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Journal

Filtering by Tag: GranFondo

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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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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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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