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Journal

Filtering by Tag: Cycling

THE NOT QUITE NORTH COAST 500 | PT. 1

10,000km.cc

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"I'll be honest with you. The Full English is good, but it's not £9.00 good. Now the smoked salmon and scrambled egg is better value at £8.00 – it's quite substantial, you get a bit more for your money".

It was half past eight on a Friday night in Euston station and, as we stood outside our cabin and room for the night, our train guard, Robert, gave us a thorough rundown of our breakfast options for the following morning. 

"And then you've got porridge with honey, granola with yoghurt. Four porridge and four coffees? No problem at all. 

And what time would you like to to come and wake you up? We're due in at 8:38am, so a knock and breakfast at 07:30? Perfect".

Single file, heads bowed and torsos angled slightly off centre, we walked down the narrow corridor of the Caledonian Sleeper Train, squeezed into our four bunk room and climbed into our beds. 

We were heading for The Scottish Highlands and, by the time the sun was up and Robert was bringing us our breakfast, we'd be there. 

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It wasn't all that long ago that this trip was just a proposition; a precarious pipe dream that was always intended but never quite executed. 

The four of us had been looking at taking on The North Coast 500 by bike for a few years, but it took the prospect of one of us leaving the UK to force us into action. And even then we were a little too late; available holiday was few and far between and we'd slipped into the portion of the year where the weather had become even more temperamental than usual and daylight had dwindled. 

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So it was with smiles on our faces and a sense of relief that we rode out of Inverness, passing its expansive lochs under blue skies and a bright, low-lying sun.

A-roads and lanes are one and the same in these parts and it wasn't long before the slow trickle of traffic dried up. Any obvious signs of inhabitants became sparse – a farm house here and a seemingly unreachable cottage there were fleeting specks on otherwise rugged and weathered hillsides and moorlands. 

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It was somewhere between 70 and 80km that we saw the first building that might serve food. We were keen to push on into what was our longest day of the three, but no one liked our odds on finding anywhere else in the next few hours and, more importantly, before the biggest and toughest leg of the day.

Wheeling up outside Ledgowan Lodge Hotel, we clopped and clattered under the watchful gaze of stuffed deer heads and what looked to be the hotels only two guests to their reception. Not looking at our watches, it's difficult to know how long we spent in the high-ceilinged, empty-except-for-us dining room, but if food and drink is an acceptable unit of time, it was a sandwich and two pots of coffees. Whatever the unit of measurement, it was long enough for the weather to swing from the bright and sunny to the wet and misty. 

To begin with, it wasn't raining – the air was just wet. The mist combined with forward momentum to slowly but surely make sure every accessible inch of us and our bikes became suitably saturated. As we pedalled on, the wet air became more assertive, transforming from droplets into globules that were unarguably heavy rain. 

A well-timed puncture made sure we were able to appreciate it in all its torrential glory.

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"Whatever happens, we have to do the longest route option on day one. It's the only way we'll be able to do Bealach na Bà".

Fickle weather and limited light meant Hendo, our routemaster, had planned several routes for each of our three days in The Highlands. Knowing our options to get back to our starting point were limited beyond the bike, it gave us contingency plans should we need them. But there was one iconic climb we refused to side-step having come this far: Bealach na Bà.

Idiots.

Otherwise known as Applecross Pass, this almost-10km stretch of ascending, winding tarmac is widely billed as the toughest climb in Britain. With 120km in our legs and our ham and cheese sandwiches having just begun to settle, we reached its base.

The climb is a con man. And like any con man worth their salt, it introduces itself amicably, a gentle, steady climb taking you up and away from Loch Kishorn. You warm to it; almost start to enjoy it.  

But despite the friendly introduction, the early warning signs are there, forcing you to quieten the voice in your head that's telling you it might not be as bad as you thought. 

"Road normally impassable in wintry conditions" read a red, all-caps sign next to an open gate that felt as though it might be closed at any minute. 

It was just before the halfway point of the climb, where the road took a harsh right-hand hairpin, that the climb showed its true colours. 

The road banked. 

There was a headwind.

And, after 20 minutes of grinding and pedal dancing, you could see in no uncertain terms just how far away the top of the climb remained.

I let out a groan as the weight of my saddle bag and the harsh gradient of the climb forced my front tyre from the tarmac in a momentary wheelie. My knuckles whitened as I gripped my handlebars tightly to counteract the strong wind that was determined to turn said wheel to a 45 degree angle. 

I watched as cars carefully crawl pass me. I wondered how feasible holding onto the side of a vehicle and letting them drag me up was.

Approaching the final three hairpins of the climb, I looked back over my left shoulder at what we'd left behind. If the process of reaching the top of this climb hadn't devoid me of almost every molecule of oxygen floating through my body, what lay below might have taken my breath away. 

A harsh cliff face plummeted into a valley where a river ran like a loan vein back toward the loch we'd left behind and below in the distance. 

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In another context it might've been beautiful.  In this one, it was drowned out by the sound of my heart beating in my ears, the ruthless wind whistling round them and obscured by the burning sensation in my eyes from the sweat as it relentlessly ran into them.

Despite beginning to imagine there wasn't one, we reached the top of the climb. Although after such an ordeal, it feels fairer to call it a summit. 

It was windy up there too. We were blown about as we admired the views into the valleys below and watched the clouds move quickly across the sky (which we weren't so much below as in). 

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And so to the fruit of any labourious uphill labour: the descent. A smooth and narrow road traced the side of the mountain over 10km. It unfolded smoothly before us. There were no surprises. Every turn could be suitably anticipated; every straight prepared for. There were no cars obstructing the route to the bottom. Nothing slowing us down on the gleeful race to our second food stop.

Apart from a puncture 500m out. But not even that could ruin the journey back to the bottom.

The adrenaline rush of the descent, the caffeine kick from the round of cappuccinos and the sugar spike from a hefty wedge of cake at our second and final stop were all short lived and did little to bring us back to life. As we sat around the table and made sure our lights were ready for the inevitable ride into the dark, we sighed, we shook our heads, we raised our eyes to the ceiling and, every now and then, we looked at each other and laughed.

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We were down, but not out.

But we were close.   

We worked our way along Scotland's undulating west coast. Snaking in and out from its shoreline, we did our best to avoid the increasing number of sheep sitting by the side of the road. They were coiled springs; nervous, on edge and ready to bolt across our path at any given moment. 

The large, dusky skies were a deep, dark purple-blue. They provided an epic and seemingly endless backdrop as we meandered through marshland and through and between streams, rivers and ponds. 

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The major climbs of the day were done, but the hills hadn't finished. We rolled our way up and down the final 40km and, as darkness finally set in, so did the cramp. We only needed to look at an incline for our calves and hamstrings to begin tightening and if the last few kicks weren't the final nail in the coffin, they were almost definitely the penultimate one. 

It was heads-down hour. The roads were quiet and so were we. We'd all silently agreed that this final leg was to be tackled alone, at our own marching pace. We'd reconvene at the top of climbs and chip away at this, staring intently at the narrow strip of road illuminated by our lights as bats began their working day overhead, bit by bit until it was done.

At the top of the final climb, we were two of four. We stood, waited and listened. After a few minutes, we wondered whether cramp had finally got the better of Saul and Hendo and forced them off the bike. A few minutes more and we saw the flash of two lights and the silence was broken of what we thought was the sound of cleats scraping and scratching on tarmac.

As they neared, we realised it wasn't. It was the unfamiliar but unmistakable sound of a chain and derailleur dragging against the road. Somewhere in the final ascent, an inner-tube that Saul had tucked into the top of his saddle bag had worked its way loose and into his rear cassette. That had then ripped  his hanger clean off, leaving his derailleur and chain dragging limply and helplessly along the ground.

We looked at the issue and knew we could do nothing. We still had 5km to our finish point. As had been the case for much of the day, there was nothing and no one around.

Our only option was to get to our finish point by any means necessary. That meant freewheeling and scooting the remainder of the way. Thankfully, for the first time that day, the wind and the road were on our side. 

We sandwiched Saul between the three of us. One at the front, another at the back and the final to his right, we rode tentatively, squeezing the brakes as we were pushed by the wind downhill towards a hot meal.

Put in a quiet corner of a busy restaurant in Torridon (is this where half of The Highlands population had been all day?), we tried our best to formulate something that resembled a plan over haggis, pies, sticky toffee puddings and beers. 

We didn't get very far and much of what made its way out of our mouths as words made little sense and tailed off partway through.

This was a challenge for tomorrow.

Putting our wet kit into the airing cupboard and over every radiator available in our accommodation for the evening, we heard a loud pop and a slow, constant hiss from the hallway.

Saul's tyre had burst, signalling the official end of day one. 

View the route. 

THERE & BACK AGAIN: #LDNBTNLDN

10,000km.cc

Our latest collective ride was not an easy one. Only 10km longer than our #BlueEggAudax, it included an extra 1,000m of elevation that included the somewhat fabled Ditching Beacon, a 1.5km climb a little over 10km outside of Brighton that averages out at 9% (and kicked tantalising close to our first rest stop of the day).

We had quiet lanes, descents through forests and beautiful eclectic array of riders. We had busy roads, wrong-turns, rain and spills. We even had some sun. 

Once again, the moments that made the journey were captured by the group throughout the day, but special thanks must go to Ele Suggett and Abi Williams for having an SLR slung over each of their shoulders for every single one of the 220kms we covered. 

Thanks too to Brighton's n+1 cafe for their hospitality. 

-- RF. 

Same time, same place. 

We convene on the south side of London Bridge just before 07.00. As the group for the day makes itself apparent, we make our introductions to new faces and welcome those we recognise. 

07.01.

Brighton was waiting.

We rolled out. 

Up ahead in the distance. 

Our route takes us south, up and over Crystal Palace, offering the chance to see the roads and route that lie ahead. 

It's green. It's quiet. It's getting closer by the minute. 

On top. 

Nothing breaks up a group better than a long ascent. Ditchling Beacon might not be the steepest or the hardest climb out there, but 90km from our starting point and 10km for our first rest stop, it was enough to see conversation quiten and groups become individuals.

But it didn't matter. 

We reconvened at its crest, congratulating those riders that had summited before us and those that followed behind. 

We gasped in air.

We drank in views.

We waited for every last collective member to join us. 

A warm welcome. 

We rolled into Brighton hungry and ready to enjoy some time off the bike. Warmly welcomed by Dan at n+1 cafe, we chowed down on sandwiches, coffees and flapjacks. 

Some of us repeated that process more than once. 

Despite having only been on the road together for four hours we were clearly comfortable in one another's company, joshing one another across the table and over our flat whites.  

We laughed until it hurt.

We got back on our bikes.

We continued. 

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The group is alive. 

Riding further and further from London, the 10kkm group continued to grow as riders joined us along the way. 

We reached our zenith as we pedalled along Brighton's seafront, with a second team of riders joining us at n+1 for much of our second leg to Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

Fresh legs, fresh faces and fresh conversation helped distract from one of the busiest parts of the route. 

It never rains, it pours. 

Both metaphorically and literally. 

Not far outside of Brighton, we found ourselves under a rain cloud. Despite our best efforts, it seemed to be charting the same route as us, mirroring our every turn.

As it got progressively harder, we sought respite under the canopy of a group of trees by the roadside. We found shelter, but it was fleeting, abruptly broken by a series of fast-moving cars creating head-height tsunamis of water that left us soaked and forced us to keep moving. 

As we navigated the increasingly wet roads, the group separated, with one half finding themselves lost. Navigating six lanes of motorway traffic, they rejoined the group as it gathered around a series of punctures. 

Three riders fell victim to the same 10m stretch of pathway. Advice was dolled out with reckless abandon. Tips were given, pumps offered, foreign and obscure objects pulled from jersey pocket in a bid to make things easier. 

Many hands didn't necessarily make for light work, but they got the job done. 

Peer pressure. 

It may have negative connotations, but sometimes you need the encouragement of the wider group to help you to keep going. 

As we sat around our table at our final stop of the day, The Velo House, the strain of the day had started to set in. Royal Tunbridge Wells station and its direct links back to London lay just metres away. It was a Siren to sore legs, luring us towards it with the sweet song of respite.

But as the final cleat of the group clicked into its pedal, we headed for London with the same number of riders that had stopped in RTW.

Delirium. 

Something happens when you've been riding for a number of hours. 

Boundaries and barriers fall away and conversation becomes more fluid and open. Subjects quickly move on from the formal to the incredibly informal as the discussions move as quickly as the pedals beneath your feet. 

But there comes a point -- normally in the final 20% of a ride -- where a cocktail of giddy excitement, exhaustion and elation combine to create a wild, frenzied and altogether incoherent series of events.

None of us will likely remember what we spoke about, but we won't forget the way those final 60km felt. 

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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:

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:

LDN-BMH-OXD | Day 1.

10,000km.cc

Date: Saturday 1st August, 2015

Distance: 231.7km | Elevation: 1,838m

Starts kms: 5,387.2km | Finish kms: 5,609.9km  | % complete: 56.4%

Destinations: New Cross — London Bridge — East Worldham — South Downs — New Forest — Poole — Bournemouth

Today was the day that our navigation team grew by 100%. 

Hendo had bought himself a Garmin Edge 810, which meant that the responsibility for (and pressure of) directing us through our two-day route could be equally split. That left me as the last remaining free-loader, following the twists and turns of their wheels, the signals from their arms and — on the brief occasions I found myself at the front — the calls on where to veer off or carry on straight. 

With half of London and Surreys key roads on lock-down ahead of Sundays Ride100 sportive, we were keen to get this part of the ride behind us early to avoid any major diversions or hold-ups. It was therefore another start from London Bridge at 06.00. 

Heading out to Richmond and beyond into Esher, the roads and kilometres dissipated with the morning dew and chilly start (the arm warmers stayed on until well into the mid-morning). 

Trying to find a more practical — and, I’ll admit, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing — way of carrying two days worth of equipment, food and chargers, I’d attached a third bottle cage to the back of my saddle. The idea was to house the usual two water bottles on the bike, along with a cylindrical tool container stuffed with bike tools, tyre levers, inner-tubes, energy gels, iPhone and Garmin USB cables and anything else that might fit. 

In principle, it worked well. My jersey pockets felt light (especially after I’d got through the bagel I’d shoved in there) and the look was a little sleeker than a saggy saddlebag. The (in)practicalities, however, soon made themselves known. As the morning wore on, the weight of my bottle and the rattling of the road prised the cage wider, loosening its grip on my water bottle slowly – but very surely – until a mis-timed bump propelled it from its rightful home, into the air and onto the road. 

Luckily, Hendo, who was behind me at the time, was able to swerve out of the way as my bidon hit the floor and broke into its component parts. I was two hours in and down to one water bottle until the end of the day. 

That’s where vanity gets you. I told myself to keep the sweating to a minimum. 

Trying to continue the trend of the first rest stop being beyond the first 100km, our hand was somewhat forced by our stomachs and our location. Approaching the South Downs, our options were limited, with most of the pubs we passed still being closed. Seeing an open door and activity, we seized the opportunity to stop about 500m short of the 3-figure mark. 

Fuelled by the generosity of The Three Horseshoes (who weren’t actually due to open for another 2 hours, but prepared us coffee and toast), we pressed on into our first of two National Parks of the day and, subsequently, our first prolonged period of road porn.

Cutting across its upper edge, we traversed South-West up and down short climbs and winding through the large, smooth and quiet roads. The coffees had taken immediate effect and we excitedly drank in the surrounding fields of barley, wild flowers, alfalfa and the occasional poppy. 

Stopping at a junction, I turned to look back and was able to do so for miles, taking in the road and the seemingly never-ending fields, with their hedgerows running through them like the stitching on a blanket. 

The roads being long, predominantly straight and relatively quiet offered a chance to adapt to an alternative position for short periods of time: no hands. Not something we’d fancy doing when being overtaken by cars, avoiding potholes or manoeuvring loose tarmac, it felt good to stretch out the lower back and shoulders — two of the body parts that seem to be the first to cry out in discomfort on longer rides nowadays. 

Hendo, having not quite mastered the no hands position, took this as an opportunity to practice, pointing out that he’d be needing every possible position he could find for our Manchester to London ride next month. 

Shortly before the days highlight came its unquestionable lowlight: Carlos Tea Room. I won’t dwell on what was, at best, an average lunch in a glorified canteen (not a tea room), but do want as many people as possible to be aware that they refused to fill up our water bottles from their taps. Despite us having bought sandwiches, cakes and coffees, they didn’t want to set a precedent whereby the occasional customer might request a tap water and force them to give away a polystyrene cup. The cost was too much to bear. 

I was suitably outraged, but the silver-lining was that had we not stopped here, we wouldn’t have found any other form of food until the other side of the New Forest — some 40km further on. That is unless you count Mr. Whippy ice cream, which in hindsight wouldn’t necessarily have been the worst thing in the world. Especially if there was some form of flake involved. 

Perhaps it was just pathetic fallacy, but the dark, impending clouds that hung over the New Forest as we entered seemed to embody our mood incredibly well.

We were into the final leg of the ride. 

We’d spent our half-hour rest stop surreptitiously filling our bidons from the bathroom sink. 

And most of our down-time was spent swatting away an army of over-friendly wasps. 

But then we saw horses. And ponies. And miniature ponies. And sheep. And trees. And verdant forest. 

The ominous clouds transformed into an epic backdrop as we navigated (or, in my case, as Hendo and Gorrod navigated the way for me) our way through the stunning scenery. We battled through cross winds until they became headwinds or momentary tailwinds, depending on which way we turned. 

As I moved my hands onto the tops and my chain into the small ring on a hill, Hendo pedalled up next to me. 

“I’ve not taken on enough food. I’m not feeling good, especially on the hills.“

That’s what he said to me before riding off ahead of me towards the top of the climb. 

“I’m feeling okay”, I thought to myself, “and yet here I am watching my two friends lycra-clad backsides ascend into the distance once again”.

I smiled to myself. 

I learnt another valuable lesson on the bike on the way to Bournemouth. I psychologically peaked too early, telling myself that the end was in sight far sooner than it actually was. I keep my Garmin out of sight on long rides so I don’t accidentally end up clock-watching, willing the metres on. The numerous mentions of Bournemouth on signs on our approach consequently had me assuming we probably had another half an hour in the saddle. 

An hour later, we were still making our way though the town and its traffic.

However, we were by the sea by this point, so that helped no end. 

Our almost-final stop was cycling cafe Rockets & Rascals, which was actually 10km from our official finish (back in the other direction), but was well worth the detour for the friendly welcome and plethora of delicious wraps, cakes and coffees that were available. They also have one in Plymouth, if we ever fancy an all-nighter from London, covering 430km. 

Or we could split the ride over two days. That would be slightly more sensible.

Going back the way we came, the one last thing to do was pick up a bunch of flowers for Gorrod’s mum to thank her for feeding and putting us up (or putting up with us, given our tired, mildly incoherent states) for the night. 

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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:

Hell of the Ashdown+.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 27th June, 2015
Distance: 206.5km | Elevation: 2,661m
Start kms: 4,430.6km  | Finish kms: 4,537.1km | % complete: 42.7%

Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Turners Hill – Linfield – Ashdown Forest – Brasted – Crystal Palace – New Cross

I’m no endurance athlete. 

That’ll come as no surprise to anyone. 

However, my limited experience of doing any form of long-distance exercise is that there comes a point where the psychological endurance becomes as – if not more – important than physical fitness. 

With this in mind, and with the Rapha MCR-LDN ride now on the foreseeable horizon, it was about to take down a psychological milestone. 

200km. 

Hendo and I formed a 2-man peleton for the day to take this on. My longest ride was sat at somewhere in the region of 180km. His was 160km. The route we’d planned for this was 206km. 

Speed was therefore absolutely not the key. Instead, it was simply a case of conquering the new distance and hopefully getting off at the other end without feeling as though we couldn’t possibly do any more. 

The foundation of our route was taken from the still fairly recently launched Strava Local, a great collection of cycling and running routes in and around some of the worlds major cities. However, with a full day at our disposal, we were able to add on an extra 70km or so by heading out a little further South East and taking in Knatts Valley for the third time in four weeks. 

Another habit we’d started a few months ago and were keen to keep up was covering more than 100km before the first rest stop. 

In the past, we’d generally taken our first break at the 50-60km mark, stopping for half an hour to take on some food and rest the legs. That makes sense when you’re calling it a day at 100km, but coming back to the psychological element in play over such distances, getting out of the saddle to rest less than a quarter of the way into a ride makes the whole thing feel a lot longer.

Now fully au fait with eating on the bike, we were able to pedal on through to 115km before dismounting for the first time. I can’t speak for Hendo, but after rolling through several towns that had nothing to offer in the way of eateries, I was incredibly happy to see the beckoning bench of a small deli in Lindfield. 

Over half the distance down and at our furthest point from home, post-lunch saw us making our way back up towards London though another new cycling realm: Ashdown Forest. A long and gentle incline would have made for more of a challenge were it not for the thrill of new surroundings and enjoyable scenery. 

The combination of the high, afternoon sun, the clear skies, the dry scrubland to the left and to the right of me, and the sheep and cows roaming the banks and roads came together to create the impression that we weren’t in East Sussex, but on a far-off Spanish island. 

We closed the first loop of our figure-of-eight route at just after 165km, joining already covered ground in Brasted. With minutes to spare, we were able to get our order in at Tarte, a cafe we’d ear-marked for the journey back. Operating on the principle that breakfast food is the best food, I chose granola with yoghurt and lemon curd to push me through the final 50km. 

And my god, I needed it. 

As I’ve mentioned before, our rest stops are always in fairly well-populated towns or villages. Towns and villages tend to be located close to water. These are, in turn, generally in a basin or valley. Consequently, more often than not, the first thing we’re faced with is a hill. 

In this case, that hill was not only present, but almost named correctly: Brasted Hill. 

More Bastard than Brasted, I was immediately calling on my granola to fuel me up as the gradient became steeper and steeper and I churned through gears until I had none left. Snaking from one side of the road to another and doing my best to stop my heart beating out of my chest and up to the top of the hill before me, I felt sorry for the car crawling up the hill behind me.

But not enough to even consider the possibility of stopping to let it past. That would have required energy I had no ability to draw upon at that point. 

Looking to learn as much as we could from ‘the longest ride to-date’, the greatest lesson came in the final stretch of the day: the need to communicate constantly. If there’s a car down, a pothole ahead, glass on the road, an obstacle in the road, it needs to be vocalised to everyone as audibly and obviously as possible. 

The first time this became apparent was on the final (relatively small) climb of the day, which took us up to Crystal Palace. Tired, sun-beaten and a little jaded, concentration was beginning to lapse. As Hendo and I approached a red light, he slipped from his pedal  and swerved into the back of a BMW. I heard the thud and crunch of something breaking and quickly turned around expecting to see him lying on the floor. 

What had actually happened was that he’d managed to accidentally force his handlebar through the brake light of the car, leaving it smashed. The driver was incredibly patient and understanding about the incident as the two swapped details to settle reimbursement. 

The next incident was a far closer call on the descent into East Dulwich. As we coasted past Dulwich Park, I swerved to my left to avoid a traffic barricade that sat across the road. 

Hendo saw me swerve. 

He then wondered why it was I had swerved. 

As he pondered this for almost too long, he made the final decision to follow suit, moments – metres – from clothes-lining himself from his saddle and likely a few broken ribs. 

Needless to say our final few kilometres – with the promise of a cold can of Irn-Bru and an even colder tub of Ben & Jerry’s awaiting – were filled with exaggerated hand signals and loud calls to guarantee we made it home to our indulgences. 

It was better to point out the obvious than for someone to fall victim to it. 

Lessons learnt, milestones surmounted and legs still capable of moving, the only major issue beyond weariness and its impact on reaction times was a sharp, burning sensation in the balls of our feet. 

The constant – and at times heavy – pressure being put through this specific point over and over again made itself known in a very physical way for the final 50-60km. 

No doubt Google will hold many helpful (and yet more unhelpful) solutions. 

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Details:

Back into Knatts Valley.

10,000km.cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details:

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:

Discovering Knatts Valley.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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