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Journal

TOUR DE MARCH | DAY TWO: TRING - LONDON

10,000km.cc

The cyclical ringing from my iPhone’s alarm brought me to.

I reached out to where I roughly thought the noise was emanating from and clumsily fumbled for the phone to silence it. My fumble continued as I felt for my glasses and then the remote for the television. 

The black screen flickered as I hit the red button before fading into life, filling the still-dark room with its bright, fluorescent light. 

"At the top of The Chilterns, visibility is as little as 30 metres today,” warned the weatherman filling the bottom quarter of the screen. "When it comes to fog, that's about as bad as it gets". 

Still coming to, I took stock of my surroundings for a moment.

I was in a single bed and my bike was rested up against the wall next to Hendo’s. He was in the second single bed on the other side of the room.

This was definitely not my bedroom. I was therefore most certainly still in Tring. That meant today was the day I — we —would be rolling through The Chilterns. 

I looked out of the window in a bid to prove the weather forecaster wrong. My attempts were in vain as I strained to see through the thick morning mist enveloping the top of the hill where we’d spent the night. 

The first (and possibly only) guests to grace the pub for breakfast that morning, we spoke excitedly about the day ahead. Stirring the milk into our teas, we reexamined the route and the climbing for the day, trying to establish where the hardest point lay.

So intent were we on analysing forthcoming elevation, our minds wandered from the more imminent task of monitoring our toast. Before we’d had a chance to clock the plumes of smoke bellowing from the pub’s half-broken toaster, a fire alarm kicked-in with a deafening ring. 

Indicative of the style of the pub-slash-B&B we’d spent the evening, the alarm was verging on vintage. More akin to the school bell we all used to spend the day waiting for than the electronic siren of an office block it brought quickly back into the room and racing too late toward the toaster in an attempt to silence it.

Assured by the lady behind the bar that we’d woken up her boss, we slinked sheepishly back to our rooms to collect our bikes and hurried onto the road. 

The fog came in waves as we peaked and trough to the tops and the bottoms of The Chilterns lumps. As the hills kicked on and the ruling pedals beneath our legs began to slow, it would creep in slowly, swallowing our surroundings and narrowing our peripheral vision (either that or the shortness of breath brought on by the hills was doing strange things to my head). Arcing over the top and onto the descent, it would then begin to clear allowing us to pick up some pace to make up for lost time. 

When it comes to route planning, we all tend to be pretty meticulous. If we can’t get out and ride the route in segments beforehand, we’ll generally do a Google Maps walk-through to make sure we’re not being led figuratively (or in some cases literally) down the garden path.

However, from time to time, we do get caught short and somewhere on our way to Henley, we found our blind spot. Pulling to a stop at the top of what we were being informed by our Garmin’s was a right turn onto a road, we surveyed the gravel beneath our wheels. Our eyes followed it further and further down the path until it disappeared around a gentle leftward bend. 

Looking for alternatives, we couldn’t see much a of a viable way round it. Besides, we had our winter tyres on and it didn’t look like it went on for very long.

2.5km later, as we did our best to clean the thick layers of mud from our bikes and selves with sticks and I surveyed the kit damage I’d endured from a run-in with a barbed wire fence, it turned out winter road tyres are still no match for thick mud and narrow, rock-ridden paths. 

We laughed. This was the reason we set out on rides like this: for the paths less travelled, the unplanned adventure and the unexpected results. 

By the time we hit our rest stop in Henley-on-Thames, the sun had burned through the fog allowing for spectacular views of the river as we tucked in to our second breakfast and a piece of cake at The Chocolate Cafe.

Elevation conquered and battle scars gained, we knew that lurking not far beyond the bridge over the Thames was our route back into London. Fuelled by cake, caffeine and unrefined sugar, we put our heads down and formed a four-man chain gang as we powered through Windsor and it's less glamorous neighbours, continuing on to the familiar (and by the time we arrived, incredibly busy) Richmond Park. 

Energised by familiar surroundings and a drop-off in what had been a growing amount of traffic as we edged closer to central London, we doubled-down through the park for the unofficial final leg.

Out the other side, three out of four of us pulled in to our finish before the finish: The Dynamo in Putney. Hendo chose to power on home to finally recuperate after a relentless week of work (and prepare for the one that lay just a few hours ahead). 

Meanwhile, Saul, Gorrod and I saw no harm in hanging up our bikes and enjoying one more coffee before we crossed The Thames a final time. 

-- RF.

Distance: 152.2km | Elevation: 1,297m | See the route. 

TOUR DE MARCH 2016 | DAY ONE — LONDON TO TRING.

10,000km.cc

Idly glancing over the planned route one last time, I traced the bold, red line indicating my route out of central London with my cursor. Over the river, heading north through the city before veering westwards to take us towards Hitchen. 

Sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, I traced and then retraced the route. Over The Thames, due North to Highbury & Islington, veering ever so slightly westwards along Holloway Road and then onto Highgate Hill.

Highgate Hill.

By no means the most difficult or challenging climb on offer inside or outside of London, it nevertheless fills me with a mild but niggling sense of dread. It’s not steep, but it’s long. It’s not cramp-inducing, but it’s never not filled with traffic. And then there’s the ongoing threat of traffic lights; the ever-present possibility that the encouraging green orb egging you on will suddenly switch to a more sinister amber and then the inevitable, authoritative red. Any momentum you might have gained drains as you slow to a stop, desperately clicking away at your gears to give yourself the best possible chance of taking off again. 

Defiantly crawling my way up the hill first thing on Saturday morning, trying to convince myself I was having a good time and this was exactly how I wanted my day to begin — on a hill, familiarising myself with my granny gears less than 20km into a ride, watching my heart rate creep up — I looked around at the people plodding the pavements. 

Some chatted casually as they beelined for the surrounding parks. Others wandered in and out of the local shops and cafes, clutching takeaway coffees as they prepared to start their day.

One lent precariously against the wall of a bus shelter. I focused in on him. He held himself up with one arm and was hunched over slightly. His head lowered further, his head moving closer towards his knees until his torso sat at a right angle to his legs. A horrible retching sound carried itself form the pavement and across the road to where I rode and was followed quickly by the splatter of liquid on paving stones. 

On a universal scale, my morning had just become infinitely better. 

The spirits amongst the four of us were high at the prospect of two days on the bike for the first time this year. We moved through the thin layer of fog listening out for the familiar hum of a motorway. We knew that the moment we rolled over the top of the M25, the six-lane threshold hurtling along below us would bring forth the lanes we were all seeking. 

Our first stop lay just beyond Hitchin in Southill. Leaning our bikes against the wall of Southill Tearoom, the sun won its battle with the morning fog and made the white benches in the front gardens look like the best option for a spot of breakfast. In another first of the year, we took the opportunity to have our first extended rest stop of the year outside. Arguably a little premature in our decision, the remaining chill in the air was nothing a couple of cappuccinos and a breakfast bap couldn’t stifle. 

To add a little more meat to our route, we continued North a little further once back on the bikes. Heading as far up as Henlow, we began going vaguely back on ourselves towards Tring, our final destination for the day. 

The busy roads had been entirely left behind, meaning we'd all loosened up on the pedals. Without the didactic cues put in place by town planners to keep the flow of traffic moving efficiently, we'd subconsciously slowed to revel in the pleasure of our own pace and our surroundings. 

The increasingly tree-lined roads zig-zagged in both directions. Vertically they created undulations that brought him an ebb and flow to our momentum. Horizontally they did the same to produce visually and aesthetically satisfying kinks in the roads that were a joy to see and ride through. 

Thick layers of forest framed our conversations as we made our final approach to Tring. A call came from the back of the group, Hendo shouting "On your right!". Our heads turned in unison to see a small group of deer running alongside us. Our amazement quickly turned to panic as they took a sudden, aggressive turn to their left . As awe-inspiring as their majestic beauty might have seemed from a distance, the danger of those enormous antlers being propelled towards you at 20mph by more than 150kg of body weight is not something worth hanging around to pontificate on.

Thankfully, Gorrod, Hendo and I were safely out of their path, but there's every possibility that Saul watched his life flash before his eyes as he brought himself out of the saddle and sprinted as hard as he could to avoid having them charge straight through him and his bike. I'm willing to bet that, hidden within his data for the day, is a substantial and visible spike in his heart rate. I'm also willing to bet that this wasn't caused by a challenging hill, but by these startled deer.

Perhaps egged on by our near miss, we arrived in Tring a lot earlier than we'd anticipated. No mechanicals, punctures or mammal-based collisions saw us arrive at 14.00. Thankfully, we'd scheduled in a finish before the finish; an opportunity to kick back over some food and coffee before tackling the final few kilometres to our room for the night. 

Dismounting outside The Espresso Lounge, its  owner enthusiastically greeted us on the pavement, as though he'd been expecting us. Securely storing our bikes in the back, he rearranged furniture, carried out extra tables and set us up in the mid-afternoon sun. We sat around for far longer than we needed to, enjoying the food, the fact that Saul was very much still alive and the subtle, but nonetheless tangible, feeling of the sun on our backs.

-- RF

Distance: 145.1km| Elevation: 1,302m| See the route. 

LEADING FROM THE BACK.

10,000km.cc

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Everyone around you talks effortlessly amongst themselves. They laugh, converse using full sentences and, if they’re breaking any form of sweat, it’s all happening out of sight. 

Meanwhile, you work through the pedals, each stroke making itself known in your increasingly exhausted, aching legs. The conversation moves your way and the group looks for a response; the best you can do is nod or shake your head and let out a . The kilometres don’t slip away. They crawl by slowly, inching your calves closer to the inevitability of cramp. Your stomach is a cavernous pit and there’s not a ride snack nor gel that goes any way in beginning to fill it. 

You started the ride running on vapours and now you’ve got nothing. 

It’s a scene that will be all too familiar to anyone that’s spent any decent amount of time covering a challenging amount of distance. You didn’t eat enough before you left the house (or sneak anything away whilst on the bike). You’ve been ill. You stayed up too late the night before. You had one too many glasses of wine (probably whilst staying up too late the night before). 

Last weekend, in the first Sportive of the year, it happened to one of our group. Six of us rolled across the start line of the Huntingdon Sportive on a mild, mostly dry day in Cambridgeshire. A little over four and a half hours later, only five of us crossed the finish line. 

It all started exactly as it should’ve. An undulating but relatively flat course meant we were able to cover the first 50km fairly quickly, accidentally tucking into our first batch fig rolls from the feed station with an average speed of 30kph on the clock. The threat of rain hung heavy in the darkening clouds overhead, so we didn’t stick around for longer than we need to. 

About 20 minutes out of the first feed station, one of our six-man chain-gang started to flag. The drive and persistence were still there as Saul hung on through gritted teeth and white-knuckle-persistence, but a fortnight of on-and-off illness had him struggling. 

Had it been a race, that would have been it. The pack would’ve ploughed on ahead, leaving his head hanging heavier and heavier towards the handlebars as he attempted to put in solo effort to drive him towards the finish line.

But this was a group ride. We weren’t sizing one another up. No one was trying to second-guess the threshold of their counterpart. Psychological warfare was not being waged on longstanding opponents. We were out to enjoy the roads, the company and the snacks, supporting rather than competing against one another. 

So when Saul lifted his head to announce that he had nothing left and tell us to go on without him, there was only one possible response. We gave an adamant and resounding “no" and tightened up as a group. Sandwiching him into the centre of our small peloton, we attempted to take some of the effort out of the ride and carry him through to the second and final feed station, where he had already committed to withdrawing from the ride. 

Saul dictated the pace and at least one of us stayed alongside him, doing our best to distract from those final few torturous kilometres. We didn’t know where the final feed station was on the route, so I could feel his spirits lift and hopes rise each and every time we approached anything that bore the slightest resemblance to civilisation. The realisation that yet another Hamlet didn’t contain his end point became more and more palpable each time it happened. It was brutal. 

The ‘Feed Station’ sign eventually came into view and with it, an almost audible sigh of relief not just from Saul, but his constantly cramping legs. Desperate to get off his bike, he threw his leg over the top tube to bring both feet back onto solid ground. Relaxing just enough to let his guard down, the cramp took on a new lease of life, surging forward with a force so relentless that it instantly floored him.

We made him as comfortable as we could as he waited around on the gravel of the community hall car park, waiting for the lactic acid to relinquish control of his quads and calves. Forcing any food we had available into his hand, we ensured his bike was securely fastened to the roof of the support car and that Saul was safely and comfortably sat in the back before hitting the road one last time for the final 30km. 

Sitting around a tiny, circular table and waiting for our steaming hot flat whites to be cool enough to not burn our tongues, I considered the the plethora of differences between racing and riding.

There are many, but perhaps the defining distinction is that races are led from the front, but group rides are led from the back.

#ONEMOREDAY

10,000km.cc

2016 is a leap year. 

That means you're being the equivalent of a bonus day; 24 extra hours to shave just that little bit more distance off your milestone. An extra opportunity to ride the roads you love. Another chance to feel the climate softening and the temperature rising. 

You have one more day. How are you going to use it?

To celebrate, we're going to hosting a double-headed ride out of our London base. 

On Monday morning, we'll meet on Putney Bridge at 06.30 sharp and head on to Richmond Park to dodge deer, chase the sunrise and get in some pre-work laps. 

Come sundown, we’ll keep in central with laps of Regent's Park from 18.45.

RSVP for either (or both) rides below. 

Not in London? Good.  

Why not ride 29km on the 29th wherever you are? Organise your own group ride. Head out on your own. Find others nearby that are looking to do the same.

Push past the morning commute, do something different and keep putting in the distance. 

RSVP FOR #ONEMOREDAY LDN HERE. 

ON THE UP.

10,000km.cc

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Driving through the UK on long-weekends away from London, I'm often left gawping out of the window and wondering at what might of been were I moving through them on two wheels instead of four. 

It's not always possible (not to mention practical) to have a bike permanently strapped to the back of a car you don't own, ready and waiting for any eventuality. Roads and routes are noted down and saved for later until the opportunity to revisit comes around. 

With a bike squeezed into the back of the car and a short window of opportunity, I had the chance to tick one of those off my list. 

In the depths of Somerset, sandwiched between two towering walls of craggy, grey cliff faces are several miles of winding, inclining tarmac snaking its way up to open expanses of countryside.

Starting in the town of Cheddar itself, the matter-of-factly-named Cliff Road — which brings you through Cheddar Gorge itself — kicks suddenly and aggressively, throwing up gradients of 16% within the first few bends. The road pulses as you push your way along it; thinning to squeeze through the jutted outcrop of an overhanging cliff-face; widening once more to frame the twists and turns of the next few hundred metres. 

Levelling out, the road looked to be proffering a truce. I started to settle back into the saddle and my breathing levelled out. My legs settled into a steadier rhythm. With sight of the top came the realisation that the apparent truce was in fact a pause the breath, as the ground rose rapidly before me for one final attack that brought out of the saddle and over my handlebars once more. 

From the top of the climb, I veered ninety degrees to my left, taking me onto narrower, still quieter lanes (and through a few more hills for good measure). Turning left at every opportunity, I closed the loop on the short blast of a route and soon began to keep the rewards of the climb. The fast, steep descents provide the first real test of the ride on my 1980’s, steel-framed commuter bike. As my speed moves up towards the 70kph mark, I feel myself physically fighting with it. The handlebars shook; the frame fed back every lump, bump and divot in the roads surface; the brakes let out a pained, high-pitched squeal. 

This wasn’t just a fast and fun descent. It was a wrestling match. 

Quickly finding myself back in there trough of Cheddar, I moved slowly behind the cars of passing sight-seers, past the cheese-based souvenir shops and tourist-trap coffee stops to bring myself back to the car. Front wheel off, boot open, bike in and, as quickly as I’d arrived, I was off again to head home to London. 

One to be repeated and extended. 

-- RF. 

WHAT'S YOUR STORY?

10,000km.cc

We know you're out there riding. You've been showing us every single day of 2016 so far.

What's more, we know each and every one of you has a remarkable, interesting and unique story to tell from the saddle.

And we want to help you tell it.

The ride may have just taken place. It could be a near-forgotten struggle or warm but distant memory. It might not even be about one ride in particular, but about a feeling or a thought you've been pondering for some time.

Regardless, we want to hear about it.

Get writing, get in touch and keep on getting outside to create more stories.

We'll publish the best of them on our Journal.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY. 

Filthy.

10,000km.cc

IMG_9058.jpg

Setting out on dark winter mornings from Central London is misleading.

Unless rain is hammering off the tarmac or you can hear the wind whistling through the tiniest of cracks in your front door, it’s difficult to know if the weather’s going to conform to what’s been forecast as the sky is still black and dark.

Meanwhile, the roads look relatively dry and debris free. It’s London, after all, so thanks to the onslaught of traffic, nothing sticks around for very long. 

In most cases, it's better to be safe than sorry and so, as I prepared for another Sunday morning ride, I wrestled my overshoes over my cycling shoes and donned an extra pair of gloves. I'm glad I did. 

It was a motley crew that gathered at Highbury Corner at 8am and set out to the lanes beyond North London. Totalling six, most of us had ventured out from different parts of London or, at worst, Surrey. However, one rider joined us from the other side of the world. Phill, founder of Gentlemen.cc, was in London for a few days and was welcomed into the fold. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: getting out of North London is hard work. The first hour of the ride is an urban sprawl — high-rises, traffic lights, lanes of traffic. Setting off early is an opportunity to avoid the worst of this. Soon, it al fell away as quickly as the cars were overtaking us.

One right turn at a junction and dual-carriage ways turned into narrow thoroughfares.

Traffic turned into cattle. 

Tarmac turned to filth. 

Thanks to a week of stop-start rain, the roads to Aylesford weren’t so much paved with gold as strewn with grit, gravel and debris. We powered on two abreast through the puddles and around the potholes. We all took turns at the front, not to give other riders a break, but to seek respite from the spray   that was building a layer of dirt on each of our faces. 

We stopped. We wiped the road from our faces. We regrouped.

As we hung over the tops of our bars, we chatted as we passed around ride snacks created, packaged and brought along by Riley (AKA The Pedal Bites). A lawyer, a chef and cycle tour guide, an app creator, someone from the coffee world and cycle shop owner. Not the beginnings of a bad joke, but an unlikely group of people talking about nothing in particular and sharing in the enjoyment of quiet, endless roads. 

Soon, the inevitable happened and once it started, it didn’t stop until the ride did. We huddled around the first puncture and helped collective member Saul get back on the road as quickly as we could. 

Another followed. Same wheel. Same ten minute window. Second tube gone. 

Phill was next to succumb to the will of the roads and his front tyre began to deflate. Changing it out with F1-style efficiency, we were back on the road in no time.

We were off it just as quickly a fourth and then a fifth time. As the last puncture took hold, I found myself at the bottom of a long descent before I noticed that there was no one sat behind me. I began the long, arduous climb to find Phill standing next to his ride, surrounded by now-useless inner-tubes as he thoroughly examined his tyres for any miscreant objects. 

I handed him him my — and the groups — final inner-tube. It was our last chance to make it to our end point. Conscious of every lump and bump in the road, we descended back towards the city. In the distance, the needle-sharp point of The Shard acted as our North Star, informing us we weren’t far from caffeine, sugar, warmth and rest. 

We had started the morning as six. Due to time constraints and delays, some had to turn off early, whilst others had to power on. By the time we rolled through a cobbled lane ready to park up, only six feet unclipped from their pedals.

The three of us piled our bikes against a lamppost and let out a thankful sigh at the sight of an espresso machine and stacks of pastries. Unashamed (and somewhat unaware) of our dishevelled, grubby appearance, we clip-clopped our way up to the counter, ordered a lot and savoured every bit of it as we discussed an eventful, difficult, enjoyable ride. 

At the beginning of the ride, Phill had told us he often faced temperatures of -18°c in South Korea at this time of year. We may have been able to feel our fingers for the duration of the ride, but I'm confident we did a good job of showcasing that winter riding in the UK brings with it its own trials and tribulations, too. 

— RF. 

DOT TO DOT.

10,000km.cc

No matter where you live, you end up spending a lot of time in the same places. You create hotspots; roads, highstreets, cafes and shops that you pass and use daily.

New for a while, they soon become familiar. As you see them more and more, that familiarity transforms until they eventually become not just well-known, but markers; breadcrumbs that anchor and contextualise your journey.

"That shop means I'm 10 minutes from work".

"That pothole means I need to think about indicating to change lane".

But between those hotspots, those cosy indicators that assure you that you know where you are, lie unknowns. 

And it's there that the fun and satisfaction lie. 

Cumulatively, I've lived in London for a little over five years. I've been pedalling through its roads and lanes for at least three of those. To begin with, I knew my route to and from work and little in between -- perhaps the surrounding area of my home within a 3km radius. Gradually, I deviated from the norm, finding new ways of getting from A to B. 

As time went on, I'd agree to meet freinds in another part of town and find out how the streets of London would deliver me there. As I navigated my way through my new surroundings, I'd suddenly find myself on a street I knew all-too-well.

And just like that, two entirely separate locations, two until that moment utterly disparate parts of the sprawling city, became connected.

It's like the dot-to-dot pictures I used to complete on rainy Saturday's as a child. They'd always start out as a non-sensical rabble of discreet entities; a mess of dots. 

But you start to connect a few up. Then a few more. As your pencil bridges the void between the apparent chaos, you start to see patterns and, eventually, the entirety of the picture emerge.

Riding a bike offers an opportunity to do the same, but in a far more wonderful way. It opens places up, whether you know them or not. 

If the place is new, you discover more. If the place is known, you get to know it better.

Cycling enables you to zoom out by zooming in. By exploring the connections between your hotspots -- the lines between your dots -- you not only get to see and feel their intricacies, but are better able to place them in their broader context.

You feel confident in exploring more. 

You feel less likely to find yourself entirely lost.

You feel empowered. 

10 Lessons from 10,000km.

10,000km.cc

Date: Monday 21 December, 2015
Distance: 63.3km | Elevation: 713m
Start kms: 9951.5km | End kms: 10,014.8km | % complete: 100%

Monday afternoon marked the technical end to my 2015 goal. 

Pedalling headlong into perpetual winds and driving, painful rain, I moved through the five-figure threshold with ten days to spare. 

Yes, I had small reservoirs collecting in the bottom of my shoes. Yes, my face burnt from the relentless beating it had taken at the hands of the enormous water drops that had been propelled into it by 30mph winds. And yes, I suffered one final puncture, as if to remind me just how lucky I’d been over the last 355 days. 

It wasn’t quite the ceremonious end I’d envisaged, but after a year of incredible riding it was somewhat fitting, and I enjoyed it nonetheless.

A little over 10,000km of riding equates to a total of 446 hours and 13 minutes spent in the saddle. That translates to 18 and a half full days of constant pedalling, or 5% of 2015. 

That’s quite a lot, and the experience has taught me a little more than the fact that I do indeed enjoy riding bikes. 

1. We are what we consistently do. 
Achieving what you set out to do doesn’t require getting up every day and taking an enormous chunk out of your goal. In my case, it was simply a case of placing my backside into my saddle almost every day and starting to push through the pedals. Sometimes I rode 90km, others I just rode 9km — the important thing is I rode and continued to push on in the right direction.

2. Break it down. 
10,000km is a large, intimidating goal if you look at it as one big number — big enough to put you off trying to make any real dent it. Break it down a level: 833km each month. That still sounds like quite a lot. Chip away still further; 192km per week sounds more manageable and 27km each day certainly starts to sound achievable. 

Had I focused solely on the end-point, the best I could have hoped for was a vaguely miserable uphill struggle for much of the year. Taking it one ride at a time kept it fun and it kept me sane. 

3. Take the long road. 
The shortest route is always the quickest and most direct (obviously). But more often than not, it isn't the easiest and is never the most enjoyable way of getting from Point A to Point B. 

4. Lay your kit out (and pre-pack your bag).
The hardest rides this year were not the day-long jaunts into the countryside or the multi-day excursions across chunks of the country. They brought with them anticipation that built over days and weeks as we discussed details and finalised specifics. When the day to ride arrived, alarms were almost unnecessary. I struggled to sleep through the excitement, wheeling my bike out of the front door at the first sign of light. 

The difficult moments were those dark, wet mornings. I knew the sun wouldn’tbe attempting to make an appearance. My entire body ached. I was acutely aware I’d be struggling into extra layers of clothing and adding detritus to my bike in order to make the half-hour journey to the office. 

On those days, only having to throw on my backpack and slip into my shoes helped. A lot. 

5. Never leave home without at least two inner-tubes.
Punctures pay no heed to distance. They might occur in the middle of nowhere as the rain bounces off your helmet and the wind blows your wheel-less tyre around like a windsock. However, they’re equally likely to strike as you meander to your weekend brunch spot, leaving you frustrated, late and hungry. 

Be prepared. 

6. Do it with friends.
Riding solo is fun. You’re only responsible for yourself, riding at your own pace, and to your own rhythm. But riding with friends is better. Sharing in the journey you’re able to push each other on, offer and receive support when a tired head starts to move closer towards the handlebars. Best of all, you get to relive it all over again over coffee when it’s done. 

Friends also make excellent wind-breaks. 

7. Tell people. 
On that note, make yourself accountable. Wherever possible, I’d do my best to organise a ride with someone else. It’s more difficult to let someone else down rather than just yourself. 

If that failed, I’d usually tell a few people what I intended on doing. Maybe I’m too proud, but when someone asks ‘How did the ride go this morning?’, I don’t like telling them I couldn’t be bothered in the end. 

8. The mornings are yours.
Between 05:30 and 8:00am lie some of my favourite hours of the day. The roads are quiet, the air’s a little crisper and a low-lying sun gives the light a warmth that vanishes as the day progresses (assuming it’s there in the first place, of course). 

Within those hidden hours lies a far simpler fact: those hours are mine and mine alone. The days meetings and work responsibilities have yet to take hold. Evening obligations are a long way off. That task that will inevitably overrun by a couple of hours and leave you rushing home has yet to start. The fact is, as the day goes on, circumstances change and the best-intentioned plans made that morning can easily become fruitless (and they often do).

Don’t do it later. Do it now. 

9. It’s all relative. 
Distance is like time. In theory, one kilometre is 1,000 metres on any day of the week — ultimately, the value is absolute. And yet, in the same way an hour spent in the company of friends goes by quicker than an hour spend labouring at a desk, a ride that once required careful planning and preparation quickly becomes the norm. 

So success and achievement operate on a relative scale, adhering to the law of diminishing returns. Doing something once is an accomplishment, but the second time is repetition. By the third, fourth or fifth time round it’s routine, laying there foundations for a fresh challenge. 

10. It’s not about going fast. It’s about going far. 
Given I’ve set up a cycling collective around the idea, this one goes without saying. It’s also something I learnt incredibly quickly.

Power outputs, cadence, average speeds — I’ve tried looking over and analysing my stats and found it difficult to care. For me, the magnetic pull of the road doesn’t emanate from the possibility of setting a new personal best. It’s the undiscovered roads, the thrill of the journey, the sharing of new experiences and, of course, the indulgent rest stops.

As the year draws to a close, I’ll be ending it by taking part in the challenge that started this whole project off for me: The Festive 500. I’m not sure if it’s a warm down following a busy year on the bike, or a warm-up to what will no doubt be a similarly paced 2016. All I know is I want to keep riding. 

From there, it’s about turning 10,000km from a personal challenge into a far-reaching cycle collective. It’s already begun and it will no doubt continue to grow as the weeks and months go on. 

Join us, won’t you? 

Details:

The Long Walk.

10,000km.cc

It's dark. The road you once knew is now under construction. It's become unpredictable, throwing up new, constantly changing surfaces and obstacles. You do your best to apprehend them, but it's a losing battle.

A thud reverberates from your wheels, through the frame and into your forearms.

You shudder.

It happens again, only this time it's worse and the thud gives way to an aggressive, enduring hiss. 

Both of your tubes have burst. You've packed one spare, it's 06.30 in the morning and you're a long way from where you need to be. 

You dismount, you put your bike on your shoulder and you begin the long, frustrated walk to the office.

From now on, I won't be leaving home without at least 2 inner-tubes, even if the ride is short.

Every day's a school day.

Robbed.

10,000km.cc

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I began this year hungry but unable to get on my bike. An over-zealous festive period on the bike left me unable to ride for five frustrated, impatient weeks. I stretched, massaged and foam rolled by way back to recovery and, having learnt the hard way, have done everything I can to avoid it happening again. 

Alex, with whom I've ridden many of my 10,000km this year, found himself in a similar position more recently. Here, in 10,000km.cc's second guest post, he charts the mixed emotions that his journey to recovery contained and his return to the road, which I was happy to enjoy with him. 

- RF.

It’s happened to many of the keen cyclists I know. One day you’re out there, enjoying every undulation of the road and the next you are physically unable to cycle.

Earlier this year I took part in Rapha’s Manchester to London ride, an incredibly challenging one day event that covered 350km of mind-blowing roads that took me southwards as I propelled myself down the spine of the country.

In preparation, many gratifying hours were spent in the saddle with friends Richard and Alex (also taking part in M2L) as we trained to cover this epic -- and to-date uncharted -- distance. One such weekend was the already covered London – Bournemouth – Oxford route, which saw us cover just shy of 400km in two days.

And what a weekend it was.

However, when Monday morning rolled around my feelings on it were rather different. 

I awoke almost unable to walk, an excruciating pain in my left Achilles tendon making itself known as it shot up the back of my leg. Dumbfounded by its sudden onset (I had been completely unaware of it during the ride), I was frantically trying to cobble together reasons why it might have happened --Four months later, I’m still not entirely sure.

I rested up for the big event, praying for a speedy recovery. It wasn’t. A few hours into M2L the pain was back. I pushed through to the end but new I was going to be out for a while as a result.

Being unable to cycle (or run) left me feeling robbed, as though something had been taken away from me. I wasn’t quite myself. I was a little more introverted, a little more irritable and there certainly seemed to be less of a reason to get up early on a weekend morning -- which in itself was kind of depressing. 

Sitting on the bus for 40 minutes each day, wishing the driver had accelerated a little harder to make the light, was significantly more frustrating than an inevitable cut up from an aggressive motorist. I deferred to daydreaming, drawing on memories of weaving through the slow-moving traffic on two wheels rather than being imprisoned on a steamy-windowed bus and ending up smelling of whatever the person next to me had decided was appropriate to eat in public.

On top of this I was getting sick of the tedium of nightly stretching, massaging and icing without any obvious reward. I felt compelled to get back out there.

An early Wednesday morning start saw me take the plunge and tentatively set out on my first ‘real’ ride since M2L in September. I had been commuting to work for the last few weeks, but a 6km through London’s traffic cannot be compared with the freedom of the open road.

Well, sort of open.

The city cyclists’ mecca that is Regents Park seemed a good place to start. Not too far from home with the ability to call it a day after any number of laps helped calm the trepidation.

A little nervous, I woke before my alarm. It was a crisp winter’s morning, the rain had subsided and there was a shimmer of sunlight behind the overcast skies; an almost perfect morning to be out on the road.

It was exhilarating being back in the saddle: chatting with friends; feeling the tears stream from my eyes on the faster (or windier) stretches; feeling my heart pound whilst struggling to keep up with the others on the park’s cloest thing to a hill (more of a slope -- I have been out of action for three months, remember).

My injury was in the back of my mind constantly. Was that a twinge? Am I pushing too hard?

I wasn’t and slowly relaxed, eventually able to take in the joy of the ride.

There were myriad groups of people out for a pre-work ride, enjoying putting in the distance either by churning up the base miles or simply getting from A to B. We even passed a father and daughter on a tandem. 

The sense of camaraderie amongst the riders was magnified at our post-ride stop. That morning Workshop Coffee’s Marylebone Coffeebar felt more like a cycling café as we stacked our bike up against several others and were greeted by a group of lycra-wearing, cycle cap-clad cyclists warming their frozen hands over a cappuccino.

Post ride I was tired, hungry and thirsty and had lost most of the feeling in my feet.

But I was still beaming.

The enjoyment was perhaps in part due to the feeling of overcoming injury but mostly just from being back doing something I really enjoy and had missed immensely. I didn’t break any records or see anything I hadn’t seen before, but it still felt new and will certainly go down as one of the most memorable I’ve done.

Whatever was missing, I have taken it back. And this time, I’m keeping it. 

Hidden.

10,000km.cc

Date: Wednesday 19 October, 2015
Distance: 9.2km | Elevation: 111m
Start kms: 9,102.2km | End kms: 9,111.4.5 | % complete: 91.1%

There’s an untold rhythm to the roads of London.

For much of the year it’s subtle, but as the evenings draw in and we head further into winter, it becomes increasingly visible.

Stopped at a red light, you lower yourself onto the straight of your frame, perching there with your forearms resting over the handlebars. 

You idly watch the pedestrians as they haul themselves and their backpacks from one side of the road to the other, bouncing off the pavement in their sensible to- and from-work trainers.

You wonder where or how they might have spent their day as your blinking headlight catches a reflective patch on the sleeve of their waterproof jacket. 

Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see the green man disappear, replaced by his static red counterpart. A few stragglers put their practical footwear to good use and make a last-minute dash across the street. 

Your gaze moves from the pedestrian crossing to the traffic lights that conduct the herds of vehicles across your path. You know that the light is about to flip from green, to amber and on to red and you bring yourself upright. 

As the light glows orange, you’re already starting to come up into the peddles. As the oncoming traffic slows to a halt, you’re already beginning to move, passing through the threshold of the junction just as you’re given right of way.

The roads of the daily commute don’t provide the most picturesque backdrop. Neither do they unfurl into the uninterrupted stretches of tarmac you fly along at the weekend.

But they do provide hidden pleasures. Understanding the flow and patterns of the route is certainly one of them. 

Details:

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:

LDN-DVR.

10,000km.cc

Date: Saturday October 10th, 2015
Distance: 139.0km | Elevation: 1,473m
Start kms: 7,731.5km | End kms: 7,870.5 | % complete: 78.7%

Destinations: London – Canterbury – Dover

Having spent the past ten months providing my view from the bike, I felt it was time to offer a fresh perspective. The first of what I hope will be a number of guest posts from the people I have the pleasure of riding with, Saul provides a new view from a different saddle. 

- RF.

It's just over a year since I bought my first road bike.

I had been determined to get into cycling for years, but various things (lack of funds, injuries, ex-girlfriends) had always got in the way. So I was full of excitement when I first picked up my shiny new BMC from the shop and raced it home through the London traffic. I say race, it was more careering desperately around exasperated cars and pedestrians as I tried to work out how to clip in and out.

But I promptly went travelling for six weeks, picking up a recurring knee injury – and so my bike sat in my room looking pretty throughout the dark months.

Come February though, and I was raring to go. I set out for my first proper ride with an introduction to Regent's Park by Alex G. I fell off.

The next week I set out for a jaunt around Richmond Park with Richard and Alex H. I fell off again.

They were also zooming ahead of me, dropping me on the hills and waiting for me to catch up – all the while providing polite, gentle encouragement. Not usually one to accept being the worst at something, I began a year of consistently up-scaling my rides: pre-work morning laps of Regents Park; hill repeats of Swains Lane; a trip from London to Bruges with friends (I didn't fall off); the London Revolution – almost two-hundred miles over a weekend with Richard (yes, I fell off); Chiltern climbing; Knatts Valley; Royal Tunbridge Wells; Brighton and back; a few others and some triathlons thrown in for good measure.

Cycling was my summer 2015.

Come October then and I was pretty confident I had got this cycling thing down. Richard dropped me a text and suggested a decent ride out from London with a train journey back. London to Bristol seemed a bit excessive in the colder weather – London to Windsor not far enough. So we settled on London to Dover, plotting out a nice 130km route. A week of reading around the route and reconnoitring via Street View gave a tweaked distance of just shy of 140km.

And so, the night before the ride (post a few hours in pub), with my kit laid out, tyres pumped up and bike squeaky clean, I slept easily.

Too easily I realised with panic as my (second) back-up alarm woke me up, about 10 minutes before I was supposed to be in New Cross – a 12km ride away. Downing some water, chugging back a banana and throwing my kit on I ran outside and raced down the road. It was a beatifully crisp morning, the leaves in London having just started dropping and the traffic still light on the roads. But my head was freezing cold for some reason. Putting my hand to my brow, it was clear I had forgotten my helmet. Cursing myself, I sprinted back for my helmet and started again – rolling up half an hour later to a patiently waiting Richard.

In no time at all we were rolling over the M25 and down Crockenhill Road, the lush green of Kent stretching out its delicate folds below. From there we seemed to gallop through the countryside like Shadowfax, quickly hitting Pilgrim’s way. If you’ve never cycled that stretch of road, then I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I informed Richard that it was named after the route for pilgrims to walk from London to the shrine of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury, but Wikipedia corrects that as apocryphal. Apparently it actually follows an ancient stone age trackway cutting through the Kent Downs. All I know is that it is beatiful, undulating and fast. Very fast. We put the hammer down, and by drafting off each other, seemed to hit a rough average speed for that stretch of road of close to what I would (ambitously) bet was about 40 km/h. It was like blasting though a long, winding green tunnel, an occasional break in foliage revealing another autumnal Kentish vista, a farm, or a line-out of tweed-clad men grasping shotguns.

Somewhere along the route, I don’t know its name, we hit an extremely long hill that seemed to suck all the air out of my lungs. Richard was a good few lengths ahead of me, but also felt the burn. I think it was here, roughly 80 km in, that the morning’s shenanigans finally caught up with me. My head went down, and I started counting down the kms to our rest stop at Cantebury. We expected to be there by about 90km (bearing in mind the extra distance I had done earlier), but 90km came and went, and the signs to Canterbury still hadn’t started appearing. The conversation died, and we tried to keep up the pace, thoughts of lunch occupying us for the next 30km.

So it was with relief that we pulled up outside Water Lane Coffee for a pretty stunning lunch of giant sausage rolls, foccacia and ricotta with honey-glazed peaches and some much needed coffee.

Reluctantly we left Water Lane and started to chase down the final leg to Dover. At this point it was all I could do to keep up with Richard, whose vastly greater distances during the end of the summer were really starting to show, and he was in great form as was rolled the final 5km downhill into town. Luckily I was so far behind that he couldn’t see my painfully contorted face and shivering hands.

Grabbing a hot chocolate and much confectionary from the station shop we jumped on the high speed train back to London, took a quick selfie and a settled in for a relaxed hour of half-sleep, celebrating a final total of 139km and a job well done. 

Details:

Crossing a Country.

10,000km.cc

Date: Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th September, 2015
Distance: 123.9km
Start kms: 7,075.5km | End kms: 7,199.5km | % complete: 72%

Destinations: Nairn - Cawdor - Fort Augustus - Fort William - Glencoe

This addition to 10,000km is different. 

Its beginning is different; it all started with a run. 

The terrain was different; 55km of off-road riding in the Scottish highlands. 

The bike used was therefore different; there was no way a road bike could have handled 60% of the terrain we crossed. 

Even the company was different; I’d managed to convince my cardiovascular-shy brother, Stuart, to compete in this with me by buying it for him for his 18th birthday.

There were no doubt times that he wished I had chosen to give him nothing at all instead.

The Coast to Coast Challenge was a two-day race that spanned three different disciplines: running, cycling and — a little more obscurely — kayaking. Beginning on Scotlands east coast in the small town of Nairn, we had 48 hours to make the 170km journey to The Isles of Glencoe on the other side of the country. On both days we were expected to complete all three disciplines. On day one, that meant a 12km trail run, a 77km bike ride and finishing up with a 3km run and kayak. 

A little more than an hour into the race, and before either of our backsides had touched a bike seat, we had an injury. Stuart was bleeding from his foot to the point where a large, scarlet stain had formed on his (incredibly impractical) light grey trainers. He was momentarily glad to seat himself on the bike, but that soon changed. 

It had been a long time since I’d ridden a mountain bike. Having spent so much of the year on a zippy, nimble and responsive road bike, I took hold of the wide handlebars. As I worked through the pedals and the gears to build up enough momentum to offset the friction between the fat tyres and the tarmac, I can only imagine this is what it would be like to get out of a Formula One car and step into a tank. 

From the moment we got into the saddle, we were working our way uphill and that didn’t stop until we hit 62km. Our surroundings were incredible, but they were also bare — the further we went, the fewer signs of life we saw (unless you count livestock or roadkill, both of which were abundant throughout). The higher we climbed, the fiercer the weather got. With headwinds howling into our faces, we hunkered down over the handlebars knowing the best we could hope for was for that to turn itself briefly into a crosswind.

Instead, we got a brief onslaught of rain. 

At the top of the penultimate climb, Stuart stopped and I joined him. Shouting over the wind, I advised he pedal down the decline as fast and hard as his tired legs would allow him in order to propel himself as far up the climb that was staring us down up ahead as was physically possible. He did just that and I followed, but the wind meant that despite our best efforts we were hardly moving. 

Stuart caved to the will of the hill and the weather and dismounted. Seeing how drained he was, I decided to do the same. Even walking up this wasn’t particularly easy.

Riding down it was though, and that’s what the final 10km entailed — a steep, fairly straight, unobstructed and wide ride back down to sea level and the shores of Loch Ness. Bikes racked and helmets off, we followed the curve of the lake until we arrived at a line of docked kayaks. Pushing ours off the pebbled bank of the dock took us knee-deep into the cold, fresh water of the Loch, ensuring our shoes would be suitably damp to begin tomorrows racing.

Making our way back from the orange buoy that marked the half-way point, we paddled into the surprisingly choppy waters. As the wind picked up, water spilled into the boat and covered our legs, making me wish I’d packed a second pair of pretty much everything I was wearing. 

Heavy-footed, we took ourselves across the transition line to end our first day and, over a bowl of something hot, filling and fairly nondescript, we prepared ourselves for day two, which we knew would prove the real challenge. 

It was a relief to begin day two on the bike — if nothing else, the bright dry morning was an opportunity to dry our still-damp kit. Immediately off the road, we rode to the soundtrack of a constant and satisfying ‘crunch’, as our wheels span over the loose stones. Less distance meant less climbing, but the overall gradient for the second ride was more severe than day one and made all the harder by the the loose and unsteady terrain. Getting out of the saddle to hammer up a climb would get you nowhere. 

As frequent as the climbs were the downhill sections, which were unbelievably fun. Hammering down gravel tracks and over bumpy surfaces whilst the mountain bike just soaked them up was a surprisingly welcome change. To race headlong towards a section of lumps, bumps and rocks and lean closer into the handlebars in excitement — rather than retracting, tensing up and gritting my teeth whilst hoping for minimal damage to fragile wheels and a rigid frame — was one of the many joys of mountain biking I’d forgotten about.

My impatience at some of the more timid riders on the narrow sections and steep hairpin turns made me wonder if a season of cyclocross might not be on the cards in the not too distant future. 

The weekends greatest test came with 25km left to go. Having covered 55km on bike, it was time to take on all but 1.5km of the last remaining distance on foot. Exhilarated by what felt like a strong start to the day, we stopped just long enough to throw back some food and set out into a run. 

I don’t think Stuart will mind me saying that he is not built for running, or many other cardiovascular-based activities for that matter. Almost two days of it had left him incredibly tired and, as the ground beneath our feet took only one direction — up — within 2km of starting out, his run became a jog before that jog transcended into a slow, heavy-legged walk. 

The further we walked, the further behind we left any form of civilisation. Surrounded by the towering hills of the Highlands, it didn’t take us long to realise the only way out of this now (other than in a helicopter) was to make it out the other side. It was also the first time in the entire race that we understood why we’d been made to pack survival blankets. The route might have been well-marked, but one wrong turn and it would have been incredibly easy to have become completely lost. Our surroundings were not only stunning, they were ubiquitous. In my tired state, it wouldn’t have taken much to leave me disorientated, lost and with zero phone reception.

His eyes pointed directly at his feet, as if willing them to move just one step further, Stuart asked me how far we’d gone. Having yet to break double figures on a 23km trek, I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Instead, I offered to take his backpack for a while. This helped, but not for long and I watched as he shuffled on with a tired, glazed, almost drunken look on his face. I dug into my pocket and pulled out my last CLIF bar to give to him. Of the two of us, he was going to need it just to keep him upright.

It did the trick for another 5km, not only increasing his energy levels, but the frequency and pace at which he spoke and even his stature — within 20 minutes, he looked to have grown two or three inches in height. With a renewed energy, we powered on but our joy was short-lived. Rounding a bend, we saw a stream of ant-sized people traipsing up the side of a steep hill. For a few blissfuly naive moments, we were unsure whether we had not long completed that climb ourselves or if we had yet to face it. 

We quickly established that we had not and that we were about to.

Tricky underfoot with lots of loose rock and boggy mud, we dragged ourselves to its top, both of us internally chastised our idiot past selves for ever thinking a route like this could be run from beginning to end.

Our feet groaned. Our legs groaned. We groaned. 

The thought of spurring Stuart on to the end kept me positive, at least in a shallow, surface-level kind of way. Whilst I waited for him to catch up at various points, I stopped to take some photographs of the awe-inspiring scenery beneath us. Each time I did, I'd become engulfed inside a cloud of midges as they gathered round me like a group of hungry buffet-goers. 

Any hope of the journey down from the top to the bottom being a case of ‘all downhill from here’ were soon dashed as we travailed it’s slippery backside. Long, deceptively dry grass offered no clue to the deep and sticky mud and puddles of water that lay beneath them. What’s more, the by now well-trodden route had become more slip-and-slide than walkable path. The possibility of covering more of the final few kilometres on our arses than our feet was not so much possible, but inevitable.

Perhaps the cruelest element of the entire event was to bring us so tantalisingly close to the finish line, but to leave a seemingly endless body of water between us and it.

Coming to the edge of Loch Leven, we could see our end point. We could see the hotel where we’d be staying the night. we could see the inflatable arch marking the races end. We could even hear the commentator congratulating competitors over the finish line. Yet there we were with paddles in our hands and pushing our kayak out onto the crisp waters of the lake. Trying to find the energy to establish any form of rhythm, we counted and shouted and reminded one another — and ourselves — that we were very nearly there. 

The voice of the commentator became louder and then clearer, until we could begin to hear the cheers of the spectators. We doubled-down for one last push and propelled ourselves forward until the kayak skidded to a bumpy, noisy and slightly uncomfortable halt on the banks of Glencoe. 

Clambering up onto the grass bank outside our hotel, we did our best to finish the final 50 metres strong with an obligatory overly-conscious, head-up, chest-out, I’m-not-that-tired-honestly run. In hindsight, it was probably more of a waddle, but it got us where we needed to be: on the other side of the finish line with the two of us completing every leg and each day together. 

A couple of hours later, splayed out on our beds and consuming any form of chocolate, cake or biscuit that happened to come within reaching distance, we looked out of the window. We’d spent two nights before the event in this same room, admiring the views out onto the lake. Not once did it dawn on us that we’d be powering ourselves across it. Neither did we think we’d be running across the grass just below us in order to claim our medal and complete the challenge. 

Or maybe we did and didn’t want to dwell on the idea. 

Amongst a sea of M&M’s and raisin and oatmeal cookies, we began to reminisce about our favourite parts of each day, the difficult and challenging parts of the race already beginning to fade away — as they so often do — to make room for the rose-tinted highlights that inevitably persuade you to sign up to another equally sadistic event. 

Details: 

Rapha MCR-LDN: a new threshold.

10,000km.cc

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

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

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

Of course I did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt disheartened and stupid. 

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

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

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

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

We were back in the saddle inside of 15 minutes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was apprehensively entering a void. 

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

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

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

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

50km left to go. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final results.

etails:

Rule #62.

10,000km.cc

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


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

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

Destinations: New Cross

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

So The Rules state. 

And it’s true. 

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

Then there’s the commute. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know these roads”, I tell myself. 

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

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

I won’t, though. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s character building. 

Details:

LDN-BMH-OXD | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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

Destinations: Bournemouth — Amesbury — Kintbury — Oxford

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

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

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

I, on the other hand, am a plodder. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ROAD PORN!“ 

He was right, too. 

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

We didn’t hang around. 

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

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

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

This time. 

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

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

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

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

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

It was worth it though. 

It’s always worth it. 

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Details:

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. 

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