A few of you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned a bike ride I’m doing soon. London to Paris. That’s a long way. This far, to be precise:
You may also have noticed that I’ve mentioned training rides from time to time. They started at about ten miles, and have crept up to about thirty. And they’ve been nicely spaced out. Two or three trips a week at most. Now, take a look at those details again, and tell me what you notice. Yes, me too: tThese rides are all longer than I’ve been doing. And they’re on four consecutive days.
So I really needed to do too things with my training. At least one longer ride, and a few consecutive days.
And so this past weekend, I’ve done just that. Let’s start with Friday. The big one. I’ve posted the map already, but here’s a reminder:
Yep, that’s right. From Riseley, just south of Reading, all the way home to Stevenage. 65.4 miles, to be precise. Now the first question you may have is this: What was I doing in Riseley in the first place? Well, I could say mind your own business. Or I could be polite and say I’d spend a delightful few nights on a camping holiday with me family. Here, in fact.
It seemed an ideal opportunity to try out a longer ride, so after helping pack up the tent on out last morning I left my wife and son playing with our friends at the campsite while I set off on what was to be the longest ride I’ve ever undertaken.
I’d planned a route in advance using Google Maps. Needless to say the default route was along the M4, round the M25 and up the A1(M), and I certainly wasn’t going to attempt that. Besides being illegal, it’s a much longer route. But Google Maps has a “walking route” option, so I tried that and it produced a fairly straight 60-mile route, so I’d printed that off and used it as my navigation. And therein lies my first lesson: navigating to a printed map is frustrating as the road signs in rural areas are rubbish. Time and time again I’d be aiming for a village on my map and encounter junctions with either no sign for that village or no sign at all. Seriously. No signs whatsoever. I had to stop at far more junctions than I’d hoped to pull out my map and try to get my bearings. But apart from that, it was lovely. The first ten miles or so flew by, as it was such a lovely day and I was full of enthusiasm and energy. I had a good supply of water, which I sipped regularly as advised by everyone, and enjoyed beautiful views around just about every corner.
I’d planned to stop for a proper break at about twenty miles and again at about forty, to break the ride up into three manageable chunks. As twenty miles approached, I passed a few nice looking country pubs with welcoming gardens and I started to think about stopping. But as I was riding well, I didn’t want to stop until I’d passed that twenty-mile mark so I rode on, confident I’d see somewhere lovely. But something strange happened: as soon as twenty miles had passed, the lovely pubs stopped appearing. I guess that fact that I’d reached the outskirts of Slough may have had something to do with it, but I can’t be sure. I was flagging somewhat, and in need of a break, but nothing I passed looked very welcoming, so I just persevered. The villages of Farnham Royal and Stoke Poges sounded promising, but didn’t really provide any inspiration either, so on I plodded. Eventually I saw two pubs close together and thought I’ll just have to stop here. At one I even parked up, locked up my bike, went in and looked at the menu. But I wasn’t at all convinced so I left again. I sat on a park bench and ate a chocolate bar, but knew that wasn’t enough after 27 miles.
Slightly frustrated, I set off again, still uphill, hoping for the best. And just one mile further along the road and the Fox and Pheasant came into view. And it was lovely. A carvery, but with a nice range of bar snacks, too. I had myself a large glass of very cold lemonade and a tandoori chicken sandwich. And the pub even had free wi-fi so I was able to get online for the first time in about a week and catch up with all sorts of things while I had my lunch and rest stop. And before I left, the barman happily refilled my water bottles with icy cold water.
I could only rest for so long, though, before I had to set off again. A lovely ride through the rather smart villages of Gerrard’s Cross and Chalfont St Peter (actually, I got a bit lost in Chalfont St Peter), then through Maple Cross before my only planned departure from Google’s walking route. The route ahead would have taken me right through the middle of Watford, which to be frank, I didn’t fancy. But by happy chance the Grand Union Canal provided a nice looking detour, so armed with my British Waterways cycling permit (Yes, you’re really supposed to have one) I left the roads and headed for the tow path.
And here’s my second learning point. Canal tow paths may be pretty, and they may be flat, but one thing they are not is smooth. Gravelly, tree-rooty things that shook me to pieces. And where there are lots of residential boats, the owners tend to have little sitting areas or gardens or allotments on the other side of tow path, giving you the unnerving feeling that you’re riding right through their homes. Lovely though it was to look at, I’d say they’re better suited for walking than cycling so I was glad to eventually leave and get back to the road.
A few more pretty villages, and then St Albans – and another first for me. In all my training rides so far, I’ve managed to keep on riding all the way. Hollywell Hill in St Albans defeated me. I walked for the first time. Well, I guess there’s a clue in the road name. And then just north of St Albans I had my second stop. This time, I decided a park bench would suffice, so I finished up my stash of flapjack, had another chocolate bar, and sat enjoying the view for a while. Disadvantage of a park bench stop? No one there to refill my water bottles. (Also, no wi-fi.)
And that just about sums up the ride, as once I set of again I was soon back into familiar territory, and felt pretty much home. Overall the route was 65.4 miles, and I was riding for a little over five hours in total. And I’m very glad to know I can do it. I got home to a hot bath and a trip out to a restaurant. And I went out on two more rides over the next two days: 17.14 miles and 19.53 miles. Thats 102.07 miles in three days. Hey, I’m pretty chuffed with that. I’d planned to write those up in this post as well, but time has escaped me (ie, I ought to have got to bed about an hour ago), so I’ll just put the maps up for now, and might write a little something about them later in the week. Or maybe I won’t. Watch this space!