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Journal

Filtering by Tag: Bicycles

Mitie London Revolution | Day 1.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 16th May, 2015
Distance: 189.0km | Elevation: 1,942m
Destinations: New Cross – Lee Valley – Edenbridge
Ascot

Start kms: 2,898.8km | Finish kms: 3,087.8km | % complete: 30.9%

I like an organised ride. 

There are downsides, the biggest one being that you have to go somewhat out of your way to do them. Sometimes it’s an early morning train. Others, a car journey.

In this case, it was a 25km ride to the start line. 

However, the loss of the convenience of starting and finishing a ride outside your front door are more than counteracted by what an organised ride has to offer. 

Route planning is non-existent. Stem-staring is no longer necessary as you replace the reliance on an iPhone or Garmin with following the peloton or, better yet, the well-placed and frequent road signs. Snacks are packed on an emergency-only basis, with fuel stations fulfilling all cake and coffee doping needs.

In short, the majority of thought is removed, leaving the joy of the ride and an unexplored route to be enjoyed.

The initial 25km I mention was to take me out to Lee Valley for registration. On my way out, I picked up my ride partner for the weekend, Saul. Together we’d be taking on the Mitie London Revolution, a two-day sportive that would take us around the edges of London.

However, to get to the outskirts and suburbs of Greater London, we first had to work our way through its centre. Following a route very similar to the one that had got me to the start line, hundreds of riders moved their way through East London and over Tower Bridge. It was as slow-going as you’d expect given the mid-morning congestion and the number of traffic lights, but any sense of frustration was subdued by the meditative sounds of the peloton: the whirring noise of the freewheel, the click-click of tens of riders unclipping in unison, as they paused at yet another red light.

The momentum began to build as we moved south from Crystal Palace and the group began to thin as everyone found themselves enough road to spread out.

Sadly, we were reminded of the dangers of riding unfamiliar routes very early on. As we approached the top of a steep descent, we became part of a bottle neck at least one hundred riders deep. From what we were able to make out, a rider had taken on the narrow, slightly bumpy, tree-lined (and therefore dimly lit) hill too fast and not been able to manoeuvre through a blind bend. Whether or not an oncoming car was involved, I don’t know, but the road was certainly open to two-way traffic.

When we were given the all-clear to walk our bikes down the hill, the presence of an air ambulance in a nearby field sent a shiver down my spine and offered a tangible warning that is better to finish slow and safe than to not finish at all.

Lightening the mood — and providing some light relief for our legs — were two rest stops along the way. The first was in Edenbridge, around 100km in. In terms of fuel, we were not left wanting. With a smorgasbord of chocolate bars, flapjacks, fruit, energy gels, energy drinks, biscuits, sweets, biscuits and cakes on offer, the danger wasn’t that we’d wind-up bonking somewhere between the start and the finish, but that we’d get overexcited and end up over-indluging. This became an even greater risk at the feed station, as sandwiches and a pretty decent cup of coffee (provided by Claud the Butler) were added to the equation.

Exercising serious levels of self-restraint in both circumstances, I took a spot on the grass and, basking in the afternoon sun, made my way through my mini haul.

The lethargy had perhaps started to take hold slightly as we left the second feed station.

Within the first 10km, Saul let himself drift a little too far into my slipstream and was quickly thrown out of it and from his bike. His front wheel had skimmed against my back one and, unable to rectify the imbalance, he slid along the road at a not inconsiderable speed.

Back on his feet, he’d picked up some nasty road rash, but everything was still bending and all of the cyclists riding behind him had managed to swerve around him. Thankfully there’d been no oncoming traffic, as he’d made his way onto the opposite side of the road.

The bike was looking good, too, so he was able to brush himself off remarkably quickly, getting back into the saddle and powering on within a couple of minutes of hitting the deck.

The final 50km towards Ascot put forth some of the best riding of the day. The sun had been shining all day, the roads were smooth and wide and the hills were negative rather positive, meaning the kilometres drifted away beneath our wheels.

Arriving at our overnight rest stop — the racecourse itself — I felt tired, but capable of going further. It was a good sign, as this was my longest ride to-date and, knowing what lies ahead of me in September, these kinds of distances need to feel both familiar and achievable.

Awaiting us were already-pitched tents, hot showers, massages and stretching sessions, plus a seemingly endless supply of buffet food.

There was also beer.

We drank beer.

Two main courses, two desserts and two beers was all it took to make our eyes feel heavy. Sun down meant heads down and we were into our sleeping bags before 22.00 ready for an early start the following day.

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Details:

The Stag | Day 1.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Thursday 9th April, 2015
Distance: 85.4km | Elevation: 1,247m
Destinations: Alnmouth — Banburgh — Wooler — Morebattle

Start kms: 2,018.6 | Finish kms: 2,104.0km | % complete: 21.0%

There are occasions when, setting out for a ride, you tightly cross your fingers and pray to whichever god might care to listen that the run-up to it is not indicative of the excursion itself. 

With an hour of the morning spent trying (and failing) to load two routes onto Gorrods Garmin, this was one of those sort of run-ups. With 30 minutes left before our train was due to pull out of Kings Cross Station, we eventually decided we were flogging a dead horse. On this occasion, the Garmin would not be our guide. 

With neither of us knowing where we were going beyond the station we’d be arriving into, we quickly hatched a plan. On the ride to the station, Gorrod would veer off to locate an iPhone mount for his phone whist I powered on to the station to print out our tickets. We set out together, darting through the rush hour traffic and snaking between the masses of cars, buses and motorbikes in a manner more reckless than I’d care to admit. 

Tickets in-hand, I ran through Kings Cross. Anyone who has tried walking on a tiled floor in cleats knows this is no mean feat, but I was determined to pick-up some remnant of the Stag breakfast I had intended.

With two bikes, two flat whites and a paper bag full of impulse purchases, we ran for our platform to load our bikes into the front carriage.

We had 3 minutes to spare. 

After months of careful planning, this is not how I had anticipated us beginning the two-day ride that would kick-off Gorrods Stag Weekend. As Best Man, I did not feel like the best man.

Seats located and cycling accessories safely stowed away, we took approximately 10 seconds to breathe, basking in the fact we’d managed to stick to time, before greedily going at our almond croissants and cinnamon doughnuts. This was chased down by a past-its-optimum-drinking-temperature coffee. 

We were heading for Alnmouth, Northumberland and would be crossing the Endland-Scotland border later that afternoon. However, with a 4-hour train journey ahead of us, there was little to do in the meantime except kick-back, watch the south of England transform into the north, consume a questionable array of pre-ride fuel and relax. Awkwardly, I took my level of relaxation a little too far, nonchalantly knocking over my just-opened can of beer and watching its contents drift slowly and precariously closer to the MacBook of my neighbour. Whilst I felt bad for disrupting his in-train entertainment (at points I became as enthralled by the silent rendition of Rambo I’d been watching over his shoulder as he was by his full sensory experience), I have little doubt that watching a Lycra-clad idiot jog down a moving train carriage in cleats in search of loo roll had its own merits. 

Accompanied by the vague stench of beer and sausage rolls, the cycling itself began at around 13.30. Normally, our rides end with a train journey rather than beginning with them, so I thought  we might be a little more lethargic in our riding style.

I was wrong.

With the sun shining brighter than it had all year, we were expressing levels of excitement over the first bib-shorts-and-jersey-only day of 2015 that, for countless reasons, was unacceptable for two guys in their mid-twenties. Throw in the fact that the first part of our route was taking us down to Bamburgh and its coast, meaning a fairly constant downward slope, and we’d covered 40km in little over 90 minutes. 

Stopping only for a photograph of Bamburgh Castle, we were quickly on the move again, back in-landf towards Wooler which, at around 65km seemed like a sensible place to stop. Both of us could probably have pedalled on through to the finish, but it feels wrong to complete a ride of this distance and not have one rest-and-cappucinno stop along the way. Gorrod added a tiramisu to this, which is arguably excessive, but forgivable on account of it being his Stag Do ( I suppose…). 

With the sun warming us on the terrace of thew inspiring and uniquely name Milan Restaurant (it was indeed an Italian), we were sure we were moving closer to the England-Scotland border. However, the fact that everyone was still speaking with the warm, affectionate lilt of Sarah Millican suggested we weren’t there yet.

We did arrive at it soon enough, though, and thankfully it had a level of ceremony to it. This is the first time I’d cycled over a country border in the UK and I had a mild concern that we’d find ourselves missing an understated sign that was characteristic of our nation and not discover we’d made the transition until we reached our destination. Instead, we pedalled up towards a large sign that simply stated: “Scotland welcomes you”.

Behind us, we left an even simpler sign: a plaque screwed to a wall that read “ENGLAND” in block capitals. 

Make of those what you will. 

Our stop for the night was only a few kilometres beyond the official border in a small town called Morebattle. Neither one of us for the indulgences of lad culture, the first night of Gorrods Stag could not have been further from the Hollywood-inspired debauchery of Vegas: a quiet cottage on Teapot Street named Kissingate, located by a stream, complete with free-standing bath and gas stove. The owner could be forgiven for thinking us honeymooners rather than Stags. 

I’m sure our matching embroidered casquettes, Gorrods labelling him ‘Groom’ and mine ‘Best Man’ removed any doubt from the situation.  Following a beer on the balcony in the last of the days sun, a bath and a Chinese Takeaway, we prepared for the following day by mulling over our route and drinking whisky from makeshift whisky glasses (refashioned tea light holders). We also located our all-important breakfast stop — approximately 60km away, allowing us a reasonable warm-up. 

Meanwhile, Gorrod pondered aloud the major concerns of what the day held in store:

“I wonder what roll our haggis will come on tomorrow”.

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Details: 

Tour de March: Day 3.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Monday 16th March, 2015
Distance: 136.6km | Elevation: 979m
Destinations: Norfolk — Holt — Kings Lynn

Start kms: 1,359.9km | Finish kms: 1,496.5km  | % complete: 15.0% 

One of us — and I don’t know who — must have pissed off Gorrod the night before, as he seemed hell-bent on giving one or both of us at best a puncture and at worst some form of frame damage. 

The beginnings of the route for our final day took us down towards a river and onto some questionable terrain. At first it was fun taking on the dips and mounds, with the tarmac becoming compressed dirt. It made for some decent photos, too.

But when the compressed dirt became loose gravel and boggy grassland for circa 5km, my phone was firmly put away and both hands were back on the handlebars to maintain some level of control whilst we all waited for something to go wrong for someone. 

Unbelievably, it didn’t and we managed to make it back onto the streets of Norwich, a little muddier than we’d of liked and having taken in some of the local highlights that included the sewage treatment plant — a treat not only for the eyes, but for the nose as well. 

Cyclocross excursion aside, we were on for a day of motoring. We had one rest stop planned mid-morning and would be straight back into i, heading for the invisible finish line we’d created for ourselves at Kings Lynn station. 

Sam had been spending a lof of time down his TT bars for the previous two days and I was impressed to see him back in them today. With no experience riding on them, I can’t imagine it being the most comfortable of riding positions — especially for upward of 400km — but he was making it look like light work. 

As the day wore on, I actually found myself longing for a set of my own TT bars. My backside had become very familiar with my saddle over the past 3 days and the 2 of them had stopped getting along somewhere on the approach to Norfolk. In a show of solidarity, my back, shoulders and arms had all chosen to do the same to the point where there was no new position for me to move to that wasn’t either as uncomfortable or worse than the previous. 

Upright on the handlebar straight: done. Down in the drops: over. Hands on the hoods: long gone. There was a short period where sitting up straight, hands off the handlebars and leaning myself as far back as I possibly could provided a bit of respite, but that too eventually became as good or bad as the rest of them.

Gorrod had failed to learn anything from yesterday’s snot rocket incident (or maybe he had and really did have it in for Sam and I today) as he continued to fire them out intermittently as we approached Holt. 

Thankfully, one of us had, and I chose to ride outside of his direct line. This was made infinitely easier by the fact that we’d finally planted ourselves on the side of the easterly wind as we headed westward. If there was any form of breeze blowing, it certainly wasn’t against us.

It was that and the previous nights curry that propelled us into what Sam informed us is known locally as ‘Chelsea on Sea’ and the best cafe stop of the tour: Black Apollo.

Having consumed gallons of milk since setting out on Saturday morning, I couldn’t face another cappuccino in a mug the size of a bucket and had the luxury of having a black Costa Rican filter to accompany my muffin. Delightful and precisely what I needed. 

Only sticking around for a quarter of an hour, we were off again and making a b-line for the finish. Sam was back in his drops as we rounded a bend to be confronted by a very large tractor. He was up and onto his breaks quickly and there was never any real threat, but I’m not sure I’d have had the quick-wittedness this late on in the trip to have avoided a front-on collision with its shiny grill.

Major incident avoided, we had our first and only minor incident of the trip. 

With our focus on the finish (and no doubt compounded by a little fatigue), it’s probably fair to say our camaraderie had slipped slightly. Conversation was certainly less free-flowing than it had been, as we all pedalled away furiously, fading in and out of our own worlds. 

It therefore wasn’t until a car pulled-up alongside Gorrod and told us our friend was “experiencing a bit of trouble back there” that we noticed we’d dropped Sam. A quick u-turn was made as we hurried back in the direction we’d just come. A few hundred metres away, we found him down on one knee with his bike on its back whilst he removed the back wheel.  

40km from a clean sheet and we were witnessing our first puncture.

With the speed and precision of a Formula 1 engineer, the wheel was off, the tube was out, replaced and pumped up and we were as good as new (perhaps lacking a few PSI thanks to the inefficiency of a roadside pump).

As we traced the perimeter of Samdringham, we were joined by the sun, which didn’t leave us for the rest of the ride. We all craned our necks, expectantly surveyed our surroundings for a slither of sea, but — surprisingly — didn’t end up with so much as a glimpse.

That was more than made up for by reaching Kings Lynn station and discovering it had Morrisons alongside it. 

The fact we found majesty in a purpose-built, industrial-sized supermarket, viewing it as an oasis in a tarmacced desert full of parked cars, probably says more than enough about where we were at both mentally and physically.

However, watching Gorrod pull his post-ride meal from its carrier bag as the train departed for London, I became convinced that some of us were a little more out of sorts than others. 

I feel I’d chosen well: a sandwich, an apple, a bag of cookies, a flapjack. All easy, unfussy and, at the time, unbelievably delicious. Meanwhile, in lieu of a knife, Gorrod tore apart a role with his hands, before using the same ‘utensil’ to remove the meat from a still-warm rotisserie chicken leg. This was piled into said roll and topped with the best part of an entire bag of reduced-price rocket.

Who buys a deconstructed sandwich? 

Some how, I feel as though that sandwich somehow epitomises the Tour de March. Haphazard, completely off kilter, not entirely thought through, somewhat disturbing to watch, but ultimately very, very enjoyable.

Details:

10,000km.cc

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10,000 KM: A belated beginning.

24th December, 2014. After toying with the possibility for the 2 years past, I made a decision: I’d take part in the Rapha Festive 500. 

And when I did, I quickly figured something out. The distance I’d covered in the 6 days it took me to complete equated to 11% of my total distance for the entirety of 2014. 

That’s a fair old chunk. 

Still riding the wave of whatever it was that the Festive 500 had given me, I made the irrational decision to simply double the amount of distance I’d eaten up in 2014 and, to compound the arbitrary nature of that decision, bring it up to the closest round number:

10,000 kilometres. 

Why? No reason, really, other than the fact that I love to cycle. I relish being outside. I enjoy using my bike to take me to new, interesting and undiscovered (to me, at least) places. I like the fact you can cover such vast distances with a set of pedals beneath your feet that you simply cannot whilst walking or running. I take pleasure in the conviviality and social nature of group rides.

And of course, there’s the rest stops: always an indulgence and often at least half the reason I set out in the saddle in the first place. 

There’s a reason this blog is a little late in the making. I was out all of January following a leg injury and I started to wonder whether I’d even manage the amount of distance I did last year. 

Thankfully, I’ve been back on the bike for a solid month and am avidly making up for lost time. 

From here on in, I’ll be using this as a place to wax lyrical on my progress, but to also reflect on my time spent out riding. In part, it’s a way of capturing those moments that I accumulate almost every time I hit the road, but quickly forget as I begin planning the next one. 

Join me, won’t you?