Well that was a proper Riding the Long Way Home day. It was physically tough enough to leave me knackered and mentally tough enough to test me, but not leave me lying at the roadside in a foetal position crying for my mum. It had all the other key ingredients I associate with my now annual trips: solo riding, navigation challenges, big swings in my physical ebb and flow etc. But it also contained an unexpected bonus. Just as he said he would at some point during the day, my son Danny turned up at the side of the road on his bike to 'help get the old man home'.
I stayed with Danny and his fiancee Lucy overnight and left at 7.30am this morning. My body was even more reluctant than ever to get going. Perhaps it was the earlier start time or maybe accumulated fatigue, but it took even longer than normal to warm up, in fact almost 90 minutes. I've learned over time not to try and force my legs to get going as it never works. But this was ridiculous, I couldn't get beyond 18kph. I was also starting to get pain in my right wrist which has only got worse as the day wore on. And then, somewhere between Romford and Ilford my legs suddenly arrived, as if reluctantly accepting we were out for the day. By then I was riding through parts of east London I have never been to before and my concern with my legs and wrists had taken second place (a long way back) to a desperate need to go the toilet. Now you may think this is inappropriate to write about in a blog, but two points: it's my blog and I decide what goes in and secondly there is a salutory lesson to share here. As I rode deeper into London I couldn't see anywhere safe to park my bike and leave it outside. Especially as my cafe lock doesn’t work. Or rather it does work but I have evidentially forgotten the code. After an hour of searching I was getting very uncomfortable. Years ago I asked my dad what advice he would give me for life that I haven't heard yet. He said 'never trust a fart' which at the time I assumed was just a funny dad joke but I now realised was prescient. Then as luck would have it, my route took me through a small park that had some kind of festival going on in it, that included portaloos. I begged the security guard to be let in and sped over. I then engaged in a kind of It's a Knock Out game (Google it kids) of opening doors to try and find a single stall with toilet paper. It was obviously going to be the last one in the row and I hurriedly tried to get my kit off without dropping it or the contents all over the floor. A memory came back to me of my first time doing the London to Brighton charity ride, where to save time I pulled my cycling jersey straight over my head and promptly dropped the entire contents from the pockets down the loo. There was a split second of me considering trying to rescue the energy bars and gels followed by a shudder of horror. Anyway on this occasion I had no such issue and was out again in a flash and back on my bike speeding away from the park. I then turned on to the Northern Relief Road and had a little chuckle to myself, 'never mind northern relief...'. Anyway the lesson here is check your bloody kit works and/or be prepared to embarrass yourself. There's little else to chuckle about riding through London. Riding in London is fine, I've done it hundreds of times. But riding through is stressful. The combination of avoiding potholes, trying to navigate strange roads, garmin failing to keep pace with turns, buses trying to squeeze you into the pavement and lunatic moped delivery riders made the whole thing horrible. Having to concentrate so hard is mentally draining. Having to put in little spurts of effort to avoid a car or bus, also drains you, dumping lactate into your legs from a 5 second effort every 8 minutes or so is also no fun.
I eventually hit the river at Greenwich and walked under the Thames using the tunnel. This meant carrying my bike up a long spiral staircase, also not much fun. When I got to the top it was bedlam outside, as the Vitality half marathon was finishing at the Cutty Sark right outside the door. Apart from having thousands of people milling about, it also meant there were road closures everywhere and I couldn't get back on my route. It required an extensive diversion and 45 minutes of lost time to get back on track. From Greenwich I rode through Lewisham, Penge, South Norwood and Croydon, eventually leaving London at Purley. But it had taken me five hours to cross London and I was only half way. I consoled myself by stopping in a park and eating one of my future daughter in law's amazing cinnamon buns, while I considered my options. Sharper readers will have already said to themselves 'there are no options, get back on your bike mate', but I entertained the idea that there may be a faster way to Hove. There isn't. Not on a bike at least. So I just kept tapping away. In Bletchingley I found an open cafe that served me an amazing bacon, brie and cranberry paninni which was so good it revived my body and spirit. From there I kept myself amused by trying to guess where Danny would turn up (in Bolney as it happens). He wanted to ride further but I explained to him that simply knowing that he was out there was a huge help. I will say it again, my family and friends have been incredibly supportive on this ride. The final 25km into Hove was easy as most of it was on the segregated cycle path that runs parallel to the A23. Not the best views, but very direct and avoids two horrible climbs over the final hills of the Sussex Downs. I finished the day on 148km which puts me at 984km over the trip with more than 10,000 of climbing. The more telling number though is that equates to over 50 hours of riding. Right now I can feel all 50 of those hours in my body.