Loughton- Clapham Common-Brighton
Quote of the day; My biggest fear is that when I die my wife will sell my bicycles for what I told her they cost.
Back on the road after some days rest due to the fact that I had built in a couple of contingency days in case we met with mechanical issue on bike or van.
I won’t be so self absorbed as to talk through more of my down time from the bike so we start back after a couple of days on a London campsite which was an eye opener and an assault on several senses mainly the eardrums.
The clue to what we would be in for was the fact that the site had a helping of security guards on hand at all times. Quite a change from the sites thus far where the relaxed atmosphere and strong messages that we must respect others as it’s simply the done thing.
Let me provide some context, kids under the age of 6 making full use of the small play park at 6.30am is one thing, their parents howling a cross the field “Alexander is it a pee or a poo you need”(repeatedly) is quite another. I do accept I need to holster my tongue at times but I don’t in any dimension see how this should have been one of them………As I have stated in other posts like all prestige multi-day tour riders I am milking my status as a precious butterfly for all its worth and this isn’t the type of etiquette which promotes my peak stage of well being!
So I feel equally justified in my rant at about a dozen lads exiting the shower block which they had left looking like the beverage park changing rooms after a 20 team rugby tournament. I must do red faced, vein popping rants quite well as rather than the expected “what you going to do about it you old git”(paraphrasing heavily) they took up the massive squeegee thing and 4 minutes later my equilibrium is re-established.
The fact is it was like 2 days at Glastonbury without the bands, well without the good bands. This experience is important as it directly shapes how the night ends after the bike riding.
So first it is across London and I had hoped an invitation I had made to supporters of a London football club with a link to the Somme similar to the clubs of McCrae may have got me some company but no joy. So I man up and head across the city, it’s a ride broken into a number of parts with the idea being the troops can almost play hide and seek as I ride a bit then when they find me we stop for a juice. I plan to do part of the ride by Boris bike to add a bit of local texture to the ride but renege on this idea as it just adds a bit more hassle. Let me doth my cap to all those men and woman of every age who confidently juggle life in the English capital with the bike as their preferred choice of transport. Their confidence is a marked contrast to my complete acceptance of the fact I am a fearty when faced with such volumes of traffic and route confusion. I really, really consider jumping in the van where my team are calmly negotiating the route. This is particularly strong when I am “dropped” by a woman easily in her late 60’s riding a fixie (Chapeau) I make it in one piece and take solace in the van for 5 minutes…an hour later I muster the acceptance that I must get going again.
Song for the day 1
London to Brighton is a well known charity route so I follow the route of the British Heart Foundation ride. I can’t believe how much traffic such a ride has to negotiate to get out of the city. It’s incessant for the first 10 miles which I complete with an average speed of 8mph (auto pause feature seems to have become bugged by the rain) the roads on the route are really poor quality. I persuade myself that my decision not to wear gloves will prepare me if I am able to make it to Roubaix on my one remaining rest day. Given I develop a proper sare blister somewhere near nightingale meadow I’m not sure I am ready for the Hell of the North.
It’s one of those rides when you just can’t be bothered and excuses are easy to find (it’s too windy, the route isn’t clear, the bike’s drive train needs TLC, my shoes are still wet from 2 days ago, I’ve not had time to eat properly, my confidence has been dented by the cross city experience) Truth is I needed to get on with it and simply grind out the miles which I manage though the joy of riding a bike bottomed out today.
Surprisingly the part of the ride which I am grateful to have experienced is a final climb up Ditchling Beacon which is a cracker. I think about pushing myself given its proximity to the end of the day but I just sit in as it was simply brilliant as it ramped up again and again and indeed again. Very limited in terms of vantage points it is just a challenge facing hard tarmac and wondering when the last turn will come. It’s quite impressive sitting at 22 in England’s 100 toughest climbs;
Distance: 0.9 miles / 1.45 km
Height gain: 143m
Average gradient: 9%
Max gradient: 16%
And so I make it to Brighton, a place I have long wished to see ever since sitting aged maybe 10 or 11 watching a movie about; fighting, dancing and many other elements of youth culture with my uncle. I didn’t arrive by Vespa or Lambretta but I did make a conscious choice to ride my Italian bike. No Mods and Rockers on the Pier as I arrive instead it’s a much more cosmopolitan mix of friends, families and folk taking in the sites amidst really strong winds, it is in fact very much like Kirkcaldy prom though a wee bit bigger….
And so I return to the camping critique offered at the beginning of the post as I sit typing in the most kitsch surroundings I have ever sat. I was asked before leaving Clapham Common “do you think we should take a night in a b&b to regroup before France” which I know translates as “please, please, please don’t make us trudge through another muddy field to fill the kettle” I take very little persuading. So we explore options and source an affordable deal on a themed hotel where on arrival we are allocated the Dolly Parton room. Yep, I am sitting typing between two large soft pillows overlooked by such items as a pair of Dolly’s boots (that is not a typo) various Stetsons, a Dolly bust (now, now by bust I mean casting of her head) it’s so silly it’s brilliant. I imagined my arrival in Brighton being a great time to push Quadrophenia as the next chapter of my kids “education” but suddenly find myself searching for a Dolly playlist in Spotify!
Song for the day 2
72 miles towards total 5 dead miles
Total- 562 miles towards total and 82 dead miles – 644
Day 9 St Ives- Cambridge-London (Loughton)
Quote of the day:“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle
A day of two halves, starting in the most serene manner I spend the first 18 or so miles on a cycle path which runs directly to and then through Cambridge City. The initial path is a shared route with a walk/cycle path running parallel to a guided bus route. This is effectively the bus version of trams with drivers shuttling people back and forth on buffers in a direct, traffic free manner.
I make a point of stopping several times on route for a chat with dog walkers who are making the most of the overcast but very humid weather. The dog breed of choice for those who I see out and about is the South of England is most definitely the bearded schnauzer, 2 from every 3 dogs seem to be this breed.
Cambridge is navigated with haste as the route through the city centre via the University and its outlying buildings is clearly one developed to move students on 2 wheels. I pass the Armani, Boss, Cartier classes as I navigate through what must be several thousand participants in a graduation ceremony. Fair play, I’m sure a degree from Cambridge university dwarves my cycling proficiency test.
Song for the day 1
Today I learned a lot about how I am viewed as an cyclist. I am offered 3 cycling observations by my kid each of which ensures pocket money bonus points will be slim picking this week?
1) She announces she knows which cyclist I look like. Since I told a story the previous night about Scottish cyclist Robert Millar winning a race near our home on the hill out of Thornton in Fife (Peatmans Brae) I inquire if my climbing skills merit such comparison “Nope”. Second guess is based on the fact we have a cat named after my other favourite cyclist. Is it Marco (Pantani) thinking more for the bald heid than cycling talents “Nope”
So I give in and she points out “you ride like Tommy Voekler” French icon and fans favourite, the modern day embodiment of Bernard Hinault’s exclamation that “as long as I breathe I attack” sadly she quickly points out its not my swashbuckling take on each of the daily stages rather it’s my ridiculous facial expressions of; exhaustion, effort and general puffed ootness that mimic the grimaces of Tommy “the gurner” Voeckler (google him and you will get the picture)
2) As I cut through Cambridge I swear a speed camera flashes, a bit worried I ask “Could it have been me?” her retort “doubt it…”
3) I try to follow “the rules” which are a selection of loosely tongue in cheek style guides as to what is PRO when on the road bike. Today I break with what is acceptable as I wear shorts and neoprene overshoes. It is really humid but the roads are wet, it’s a risky look but In my head I look like Fabian Cancellara saving precious seconds by gaining maximum aerodynamic benefits. In reality today’s cycling cynic of the Campervan isn’t having it “nice look Dad, wellies for your bike!!”
The landscape returns to rolling terrain with plentiful short (false flat) style climbs and descents. The descents are taken gingerly as the debris covering the surface gives the feel of a building site entrance rather than rural road.
The second part of the ride becomes quite something as the constant talking point if the trip kicks in…the weather ! I have filmed part of the rides using a Fly6 rear facing camera so will upload brief snippets when back in Fife. This might be the best way to evidence what were conditions akin to a Hollywood blockbuster where the floods arrive and people are forced to do crazy things like talk to each other. On half a dozen occasions I encounter roads closed to traffic (the first one is called “Watery lane’ which amuses me and calms my route finding panic)
Add in as many times when I have to simply cycle through puddles of 2 foot of standing water and it is a wet but rewarding experience to pull in to the campsite in London. The worst of the torrential rain/flooding was in the last 10 miles so I am thankful for small mercies as I cover near 80 miles most of which is positive.
I have a look at the local news as I pay the reception for our pitch and its carnage, the referendum is knocked off top spots as house evacuations, emergency service mayhem and massive housing damage are described in detail. I got away with a good soaking and a cycle which I know we will reference every time someone complains about conditions which are less than favourable.
This ride marks its own way point as riding a bike between the capitals of Scotland and England seems somewhat ridiculous in its own right.
78 miles towards total 0 dead miles
Total- 490 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 567
Song for the day 2
Louth to Spalding- St Ives
Quote of the day; Sometimes when we ride we simply have to go out and meet the man with the hammer-Laurent Fignon
Today promised to be flat, decent overhead conditions and was therefore a chance to bag a few miles to build a positive balance. I achieved this in part with 84 miles however the intention had been to chase a century simply because it’s the type of thing a cyclist would do.
There’s a whole host of contradictions in that target as I simply don’t like long distance cycling. Yes, the guy targeting 700+ miles isn’t into cycling huge distances. The truth is I get bored so in that respect to challenge of the RemembeR cycle is one which might reshape my cycling long past the return to Fife.
The main reason why I didn’t hit the 100 mile mark was wholly out of my control. I was committed to honouring an arrangement which had been struck pre departure that we would make sure my daughter got to watch her favourite ever players nation (Northern Ireland) play. I could say damn you Rory McKeown but truth be told I was more than ready to stop by the time we reached St Ives.
Flatlands did indeed abound but with a steady headwind and unsheltered plains I struggled to get any massive improvements in speed. I should not have been even trying as after making decent time a few days back I got a text from a riding friend with a question; “What do you call a solo cyclist on a charity ride who averages 17mph?” I replied; “prepared” as I thought quality was too much. The reply I got was “no, a tube is the answer, get your head up and look a round, you ain’t likely to do this again”
Today I got my head up but the was slim pickings as a nice start and farmers markets transitioned into more of a working mans vibe which was a contrast to earlier days. I have also noticed a marked distinction between North and South as I done some informal polling for the European referendum on the road. Pre Pocklington there was a fair split though since that time 95% of the garden signage has been pro Brexit. Interesting that the “give us our country back” banners have the union flag when there is such a split in the Scottish thinking. What they made of me on my Italian branded bike riding to France with my startling pro-continental neo-pro looks I can only guess!!
The plains did come with large swathes of land signed as “designated nature protection areas” this tickled my funny bone as I thought; who is doing the protecting? I had a vision stuck in my head of Bill Bailly, Bill Oddie and Chris Packham in swat style gear firing potato guns at anyone who dared to break the acceptable code of conduct. Having said that one 7 mile stretch was so dense in population of the Great Crested Grebe that these must be the most sociable wetland bird. Not a rarity as such back home but I was surprised to see such numbers.
On another plain I stop at a road sign which points out the proximity of towns/villages called Boston and New York. I smile again as my first sight in Boston is a restored NY taxi cab and an NYPD car. I wasn’t expecting that!!
84 miles towards total 0 dead miles
Total- 412 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 489
Song of the day
Day 7 Pocklington-Louth
“Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving” Alberet Einstein, physicist
I knew I was to be facing challenging conditions by virtue of the noise on the camper van roof throughout the night but I had faced rain as a constant on the trip so wasn’t that bothered. Miles need done, skin is waterproof and I have my buddies on hand so I can grab a cuppa if I get too cold.
How wrong I was to be so blasé, the heavens had opened before I left Louth and with severe weather warnings in place a mixture of biblical downpours and a stiff wind made for a first three hours in the bike which I wish never to repeat.
I had chatted with a guy doing the full pannier laden bike round Europe a few days earlier and kept repeating his advice that I should “just accept the road” he reasoned we need it to explore our cycling potential and some days we are the masters though most days it teaches us a lesson. I’m not that existential in my thinking when pushing the pedals but it kinda worked for the first hour as I just got pushed back by the wind to the point where it felt unsafe.
I had a bit of a smile on parts of the road as I climbed another tour of Britain “King of the mountains” section notable for the Tour de France style spray paint applied to the road to encourage the riders. “Go Swifty” “Faster Ian” (Stannard I assume) though my favourite was a trail of painted scribbles exclaiming “Ali, Ali..” I later figured out that this was simply some poor spelling with the French “Allez, Allez..” misquoted.
I try to abait the rain from getting into my boots by swapping insoles, new socks, 2 freezer bags applied over each sock, boots towelled down, neoprene overshoes zipped up and to stop water ingress via the top lip of the boot I use a pair of Castelli gabba arm warmers as makeshift leg warmers. It lasts 15 minutes before I feel like I have been water skiing
I was told pre trip by a long standing cycling veteran of our local scene that I would learn a lot about myself being on the road for so many hours. Fine I thought, can’t do any harm….however what about when you find yourself facing glitch after glitch and your manner treads a very thin line between authoritative and rude?
I say glitches, let me explain, as I ride up to the Humber bridge the Garmin(810) tells me I am off course. I ride back to try and capture the trail again without success, 2 more trips over the Humber bridge and no success…Hull 4 Davie 0.
I catch a break (or so I think) when the trail reappears temporarily, problem is I quickly realise I’m now on the hard shoulder of a motorway slip road. I love cyclocross though this version of shouldering the bike up a grass verge 2 mile long is just silly. I hope that no police car approaches and I get lucky. After taking refuge in the van we try to hatch a new plan. I have the gamin file on the laptop so an emergency action of dumping the route on the Garmin for a fresh install is tried without success. A firm line of travel suggests I should be traversing fields, motorway bridges and flight paths.
This is where the “learning about your character” part returns, what did I learn looking back? Well under such pressure “I’m a bit of a tyrant” this surprises and embarrasses me. Had I been a pro athlete then I’m sure the delicate state of the competitive sportsman would be the cliche used on world of sport when analysing my psyche.
I finally resolve to make my way to another waypoint and seek local help. This adds a dozen miles and causes me problems via the fact that I have left all drink and food in the van and only have a card which I can’t remember the number of and a phone with no battery. By this point I am not “accepting the road” in fact had “the road” possessed a pulse the square goes in the car park is my less than Zenn interpretation of the earlier advice.
I make it to Louth eventually and after regrouping I suggest my compatriots who have also had a tough day managing challenge and dealing with Diva/Davie have a look round the town while I cycle out the day by taking on 10 miles of the following days route. This allows me to gain some confidence that the route is more stable than today.
73 miles towards total 0 dead miles
Total- 328 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 405
Song of the day