wouldn’t have found any other form of food until the other side of the New Forest — some 40km further on. That is unless you count Mr. Whippy ice cream, which in hindsight wouldn’t necessarily have been the worst thing in the world. Especially if there was some form of flake involved.
Perhaps it was just pathetic fallacy, but the dark, impending clouds that hung over the New Forest as we entered seemed to embody our mood incredibly well.
We were into the final leg of the ride.
We’d spent our half-hour rest stop surreptitiously filling our bidons from the bathroom sink.
And most of our down-time was spent swatting away an army of over-friendly wasps.
But then we saw horses. And ponies. And miniature ponies. And sheep. And trees. And verdant forest.
The ominous clouds transformed into an epic backdrop as we navigated (or, in my case, as Hendo and Gorrod navigated the way for me) our way through the stunning scenery. We battled through cross winds until they became headwinds or momentary tailwinds, depending on which way we turned.
As I moved my hands onto the tops and my chain into the small ring on a hill, Hendo pedalled up next to me.
“I’ve not taken on enough food. I’m not feeling good, especially on the hills.“
That’s what he said to me before riding off ahead of me towards the top of the climb.
“I’m feeling okay”, I thought to myself, “and yet here I am watching my two friends lycra-clad backsides ascend into the distance once again”.
I smiled to myself.
I learnt another valuable lesson on the bike on the way to Bournemouth. I psychologically peaked too early, telling myself that the end was in sight far sooner than it actually was. I keep my Garmin out of sight on long rides so I don’t accidentally end up clock-watching, willing the metres on. The numerous mentions of Bournemouth on signs on our approach consequently had me assuming we probably had another half an hour in the saddle.
An hour later, we were still making our way though the town and its traffic.
However, we were by the sea by this point, so that helped no end.
Our almost-final stop was cycling cafe Rockets & Rascals, which was actually 10km from our official finish (back in the other direction), but was well worth the detour for the friendly welcome and plethora of delicious wraps, cakes and coffees that were available. They also have one in Plymouth, if we ever fancy an all-nighter from London, covering 430km.
Or we could split the ride over two days. That would be slightly more sensible.
Going back the way we came, the one last thing to do was pick up a bunch of flowers for Gorrod’s mum to thank her for feeding and putting us up (or putting up with us, given our tired, mildly incoherent states) for the night.