A bit of time off from work to enjoy London and taking photos for pleasure.
A bit of time off from work to enjoy London and taking photos for pleasure.
On Friday night a few friends and I headed out to meet up on the Kennet and Avon canal after work with the intention of riding along for a bit and then finding a spot to bivvy before then heading on to Bath the following morning. We would then get coffee and do a loop around Cheddar Gorge then back in towards Weston-Super-Mare. Well that was the plan at least.
On the Thursday I set about getting my stuff together. Lots of faffing as usual and packing for all eventualities. Start out with having a bit of rough idea of what is needed and then completely change it all. Check weather, repack, squeeze it all in, find all the things you missed, give up in a huff and go to bed and resolve to pack the rest in in the morning.
I was going straight from work so commuted to work fully loaded with kit. A few intrigued and perplexed looks from a few of my fellow cycling commuters. The occasional knowing look about why I had all this stuff on my bike. Of course one decision to make was whether to take my CX bike with 40c tyres or the Pilgrims Disc with 28s. As it was going to be a mixed route there would be no best choice. Big 40c tyres for the canal to save getting beaten up but then slower on the road? Or go for a bit bumpy on the canal with 28s but then more speed and efficiency on the road bits of the route. I went with the latter mainly due to dynamo and wanting to enjoy the road sections. I’m still not sure if this was the right choice but then as it was almost 50/50 on canal vs road there wasn’t really a right or wrong.
Getting to work all I need to do was collect some tickets at lunch, purchase the usual porridge pot and breakfast bits before getting through work to escape on time at 6 and to jump on the train. Adam and Andy had a bit more flexibility with getting out of work so were going earlier to Reading with Robin and I following on and jumping off at Newbury. The intention being to get going along the canal for food just before 9 at a pub I had booked a table at. This soon unraveled due to Andy hitting some glass outside of Reading and slashing his tubeless tyre open. An anchovy wouldn’t fix it and it ended up with a tube going in. We had kept on going but then found a pub to wait for them to catch up.
By the time we managed to regroup is was 8.45 with food options rapidly disappearing. The pub we were in served food tim 9 unless you actually wanted to order food. So a quick sprint up the hill to another pub in the village and a round of pizzas and pints each. The bar woman said closed but her boss said open. So four pizzas and pints ordered. We all order garlic bread with our pizza but it was actually the size of the pizza so essentially we all had double pizza. Sadly they only had two tiny pizza ovens so it came out in dribs and drabs but it was food nonetheless and the beer was very welcome.
After that it was back onto the canal which by this time was pitch black. Andy’s tyre went awry again due to a thorn so mended that again and then headed off to find somewhere to sleep. There were so many bugs around the canal that we wanted to get up and off this area and ideally to slightly higher ground with a view.
This is obviously harder in the dark as you can’t just look up and see what’s around. A few quick checks on the phone for a satellite view and we headed up and off the trail. Over the A4 and up on a path around a field. By pure chance we found a lovely big oak tree with a bench underneath. It wasn’t as remote as some places I’ve slept but it was late and it was good enough.
Bags off, and kit out we set up an improvised camp using a tarp over the bench and then around the tree. It was likely to rain in the morning with a storm on its way. By this time we had sat down on the bench and started sipping whiskey from the hip flask I had brought. Vic was also meant to be joining us but had been delayed. We had sent her our location and Adam had given some instructions and remarkably we soon saw her light tracking up the hill towards us. She set up her bivvy although preferring to sleep out under the stars.
Whilst sitting on the bench I found a lump in my back and tried to see what it was. It turned out to be a little wooden handle to a compartment concealed in the bench. On opening it I found three little note books and a pen. Two of which had been completed and one with space to fill. Others had been and left notes about their day, what they’d seen or just random comments. My favourite being the page that simply said “ticking away the moments that moments that make up a dull day”. I found it strangely moving that all these people had left a note about their visit to the spot. I left a note about why we had been there but also thought about all the other people who were likely to visit in the future. A slightly sentimental moment but resonated with me in a number of ways.
It was really warm and I woke up a few times being far too hot in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag. In hindsight I could have probably ditched the bag and just had the sleeping bag under the tarp.
At 4am the sun started to rise. My body also woke me telling me it was time for the loo. It was incredible to be up at this time with the sun rising over the horizon to the east and then a huge storm starting to appear in the west. I could see heavy clouds with streaks of lightning running through with the surrounding clouds morphing into a variety of colour as it developed.
I sat on the bench admiring it all and then grabbed my sleeping bag to keep warm and let my eyes open and close a they wanted to. Others gradually woke and admired the view before rolling over and sleeping some more. I grabbed the bivvy bag and matt out from under the tarp and laid down with my head in the direction of the storm to keep watching it unfold. I drifted in and out of sleep and finally when I woke again a series of double rainbows were starting to appear.
The storm then got close enough to us and started to rain a bit. All five of us then got under the tarp and waited it out as well as allowing a bit more sleep time. A few comments were made about being on top of a hill under a large tree in a storm but it was too late really and it didn’t pass directly over us.
After that it was time to get up, pack everything down and get riding again. First coffee and some porridge to get us going. Instead of the 50-65km we had intended to on the Friday night we’d only done 20km which meant more to do to get out to Bath. Unfortunately it was also hard riding along the canal. Rough and bumpy in places and slower than the road. We were going to have to adapt or change our plans. The idea was to get to Bath, go for coffee and then make decisions on the best plan from there.
The canal was great although the air was a bit muggy and the sky was still a thick grey colour. I love riding along it and saying hello to everyone, admiring all the house boats, from the super well kept to the chaotic hippy type affairs, as well as all the dogs and wildlife around. We had a few swans who weren’t keen to let us pass as well as geese and their goslings.
A momentary lapse of concentration left me laying down and sliding on my left side whilst still clipped in along the grass. Slightly more awake I got back on and vowed to concentrate more on the wet grass with well inflated 28mm tyres.
We pushed on although needed to cover quite a lot of ground to get to Bath. We needed some proper breakfast and found a cafe at Devises just next to the canal. We were all quite tired from the first section of canal and food and tea was wolfed down before returning to the canal for the section into Bath. Adam spent an inordinate amount of time in the toilet as we were ready to leave and received a large round of applause when he finally emerged.
The surface got better as we got towards Bath and the speed picked up. One of the aims was to ride through the Two Tunnels again as Robin, Vic and Adam had not been through them yet. The first was was really cold with the second one being a warmer temperature. We went straight to Colonna and Smalls for more coffee and cake before heading back out towards the Mendips.
The idea was to do a loop around Cheddar and then back in towards Weston Super Mare where we would visit my Grandma and Adam would go to his parents place. We’d kind of planed in being in Bath around 10am but it was now 2.30 and we still wanted to do a bit of a loop before going to Weston. We ended up improvising a route to Cheddar Gorge and then picking our way over towards Locking and Grandma’s house. We continued on the Sutrans route out of Bath and ended up on some lovely country lanes with very little traffic. Vic wanted to do a more gentle route so went off via the Sustrans route via Bristol.
After a few stops and checking of our route we ended up along a beautiful road towards Priddy. Even with all the kit on we were ticking along at a fair old rate. A slight tailwind helped but felt so great to be moving at pace after the slow start to the day. Those fully loaded bikes really go when you get them up to speed. Having the kit all tied down well also means you don’t actually notice it too much when it comes to getting a move on. We then swung a left around a stunning outcrop of rocks and then up a picturesque climb towards the gorge. We’d decided to descend it rather than ascend due to having all the kit on our bikes and not having much time. It felt like the right choice as we emerged from the wooded section into the gorge. It was incredible to weave our way down it although there was a fair bit of gravel on the roads and a few cars stopped me going as fast as we would have liked towards the bottom.
Of course we stopped for an ice-cream and some more water and had a few moments before tracking our way over towards Locking via Axbridge which again is really beautiful. The last section was a rocky and muddy byway which was great fun. After that it was up the short steep hill from Hutton and then to see Grandma.
Adam had to dash so it was me, tall Andy Matthews and Robin for some tea, sandwiches and cake in Grandma’s garden. She was thrilled to have people to talk to and as on fine form with her stories. Apparently tall Andy’s beard was better than mine and that Robin looked very smart in his all black Rapha outfit. My colourful hat wasn’t as good as Andy’s black on. And so on!
After that Andy and Robin headed out towards Blagdon for a pub dinner and to find another spot to camp out. I got a lift back to Bath with Mum and just about managed to get a spot on the train back to London although £45 lighter for the pleasure. A beer and a kitkat from the buffet and I was as happy as larry. Sadly I caught a whiff of myself occasionally. The only thing that spoiled the adventure was the cycle back through London home with the a series of road closures and coach trying to use the cycle lane at Vauxhall.
Hoping to do some more of this but perhaps more local to avoid the ridiculous train fares.
Not very good at sitting down and editing images these days for pleasure. It always seems like a bit of a waste to sit down at another computer after spending all day on one at work. I briefly had a scan through my Lightroom last night and found a few I wanted to spend some time on and edit.
I really like this little series of images from a brief trip to Durdle Door with Emma towards the end of the summer last year. They’re all shot on the original X100 and I just love the variation, texture and shapes in the natural stone. The little information board said there were five different types of rock which all come together in this area with obviously impressive results. I also like looking away from the obvious views and seeing what else is around.
A few weeks ago Neil and I had a lovely ride down to Whitstable along the Pilgrims Way which I wrote about at the time.
During our day Neil spent a great deal of time filming. I’d kind of got used to it by the end of the ride but at every opportunity he was there grabbing more footage or talking to the camera. The most amusing things is his little clip on furry directional mic. It looks like a little rat.
I remember when he suggested that they start doing these little video clips and have to say I was pretty sceptical. Having seen quite a few of them I have to say I was entirely wrong. Each one keeps getting better and better as Neil becomes more familiar with the tools and works out what works and what doesn’t. It’s also a really good way of communicating some of the things that go into running a small company and a lot of the thought processes behind things.
The below video, Episode 18, is primarily of our ride to Whitstable and records the day in a way in which I would be unable to describe as well through words and pictures, my chosen medium. Whilst it’s nice to be on camera in places I think it’s a great way of describing an enjoyable days riding and takes a lot of skill to get there.
It seems strange for a part time photographer to talk about taking photos again yet here I am tapping this out. I love taking photos, editing, sharing and so on but then somehow it all got to be a bit of a formality. Work is with a tripod, shift lens and big camera and doesn’t lend itself to spontaneity. I spend a lot of time using Instagram but then that had become largely about taking photos of cycling events, friends and silly things. To some extent I felt like I had lost that eye that searches out for a photo at every opportunity. It all sounds a bit daft but I missed that feeling of wanting to take photos I got when I did a 365 project in 2009. That is an eternity away but somehow but after that phones got a lot better and I spent less time using a ‘proper’ camera of sorts.
My favourite camera was the X100 I got in 2010. This was the original one and although a bit sluggish in places it was still very capable. The firmware was updated by Fuji and a fast SD card resolved most of the issues. But then again I stopped taking this out with me. The problem being that sitting down at a computer to edit the RAW files seemed more like work than pleasure.
An opportunity to get hold of a modern X100T came up the other day and I snapped it up – if you will excuse the pun. Whilst it’s familiar it also felt like I was learning something from scratch again. I realised I had lost that desire to see things through a viewfinder and go and hunt those pics out. It also felt strange using a camera in that way in a more social relaxed way. I’m comfortable with pointing my phone at anything yet using a camera felt a little strange.
I’m hoping that built in WiFi and a few other more modern features will help me use this to its full potential. It’s taken a day or so to get all the settings to where I like them but it’s such an incredible tool. The only downside is that the files sizes are three times the size of the original which means a little bit more of spinning beach balls when importing.
Had great fun using it yesterday and hoping to continue enjoying photography again.
I like keeping lists. I use a little app called Simplenote and have it synced across every PC / Mac / Phone I use and jot down anything that comes to mind. What I need to get done, things that might come in useful, snippets of thoughts or just things that need writing down, rides, films to watch and so on. There were many things in the “Rides” list for 2016 but one which kept on jumping out at me was to attempt to ride the South Downs Way. What I really wanted to do was ride it one way this year and then have an attempt at both ways the following year. I’d seen various people do it and it’s one of those things that looks like a challenge but somewhat achievable, one way that is. There and back looks ridiculous but had hoped to be able to work up some fitness towards that goal.
So I floated the idea of it with a few friends, some London, some Brighton based and all met up in Winchester to start the journey. All pretty excited for a nice day out on the hills. Apart from we (London lot) were waiting at the station larking around and they (Brighton lot) were waiting at the King Alfred statue in the centre of town. Cue faffing, missed phone calls and starting 45 mins late after obligatory photos at the statue and chatting about a beautiful retro Marin with a man.
So we’re off. Racing up hills, chatting, introducing ourselves to each other generally having a nice time. A few little wrong turns. Beep. Garmin check. Back on. More hills. Faffing. Gates. So many gates. Bash decides to come off in a puddle. We trundle along, generally enjoying things.
I’m only a few weeks back from my collarbone snap and I’m not as fit as the rest of the group. Jo is recovering from a chest infection and Bash didn’t sleep. Excuses mount. Matt takes a tumble at high speed on a descent slicing his elbow open and more worryingly scratching his frame at the same time. Adam is as fit as always and doesn’t complain.
We meet a variety of characters who we end up passing, stopping, passing, stopping and so on. One was an older gentleman who tells us that he comes out and does the SDW in little sections. He’d done routes all around the country, doing a little section then ending in a pub. From the sounds like it he had covered quite a lot of ground in the UK. He had an ancient bike and no fancy kit but the smile on his face was enormous. As we cycled away I thought that he was probably the only person I’d ever met entitled to use the hashtag #outsideisfree. What a way to spend your retirement!
Back on with more trails. Lots of cows. Some fun descents and a lot more chatting.
We stopped for lunch against the better advice of Jo. Ten pounds for a baguette and a coke each and we’d lost a lot of time. Back on out of the valley where we had stopped an on. Hills became tougher but I found some new strength after lunch. We stopped on a hill to help a man who was having trouble with a puncture. He’d got the wrong sized tube, the wrong type of valve and no pump and was on an immaculate £3500 bike. Sympathy faded a little more after each fact was revealed but we helped him get it sorted and wished him well. More time lost.
By the time we got to the YHA near Brighton we were flagging. Mentally mapping out the hours we’d need to get to Eastbourne seemed to more to dampen our spirits. I was of the opinion that we must and should complete it. But then by the time we’d made the climb to Devil’s Dyke I too had caved in. Arriving at 10pm in Eastbourne probably wasn’t going to be much fun. Sure we’d have done it but it would have been a bit of a schlep and then to get the train home without any social time or laughs with our friends. Hard to believe I’m writing this but we all caved in and went to the pub. It’s not a very good pub but it was what we all needed.
I spotted a great photo of everyone looking out to the low sun in the sky and the silhouette they were creating. As I raised my camera a kind woman literally forced me into the photo. How nice to actually be included in the photo to record the day when I’m usually the other side or there’s one person left out of the pic.
It’s probably one of my favourite cycling photos as it captures having had a great time as well as the characters involved. Four pints (each), six packets and crisps and two bowls of chips later (between us) we rolled down the hill into Brighton and got the train home. We didn’t achieve what we had hoped but the laughing and smiling in the pub til it hurt more than made up for it.
The following week Beth and James went out and completed it. They had horrific weather for it and ended up finishing in the dark. Congratulations to them both but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret that we hadn’t pushed on. Especially as it was such a glorious day for it. But there’s really no point in regret, it’s just a waste of energy. Best just get on with it and do it again. I really did want to get it done in 2016 and not regret it. Even though regret is futile.
The trouble with this idea was that the evenings were drawing in and alarmingly so. The days were getting shorter and shorter which however you set it up means finishing in the dark. Being exhausted and tired mixed with the risk of bad weather is not my idea of fun, or a particularly safe ride. Wet chalk and tiredness – no thanks. So I came up with the stupid idea of starting in the dark. Why not get the dark bit out of the way before and then end in daylight? Adam and Bash were up for it. Matt had dislocated his collarbone and couldn’t. Jo was maybe and “I’ll see” on the day. Train times were pushed back and forth and a date agreed. I was coming from London, Adam from Brighton. How best to meet and not hang around in Winchester alone was discussed.
So a few weekends back we met at Clapham Junction at 11pm to get a train to Winchester to begin our silly little adventure. As expected the train was full of drunk people commuting home after an evening in the pub. What we hadn’t envisaged was it being completely rammed. Fuck. Not that door. Shit. Not this one. Run. ‘Scuze meeeee. And just about squeezed in both bikes around the drunk people. A man was lying slumped against the door clutching his phone who appeared to wake occasionally before grinning and then falling asleep again.
The train thinned out as we went further South which allowed a bit of repacking and faffing. I realised I hadn’t fitted my helmet light properly and was bobbing around. I fashioned a little support from a spare business card I had in my wallet and a train ticket – thanks Matt for the business card.
I’d set up my SPOT tracker for a few friends and family to follow our progress. Although this required a little faffing too. In addition we had some support from some of the Brighton lot and Vic was offering to pick us up if anything went wrong. I cheekily asked what counted as an emergency (asking for a friend). To which the response was…
Less than 999, more than a ‘bit tired’
I found this highly amusing and kept me going in some of the darker moments. The thought of others looking out for us also helped a great deal.
As we got off in Winchester we ended up having to explain ourselves to a group of guys coming home from a good night in the pub. Rather than the idiotic reaction expected they were thrilled at the idea and encouraged on our way before shaking our hands as they left to get in their taxi. Good luck lads they shouted as they drove off.
Whilst on the train I found myself becoming more and more nervous as I often do before big things like this. My mind thinking back to a stressful week at work and that the last sleep was last night and I wasn’t going to be getting any more until Sat evening.
This is silly.
This is stupid.
Both going round and round in my mind wanting for some reason to not do this.
We got on our bikes, flicked our lights on and headed down to the King Alfred statue for a quick picture. It’s the official start so only right we started there. After that it was onwards out of town and up onto the Downs. Immediately I thought of how I hadn’t ridden for about 7 days and had a bit of a holiday with too much food and booze. Adam was immediately stronger and doing a better pace. I’d said to myself that I would plod along to get it done and not race up or down things for fear or peaking too early and / or coming off on a descent. Normally I would prefer to ride with someone next to me and hate seeing someone up ahead. For some reason being completely pitch black it was actually good to follow someone and see their light ahead in the distance. We rode together for the wider sections and chatted about work / life / cycling adventures and so on for a few hours. At around 3am I think we both stopped talking and just got on with riding.
It was a cloudy night and really thick darkness with little light pollution. This meant it was completely and utterly dark. Pitch black. The tendency was to focus on your own light ahead to track where you’re going. Stopping allowed a broader view of the areas we were passing through and a bit more context – this is that bit or we’re near that bit. All felt completely remote and wonderfully still and silent. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought and felt pretty exciting to be out exploring when everyone else was safely in bed.
Occasionally we stopped and turned our lights off and just appreciated the silence and stillness of it all. You could hear your own breathing over anything else. Each of us was beaming from ear to ear just enjoying the isolation and silliness of it all. I tried to take a picture of the nothingness. With little light around this didn’t really happen. I wanted to record it somehow but will have to make do with the memories of it.
I was really pleased with this one of Adam though. My light off and just his lights illuminating the immediate foreground. Again I imagined people seeing these lights moving through the countryside and wondering what the hell we were doing.
Riding trails off road was so much fun in the dark after I got over my initial apprehension and soon picked up a bit more speed descending. Tuck in and trust your judgement and kind of just go with it. One descent I did slow down for was the Butser Hill descent. Adam didn’t seem so bothered and flew down it. Each time I caught up with him at a gate he was beaming from ear to ear. He was clearly loving every minute of it.
We surprised quite a lot of the nature around us. We saw a few owls, plenty of foxes, rats, young deer and a few badgers. I’m pretty sure we saw a few birds of prey too but couldn’t tell you what they were. Not forgetting the countless cows and sheep that we saw who all looked pretty surprised to see us. We also had spiders webs appearing on our handlebars as they had strung them across the various trails we were passing through.
Speaking of sheep, on one descent at the back of Queen Elizabeth Country Park I had taken my clear glasses off as they had been steaming up a bit and annoying me. Of course this meant that a massive lump of sheep shit went straight into my eye. Cue lots of washing my eye with water and generally trying to get it out. No I just made it worse and then for the rest of the day I spent wiping green muck out the side of my eye as well as having a bright red stink eye to show for it. Always wear eye protection!
We had been making good progress and areas that I recognised seemed to arrive quicker than expected. Having ridden the route before it really helped. I dread to think what it would be like navigating it in the complete darkness having not ridden it before. I was starting to tire a bit though, more mentally than physically although that was starting to fade too. We’d been in the darkness for so long and I was counting down to when I thought the sun would be rising. In addition it had started to rain a bit and a thick fog had set in. This made seeing even harder as the light just bounces off the moisture in the air, more lumens doesn’t help at all.
The darkness seemed to go on forever. 6am came. Still dark. I’d mentally been working to 6am and it threw me a bit that we were still surrounded by it all. 7am still kind of dark and then within minutes it seemed to lift and we had a little sunrise to watch. Sadly it was partially obscured by the clouds but it still felt like the hardest part had passed. This also coincided with a neatly timed descent where we stopped half way down to admire the view. This looks good so we stopped, unpacked and got on with breakfast.
I’d packed my little Alpkit stove, brew pot and two pre-measured bags of coffee (15g each). We’d both brought little coffee pots with integral plunger which are a brilliant bit of kit. We both had fresh coffee and enjoyed the view whilst I boiled another batch of water for porridge each. Not fancy by any stretch but it tasted damn good to have something substantial sat in the middle of no where. Like some kind of sanity in the mad thing we were doing. Of course it’s all a complete luxury and could have managed without but I find these little things help to keep you going. I got a bit cold sat down and took a while to warm up again in terms of my core temp and also the legs after a stop. Of course the next thing is another great big hill to climb. Super!
By now more people are starting to be up and about and of course we say good morning to everyone we see. Dog walkers, people out fishing and also farmers and so on. We met a lovely farmer who kindly pointed out the tap we had missed a few hundred metres back. Filled water bottles and a bit more energy in the tank from breakfast we kept on. The next thing to aim for was Bash coming to meet us with more food!
We got to the agreed spot and negotiated with Bash where we were and how his progress was. We had to wait a bit in the car park but were kept entertained by the coming and goings of a local running club made up of mainly retired folk out enjoying the paths. Black labradors seemed to be standard issue and one tried to steal a sandwich from Adam’s frame bag.
Bash arrived and was sporting a Sainsbury’s bag which had been fashioned into a rucksack with straps made from duct tape. I wish I’d taken a picture of it but was a bit broken by that point and damp and cold still. In the ghetto rucksack were pastries and bananas. Wolfed down we got on our way again.
Adam was still much faster than me and Bash and him soon disappeared which sent my mental state through the floor. I find it hard enough at the best of times being dropped but was not thinking very straight without sleep and in my tired state. Rather than chewing on it I just said something and they both dropped the pace accordingly. It’s amazing how those tiny little things get to you as well as how much I find I need the support of others to get through a tough event like this.
I was still being really slow on the hills and just grinding away. Even my 36t on the back wasn’t enough and found myself doing that stupid thing of clicking away for more gears even when you know there’s no more. A mixture of desperation and exhaustion I think.
Having Bash arrive with fresh legs and being a little bit more mentally able helped massively. We chatted away and I found this extra energy really helped get through the next bit. We ended up at the familiar spots we’d ridden before closer to Brighton. The pig farm on the top, the Youth Hostel (more water here) and then finally the top of Devil’s Dyke.
The next thing to aim for was George who had agreed to meet us with more supplies. I’d kind of shut down a bit mentally by this point and then I saw Adam ahead talking to someone a bit longer than you might expect for your average ‘good morning’ type chat. I got a bit closer and it was George. Brilliant, so good. I was so happy to see him (and the thought of more food). We didn’t actually need food there and then and he agreed to drive a bit further along to meet us. This was actually much better as it allowed us to cover a bit more distance before settling down for another stop.
The weather had improved and the temperature risen and most layers had been removed. We ended up meeting George and his lovely kids in a sunny spot by one of the taps next to Housedean Farm. He’d laid on an amazing spread although admitted that it wasn’t as plentiful as before due to the kids snaffling a few bits and bobs. Coke, crisps, Haribo, bananas, chocolate bars.. everything a hungry cyclist could dream of.
After this we’d got to the point (at least I had) of trying to work out how many hills were left. I could clearly see from the Garmin how many kms were left but this probably wasn’t the issue. FIVE lumps left. Ok, let’s do it. This is achievable. FOUR. Ok, entirely possible. THREE. Actually there’s a little extra lump Adam had forgotten. THREE again. We were getting there though. I was still super slow and my glutes were in a lot of pain. A few Ibuprofen and we’re good. We got a nice flash rain storm as we hit Alfriston and quickly sheltered and then it suddenly passed and we were on our way again. Counting down. Our next target was the end obviously but also the mussels and chips place that serves the Belgian beer. God that beer was in my mind for so long.
And then as if by magic we saw Eastbourne in the distance.
YES! We’ve almost done it. After this we traced the SDW as far as we could looking for some form of official finish. After we while we both gave up and then sped down into town to our reward of food and beer. The restaurant kindly let us bring our bikes into the lobby to avoid getting hypothermic outside. Three orders of bread, two mussels and chips and two strong beers later it was time to get the train home.
The only problem was trying to stay awake and not have my bike stolen. That and the stench of my kit and self. I couldn’t face the cycle back from Clapham Junction so got a connecting train to Denmark Hill. Even the short ride up the hill was painful.
The vital stats were 162km ridden, 3525m of elevation climbed, 10.5 hours moving time and another 4 hours for stops on top of that with an average moving speed of 15.5kph. We set off at around 12.15am and got to Eastbourne around 4.30pm the next day without any sleep.
I’m incredibly proud of having achieved it with Adam and so grateful for the support of so many people who helped us get through it all.
Edit: In my haste to post this I forgot to add this little video clip which is from a service called relive.cc. You connect it to your Strava account and then it sends you a little video of your ride through an aerial perspective overlaid on Google Earth type graphics. Nine times out of ten this is boring as hell, laps of Regents etc, but this is really interesting as it traces our path along the South Downs and shows the fascinating topography of the whole area. Whilst we go up and down a lot we do traverse a ridge for quite some time.
Another little post of a nice weekend ride. The clocks went back, the cat woke me up at 6am and then I met bash at Gails in Dulwich. Quick coffee and then out onto the lanes on a route other Andy Matthews had showed me before. 80km planned. Not too short, not too far and hopefully back in time to have a bit of the day left and lunch with Emma.
A quick peep out of the window and weather check before we go. It’s foggy! Yes. Autumn leaves and fog. It’s going to be beautiful out there.
After towing a few unwelcome wheel suckers along for a bit it was nice to make a turn off on our route east and into the proper countryside. We managed to get round a decent rate as it was just the two of us. We were in the Ice Hill cafe for 10.20 and had a quick coffee before jumping back on and heading back.
We saw a few others we knew as we went a long, including the Penge and Brixton club runs. Nice to also see Mac, Clare and Si all out too. We even managed to see them twice – out and back. We also bumped into Lindsey who I hadn’t seen for a while and rode the last 30km back together towards Dulwich before heading for coffee and cake at Fowlds cafe just off the Walworth Rd.
The pace wasn’t too shabby and not too ridiculous and managed to get back in good time without too much faff. I really do love riding at the time of year.
Another thing I used to do here was post inspiring videos or links to other people’s posts. Seems a shame not to record some of these as links shared on Twitter seem to be more and more transitory and fleeting in nature and soon forgotten. Google helps finding that thing where they went to the place that you know with the and on the…? Using obscure search terms to finally nail down what you’d been trying to recall but can’t bring back into current memory.
This one jumped out at me the other day and is just the kind of thing that appeals to me.
Watch the video and then read the full write up. There’s so many stunning images in that post. Riding with friends in remote places like this seems like an absolute dream although reasonably accessible. An overnight train from London and then off round the wilds of Scotland.
One of the nicest things about the Pannier write ups is their little bits of research and studying of mapping. I have a massive soft spot for these little sketches of the route too.
Blog posts are now few and far between. There’s a load of events I haven’t written up and experiences I’d like to record here. It usually takes longer than the actual event to compose thoughts, pop a few pictures in, fuss over it, edit and then post. I used to use this place to record interesting videos or links but now that’s all Twitter / Facebook and occasionally Instagram.
Rides, like blog posts, don’t necessarily have to be ‘epic’ (used ironically and with a wry smile) to require a post. So it was really nice to head out on Sunday with an old friend, Neil. A quick trip to Daily Goods for a coffee and then headed out towards Kent to find Pilgrims Way and follow it all the way to Whitstable. The route is called the Whitstable Winder and I thoroughly recommend it, it’s a personal favourite of mine. I can’t remember how I came across it but it’s described as:
Quite possibly the nicest cycle to the coast from London there is.
You quickly reach the countryside south of Dulwich, & then it’s just miles of lovely rolling South Downs cycling. The stretch on the Pilgrims Way Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty is simply divine.
A couple of lung busting hills: Hollingbourne Hill being the worst by a margin.
Last year I rode with Seb to complete my Festive 500 and was a stunning last ride for 2015.
We waved and smiled at everyone as we went out. Our average for waves / smiles back was really quite poor until we actually got to the countryside where everyone seemed to be a lot more friendly. Maybe the pollution is making everyone miserable in London.
We had a beautiful day for it. Sunny and autumnal and with the wind blowing in completely the wrong direction. Two out of three isn’t bad. Some chatting. A few photos. A bit of filming for Bowman and their new bikes and just pushing on. A bacon sandwich in the place that wasn’t very good last time but was really good this time and then onwards.
I love the rolling countryside and the way you traverse along the side of the ridge almost all the way there. There’s some really lovely open lanes as well as some nice tight closed in ones. It’s largely quiet and free of traffic. I bored Neil to tears with how much I loved my new Rapha Brevet jersey although I had a good laugh at the microphone adaptor he had on his phone for filming.
The wind got up just as Neil’s energy levels went down. I lied about how many hills were left and then got my head down and towed him in the last 20km or so. The last bit is particularly bleak as you turn the corner and all protection from trees is lost as you go along the coast to Whitstable. A dash for fish and chips followed by another dash for the train only to hear the dreaded words of “Bus replacement service“. Oh. Always check the trains are running! So we can still get back to London but the train goes via Dover and will take over two hours. Fine with me.
All that’s left to do is sit back, eat our fish and chip supper, gulp 7up and relax. Oh and then Neil gets cramp really really badly suddenly moving from his relaxed stance to half way under the table writhing in agony. A first I’m concerned and then I realise it’ll make a hilarious picture.
I recently broke my collarbone, had surgery to put some metal and screws in and then had a period off the bike. More about some of those things another time.
Executive summary; it wasn’t that bad and actually glad it happened. I learnt a lot and gave me a great deal of perspective.
Getting back on my bike was something I’d really looked forward to. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. It wasn’t soul crushing and the space was good. I did really want to swing a leg over a bike again though. Fortunately this was sooner than hoped but after five weeks of inactivity and reacquainting myself with spending evenings in the Camden Head the lycra was always going to be a bit tighter. I was meant to be off the bike for 3 months but fortunately was able to get back sooner. I remember being given the news on the Tuesday I think and then cycling to work again on the next morning. Magic. I was so excited when I found out I could ride again. Genuinely moved by it. Fuck yeah.
The first time back on the bike was horrific and not what I had hoped or longed for. I had quite a bit of muscle wastage in my left arm, a real lack of strength in my shoulder, still too sore to wear a backpack and generally feeling very very nervous. I took the fixed and just took it easy even having someone ride with me the first few times. The feeling of invincibility had long since departed. Everything felt slightly threatening, intense and somewhat overwhelming. I hadn’t actually hated getting the train to work and even felt like ditching the bike and sticking with the train and a pleasant walk. This wasn’t what I remembered or wanted.
Sure enough it got a bit easier. I used a different rucksack. I took it easy. I got used to it all again.
About the same time other Andy Matthews had also broken his collar bone although in a much more painful and complicated way. He also had surgery and we ended up being allowed to ride again at about the same time. We arranged to meet up and go on a gentle ride.
Where’s safe on a Sat morning? Well sadly Richmond Park was about all I could face at first. I avoid it like the plague at weekends usually saving it for summer evening spins but there’s no way I could face a trip to Kent. We met up in Brixton and Matt also joined us, headed out to Richmond and got on with it.
Whilst still nervous and tentative it was a real treat to ride a decent bike (the fast one with carbon round things) and put that new jersey on I’d been looking at sat on the hanger for 6 weeks. I bought it just before the off and had sat there since.
I knew I would have lost a lot of fitness but was totally unprepared by just how much had gone. Getting out of the saddle for a hill… nope. Nothing. Tank empty. Even the slightest inclines that wouldn’t have phased me before became a struggle. None of this really mattered though as I was on a bike again, rolling with two great people and outside in the fresh air again.
Matt took this picture of Andy and I riding and it brings a smile to my face every time I see it. It wasn’t until my physio saw it that she noted about us both having slightly bent elbows. Having lost this strength the body over compensates. I’ve straightened up again now I think but shows just how weak that side had become. Anyway, both of us out. Both smiling. Both riding bikes again. Life is good (even in Richmond Park).
I think we only did 45km that day but that was quite enough. For some reason I wanted to ride on the Sunday too and felt an overwhelming desire to prove something to myself. Like I still had a bit of fight in me and that this fitness thing wasn’t as bad as it had been. In hindsight what I did next was unbelievably stupid.
One of the aims I had for getting back on was to have a bit more fun. Riding had all got a bit serious and even monotonous. Same, same, same. If I was honest I had started to become a bit bored of it all. How to add more fun? Go out of your comfort zone, go to different places, do different things.
So my idea for a first proper ride back… Get a train to Bath, ride along the Kennet & Avon canal to Reading and then get another train to London. I had grown up around Bath and also commuted along bits of the canal to Bradford-On-Avon previously and thought the idea of extending this further seemed like a good idea. Safer, no cars, a bit off-roady and some nice scenery.
No trains to Bath sadly. The nearest was the train to Penzance which would drop me off at Westbury adding another 35km to my route which was already looking a bit much. Ahh well, what else am I going to do. I booked some tickets, tried to convince others to come and then told Emma they were coming. I ended up riding on my own and just keeping quiet about it. I was nervous yet also kind of pleased that I would be out there just on my own doing my own thing at my own pace. Especially with my newly reduced fitness and expanded waistline.
Bike choice? Well, not the fast one. Cross bike looks ideal. Shame it’s in bits. Ok then the winter / audax / mile muncher it is. 28s will have to do.
One of the nice things about going from Westbury to Bath was that I got a chance to plan a route through some bits of countryside I’d not ridden before. Of course I ended up on some gravelly farm track thanks to ridewithGPS. A muddy end to that one and then back onto some beautiful lanes before heading to my intended target… The Two Tunnels round the back of Bath. Formerly rail tunnels bored out of the rock and shut by Dr Beeching yet recently re-opened by Sustrans. I’d wanted to ride them for a while but not had a route or reason to head that way.
Holy shit they’re good. They’re dark. Not overlit like some H+S conscious public works project but just subtle enough so that your eyes adapt to the darkness and feel it’s intenseness. Warm air, cold air and then some sounds and different lights. Some areas have little art installations in the recesses created for the workers to avoid passing trains and then dodge the locals without lights. It’s still going on and can’t quite see the end. A retina burning trip into the bright light again and then straight into the second shorter version.
After that it was into Bath. Have a quick sandwich and a coffee and then head out onto the canal. I’d forgotten the best way to get onto it and had lost my bearings slightly. I found myself day dreaming and scuffed my front wheel on a kerb almost sending me off the bike. A quick word with myself and then got to the canal. It was lovely shifting along at a nice pace towards Bradford on Avon. A really nice surface, lots of greenery and few cheery folk around and lots and lots of dogs. I stopped briefly to admire the aqueduct as I looped around at Avoncliff. It really is an impressive structure.
I had a glug of water and pushed on. I sat down briefly the other side of Bradford on Avon an a couple congratulated me on my bright pink chevron socks. Brought a smile to my face and made me glad to be out and about. I had in the back of my mind that I was starting to feel a little tired but really did want to finish this.
More familiar landmarks passed including the amazing Caen Hill Locks new Devises. It was great seeing these again as again such an incredible feat of engineering.
This was still lovely smooth gravel and I’d started to think I could probably do this. I just needed to keep tapping it out, keep moving, don’t stop too long etc. Just as I thought this the surface really started to deteriorate and I wished for the CX bike to magically appear with it’s super comfy 40mm tyres. No such luck and we had to push on.
The weather had been warm so the ground was super firm. I found myself on ridged section which seemed to activate the wobbly bits in my arms, bingo wings etc. This was amusing at first but soon wore off after my shoulders started to ache. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse I ended up riding through eye height grass. I could barely see the actual path. This really wasn’t funny now and was really testing my patience.
I looked at the map for a suitable bail point and I really was in the middle of nowhere. No option to continue and just hope that the path was in a better state soon. It can’t be like this all the way to Reading surely?
On a more positive note one of the nicest things about the route was the amount of wildlife I saw. I saw plenty of Herons, Rabbits, Swans, Moorhens, Ducks and even a vole or two as well as hundreds of lovely dogs and even two cats sat adjacent to their respective canal boats. It was also incredibly green and picturesque.
Time was pressing on. I wasn’t stopping much but I had said “I’ll be back by about four”. There was still 60km to go and it was 3pm.
One of my favourite parts was getting to this beautiful brick arched bridge with a view over the Vale of Pewsey.
This felt pretty remote as I hadn’t seen anyone for a while and had been fighting through the long grass.
Another favourite moment was helping a father and son in a boat who weren’t going to make it under one of the swing bridges. I had great fun releasing the bolt and swinging it open for them. Again more incredible engineering that one person can move a bridge wide enough to drive a car over and back again.
Things that didn’t go so well? Clipping a low branch with my left shoulder (the previously broken one) and also falling off my bike trying to slow down for some pedestrians, neatly falling on the opposite side and still clipped in. These things kind of shook me up and made me grab a hold of myself and get on with it. I threw a couple of Ibuprofen down to deal with the shoulder pain and decided to try and be less of an idiot for the rest of the journey.
I really did want to complete this little challenge. I’d set myself this stupid ride and really wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t weak and a terrible cyclist again. There’s some kind of weird pain thing going on here but like going riding hung over I felt some kind of punishment was due for being such a slack ass. Fuzzy logic applied liberally.
The time thing was starting to play on my mind as I sent my first apologetic text in response to the “How are you getting on” message from Emma. Again, I really wanted this done.
As I got to Newbury I thought about bailing. There’s a station there but then the path had improved and I was making better progress. I was already too late for dinner and pushed on to Reading.
I got to the station with the light fading, got a ticket and went straight to Starbucks for as much food as I could carry. Then went back again.
As I hadn’t booked I technically wasn’t allowed on the train but the guard kindly let me on having seen how dejected I looked. I may have hammed this up slightly but I was cold, damp from a little shower that I’d got caught in and really wanted to get home. Even though it was full she let me on and I thanked her profusely.
It wasn’t until I sat down on the train I realised how much I stank. Putrid, damp and face and jersey covered in salt marks. I managed to get in to the flat at 9.30pm, eat and drank some more and then passed out.
To say I was a little sore the next day was an understatement. However much it hurt I was so so glad to be back on a bike again. I ended up doing 153km, about 120 of which was off road. I spent seven hours riding and another hour or so stopped which is a good average as I usually end up spending much more time faffing. I’d had a proper sit down in Bath so most of the time on the canal was spent moving.
Maybe not the best gentle introduction to riding again but god damn I enjoyed it.