I was always going to have to get to Wiltshire this weekend to visit my mother on her birthday. But the cycling option was in doubt up to the last minute, as the prospect of an 85-mile ride this early in my training was daunting. However, due to a foolhardy competitive streak (my friend and fellow Ride100 cyclist had recently done the ride as his mother, coincidentally, also lives in Wiltshire), I decided to go for it. So, Sunday morning came around and I was on the road at 6.00am.
The ride started on a familiar route into the Surrey Hills and two of my least favourite hill climbs after 15 miles. But they felt alright today – perhaps mentally I knew I had to be okay with so long left to go? Before I knew it, I was riding around the one way system around Guildford and heading on to the A31 ‘Hog’s Back’. The incredible views over Surrey were, though, marred by scarily fast traffic (who knew all the boy racers got up so early?!) and the interminable incline. Finally, I was in Farnham. And I saw rather more of Farnham than I’d anticipated thanks to Google Maps. I ended up doing a round trip of Farnham’s one-way system (which I doubt will ever make it to any tourist guide as an experience) before heading out towards Basingstoke.
The road to and around Basingstoke was tedious and tiring. This was a real slog and I was really beginning to question my judgement; was this really how I wanted to spend a Sunday morning?! I could still be in bed! Oh well, too late to change my mind now. Having negotiated Basingstoke, I hit the 50 mile mark. And, with distinctly moaning thigh muscles, took a ten-minute drink and snack break on the side of the road. I was feeling rather pleased with my progress; rather too pleased, as it turned out.
Thanks to my pirouette around Farnham, I still had 40 miles left. Newbury was 15 miles away so I decided to try and do another five miles past the town before stopping to re-fuel, so as to leave myself the shortest stretch until last. Big mistake. As I cycled past all of the shops and cafes in Newbury, I was feeling decidedly hungry and weary. No worries, just a few more miles and I could rest up for the final leg. Or so I thought…
The B4000 out of Newbury is the ancient Roman road called Ermine Street, that once ran from London to Lincoln. It is dead straight and cuts through the most incredible countryside. On a sunny Sunday morning, it was glorious. This was truly England at its most green and pleasant, with hawks flying out of hedgerows as I rode past, sheep baa-ing and in every small village inviting-looking country pubs. And every one of them firmly shut. And no other shops, open or closed. And I had absolutely nothing left to drink or eat. And my legs were screaming at me to stop! Help!
Finally, I found a pub open. I clambered off my bike and crawled inside. The sweet nectar that was a pint of orange juice and lemonade hit the spot! A lovely old couple enjoying a Sunday morning coffee on the patio looked on me with pity as I gulp down a packet of peanuts. They asked if I’d ridden far – ‘too far’ I panted, as I realised I’d done 77 miles now! I really should have stopped earlier.
With my water bottles re-filled, I gingerly climbed back aboard my bike. 14 miles left Google told me and off I set. I was weary now but quickly boosted by entering Wiltshire, the county in which I was born. Before too long I was on The Ridgeway outside of Swindon, Britain’s oldest road that once extended across the Berkshire Downs to the Dorset Coast providing a safe trading route across the ridge of the chalk hills all the way to The Wash in Norfolk. For me, it just gave a rather magnificent run in to my destination. Five miles out, I was passed by a large group of fellow cyclists from a local village. Try as I could to tag along in their slipstream, my legs just didn’t have it in them. As they swept past me, my self-esteem took a large dent as their shirts proudly proclaimed they were all members of a veterans’ cycle club!
All of a sudden, I realised I’d made it and was at my end point. I pretty much jumped off my bike and headed straight in to the village Co-op buying myself a four-pack of energy drinks, a Mars bar and a what turned out to be a very dodgy pasty. For the next ten minutes, I force fed myself in a desperate attempt to replace what my bike computer told me was 4000 burned calories over the last six and a half hours!
I was exhausted but really pleased. In truth, I almost bit off more than I could chew (and I don’t mean the chicken fajita pasty – who on earth dreamt up that gastronomic monstrosity?!). I really wasn’t ready for such a ride yet. But I’d done it! And survived – just.
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