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Journal

Filtering by Tag: Challenge

TOUR DE PAYS DE GALLES: THREE DAYS IN THE VALLEYS.

10,000km.cc

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Wales is binary. 

I speak from a point of complete bias, basing that on nothing other than firsthand experience over a three-day period, but I can say with relative confidence that in the 72-hours I spent riding from its top to its bottom, I didn't see a flat piece of tarmac.

There was up. There was down. There was no in between. 

It was just after 7 a.m. on Saturday 29th April that six of us convened outside of a cafe in Chester's centre. We looked forlornly through its window as the barista made his preparations for a day of trading, knowing that it would be some 60km before we sat down to our own breakfast.

That didn't matter though.

We had routes on our ride computers, excitement in our eyes and hope in our hearts. We were ready to begin a long and ambitious weekend of riding that would see us covering the length of a country in search of new roads and experiences.

DAY ONE: CHESTER TO ABERYSTWYTH
Distance: 176km | Elevation: 2,830m

The weekend's tone was very quickly set as we found ourselves ascending World's End, leaving the houses of the nearby villages behind. Following the Minera Road, we climbed steadily onwards, alternating between power stretches driven from the saddle and fleeting moments of energetic pedal dancing. Neither felt easier than the other, but they were different and that was enough. 

The formalities of the road officialdom fell away as we proceeded on towards the top. Markings became faded, sheep roamed as they wished and reliable tarmac became flecked with loose asphalt and gravel. Meanwhile, the surrounds went from metal barricades to stretches of moorland. 

Long, winding, gradual and picturesque, this was climbing at its best.

Having pored over each days' itinerary, we knew the routes. But knowing the route doesn't mean you know the route; it wasn't until we began a climb, tackled a descent or rounded a blind bend that we truly knew what it was the roads had in store for us. 

We rode hard on our brakes on the descents, and harder still at the sight of an overflowing stream that had made the road its home. On some of the steeper, less reliable stretches this was challenging for the able-bodied amongst us, but the fact Ele -- whose recently broken hand was still bandaged and in the process of healing -- continually found her way to the bottom of each climb is testament to her strength (or belligerence) 

Grinding through our pedals up a seriously steep, unfathomably long and entirely unexpected hill, we were able to muster half a breath to curse the road, write-off Wales and chastise our route master for not warning us of its presence (which only would have served to make the struggle worse). 

For those looking to be forewarned, the climb in question was Pen Ffridd.

But take my word for it, ignorance is bliss. 

DAY TWO: ABERYSTWTH TO  LLANDEILO
Distance: 131km | Elevation: 2,700m

Every now and then a ride entirely recalibrates your view of cycling. Something happens that alters the way you see the thing you love and, for better or for worse, you look at riding your bike in an entirely different way. 

Day Two was one such day. 

The effects of Day One hadn't gone unnoticed by our bodies and neither had the lack of sleep. Regardless, the promise of ice cream by the seaside for breakfast was enough to buoy our energy levels and push us onwards through the rapeseed and green, green grass that Tom Jones immortalised in song during the first 50km.

We were four climbs into what was set to be a 3,700m day by the time we reached the coast. The fig rolls dished out by Gorrod at crucial moments and the endless stream of sweets supplied by Jess and Ele had no doubt helped to get us there. As we sat around a pastel pink table in a pastel pink room, we talked dismissively about the headwind. 

"It's not as bad as was forecast", we observed as we tucked into a breakfast roll and a slice of apple pie. 

"It's not all that noticeable, is it?", we concurred as we sank another Dr. Pepper with a cappuccino chaser. 

Looking down at our average speed at the top of our eleventh climb of the day, I took back everything I'd said and thought. With 110km logged, less than 20kph on the clock and the day slipping away with each pedal stroke, I was happy to be on the approach to our lunch stop where we'd have a chance to take stock, recoup and regroup. 

That's when a stranger uttered the five words that crushed me and the group:

"Sorry, we've stopped serving food".

It was Sunday. We were in rural Wales. The next town was off course and another 15km away (and on the other side of a hill). And it had just started to rain. 

We had no alternative.

Reluctantly remounting our bikes, we put our heads down and cycled onwards onto the incline and into the rain. 

A roast dinner didn't alter our circumstances. We were still 15km off course (with another 15km to go if we wanted to right ourselves).

It didn't reinvigorate us in the way we'd hoped, either. We might have been less ready to throttle no one in particular for little reason other than hanger, but we were all still paying the price for having ridden headlong into a deceptively strong headwind. 

But it did allow us a moment of clarity. The big climb of the day, Black Mountain, would still be there tomorrow. So too would the other roads we'd planned to ride. What was the use in killing ourselves just to ensure we covered the planned route? We still needed to get to Cardiff. What's more, we were here to enjoy ourselves and what Wales had to offer, not to suffer unnecessarily.

We made a decision and took a beeline straight for Llandailo, where we'd re-route, get an early night and hit the road recharged with enthusiasm. 

DAY THREE: LLANDEILO TO CARDIFF
Distance: 154km | Elevation: 2,270m

The final day was going to be the best day.

We'd gone to bed on a whisky. We'd woken up to a packed lunch put together by the pub we'd stayed the night in. The drunk Welsh teenagers dancing and singing to the live entertainment of the night before hadn't kept us up.

All the signs were there.

Staring at the saddle of my bike, I revisited the previous days ride and wondered whether I was in fact the passionate cyclist I thought I was. Was riding far all it was cracked up to be? Was there equal merit to kicking back on the sofa with a packet of crisps, a couple of beers and a tub of ice cream without doing a weekend's worth of riding beforehand?

Perhaps. 

The mist eveloped us as we began the first of three Top 100 Climbs for the day and the light drizzle helped to mitigate our rising body temperatures as we ploughed on up the 5.5km ascent. I watched Simon, Ele, Gorrod, Chris and Jess get swallowed into the white haze as I settled into the rhythm of the slope.

These were fitting conditions for making our way up Black Mountain. 

Reconvening at the top, our hollers and laughs drowned out the sound of our cleats unclipping from our pedals. Our eyes darted from one another, to the road that had brought us there, to the valley (and seemingly infinite descent) that stretched out before us as we all let out a metaphorical (and in my case physcial) sigh of relief. 

This was better than crisps and ice cream on the sofa. 

Leaning through the corners of the descent, we flew ecastatically towards Rhigos and on to Bwylch. Our zipped down jackets flailed in the wind as the sun began to shine and our backsides left our saddles for another gradual, beautiful ascent that turned towns into model villages and struggles through headwinds into distant memories.

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Our new found sense of confidence arguably tipped into arrogance as we began to close in on Cardiff. Sweeping round towards the coast, the roads become smaller and narrower as we sought to keep off the increasingly busy A roads. These lanes soon turned to mud and rock. We powered on through, waiting for the what would only have been the second puncture of the trip as we bunny-hopped large rocks and tried to stay upright on the sections of deeper mud. 

Eventually, we were forced to dismount when faced with what looked like a small, dried up waterfall. We'd all met our bike-handling match and, with our bikes over our shoulders, we marvelled at the fact our tyres had survived and prayed our cleats would do the same. 

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Your best friends tend to be the people you know so much about that you hate them a little bit. You know their faults, what it is about them that's annoying, what grates, where their weaknesses lie. But that level of knowledge comes only from knowing a person in intimate detail; from having spent so much time with them you've not just seen how they operate, but looked intensely under the bonnet. You understand their mechanics and how those dirtier, messier parts of their personality contribute to the greater good of their whole. You don't necessarily love them in spite of their faults, but they do help make the things you love about them shine that bit brighter. 

So it is with anything you love. If everything is brilliant, easy, fun, then nothing is. What is passion without context -- highs, lows and in betweens? What is a phenomenal day on the bike without a confidence-knocking one to give it substance?

The good days will always outlive the bad and the happy memories quickly and readily replace the unhappier ones. 

Here's to the next one. 

Three Days in Jersey.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Friday 30th October - Sunday 1st November, 2015
Distance: 292.4km | Elevation: 2,423m
Start kms: 8,261.1km | End kms: 8,553.5 | % complete: 85.5%

Destination: Jersey

Jersey, the island I grew up on and the place I still call home despite having not lived there for nine years, is not a big place. 

In fact, it’s tiny — 45 square miles to be exact. Eighteen years of living there means that there’s very little of it that I haven’t seen. 

However, to ride its lanes is to remind myself of two of the somewhat paradoxical joys of cycling.

The first is the reassurance and comfort found in riding through a well-known spot. 

Setting out before sunrise three days in a row doesn’t necessarily require a cast-iron determination or unwavering discipline. It tends to just mean laying my kit out on a chair the night before and fetching my bike from the garage. Both go a long way towards providing an early morning nudge to honour the agreement I made with myself the previous evening. 

Waking to the sound of my alarm and the low-lying mist of a cool November morning, putting on my arm warmers and getting on the road was made infinitely easier by the fact that I wouldn’t need to engage my brain in any major way. There was no route to follow, no turn-by-turn directions being dictated from my handlebar stem — no matter where I found myself, I would know where I was. Letting my legs take me where they could, I simply dropped my right knee and lent to the left or swung to the right with the curve of the road if and when I felt like it, seeing where it took me.

That turned out being the majority of the island over the course of 72 hours.

Much of it was covered alone, some of it with my dad and parts of it with a very old friend. Between the chatting, the reminiscing and the occasional ice cream, I drunk in the sights, sounds and smells I’d encountered countless times before but that still felt in some way new. An impulse turn would bring me to a forgotten, sun-lit nook I’d neither seen nor thought about for years.

Reaching a fork in a road, I followed the road less travelled and found myself passing through never before seen surroundings and, for a short moment, I found myself lost. Everything was unfamiliar: the narrow, gravelled road, its verdant hedgerows, the new view down onto the coast and out to sea.

That would be the second joy and creator of the paradox: even when you think you know a place, you don’t. There is always something left undiscovered, hidden and waiting to be found. 

The feeling can’t have lasted for more than a few seconds before I recognised my surroundings and was able to place myself exactly. 

Every time I return home, I ask myself why it is I left. The surroundings are beautiful and the pace of life is enviable. Plus, there’s the draw of always being by the sea.

I’m not ready to move back yet — London still has its claws sunk firmly into my skin and, with its promise of the incessantly new and constantly different, it shows no sign of loosening that grip any time soon. 

But three days at home was a nice reminder that, whilst London offers the opportunity to see a little of a lot, there’s something innately satisfying about knowing a lot about a little. 

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Details:

Rapha MCR-LDN: a new threshold.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 6th September, 2015
Distance: 360.2km | Elevation: 3,488m
Start kms: 6,671.1km | End kms: 7,031.3km | % complete: 70.3%

Destinations: Manchester — Peak District — Derbyshire — Warwickshire —Northamptonshire — Hertfordshire — London

I fumbled through the excessive number of train tickets I clutched in my fist to make sure I had my outbound stub to hand. 

Of course I did. 

Gorrod, Hendo and I were only being propelled half-way up the country in one direction by third party transport. When it came time to getting ourselves and our bikes off the train in Manchester Piccadilly, it was going to be all on us — or more specifically our legs — to take us back to London. 

This was the Rapha-organised Manchester to London ride, a one-day, 350km route that had been looming in the back of my mind from the day I’d signed up on a dark, cold February evening. Between its beginning and its end lay 120 more kilometres than I’d ever covered in a day, a good 2,000m more climbing than I’d surmounted in one session and several hours of extra time in the saddle overall. 

“Am I ready?”, I asked myself over my second plate of spaghetti bolognese at the pre-race pasta party at Rapha’s MCR Cycle Club. The short answer was that I didn’t know and, regardless of the amount of training I was capable of or willing to subject myself to in the run-up, I wouldn’t until the moment I passed beneath the inflatable arch carrying the words ‘FINISH’ the following evening. 

The morning came round quickly and the sun was only beginning to rise as we wheeled our bikes out onto the street at 05.30. The streets were quiet except for a handful of the cities endurance clubbers, who wandered the pavements in not-quite-straight lines, arms flung around each others shoulders, one acting as an unreliable crutch to the other. The night had taken its toll, with their faces held in looks of dejection and their eyes staring far off into the distance, whilst seeming to focus on nothing in particular. 

It was not the last time I’d see that look today. 

As their day finished, ours was just beginning. We were all nervous, but this was manifesting itself as an electric, almost tangible, level of excitement. You could hear it in the cadence of our speech as we quickly asked and answered each others (and our own) questions. 

We were also focused. Riders were able to begin setting off from 06.00 and, with daylight precious, we intended on using every available minute we had. We filled our bidons whilst packing our jersey pockets. We ate our quickly-grabbed pastries whilst we dropped our wet bags to the team car. We didn’t waste a second and it wasn’t long before we were crossing the start line and beginning the first leg of the day. 

Ushered onto the route in waves, we settled into a peleton of around 20 to 30 riders, following the blinking red light on the seat tube of the rider in front whilst making introductions to fellow riders. Having spent the majority of the year riding in groups of three or four, it was refreshing to find myself amongst a bigger pack. Boxed in, I felt motivated to stay on the back wheel of the rider in front and bolstered by the presence of riders behind me. I also felt protected by the shield of flesh, carbon, aluminium and steel to my right, front and rear, providing a level of security it’s impossible to feel when riding alone. 

“I miss riding in big groups like this”, I said to the guys as I powered along. 

Another 30km and, as the last back wheel of the group glided further away from my line of sight, I was back-pedalling on my original statement. I’d made a fundamental race day error; I’d followed the pace of the pack rather than what I knew to be my own rhythm and I was starting to flag with more than 300km left to cover. 

I felt disheartened and stupid. 

This was not the psychological or physical place I had envisioned inhabiting during some of the most visually stunning and at the same time challenging stints of the day: the Peak District. It’s sun-kissed hillsides bathed in the soft pink-orange light from the low morning sun, while a thin, white mist slithered across the valley floors as the temperature began to rise. It would have been enough to take my breath away if that had not been left somewhere on the steep and constant ascent that had brought me to this viewing point. 

The fear of peaking far too early was soon usurped by the impending threat of punctures as we took to the legendary Monsal Trail, a flat, traffic-free trail that once carried Midland Railway trains from Manchester to London. The soft crunch of fine gravel floated upwards from our wheels as we passed quarries, limestone rock faces, former train platforms and still-standing viaducts, broken only by the momentary dash through dimly lit, tarmaced tunnels. 

Approaching the first feed station, Gorrod, Hendo and I had reestablished our tried and tested pace and we talked tactics to ensure we didn’t succumb to the lure of an extended and indulgent rest stop so early into the ride. 

Dismounting, one of us immediately joined the queue for coffee, whilst another dashed to the water station to refill bidons. The third made for the plethora of food that had been provided for all participants: bircher muesli, sausage rolls, cookies, biscuits, cakes, sweets, gels, all by the kilo if you need or wanted it. I exercised self control, taking only a little more than what I really needed before tagging Gorrod out of the coffee queue to allow him to do the same. 

We were back in the saddle inside of 15 minutes. 

It was a little after 09.30 and the morning had firmly established itself: the sky was bright blue, cloud cover was minimal and the sun had not stopped shining from the moment it had made its way above the hills of the Peak District. The weather was asserting itself and we were confident of close-to-ideal riding conditions for the duration of the ride. 

In front and behind us were a further 157 riders, but having established our own cadence we saw few of them, as we made our way southwards via quiet country lanes, meandering towards and away from M1 as we went. 

We talked and we joked, riding alongside one another as we did so. We pointed and signalled to all manner of miscreant obstacles, which ranged from cavernous potholes to recently mown-down roadkill. When the opportunity presented itself, we sat up to capture photos from the saddle — something we’ve all become increasingly proficient at in recent months and, with a combination of the route and the weather of the day, a frequent occurrence from sunrise to sunset. 

There were times, too, where we all fell into line and put our heads down. I let my mind wander, focusing on nothing in particular and allowing the kilometres, the scenery, the roads and the hours melt away into the looming midday heat. 

I felt the sporadic vibration of my Garmin watch in my jersey pocket as it let me know another 5km had passed. Keeping it zipped away meant it was out of sight, removing the temptation to clock-watch. Housing it there also meant I didn’t feel every pulse and so each time I checked it, it would show the distance to be greater than I’d predicted. 

The grand setting of Bosworth Hall in Warwickshire once housed the wealthy Dixie family and was graced by Sirs, Lords and Baronets for centuries. Today, it was home to piles of pies for our lunchtime enjoyment, which we were able to enjoy with the luxury of a little more time. There was still little desire (or point) in staying on longer than we needed to with the ever-present threat of the legs seizing up or our bodies beginning to fully understand what we were subjecting them to. 

The second 100km were kinder to me than the first and each of us still had the want and the enthusiasm to slowly dial-up the pace when we saw the silhouettes of riders in the distance. We didn’t always rein them in, but those mystery lycra apparitions fuelled us. 

So too did the extra food we had stashed away. I played a game with myself, working out what the halfway point between each feed station would be. It was only once I had moved beyond this point that I would be able to reach behind me and retrieve said snack. With any knowledge of distance covered sat behind me along with my snacks, I waited to feel the buzz of my Garmin against my left kidney, trying to count them. However, distracted by everything else around me, I often missed it, allowing time to pass quicker still. 

It was at the penultimate feed station dispositions began to fray and tiredness began to not just appear, but march briskly to the fore. No amount of baked potatoes or coconut macaroons could undo the punishment of 200km under a hot September sun. We took a little more time to sit down, fill-up and refuel for what I had marked down as the most psychologically challenging leg of the day. 

Although the close of stage four would bring us within relative spitting distance of the M25, and therefore tantalising close to the finish, it felt like there was a gulf between 236km and 350km  — not close enough to be able to begin visualising the finish line and far too far from the start line for everything to still feel new enough to drive us to distraction. 

I was apprehensively entering a void. 

Serendipitous then was the timing of catching up with two riders that I knew. Matt and Jamie had been riding close to us for much of the day, our time at the feed stations overlapping at every point. We had finally caught each other on the road and spent almost all of the section together. 

It was the lift we all needed. The three of us had driven one another through to this point and we’d continue doing that until the moment we crossed the finish line, but after ten solid hours of the same faces, the same voices and the same lycra-clad backsides, a change of conversational scenery became as important as our continually transforming surroundings. Matt devoured each hill with an aplomb that was as nauseating as it was impressive at this stage of the day, dragging us up behind him like reluctant iron filings drawn to a magnet. Jamie got down low on the descents, challenging each of us to go that little bit faster. In between all of this, we talked almost constantly. Surely it was during that leg and in those moments that we embodied the spirit of this ride. We were not individuals, riding to beat a time; we were a team, made stronger by our numbers, seeing how far we could take ourselves and trying to beat that. 

If not, then at least it was all a distraction from the fact that the sun was slowly being swallowed by the horizon as dusk approached. 

Soup soothed the soul and warmed the hands in Hatfield, as we each handled what was already our longest ride on record. At 300km, some of us chose to walk around the room and chat to riders. Others took up a chair in a quiet corner and stared deeply into their coffee, as if its bottom might somehow hold a clue on where to find a final surge of energy. 

50km left to go. 

It sounded so small, but on top of the ground we’d already covered it was going to feel a lot longer. We donned our gilets and our arm warmers for the second time that day and activated our lights for the first. We hadn’t quite lost the sun, but tree cover and a lack of street lights meant we’d need the extra help soon after leaving the final feed station. 

As we moved into Enfield, things started to feel a little more familiar. The unknown, undiscovered and likely never to be seen again lanes of Middle England were gone. In their place came a sensory symphony. Street lights and neon-lit shopfronts blurred together as we sped past, whilst a never-ending stream of blinking brake lights snaked off into the distance. The dull, stop-start drone of the traffic-laden roads was shattered only by the occasional car horn or the high-pitched whine of a pedestrian crossing. 

It wasn’t so much a rude awakening — by now we were too far gone to be re-awoken — but a numb experience from which I felt a little distanced. 

Inside London proper, more and more traffic lights meant more and more cyclists were able to catch-up with one another, and our group of three became 15 by the time the illuminated ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture of the Olympic Park came into sight. 

That was our cue to pick up the pace for the final time. 

We took to the front of the group, working into heavier gears that hadn’t been touched for hours. The other riders followed suit. Our pace crept upwards as we broke through the 30kph barrier and kept going until we were just shy of 40kph. Excited by the prospect of achieving what had seemed impossible at the beginning of the year and carried by the unexpected speed, Gorrod flew past the exit of the roundabout that would take us past Hackney Marshes and onto the Olympic Park straight. 

“I’ll catch you up”, I heard him shout, as he disappeared onto the other side of the roundabout. 

Quickly back to a trio, we were out of our saddles and sprinting down Temple Mills Lane. We had nothing left, running on vapours and adrenaline as we followed the Lee Valley VeloPark walkway around to the right. A short, sharp bend and before we even had a moment to realise what was happening, we passed beneath the finishing arch. It wasn’t until I’d stopped that I heard the music, the cowbells and the cheering of the crowd. It was done. 

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of completing such a long and momentous ride. There is undoubtedly a sense of elation, but it becomes buried under layers of shock, relief, awe and waves of exhaustion. It’s difficult to untangle it all and try to begin making sense of it and, if I were to try, I’d likely drain much of its magic. 

Better to just bask in its warm glow and wait for entry to the 2016 event to open.

The Rapha Manchester to London ride is held to raise money for the charity Ambitious About Autism. Working with young people around the UK, they provide services to those affected by autism, as well as raise awareness and understanding at a public and political level. There’s still time to donate by clicking here. 

Final results.

etails:

Rule #62.

10,000km.cc

Date: Sunday 23rd August, 2015 Distance: 18.7km | Elevation: 380m   Start kms: 6,340.0km | End kms: 6,358.7km | % complete: 63.6%    Destinations: New Cross   “Cycling is about getting outside and into the elements and you don’t need to be listening to Queen or Slayer in order to experience that. Immerse yourselves in the rhythm and pain."   So  The Rules  state.   And it’s true.   On the weekends, it’s an easy one to follow. New and unexplored roads. Familiar runs to be conquered once again. Flanked by friends. Sun. Wind. Sometimes rain. On the good days the elements and your surroundings push you on. On the bad days, they at least provide a distraction.   Then there’s the commute.   It beats forcing your way on to an over-crowded tube carriage. It’s wildly better than sitting on the top deck of a bus willing yourself to stop sweating. Placed next to standing shoulder to shoulder with an overworked, overheating, overly-moist city worker, the bike wins every. single. time.   But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the same 9km of road twice a day every day.   Thanks in no small part to my mild Strava obsession, I’ve compounded the monotony of my commute in the last fortnight.   Front loading the kilometres at the beginning of the month has put me in a position where I am tantalising close to completing the not-insubstantial climbing challenge of 11,000m in 31 days.   But not close enough to do it with my eyes closed.   The 9km stretch of tarmac that takes me from New Cross to Clerkenwell via Old Kent Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Farringdon Road isn’t quite enough. I still need to find an extra 200m each day.   Enter Jerningham Road, approximately 50m of vertical a mere two minutes form my house. At the end of each day, you’ll find me somewhere between its bottom and the roundabout at its top, replete with trainers in place of cleats and an oversized backpack, doing hill repeats.   If that wasn’t enough, I spent the first 40 minutes of my Sunday making the ascent and descent over and over and over again.   Never has the temptation to plug myself into some music or a podcast been stronger.   "I know these roads”, I tell myself.   “There’s little difference between putting something in my ears and blasting something out of a car stereo”, I try to justify.   “If I use my iPhone headphones, I’ll still be able to hear everything around me”, I rationalise, trying to convince my inner prude.   I won’t, though.   For one, it’s easy to know a road, but it’s difficult to know the vehicles on it and near impossible to anticipate what they are going to do. My eyes go a long way towards keeping me upright, but there’s barely a day that goes by where I don’t need every sense I have at my disposal to get to work or home safely.   There’s also the small aural delights that I’d otherwise miss: fractured conversations, a familiar song from a nearby car, a surprisingly strong swear word delivered to an aggressive driver from an unassuming source.   Ultimately, it’s about something simpler and mildly pretentious: clarity and reflection.   Away from the distraction of my computer, my mobile, my desk phone, my colleagues, my friends, Netflix, books, my music collection, the news,  Ira Glass and his ever-interesting anecdotes  — almost everything — there’s little to occupy (or monopolise) my mind.   That allows me to process the days events, be they upcoming or past.   It provides an opportunity to organise my thoughts. It gives me a chance to mull-over problems that have presented themselves throughout the day, offering 30 to 60 minutes of freedom for them to float to the front of my mind and then off to the back again as they see fit.   It means that I arrive at my destination with a clearer and more focused mind.   It’s character building.    Details:


Date: Sunday 23rd August, 2015
Distance: 18.7km | Elevation: 380m

Start kms: 6,340.0km | End kms: 6,358.7km | % complete: 63.6%

Destinations: New Cross

“Cycling is about getting outside and into the elements and you don’t need to be listening to Queen or Slayer in order to experience that. Immerse yourselves in the rhythm and pain." 

So The Rules state. 

And it’s true. 

On the weekends, it’s an easy one to follow. New and unexplored roads. Familiar runs to be conquered once again. Flanked by friends. Sun. Wind. Sometimes rain. On the good days the elements and your surroundings push you on. On the bad days, they at least provide a distraction. 

Then there’s the commute. 

It beats forcing your way on to an over-crowded tube carriage. It’s wildly better than sitting on the top deck of a bus willing yourself to stop sweating. Placed next to standing shoulder to shoulder with an overworked, overheating, overly-moist city worker, the bike wins every. single. time. 

But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the same 9km of road twice a day every day. 

Thanks in no small part to my mild Strava obsession, I’ve compounded the monotony of my commute in the last fortnight. 

Front loading the kilometres at the beginning of the month has put me in a position where I am tantalising close to completing the not-insubstantial climbing challenge of 11,000m in 31 days. 

But not close enough to do it with my eyes closed. 

The 9km stretch of tarmac that takes me from New Cross to Clerkenwell via Old Kent Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Farringdon Road isn’t quite enough. I still need to find an extra 200m each day. 

Enter Jerningham Road, approximately 50m of vertical a mere two minutes form my house. At the end of each day, you’ll find me somewhere between its bottom and the roundabout at its top, replete with trainers in place of cleats and an oversized backpack, doing hill repeats. 

If that wasn’t enough, I spent the first 40 minutes of my Sunday making the ascent and descent over and over and over again. 

Never has the temptation to plug myself into some music or a podcast been stronger. 

"I know these roads”, I tell myself. 

“There’s little difference between putting something in my ears and blasting something out of a car stereo”, I try to justify. 

“If I use my iPhone headphones, I’ll still be able to hear everything around me”, I rationalise, trying to convince my inner prude. 

I won’t, though. 

For one, it’s easy to know a road, but it’s difficult to know the vehicles on it and near impossible to anticipate what they are going to do. My eyes go a long way towards keeping me upright, but there’s barely a day that goes by where I don’t need every sense I have at my disposal to get to work or home safely. 

There’s also the small aural delights that I’d otherwise miss: fractured conversations, a familiar song from a nearby car, a surprisingly strong swear word delivered to an aggressive driver from an unassuming source. 

Ultimately, it’s about something simpler and mildly pretentious: clarity and reflection. 

Away from the distraction of my computer, my mobile, my desk phone, my colleagues, my friends, Netflix, books, my music collection, the news, Ira Glass and his ever-interesting anecdotes — almost everything — there’s little to occupy (or monopolise) my mind. 

That allows me to process the days events, be they upcoming or past. 

It provides an opportunity to organise my thoughts. It gives me a chance to mull-over problems that have presented themselves throughout the day, offering 30 to 60 minutes of freedom for them to float to the front of my mind and then off to the back again as they see fit. 

It means that I arrive at my destination with a clearer and more focused mind. 

It’s character building. 

Details:

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:

An attempt at the Rapha Womens 100.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 26th July, 2015

Distance: 29.9km | Elevation: 358m

Start kms: 5,235.6km | Finish kms: 5,265.5km  | % complete: 52.7%

Destinations: New Cross – Mottingham – Knockholt

You know it’s not a good ride when I don’t have the wherewithal or the want to reach for my phone and take a few photos. 

Months ago, Ashley signed-up to the Rapha Womens 100, a challenge designed to get as many ladies out on their bikes as possible and covering some serious distance. 

A day on the bike at the end of July – the height of British summer – seemed like a great way to spend a Sunday. Agreeing to join her, I excitedly planned a route way back in March. Gorrod and I even did a recce at the end of that month to identify any major areas for concern that we should look to avoid (that was the one where Gorrod bonked, if you remember).

It turns out the March version of the ride held abundantly better weather than the July one. Taking a leisurely approach to the day, we got on the road just after 09.00 and the rain had already begun.

To quote Ashley, from there on in it was “relentless”. Without the slightest let-up, we pedalled on and were soaked through to our socks by 10km. By 20km I could feel the puddles of water sloshing around inside my shoes. 

It was me that was beginning to lose patience, with Ashley staying good-humoured despite the onslaughts. Mounting my iPhone onto my handlebars so we could direct ourselves to Royal Tunbridge Wells had been a fine proposition in theory, but in practice the amount of rain hitting the screen throughout the ride meant my phone kept thinking I was relentlessly hitting buttons. The result was the route either redirecting or disappearing from my screen completely. 

Despite my best efforts, forever-wet hands meant I couldn’t rectify this without pulling over to the side of the road and taking the phone from its case. As I did this for the fourth time in 30km, with Ashley and I sheltering under a tree, it was time to call it a day. 

This wasn’t going to be the last time I’d have to do this, the roads were slippery and dangerous (and quickly filling up with traffic), the puddles in our shoes had become small lakes, the rain was here to stay and our waterproof clothing wasn’t up to the mark. 

We admitted defeat at 30km and got on the train from Knockholt back to New Cross, Royal Tunbridge Wells still a far-off aspiration. 

This was a timely reminder to make the most of the nicer suymmer months whilst they’re still around. 

Details:

LDN-BTN-LDN.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 11th July, 2015
Distance: 217.7km | Elevation: 2,467m
Start kms: 4,792.9km | Finish kms: 5,010.6km  | % complete: 50.1%

Destinations: New Cross – London Bridge – Ditching Beacon – Brighton – Ashdown Forest – Royal Tunbridge Wells – New Cross

We’d had this ride in our sights for some time, having scheduled it in during the wetter, darker winter months of the year. 

There seemed to be something innately satisfying about heading from London, down to Brighton, and then coming back again all in one day. 

Part of it no doubt stemmed from the fact that it was a loop. It’s always itws own reward to hit the start and finish button on your GPS outside of your front door. 

Part of it arguably came from an inherent (albeit it slightly shameful) smugness of covering a well-trodden, well-publicised and frequently organised ride before lunch and then doing the same again, only in the opposite direction. 

And part of it was definitely because it looked good written in short-hand: LDN-BGN-LDN.

Someone needs to put that on a t-shirt. 

Amongst with the usual subjects – Hendo,Gorrod and Saul – was colleague and new-bike-owner, Dan. Having not ridden more than about 40km and seeing this as a reasonable distance to wear in a fresh saddle and new bike set-up, he met us at London Bridge for a 06.00 depart. 

Yet another sunny day awaited us and with it another day of milestones. 

First, whilst not by much, was that with a total distance of 217km, this saw my longest ride benchmark creep up a little further. 

Second – and more exciting – was that with this incremental gain would come the halfway point of my 10,000km. Somewhere between Mottingham and Eltham, I crossed the invisible 5,000km line.

But that came later. Before all of that that was my first ride from London to Brighton and an introduction to Ditchling Beacon (and all that comes before it). 

A Category 4 climb, Ditching Beacon wasn’t necessarily steep – it was just 90km into the ride and a kilometre and a half long, so it started to take it out of you towards the top. That said, it was a really enjoyable climb for the fact that there were no sudden kicks or surprises lurking round any bends and for the incredible views at the top.

Out of curiosity, I’ve just taken a minute or ten to look back through my previous rides. Whilst my legs would be inclined to disagree, at no point have I taken on ay hill that is categorised beyond a level 4. I’ve gone back into 2014 to see if that held any level-ups – nothing. 

Some of those climbs still haunt me, so I dread to think what a Category 3, let along a Category 2 or 1, would do to me. 

Back on Ditching Beacon, we stopped at the top to take in the views and wait for the group come back together. Dan, well beyond his furthest ride already by this point, was still hammering away despite having a camelbak, a BMX helmet and a lack of cleats to contend with. 

The buttered loaf of Soreen he retrieved from his pack at the top was well-deserved. It was also an excellent choice of riding snack of which I took note for future rides. 

The final 10km into Brighton was a gentle downhill that took us to our first stop. We’d heard about Velo Cafe from numerous sources and were under the impression that it was one of the best cycling cafes in the UK. Whilst that may have been the case at some point in the past, it’s certainly not true now. I’m not sure whether it’s under new management or if they’ve just changed tack, but this was less cycling-hub and more caff with outdoor seating. 

Thankfully, our second stop would be through the tried, tested and universally-liked The Velo House in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where all disappointment was annihilated by not so much a slice, but a slab of white chocolate rocky road. 

The second leg of the day was relatively uneventful, the high points being the fact that we made it to the coast and actually saw the sea (unlike in Kings Lynn in the Tour de March earlier this year) and another run through Ashdown Forest on yet another perma-kit-inducing day. 

The low point was probably watching Gorrod throw himself around unknown corners on a couple of downhill segments at far too high a speed, shouting out “REALLY SHARP ONE” at the top of his lungs. 

We didn’t see the value in explaining that was the reason we were hanging back in the first place.  

As well as providing us with vast quantities of butter and sugar, it was at The Velo House, at 160km, that Dan decided it was best to call it a day. Having just one movement available to him through the pedals (pushing) his legs had begun to feel it, as had his shoulders as he became used to a new sitting position on a brand new frame. With a train station 2 minutes from where we sat eating our enchiladas, the temptation was all too much. 

If that was my first ride out, I would not have hope to have faired anywhere close to that well. 

I had built up the Royal Tunbridge Wells to London stretch in my head as being pretty brutal, filled with two, if not three, fairly challenging hills in there. However, avoiding Brasted and Toys Hill this time round meant the reality of the ride was far better, more enjoyable and – as a result – faster than I could have hoped so far in. We quickly made our way back in to Bromley and then Greenwich. Trying to avoid as much of the traffic as possible, we went up, over and through Greenwich Park rather than straight through Lewisham. 

It meant avoiding people rather than cars, but at this stage it was definitely the lesser of two evils. 

Averaging the final 70km at a pace of around 25kph we all managed to get off the bike feeling if not good, then at least pretty okay. 

Given the fact that Dan, Hendo, Saul and I all managed a run the following day (separately, I hasten to add), we can;t have been completely done in. 

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Details:

Shropshire Highlands Cycling Challenge 2015.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 14th June, 2015
Distance: 93.2km | Elevation: 962m
Destination: Shropshire

Start kms: 3,717.7km | Finish kms: 3,810.9 | % complete: 38.1%

In an age where everyone’s looking for a new challenge to add to their list and people place increasing levels of importance on experience, races (be they bike-based, running-oriented, obstacle-laden or some combination of all 3 and more) feel as though they have never been more popular. 

As a result, it’s often difficult to find one that isn’t over-subscribed, over-priced or sponsored to within an inch of its life.

So when Luke sent me the link to the wonderfully lo-fi website of The Shropshire Highlands Cycling Challenge 2015, I was sold from the minute I saw it geocities-esque landing page.

No tags, no numbers, no timing chips, no sign posts — for your £11.00 entry fee, you were sent a paper copy of the step-by-step directions for the course and had access to a Mr. Kipling cake and a cup of tea at each of your three rest stops.

That was it.

No Powerbars or energy gels in sight, and if you wanted a sandwich, you’d need to make sure you’d packed the extra change.

After an evening of rain, we awoke to a dry and sunny morning. Porridge down, jersey pockets stuffed with tools and inner-tubes and bikes racked on the back of the car, we were on the start line for 08.00.

It was there that I realised I had left my Garmin on the bedroom floor. It was time to fall back onto my iPhone and Strava.

But there was a problem. I had next to no phone signal and, despite my best efforts to record, the app insisted on auto-pausing every 10 seconds. I spent the first 10km (and the first climb of the day) angrily thumping my screen, willing it to work.

I realise all this technology-reliance flies in the spirit of the events off the grid approach, but with 10,000km to cover this year I very much subscribe to the Strava Prove It and Strava Or It Didn’t Happen credos. Sadly, with Strava’s signal dropping in and out, that was difficult to do.

I’ll leave it there and concentrate on the ride itself after making one last point: my stats fell around 15km short and, somewhere in the hills of Shropshire, I lost 400m of climbing.

I will claw them back.

Having carried out numerous breathing exercises, I was able to restore my inner-calm and begin appreciating the unbelievable scenery being showcased at the top of the numerous climbs of the course.

Sadly, I don’t know the actual name of one particular highlight, but as a local, Luke was able to tell me its moniker: Top of the World. At the top of this climb was some of the most exciting and unusual riding I’ve been able to experience this year. Surrounded by valleys and hills, the road before you morphs from compressed tarmac to loose gravel soon after reaching its top. Whilst the probability of experiencing at least one puncture increases exponentially, so too do the number of sheep and cows freely roaming the green grasses either side of our route.

Eventually, the tranquility gives way to cattle grates (never a pleasant experience on the posterior or the forearms) and an incredibly hairy downhill section.

Those were two of the major risks we were facing on the challenge: high likelihood of punctures on messy roads following heavy rain the day before and steep descents on unknown roads.

The latter is always a recipe for potential disaster as confidence and excitement fuse to become arrogance and you find yourself misjudging the sharpness of the corner, the surface or the road or amount of oncoming traffic waiting for you on the other side.

It’s never worth it and thankfully we didn’t fall prey to either.

A risk I had not factored in, however, was wildlife and — more specifically — insects. Somewhere between our short jaunt over the Welsh borders and back into England, an incredibly acrobatic wasp was able to work it’s way up, over and into my not-exactly-baggy lycra jersey. Feeling it buzzing away somewhere down near my left love-handle, I clawed at my jersey to waft my uninvited passenger back out into the world.

It seemed to work. The buzzing subsided and I was able to focus on the next 5 miles to the final rest stop. Dismounting for my third instalment of the Mr. Kipling range (Viennese Whirl this time round, if you’re asking), the vibrations of wasp ricocheting between skin and lycra began again in earnest. Before I was able to panic-strip and indecently expose myself to a community hall filled with people, it had gone in for the kill and stung me.

I watched as it half-heartedly flew towards a window, already on its last legs.

On the subject of last legs, the last leg of the challenge brought with it the most challenging hill of the day. As a general rule, the last hill is always the most difficult regardless of gradient or categorisation purely because your legs are already storing everything from the kilometres that have come before it.

Anything left should and will be left on that final upward stretch.

In this case, I’m confident that this climb would have been considered the hardest of the day regardless of where it was placed. If you’re unwilling to take my word for it, I hope the name will convince you: Goat Hill.

I do not know the etymology of the name, but having ridden up it I can take an educated as to how it came to be. Quickly running out of gears, any hopes of standing out of the saddle for a little more power were quickly stymied, with my back wheel beginning to spin freely as it lost traction with the road.

Luke, borrowing his Dad’s bike for the ride, had forgone cleats for trainers and stirrup pedals. To have powered through on that set-up was impressive, especially as I watched more than one rider lose grip, then momentum and finally their balance on the sharper, steeper bends, forcing them to walk the remainder.

The Mr. Kipling range sampled, hills conquered, two countries covered (just, but a border crossing is a border crossing — just Ireland left to go now) and rain, crashes and punctures avoided, we were greeted beneath Ludlow Castle with a medal and the promise of lasagne at the end of our short drive home.

Oh and by the way, learn from Luke’s mistake: you won’t want to bring the extra change for that sandwich. They’re not so good.

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Details:

Smelling the roses.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 7th June, 2015
Distance: 53.4km | Elevation: 543m
Destinations: New Cross – Eynsford – New Cross

Start kms: 3,554.3km | Finish kms: 3,607.7 | % complete: 36.1%

Actually, in this case it was a case of admiring the poppies. 

Fresh from my ride with Hendo into Knatts Valley, I’d been reminded of just how fantastic greater London and its abundance of countryside was looking. For reasons that I am entirely unaware, the poppies had taken over a number of fields with full force on the way out towards Eynsford (see previous post) and the results were nothing short of spectacular. 

I decided that Ashley would no doubt appreciate this and that I had to show her. She even wore her floral Freddie Merckx jersey as a fitting tribute. 

Was this all a ruse to squeeze in another few kms before the week was through? 

I couldn’t possibly say. 

We both enjoyed it though. 

Details:

Discovering Knatts Valley.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 6th June, 2015.
Distance: 115.2km | Elevation: 1,214m
Destinations: New Cross — Shoreham — Knatts Valley — Bromley — New Cross

Start kms: 3,439.1 | Finish kms: 3,554.3 | % complete: 35.5%

The internet — and Instagram in particular — is filled with road porn. 

Especially when you follow the right people (I’m looking at you, Rapha). 

Vistas. Rolling hills. Mountain ranges. Long, seemingly never-ending descents filled with smooth bends and sharp chicanes. It’s difficult to stay off the bike and have a slower-paced day when a quick thumb through your newsfeed gives you an enormous case of cycling FOMO

In many cases, it’s pretty easy to appease yourself: 

“That run’s in the middle of The Dolomites." 

“That climb’s only accessible as part of an expensive trip to the French Alps." 

“I won’t find views like that without sacrificing several precious hours of my weekend on a train." 

They’re not forever off the cards, but they’re not going to be ticked off the list in the immediate future. 

However, there was one hallowed piece of road that I’d seen often and had no reason to have not visited. Ride route after ride route recommended it. Photos emitted their FOMO-magnetism, drawing me towards it. 

And yet, having lived in South East London for 2 years and had it practically on my doorstep, I had never been. 

On a morning that I’d decided to take down the Strava Gran Fondo for the month, Hendo decided he was going to introduce me to it. 

It was a last-minute decision in the middle of a Kent loop and it was utterly worth it. A longish, gradual descent brought us into the valley where we are able to cruise between two hedgerows, surrounded by wildflowers and what may well have been rapeseed.

At its lowest, flattest point, it was remarkably easy to see why and how Kent has earned the moniker of ‘the garden of England’. It was almost enough to take the sting out of the hill that awaits on the other side. 

Almost. 

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Details:

Up in the highlands.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Wednesday 27th May, 2015
Distance: 46.3km | Elevation: 459m
Destinations: Gleneagles – Muthill – Gleneagles

Start kms: 3,337.3km | Finish kms: 3,383.6km | % complete: 33.8%

Mid-way into a 10-day UK road trip, Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Gleneagles Hotel, where it turns out it’s not only possible to while away your day in spas, restaurants, bars between golf and shooting sessions, but also to hire Condor bikes and explore the surrounding roads of Auchterader. 

Gleneagles being the Mecca of all things golf, I naturally chose to body-swerve the greens and fairways entirely in favour of some Scottish roads. 

With the help of a couple of Garmins pre-loaded with several routes, Ashley and I set out to explore Strowan Road and its surroundings. 

The roads were as quiet as you’d expect given the fact that they surrounded an idyllic retreat and the undulations were as present as you’d assume them to be in an area named The Highlands. 

What I had failed to anticipate was the considerable contrast in temperature compared to London. A month of committing to attire consisting of bib shorts and jersey-only meant that I’d turned up woefully unprepared. My true colours as a soft, southern twat were at risk of being exposed, made immediately obvious to anyone that might care to gaze longer than a couple of seconds on my goosebump-covered, purple/red-coloured arms and chattering teeth.

Ashley had already laid claim to the only vaguely suitable cycling jumper I had, so I strictly adhered to Rule #5.

The Condor Italia RC bikes we’d hired were by no means top of the range – and I suppose a £2,500 frameset, one of Condor’s higher-spec numbers, is an unreasonable expectation for a morning jaunt – but they were comfortable runners. 

This comfort was made all the better by the addition of bar-mounted Garmin cycle computers. Whilst I’ve benefitted from the navigational prowess of the Garmin Edge in the past, I’d never used one first-hand and I was entirely sold on the merits of using it over a mounted iPhone – battery life, size and clarity and three of numerous realms it trumps the latter. 

The Scottish scenery had put on the most ominous, looming, moody outfit it could find for the morning. The clouds hung dark, grey and heavy over the surrounding hills and valleys. The threat of rain was constant. 

With so little in the way of weather protection, I was living dangerously, but it made for some truly phenomenal views and superb panoramic shots. I was willing to risk being battered by the rain for both. 

Thankfully, it did manage to hold off for the majority of the ride, with increasingly frequent droplets welcoming us back to the hotel before an all-out downpour. 

That was our cue to hit the spa. 

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Details:

Wasting time by saving time.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Thursday 21st May, 2015
Distance: 46.7km | Elevation: 251m
Destinations: New Cross – Grand Union Canal – Heathrow Airport

Start kms: 3,290.6km | Finish kms: 3,337.3km | % complete: 33.3%

When does saving time and money become a false economy? 

When you end up late and out of pocket. 

In planning a week-long road trip that would take my fiancee, Ashley, and I from London, up to Scotland and back down to Somerset, I’d managed to save myself around £100 by choosing to hire my car from Heathrow Airport rather than somewhere more central (and therefore infinitely more accessible – a detail that will become pertinent momentarily). 

However, that cost saving would translate to a substantial outlay of time on trains, tubes and buses – or at least it might have. 

An early start and a two-hour cycle would see me avoiding any travel costs, negating the need to drag several bags around Londons transport network, allow Ashley to stay at home and make some last-minute preparations and give me a chance to get in some much-needed kilometres ahead of 10 days off the bike. 

So a plan was hatched: an early morning cycle to Heathrow, pick up the car, throw my bike in the boot, drive back via the house, load up and be on our way to Scotland by 11am whilst saving a cool amount of cash. 

That’s what should have happened. 

I did get out early. 

I did cycle the 46km from New Cross to Heathrow Airport. 

I did make good time.

What I didn’t do is pack my wallet or any form of photo identification. 

Which meant I couldn’t pick up the car.

So Ashley couldn’t stay at home to do any last-minute preparation.

Because she had to get in a taxi and drive to Heathrow quick-sharp to clean-up my mess.

And that transformed a cool saving into a painful (and larger) expense.

A 2-hour delay as a result of the wait acted as a liberal dosing of salt to a very open wound. 

We made it to Scotland, but not before I was forced to coyly sit in a Sixt Car Rental foyer, clad head to toe in lycra for 120 red-faced minutes whilst reflecting on my actions and working my way through a banana and a protein shake (both of which I had remembered to pack).

This truly was the royalest of fuck-ups. 

Details:

Mitie London Revolution | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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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.

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Details:

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:

A new lease of life.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Monday 4th May, 2015
Distance: 62.4km | Elevation: 557m
Destinations: New Cross – Richmond Park – New Cross

Start kms: 2,570km | Finish kms: 2,632.4km | % complete: 26.3%

As my birthday rolled around, I looked sympathetically at my 1980s Raleigh Sirocco. A year of commuting had not been kind to an already tired but always-reliable run around. 

The handle bar tape sagged sadly from the bars as it continued to peel away. The paintwork was discolouring where Sharpie pens just were;t doing the job anymore. I worried for my own safety as I slammed on the brakes and finding myself stopping somewhere in the region of 15 metres later. 

Overall, it was looking forlorn and, growing tired of braking with my feet against the concrete rather than with my hands, I decided it was time to breathe some new life into the trusty workhorse. 

I picked up the new, improved Sirocco on the day of my birthday itself from the excellent ream at Seabass Cycles. They’d gone to town, stripping the bike back to its bare-bones and building it back up: new gears, new brakes, new cables, new chain, new bar tape, new saddle. In fact, the only thing that remained was the original frame, and even that had been made to look like new with a black paint job finished with gold accents around the lug work. The wheels had also been held onto, although I was told they’d likely have to be replaced in the next two to three months as they were on their last legs. 

The very next day, I took my Dad with me on a ride to wear-in my new saddle and introduce him to the highs and lows of Londons cycling scene. 

We set out early on a Bank Holiday Monday to avoid onslaughts of traffic as we headed to Richmond Par. With a couple of laps under our belts – and Dad suitably impressed with the green, deer-laden haven surreptitiously tucked inside London – we began the journey home. 

By then, the traffic had picked up and I could tell it was a bit more of a nerve-wracking experience for him. He wasn’t put-out by it, just a little unused to the constant nature of it. 

By the time we reached Vauxhall roundabout, I could see he was starting to get tired and the thought of contending with three lanes of traffic didn’t seem sensible. I therefore opted to get us onto the pavement and across via the pedestrian crossings. 

In a moment of either lack of concentration or complacency, he found himself unable to unclip from his pedal and, panicking slightly, fell in slow motion into me and my bike. 

I managed to stay standing and, once we’d made sure Dad was okay (he was – we’d hardly been moving at all), we checked the bikes. 

I pressed the brakes. All good. 

Checked for scratches. None.

Span the front while. Straight and narrow. 

Span the back wheel. 

Tried to spin the back wheel again.

It didn’t want to budge. 

The weight of my Dad had buckled the wheel leaving the bike almost un-cyclable. I emphasise the word almost, as I was able to ride the final 7km back to the house with the wheel snaking precariously behind me before getting it back to Seabass for the replacement wheels a little easier than I’d anticipated. 

Details:

Road rash.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Monday 20th April, 2015
Distance: 4.7km | Elevation: 16m

Destinations: Regent St.

Start kms: 2,400.3km | Finish kms: 2,405.0km | % complete: 24.1%

With a long weekend in Helsinki waiting for me in the second half of the week, I was looking to get ahead of myself by getting in some considerable Monday miles. 

I shouldn’t have bothered. 

As Gorrod and I moved slowly towards Regents Park, winding our way through the rush hour traffic along Tottenham Court Road and onto Regent Street, the cars, lorries and motorbikes parted momentarily to create a clear run up towards Portland Place. 

Out of the saddle, I started to accelerate towards the park, with Gorrod sticking closely to my back wheel. As we climbed past 30kph, my eyes strayed from the road directly in front of me and concentrated on the traffic sitting further on.

I therefore did not see the enormous pothole that brought my bike to an abrupt and aggressive stop. As I flew over the front of my handlebars and slid along the smooth tarmac of Regent Street, I had no idea what had put me there. 

Lying on the ground, trying desperately to catch my breath whilst Gorrod flew over the top of me, his bike having sailed directly into my hip, I was still none-the-wiser. 

It wasn’t until we‘d dragged ourselves (and our bikes) to the side of the road that we were bewilderedly able to identify the cause and culprit of the two-man pile-up. 

Assuring concerned bystanders that we were okay, we patted ourselves down and dusted ourselves off before assessing the inevitable damage. 

First, the people. Gorrod was able to escape with a few extra grazes to add to his growing collection. My elbow was bleeding from a deep graze and was starting to swell, but it was manageable. 

Next, the bikes. Gorrod’s was fine (thankfully, as I felt like this crash was my fault). Mine had seen better days. The brakes had bent on impact and the front wheel may well have been slightly buckled from the force at which it had hit the pothole. The slide along the road had also wrong through my bar tape and scratched the actual handlebars underneath as well. 

If there was a silver-lining to be found in this shambles, it was that we’d managed to crash directly outside a Boots chemist (where I was able to buy antiseptic wipes for our wounds) and a 2-minute walk from an Evans Cycles where I left my bike for a once over before heading home on the tube. 

No matter the reason, there’s something that feels fundamentally wrong with catching public transport whilst dressed in full lycra, cleats and a helmet. That uneasiness is infinitely enhanced when you do so whilst nursing a wound.

Still, another 4km in the bank. 

Details:

Green lanes and flat whites: a ride with the folks.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 18th April, 2015
Distance: 59.4km | Elevation: 473m
Destinations: Jersey (St. Ouen – St. Catherines – St. Aubin – St. Ouen)

Start kms: 2,305.6km | Finish kms: 2,365km | % complete: 23.7%

Whenever I’m lucky enough to go home to Jersey and go out for a cycle, I’m always reminded of a now over-used Hemingway quote taken from a letter to his family:

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them…you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through”

It’s true — and not just of cycling versus driving. I’ve walked, skateboarded, run and driven what feels like all of Jerseys roads countless times whilst growing up, but nothing makes me appreciate their ups and downs, their smooth or uneven surfaces like a bike.

8 months ago, my Dad hit his head whilst bording a plane from London back to Jersey. Mid-flight, he began to feel odd – tired, agitated, removed from the situation. Moments later, he was in the midst of a fit and wouldn’t come-to until safely in the back of an ambulance, on the way to Jerseys hospital.

Thankfully, he was ultimately fine, but to get to that point has meant a lot of rest and patience – not an easy ask of an active, excitable guy with a love of being outside and making things happen.  

Sometimes proactively and sometimes enforced, it’s been a case of slow, incremental steps. 

This weekend saw him take a big one: the first time back on his road bike, cleats and all.

Having completed a number of short rides on his sturdier and, to him, more trustworthy, mountain bike with my Mum, he wasn’t just ready, but raring to go.

He was reserved though, at least to begin with, forcing me himself to hold back and renew his acquaintance with the feel of the saddle, the reactiveness of the handlebars, the lightness of the frame, the abruptness of the brakes. 

Before long, though, I saw him visibly relax, as he began taking one hand away from his handlebars, placing it on his knee and turning around to chat to me. It’s true what they say about riding a bike – you don’t forget, it taking little time for muscle memory to kick-in and make 8 months dissipate away to nothing. 

For me, my lungs and legs would be more than happy to remind me of the time off, but if Dad was experiencing it, he didn’t let it show, taking on his first hills for months and chipping away at them until he reached the top.

This was Mums first long ride for almost a year, too, and one of her longest to-date. As we reached the half-way mark – 30km with no sign of stopping – she’d really found her stride and was happy to tell us as much: “I’m really enjoying this!”. 

It was great to hear and even better to watch as we followed the islands coast and stopped for the obligatory cake and coffee such rides dictate. 

Weighed down, we had the choice of cutting back in from the coast and heading home in a more direct manner. With 45km in the bank and another 15km on the shorter route, I wouldn’t have blamed them for choosing that option. We’d already far-exceeded my expectations for the first time out.

But they were insistent that we continue to trace the coast, taking on its 2 climbs in the process.

We broke no records, we shattered no PBs and we certainly didn’t give everything we had.

What we did do was enjoy each other’s company, make the most of a beautiful afternoon and re-establish a level of confidence not only in my dad, but in my mum as well.

It’s good to have them back. 

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Details:

The Stag | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Friday, 10th April, 2015
Distance: 130.5km | Elevation: 1,775m
Destinations: Morebattle — Duns — Haddington — Edinburgh

Start kms: 2,104.0km | Finish kms: 2,234.5km | % complete: 22.3%

The second day started early, at around 6am. The sun was still rising over the hills of the surrounding valley  and the mist and frost had yet to dissipate from the impending heat of the day. 

Looking out at the view from the bedroom window, it was nothing short of beautiful and completely chased away any weariness that ran the risk of creeping in. It also made for a picturesque backdrop on which to share our breakfast: half a CLIF bar and a cup of tea. 

Our first rest stops opening time was what dictated our departure. The 130km route we were taking had us away from any form of town or village for tens of kilometres at a time. Running light on any form of snacks, we had little room for unplanned breaks and therefore slowly packed and got ourselves on the road for a little before half past seven. 

Once again, the wind was behind us and, it still being early, there was little traffic on the road. Little soon became none as we left the A and B roads behind and planted ourselves on country lanes for what would be the majority of the day. 

Our pre-breakfast route was an excellent warm-up for the day, with nothing but relatively flat roads interspersed with a few small hills to break us in. We wheeled into Dunns and spotted the sign of our haggis roll purveyor. 

I’m not sure what it is about small villages, but there seems to be a real affinity for cafes located in garden centres. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced these dual-purpose businesses on cycles, but this was definitely the friendliest encounter so far. 

Wheeling our bikes past the piled-up bags of compost and through the stacked lines of plant pots, all of the staff greeted us warmly, despite having only opened their doors minutes earlier and no doubt still comprehending the prospect of another day of work. I’d imagine the somewhat novel sight of two dishevelled men in skin-tight clothing contributed to their smiles. The glorious sunshine probably helped, too.

The only irk from anyone came as the result of Gorrods order: “A haggis and egg roll? Well I’ve never heard that before”. Given the limited range of breakfast accoutrements in existence – bacon, sausage, egg, beans, tomatoes – we were somewhat surprised that any pairing with haggis would come as a curveball. These guys either lacked a creative intrigue, or Gorrod really had strayed far from the Scottish breakfast track. 

Regardless, we’d only been in Scotland a few hours and he’d already rubbed the locals up the wrong way. 

We were right about there not being anything beyond our first rest stop. I’ve never been on a ride that doesn’t pass the odd local shop, newsagent, cafe or pub every 10km or so. I suppose that’s the result of the majority of my rides taking place in and around the M25. In this case, though, the 50km that followed saw more farmhouses than public houses; more road kill than cars. 

The roads themselves had begun to slope upwards considerably, with hills being more of a level you’d expect from a day with circa. 1,700m of climbing. It was the kind of climbing that I enjoy, with short, sharp bursts of uphill that for the most part, allowing you to attack  before resting your legs on the freewheel provided by the descent. Yes, at times it meant struggling skywards at 15kph for several minutes, but for every 5 minutes of that, you benefitted from 10 minutes of sailing through Scotland’s quiet roads at 50kph. 

Civilisation was reestablished at 95km in the town of Haddington and with it, we encountered our first set of traffic lights since Kings Cross. You quickly forget the existence of such things on getting out into the countryside, meaning you don’t appreciate their absence until you find yourself slowly approaching one, willing it to go green before you need to un-clip.

Coffees consumed, our final 35km was back towards the coast of the fairly aptly named Musselburgh. Whilst the name suggests a rustic, coastal town, home to shellfish, fishermen and trawlers, I can assure you that it was more akin to a tired British seaside town (although the internet informs me that, as one of Scotlands oldest towns, it’s known for both its golf course and its racecourse). 

On our approach to Edinburgh, we were both determined to hit the all-important Gran Fondo distance of 130km, but soon realised we were running out of road. The city centre was fast-approaching and we still had some ground to cover before it was official (to both us and to the Strava app, which would be officiating). I wasn’t helped by my GPS dropping off in a tunnel, costing me several hundred metres.

An extra lap of the town centre was needed to take us over the line. We jokingly referred to it as our victory lap, moments before Gorrod – choosing to ignore the designated cycle lanes and keep to the roads of Edinburgh – discovered a still fairly new addition to the city: its tramlines. 

Both of his wheels locked in to the thin metal grate, leaving him with no room for manoeuvre. With little option other than to hit the tarmac, I watched as he slid down our final descent, closely followed by his bike. 

100m from the finish and we had our first casualty. 

Stag down. 

Dragging his bike, and himself, over to the pavement he should have been riding on originally, we assessed the damage. The bike was fine, with no damage to the wheels or frame. The important information established, we then turned to Gorrod, who had succumb to a little road rash and a hard knock to the hip, but little else. 

Thankfully, we were more than capable of free-wheeling to the finish and Gorrod was still more than able to participate in a weekend of Stag-based activities.

My total distance flicked over to 130km seconds before I unclipped at our final stop, Fortitude Coffee, where we both toasted an almost-successful morning of riding over a cup of delicious coffee and a couple of shared slices of cake. 

As we did, I synced my ride data from Garmin to Strava and was horrified (and I’m somewhat shamed to admit that this is not an understatement) to discover I had in fact logged 129.9km.

129.97, to be exact.

30m short. 

That equates to around 5 seconds of riding. 

That tunnel had cost me dear.

Gorrod laughed (too much, if you ask me. He seemed to be taking some level of enjoyment from it).

I began drafting my email to Strava in a vain attempt to reclaim those much-needed metres (and you’ll see the retrospectively resolved the issue). 

Questionable distance measurement aside, we had made it to the city centre exactly on schedule. We’d crossed borders and taken in some incredible scenery. We’d also put in a solid couple of days of base-tanning our perma-kit lines for the summer.

We were ready to begin The Stag proper.

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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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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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