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Journal

Filtering by Tag: Cafes

THERE & BACK AGAIN: #LDNBTNLDN

10,000km.cc

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. 

-- RF. 

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. 

07.01.

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. 

On top. 

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.

We continued. 

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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. 

Peer pressure. 

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.

Delirium. 

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. 

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LDN-BMH-OXD | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 2nd August, 2015
Distance: 175.5km | Elevation: 1,700m
Start kms: 5,369.5km | Finish kms: 5,785.4km | % complete: 57.9%

Destinations: Bournemouth — Amesbury — Kintbury — Oxford

Despite our best efforts too cover something more savoury, there was only one topic of conversation taking place over our eggs at the breakfast table: the degree of discomfort we were likely to experience during the initial moments of our chamois (and their contents) making contact with our saddles. 

The general consensus was that it would be high on the pre-existing scale. However, due in no small part to pain giving way to an incurable numbness at around the 200km mark the previous day, the anticipation was exceedingly greater than the reality, as is so often the case. 

On the subject of backsides, if I’d needed any further confirmation that I am in no way a breakaway rider or chain leader, today provided it in spades. Fulfilling my position as ‘man at the back of the pack’ in earnest, I added to my extensive and ever-growing collection of #ForeverButtPhotos — an expansive catalogue of my time spent trying to keep pace with a well-oiled, long-distance machine and an iron-willed, resolute (read: stubborn) accomplice. 

I, on the other hand, am a plodder. 

I’ve made peace with the fact that I won’t win the race — I won’t even come near the podium — but I will finish it. And I’ll most likely capture some photos of it along the way. 

Success and achievement operates on a relative scale, it would seem, adhering to the law of diminishing returns. Whilst doing something once is an accomplishment, the second time its repetition. By the third, fourth or fifth time round, it’s almost become habit and that’s just another word for routine. 

Case in point: somewhere between deciding to cycle 10,000km in less than a year and signing-up to a one-day 350km sportive, my perception of distance has become somewhat warped. It wasn’t long ago that a three-figure ride was a solid effort, whilst hitting anywhere between 130-150km wasn’t just cause for celebration, but an excuse to buy a commemorative jersey.

Today, we were discussing the 175km ride as a ‘shorter one’ and planning our first rest stop beyond 70km, depending on what we happened upon along the way. 

But that’s the wonderful thing about cycling. The ability to go further allows you to cover new, undiscovered routes again and again, helping the old and well-troden feel entirely new. 

Speaking from ongoing experience, it sure beats doing laps of the same park week in and week out. 

Continuing to be diligent in our calls, few potholes, bumps, shards of glass or collections of gravel were left unidentified. Whilst Gorrod and I were traditional in our identification, choosing the traditional and authoritative point in the direction of the offending object. I noticed that Hendo, on the other hand, had far more of a flourish in his gesticulation, his point being more akin to Sacha Baran Cohen’s Bruno and his nish-nish finger. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. 

As we passed north of Farnborough, we reached the top of our final real climb of the day. Placing myself back in the saddle, I rounded a bend to the loud and unmistakable cry of Hendo as he looked out before us: 

“ROAD PORN!“ 

He was right, too. 

Straight ahead of us was what looked to be a never-ending descent that led into a gradual right-hand bend. We could see exactly where the road led for the next two to three kilometres and the direction was definitely downwards. The decline was long and straight, veering slightly upwards and around to the left before a follow-up descent. The road was smooth, wide and completely clear. 

We didn’t hang around. 

Straight back out of our saddles, we were hammering into our big rings to build-up speed and momentum, aiming to capitalise on this glorious stretch. In hindsight, I wish I’d stopped for ten seconds to take a few photographs not only to publish here, but to look back on. Alas, I was greedy. I wanted to take it on there and then and the excitement got the better of me. 

I’ve since learnt the name of the hill: Chain Hill Road. I may be being slightly hyperbolic - and it may just be because it’s still so fresh in my mind — but I’m intent on finding my way back to that little stretch to take it on again. It’s well worth going out of your way for and was the best five to seven minutes of the weekend. 

It’s also a great spot to push the boundaries on your top speed. I was knocking on the door of 80kph, but didn’t quite get there. 

This time. 

Buoyed considerably by the descent and the growing number of signs for Oxford, we fell in-line and settled in for a prolonged period of chain-gang riding. Hendo took the front, whilst Gorrod settled in behind him. I took my usual spot on the wheel of the last man. After 15 minutes, and with the wind behind us, we took a left at the junction and Gorrod let us know we’d managed to maintain a tour pace for the last segment, averaging 44kph for quarter of an hour. 

It’s amazing what you can do with a tailwind. 

The final few kilometres into Oxford-proper kept us on quiet country lanes. Holding more fields and cars, the sight and sound of three police cars speeding up and past us, with their sirens wailing and their engines revving, was a surprise. Living in central London, and cycling twice a day on Old Kent Road, I’ve not only become used, but  numb to the the panic-inducing feeling that a siren can inspire. However, riding through the sunny, idyllic and expansive countryside of Oxfordshire provides a very different setting and, seeing them in that context, is incredibly unsettling. 

After a very brief stop at Zappi’s Bike Cafe — our final destination — we boarded the train back to Paddington.  Unknowingly choosing the silent carriage, we rustled through our post-ride snacks, complained far too loudly about our Garmins not synching with our phones and drowsily snapped at one another for now other reason than we were tired. 

Meanwhile, I silently subdued the creeping forbidding feeling that ebbed and flowed through the front of my mind: the knowledge that I still had to make the 15km ride back home through the late-afternoon London traffic. 

It was worth it though. 

It’s always worth it. 

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Details:

Back into Knatts Valley.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 21st June, 2015
Distance: 100.7km | Elevation: 962m
Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Clapham Common

Start kms: 3,938.4km | Finish kms: 3,950.1km | % complete: 39.5%

It turns out I wasn’t the last in the group to be introduced to Knatts Valley. Both Saul and Gorrod had yet to venture in to its hedgerows and so, now fully inducted, I took it upon myself to be their guide. 

In an effort to mix things up, I decided to take us through the valley in reverse, approaching from Eynsford. Whilst I’m not exactly sure why, my preference is definitely for the run in from Shoreham – I think that’s down to the difference of the descent in, with the former feeling that little bit longer and slightly faster.

It was only a few months ago that Hendo and I were in Richmond Park with Saul, dropping him on the hills and helping him out of a ditch on one of his first proper rides out of London. Without wishing to sound condescending, and whilst a small part of me was left pining for these headier days as I sat on the back of the group, the speed at which he’d progressed was unbelievable. 

He was like a whippet up every hill the route placed in front of him. 

Grossly under-estimating the length of time it would take us to get from the M25 crossing to Clapham Common left us pacing back through central London fairly aggressively. The result was the gradual flagging of each of us as we got inside the 10km mark – the conversation died down, the heavy sighs got louder and the questions of “is the this cafe much further away?” became more frequent. 

Thankfully, the answer was “no” and, even better, that cafe was the always delectable FIELDS.

As I neared my front door, it became clear that I was painfully close – but not close enough – to breaking the 100km mark. I diligently peddled past to complete my victory lap and bring me safely over the threshold.  

Details:

Bonksville.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 5th March, 2015
Distance: 103.2km  | Elevation: 1,426m
Destinations: New Cross – Royal Tunbridge Wells – New Cross

Start kms: 1,925.1km | Finish kms: 2,028.3km | % complete: 20.3%

It can happen to the best of us.

Too many late night after late night. A few too many beers the night before. A restless nights sleep. Eating the wrong thing before jumping on the bike (or simply not eating enough).

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to me.

At least, not this time.

Joining me on an early Sunday morning jaunt to Royal Tunbridge Wells and back, Gorrod had a week of long, stressful, physically-involved days in him thanks to his recent house move. Ever-eager — and almost always running behind time — he wound up feeling the need to cover the 15km from his new house to mine in under half an hour, leaving him slightly out of breath and, as we’d discover, on the back foot before we’d even begun.

In hindsight, the tell-tale signs were there by the time we’d hit 40km. Whereas he would normally always place himself half a wheel ahead of me (a physical embodiment of his superior fitness), today Gorrod was, at best, alongside me.

His head hung heavier, too, looming towards his handlebars.

I quietly rejoiced in the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting caught in the friendly fire of his snot rockets. I also began to congratulate myself on what was clearly a considerable improvement in my fitness levels.

Any misplaced confidence was immediately shattered when Gorrod pulled into the side of the road and began devouring a CLIF Bar. We were 3km from our rest stop and he is a proud man — as much as I wanted it to be the case, he didn’t just fancy a snack.

Not even a considerable breakfast at The Velo House could reinvigorate those tired legs to regular service. As we rolled past train stations, I watched as he surveyed them with intent, actively weighing up the possibility of dismounting and switching to an infinitely easier mode of transport.

Having already tackled these roads within the last month, involuntarily becoming the stronger rider made them feel somehow easier. My focus was drawn away from the inclines and towards making sure we both made it up and over together, which meant having to take on a level of positivity I rarely afford myself.

Gorrod crossed the 3-figure threshold somewhere on the way back in to Bromley. It was either that, his breakfast kicking-in or the possibility of the ride being over becoming very real that brought him out of the other side.

As I say, rather him than me, but I know that it’s only a matter of time.

All of this said, I do feel it’s only fair I point out that bonking doesn’t mean Gorrod crawls along at a snails pace. He managed to average a speed of 26kph over the course of the ride.

It’s little wonder I struggle to keep up on the good days.

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