This is a long one!
Few years ago when I first found my love for road cycling, a couple of laps of Richmond Park would of been enough for me. Fast forward on, @RouteSurreyUK (his name is Ali if you hadn't realised from the previous posts!) and myself was about to embark on our longest most difficult challenge yet; how far could we actually cycle in one day?
Now, the majority of people who 'Everest', take part in IMs or throw themselves at those crazy 24hr events are seasoned athletes, some of them pro's but they all have a level of fitness which would allow them to complete these challenges and complete them well. Flip the coin over and there's me and Ali (probably cycling's equivalent of Del Boy and Rodders, I'll let you decide who's who!). We came across the Tilnar Cycle Challenge, how far could you cycle between 6am-7pm all in aid for the Porridge and Rice charity which supports the children of Nairobi. We had both built up this level of confidence and fitness we hadn't achieved before, I had broken my 100 mile club virginity and Ali had challenged himself to numerous attempts of hill combinations (one was to climb as many hills of Surrey in one go, managed to ascend 9, you can find the data here https://www.strava.com/activities/290376406 ).
The plan was to hit Brighton, seaside stop for refuelling then back home. The route that Ali had created would take us on a loop rather than an out and back ride. We prayed for weather and luckily got it (if you don't want to know the final weather results, please look away now!). I religiously made sure I stocked up on gels, think the final tally was 8 with a couple in the saddle bag which when I got out of the seat to climb or get away from Ali, would swing like a pair of..... (don't need to finish the sentence off but if you would like an uncensored version of this blog, I take PayPal!). Our usual meeting point of Cobham would be the joint start but the journey there was mentally difficult because we were so aware of saving energy and exerting any kind of effort we didn't need to make. It was a Saturday morning and we agreed to meet at 7am so the first hour was ours to warm up and get into our stride. The roads were extemely quiet and I accidentally flew into Cobham just because there was hardly any stoppages. I was kicking myself inside as a doubt grew in me that I would pay for this later.
Our route from Cobham was literally a straight run. Three major (remember we are not talking Alpine, we are talking Southern England!) climbs would await us, one only one of us has climbed before; Devil's Dyke. Taking the back route through Downside and Clandon, it shot us out at the bottom of Staple Lane. If I remember correctly, Ali had about 4 gels at this point! We super took our time up Staple, decent little ascent and with the ambiance of the countryside our only company, it was a pleasure. I had the Garmin running and had uploaded the route beforehand so if we got lost, we wouldn't! The Surrey cyclists who ride these roads know the other side of Staple lies a couple of longer and steeper climbs. If you ever find that you are around that area, Leith Hill has numerous amount of ways up all different in their own right. Thankfully we would be avoiding the one I dread most, Barhatch. Its a b****! (Remember, there's an uncensored version I can supply for a fee!). Ali had directed us onto Houndhouse Lane, a climb I enjoy just because its a steady gradient with no real steep sections but it is 2 miles long so put the kettle on, because you are here for a while!
Cresting the top of Houndhouse, that would be the last of the climbing for the next 2 hours or so. We would follow the A281 all the way down to the coast, the only main urban town we would have to go through was Hosrham which was just starting to get busy for the Saturday shopping. We did have to pull off a side road for a pee and Ali made the mistake of going further down the road than he intended and ended up descending. So he gave himself another unnecessary climb to tackle. I'll admit, I was a bit smug at this point! As we got nearer the coast, the South Downs started to rear their ugly head. Previously, I had completed the BHF London to Brighton ride which includes the climb of Ditchling Beacon. That particular route itself was beautiful. What let the whole sportive down was the sheer volume of bottle necking up the hills. You had cyclists who decided to walk rather than ride up which was fair enough but those who wanted to ride up struggled as those who had chosen to ride but then realised they couldn't make the climb then stopped. This would then trickle down to other riders who had to weave around them or didn't have enough time to clip out and inevitably fell over. And yes, this happened to me but thankfully not on Ditchling Beacon. Somehow and it was more of a mental focus of not stopping purely because of the fear of falling over again because of the bottle necking but I made my way around the stragglers and made it to the top.
Our South Downs climb was Devil's Dyke. Ali had climbed this before when he attempted himself to ride to Brighton from Guildford. What he wouldn't share in public was that when he got to Brighton, he had planned to take the train back but his card had declined at the ticket machine and how's your luck? His phone battery had died! Thankfully he managed to get some money out and made his way home. Oh Ali! (I know you're reading this and I don't care, the world deserves to know your mishaps and learn from them, silver lining is you're teaching the world through your You've Been Framed moments!). Ali had kindly let me know the climb was in 2 parts with a descent in the middle, describing it like a pair of boo... (oh this is the censored version isnt it?!). I didn't know what to expect so the first hump caught me by surprise and I didn't tell Ali at the time but I needed to recover. I was worried about exerting myself when I didn't need to and there was an ideal opportunity to take a breather as there was an opening of the trees which looked back over the landscape of Sussex (sorry Ali, I had screwed up your PB! call it evens?!). I had told Ali to push on he felt he like he wanted to so when descending, Ali made his attempt to make a breakaway stick (We taken our cycling seriously in these parts!). The descent down was fun but the first time you poke your head up from your bars, you get a little peek at the 2nd hump and its uglier than its sister. Not even the speed from the descent helps you coast into the climb as the percentage hits straight away at 13% at the bottom. I can't tell you the changes in percentages because I was concentrating in getting myself up and over this lump! I was in the small ring in the smallest gear and still pushing squares. I had noticed in the field adjacent was a herd of cows observing me with interest probably taking the mick at the same time (I had a heard a few moos and put 2 and 2 together!). Finally over, I was greeted by Ali who had his phone out ready to take the sweatiest picture I have been pictured in!
The roll down through Hove and down to the sea was a nice recovery and our next mission was to find a chippy to fuel up. We both knew to go large so a chip butty and a fresh but proper greasy cod didn't even touch our lips! Ali had run through the route home with me, we would follow the coast through Worthing and into Arundel and head north. Sounds easy enough. Fuelled and a bit bloated, 60miles had already been covered and we were fully aware this ride would take us over the 100 mile mark but how far, we didn't know. Apart from one more stop to grab some haribo which turned out to be EPO for kids, the road followed the sea to the West. Scenic wise, I could not fault it. For an urban boy, riding next to the sea was a rarity. What was not enjoyable was the traffic and tedious roads that came with it. Somehow we had strayed onto a dual carriageway, Ali had thrown his toys out of the pram as we were following my Garmin at the time and the coast road had stopped. We had to take this road to get up to where we wanted to be. There was tension in the air and I think we both were looking for a train station where we could ditch the other one!
Like a scene out of Game of Thrones, Arundel Castle made itself known on the horizon. The castle stood out over the town and it was a sight to see. The tension had subsided as we both knew we were back on track. These were all new roads now so when the road started to rise up, we both looked at each other with a grimace. Although it joined up to different A roads, it was literally a straight road to where we where heading; home obviously! I have never experienced such an undulating road before, every time you cress a bump in the road, there's another shortly up ahead! The fish and chips was doing its job, I felt fresh and like a full tank of petrol, you could feel the chassis becoming lighter as it was draining it's fuel. We were both careful to spin the legs and not push any big gears that we needed to. The surprisingly good thing about this route was that it past through some traditional English villages. Petworth was like a throw back to the medieval times with narrow streets and its wooded backdrop. Chiddingfold was also another delight with its 1 pub and village green, it was literally once you enter, you exit, the village was that small!
We had hit the 100 mile figure some point after Petworth and on a country lane with no one around, we gave out a big man cheer (probably more of a cheerleading woop woop!). Once we were past Chiddingfold, we were into Ali's territory. He was a local boy from Guildford so this was now his playground. We both stuck together though, brothers in arms, cyclists in cleats, cheerleaders in pom poms! I was nervously waiting for that wall to hit me, I knew it was coming at some point. It didn't. I put it down to the healthy nutrition supplied by that chip shop in Brighton but maybe I had built my fitness up efficiently enough through my previous challenges to complete this ride and complete it well. We had made our way to bottom of Staple when we jokingly asked each other 'fancy a hill?!'
We had actually upped the pace back to Cobham, we both felt surprisingly fresh and with a bit to spare. Arriving in Cobham, it felt surreal what we had just done. I had started out commuting the short distance to work and a few laps here and there of RP, but this was some achievement. My friends thought I was crazy and actually worked out we cycled the equivalent of riding to Bristol and some. Our faces though knew R&R was calling. A full respected handshake was made along with a nod of appreciation and we made our separate journeys back home. Now, the weather was lovely all day so why now when I looked up, the darkest meanest rain cloud started to follow me home?! I had literally only just left Ali and the heavens opened. I wasn't wearing a rain coat so very quickly, I was soaked through! I just laughed and took it in as part of the ride. I'm going home, if this happened in Brighton, I'd be cursing a lot more than I have been in this blog!
Rocking up on my doorstep 13 hours later, I peered down at the Garmin. The challenge was officially over at 7pm and I had to pick the pace up home to make it back before the deadline. I even added on an extra mile on as I knew Ali's route home was a little longer and mileage bragging rights were up for grabs. Unfortunately I lost in this category by the smallest of margins, 0.1 mile!!! He can have it I thought as technically I cycled it faster! His average levelled out at 14.7mph, mine a more respectful 15.5mph. Who's your average King now Ali?!!!
'It never gets easier, you just go faster.'