Date: Sunday 17th May, 2015
Distance: 166.4km | Elevation: 1,802m
Destinations: Ascot – Chiswell Green – Lee Valley — New Cross
Start kms: 3,087.8km | Finish kms: 3,254.2km | % complete: 32.5%
With the coming of our second day of cycling came the addition a third rider to our group.
Freddie, a friend of Saul’s, had missed the first day of riding due to work commitments, so had spent the wee hours of Sunday morning driving out from London to Ascot with his bike to meet us. Arriving just after we’d finished for breakfast, we were introduced and I marvelled at what was a solid ten out of ten for effort. If I had spent my Saturday working and not set out with the pack, I’d have most likely forgone an early start and a day on the bike in favour of a lie-in and a leisurely brunch.
With everyone adhering to their own slightly less stringent start times — no doubt thanks to the draw of the breakfast buffet — the start line was considerably less congested and we were able to continue the northward trajectory we’d started the previous day relatively quickly.
Being British, I’m not sure I’ve escaped one post since the beginning of this year without mentioning the weather.
Rather than apologise, I’m going to justify myself.
If we exclude January, as I didn’t so much touch a bike for those 31 days due to injury, I have 3 and a half months of riding on record. In that time, I’ve banked around 3,000km and a considerable amount of that has been on long, weekend rides. Of those longer rides, there is only one morning that had me taking on the rain. Given the fact I rode 1,968km in February and March, I find this pretty remarkable.
I suppose the convoluted point I’m trying to make is that this was yet another sunny day. I therefore continued working diligently on my perma-kit.
Crossing the Thames for the third (and penultimate) time that weekend, we were all moving along at a reasonable pace and, more importantly, feeling comfortable.
I’ve often viewed long cycles as an invitation to devour an incomprehensible amount of food at the end of each day and that tends to hang around well into the following morning, leaving me feeling sick and slow. Having made that mistake numerous times before (both whilst cycling and when just going about my day-to-day business), I’d avoided eating to the point of paralysis at dinner the night before and at breakfast that morning.
Unsurprisingly, I was feeling the benefits. My mind was focused less on keeping food down and more on taking down hills.
And there were a lot of them in the first half of the ride. There was less in total than the day before, but the ones that had been thrown in were certainly more of a challenge.
During each appearance thus far, Saul has found himself lying on the tarmac at one point of a ride or another, so it’s only fair I celebrate our first crash-free ride together. It being the second day, the heat and hills combined were taking their toll on some. Legs began to give-way and riders snaked their way to the top of the steeper climbs, we watched as one poor chap reached the peak of a hill, only to momentarily lose his balance and, in almost-slow-motion, take a tumble.
He was fine, if not a little embarrassed
Thankfully, we all remained on two wheels, but Saul was beginning to experience some pain in his knee. The symptoms sounded remarkably similar to what I’d experienced at the beginning of the year.
Fuelled by Jelly Tots (an essential ride snack as of their introduction during this event), we looped our way back eastwards via Kings Langley, skimming St. Albans before abruptly finding ourselves riding parallel to the M25.
We were almost back.
The usual traffic light and congestion rule applied itself from around Enfield and into Lower Edmonton. Whilst navigating the queues, we wheeled past someone dealing with a puncture what could only have been 3km from the finish. We offered assistance, but she insisted she was fine.
Making a concerted effort to avoid anything that looked even remotely like glass, a pothole or a jagged stone, we crossed the line to the soundtrack of something upbeat, bass-driven and energetic.
I want it to have been something classic and somewhat ironic, like ‘Eye of the Tiger’. However, it was probably a forgettable EDM chart topper by someone like David Guetta.
What I do know is that medals were donned, photos were taken and back-slaps were exchanged.
Freddie, who had only managed to do day one of the previous years event, had now completed the set and got himself a medal. He just needed to figure out how to get back to Ascot to collect his car.
Safe to say it wouldn’t be on two wheels.
Having had a bit of food and drink, Saul and I climbed (and at this stage, this isn’t poetic license, it’s a factual description of how it felt to throw a leg over the frame and place our backsides back onto the saddle) onto the bikes and began the relatively short, but psychologically long journey home.
Somewhere around South Tottenham, Saul’s knee could take no more and, rather than risk doing any long-term damage, he made for the overground — an incredibly sensible decision based on my experience.
Me, I conquered the final 25km that got me home but after 2 days of unadulterated cycling, I can’t say I enjoyed it. A solid 5km along the gravel paths of Regents Canal had me on-edge as I incessantly visualised having to deal with a last-leg puncture. Having a backpack full of overnight clothes strapped to my back didn’t help matters, either.
The irritation and annoyance was mostly tiredness though and the warm glow of achievement quickly washed away any dissonance I was experiencing as soon as I crossed the threshold of my front door.
I’ll certainly be signing up for next years ride.