It was about 10PM, Thursday night, dark, obviously, it being March in the UK. Cold, very wet, pretty windy. A headwind. As it had been for me since about 5PM when I had left the City of London, only 70km previously. That's slow progress isn't it?
I've never cycled in London before. It was bad enough on the way into the town, I'd chosen main roads for navigation purposes, but I doubt I would have found it much less stressful on the back ones. And I can see why cyclists jump red lights, there's one every 50 yards, and if the taxis and buses don't get you, the pedestrians almost certainly will, eventually.
So I took my colleague's advice to heart on the way out of the city, take it slowly and stay safe. But stopping at all the red lights, trying to make a path through all that Bank Holiday traffic heading for the airport, the beach, the hills, well let's just say my momentum was non-existent. All those people can't like London very much if they were all leaving, can they?
Once past Hounslow it got worse. Although the traffic eased, I was now on main roads with fast-moving traffic, puddles of water and plenty of headwind with few buildings to shelter me. I pushed on up Egham Hill trying to get warm, but as I rolled through leafy Virginia Water and past the Ascot racecourse, I couldn't feel my hands or feet, I was shivering, soaked to the skin and I saw the bus shelter and decided to take stock.
It had all been going so well too. The wind I struggled against in the evening had propelled me in the daytime, up though Bath, Chippenham, Marlborough and Hungerford.
|The view of Cherhill, Wiltshire from the A4|
I breezed along the A4, delighting at my speed along the rolling main road, which seemed quite quiet, and into Reading by midday.
From there, despite the onset of rain, I made good time to Windsor and onto Hounslow, before hitting all the traffic on the run-in to the City. I'd decided to combine a DIY Audax with a fund-raising attempt for our current office charity, Jack's Fund, that raises money for the Children's oncology unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. You can still sponsor me if you like via this link. My employer had also given me the day off to do the ride, as well as allowing one of my colleagues to have some time off to feed me and take care of my bike parking arrangements quickly at our London office.
|Arriving at our office in London|
So after arriving at about 4.30PM I was out of there and back on the road within an hour. With hindsight the timing was terrible as by now, what had been very busy traffic, had turned into nose-to-tail jams. I cut some of it out by cycling across the cycle paths of Hyde Park, but my average speed for the first 10 miles was 9mph, with plenty of stops to boot. It didn't get much faster either, looking at my Strava data, I seemed to have taken about an hour to cover each 10-mile section, culminating in that stop in Ascot.
There was still 160km to go (about 100 miles). I knew that if I continued I would have another 5-6 hours of rain, and after that the temperatures were forecast to drop to about 3-5C in open country, plus the headwinds all the way to Bristol. Even on a good day, that's 8 hours of riding, plus stops for food, and that was likely to be in the open at all-night garages.
I was shivering, I couldn't warm up, so I called Mrs Mendip Rouleur to ask her opinion. Fortunately she was able to think straight and booked me into a Travelodge in Wokingham. I knew that this decision would cost me any chance of this being a qualifying Audax ride, as well as my attempt at Randonneur round the Year going down the drain, as it's too late in the month for me to get another ride in.
I know people who would have pressed on, and I know people who would never have started. I also know people who would get on a train home. As you can see from the trace of my route, the fact that it took me an hour to find the place shows how confused and unable to follow directions I had become. It was unquestionably the right decision for me and I don't regret it.
|Broken by the weather in Wokingham|
It was also a bit of trip down memory lane as I passed towns and places that my grandparents, parents, uncles, brothers and sister all have associations with, as well as my own childhood memories of climbing Silbury Hill and wandering around the West Kennet Long Barrow.
Eventually I made it to Chippenham, and not having to complete my mandatory route I decided to take the direct route back to Bristol via the A420. Now the official longest, grindiest road in a headwind in the World as voted by yours truly. As I neared the top of one slogging incline, a bloke walking his dog, called, encouragingly I think, "dig deep son, dig deep". Nice people are everywhere!
So there you have it, a 400km ride done with a break in the middle, no Audax points and a few more hard lessons learned. Does it count as a 400km ride? Yes it does, in my book, and that's the one I'm counting. It's on Strava like that anyway. And thanks to all the people who encouraged me (especially my colleague from work) along the way. And Mrs MR for making me see sense. It means everything to have that backing.
But the most important thing in this? Over £700 raised so far by virtue of the vey generous friends, colleagues, and family that have sponsored me to raise money for people who face a constant challenge far in excess of anything I had to do. So if you are feeling up to it, you can sponsor me too, even just a small token amount counts and is gratefully received. That means everything too.