Arch to Arc day one: London to Dover

Right, now let’s see if I can make sense of my notes and try to piece together some details about my cycling adventure.

(Click on the map to access a detailed, zoomable, scrollable version.)

After a night of hardly any sleep,  we made an early start, popped my bike on the back of the car and headed towards London. Marble Arch eventually came into view, and sure enough there were a few flags and banners – and, more importantly,  a few cyclists – to show we were in the right place at the right time.

I had a look around. Much as I expected, all I could see were fancy looking lightweight road bikes. My 18-year-old steel framed mountain bike did look a bit out of place. But the riders seemed to be a mixed bunch. I was surprised to find that there were only eleven of us setting off (a couple had needed to pull out for health or family reasons) but in fact eleven turned out to be a lovely number to ride with; over the next few days we became friends.

James Whale came to Marble Arch to do a piece to camera with the Mayor of London’s Transport advisor. We were being filmed on and off for the whole journey to make a promotional film to publicise next year’s ride. And we all posed for publicity shots at the Arch before we set off. The Mayor’s guy rode with us for the start of the ride. About a mile of it.

And what a start. Just look at this bit of the route:

From Marble Arch, right along beside Hyde Park, round the Wellington Memorial, Past Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. What a lot to see in the first three miles! Now, I know I’ve seen all these places many times before, but there was something special about cycling past them, as part of an organisied event. And the other thing I loved about this London city centre part of the route was seeing just how many other cyclists there were. I had no idea! Admittedly I could see why London cyclists get a bad name – I saw some appalling road behaviour – but most seemed to be fine and I loved this part of the ride. I’d certainly be very happy to cycle in London any time.

After a few miles, though, we were getting out into the london suburbs which were, quite frankly, a bit dull, but soon enough we reached countryside and then it started getting lovely again. We had a couple of stops for water top-ups, but I was looking forward to the first main stop at 28 miles, where we’d pre-ordered bacon and egg butties and were served fantastic mugs of tea to keep us fueled up for the rest of the day’s ride. Now, I’d been telling everyone that I was expecting to ride about 75 miles on day one, but by now I’d begun to hear people talk about longer than that. Sure enough, I’d been misinformed. It was due to be 86, which meant it was going to be my longest ever ride by some considerable stretch. I was very glad of that bacon and egg fuel.

First main stop at 28 miles
Fantastic Bacon and Egg Butties served here.

The next adventure of the morning was briefly loosing two riders. They’d got ahead of the ride leader and shot straight past a turning and down a big hill. the rest of us gathered while phone calls were made and we tracked them down. Poor Andy set off down the hill find them knowing he’d have to climb back up it to get them back on course. And then, no sooner than we had got back together again, Ptol shot ahead down another hill and sent himself straight into abush at the bottom. Well, at least this one was in the right direction. No injury or damage, thank goodness.

For our lunch stop at the 48 mile mark we were aiming at a pub, so I’d naively assumed we’d be actually having a pub meal. But no – we trundled up to the opposite end of the car park and I experienced my first back-of-van lunch picnic. It was delicious, and set the tone for the on-route catering for the rest of the trip. Others who’d done organised rides before tell me that the usual fare is just a couple of dried up sandwiches if you’re lucky, so all credit goes to out excellent support crew who produced these lunches day after day.

Picnic lunch in a pub car-park
Picnic lunch in a pub car-park

As we got further into Kent, the lanes got narrower, windier, steeper, and more gravelly. And unfortunately the next item on my scribbled notes involved just such a steep gravelly lane. I was near the back of the group at this point and we’d spread out as we descended. I heard a vehicle pull up sharply ahead and thought something must be up, and sure enough seconds later I could see what: poor Jen was in a bit of a crumpled head on the side of the road, her bike vertically wedged against the hedgerow.  In trying to stop herself from going too fast down the hill, her wheels had slid out from under her on the gravelly edge and she’d gone straight over the top. The lady in the van had seen it and pulled up immediately to help. Thankfully, although Jen was bleeding in several places, and badly grazed on several limbs and even her face, there didn’t appear to be any serious injury. We gave the wounds a cursory wash from our water bottles and slowly helped her up to her feet. It looked like she was going to be quite sore for a while. The rest of the group waited at the next corner, where a delightful lady offered everyone cups of tea on her lawn (we declined) and the use of here bathroom for Jen to get herself cleaned up a bit (she accepted).

Jen’s bike survived the incident intact apart from a slightly misaligned back wheel. It was ridable, and Jen was game to carry on, so that’s what she jolly well did. And  good for her. She rode with us for another few miles until we next met up with the support car, where she decided to sit out the rest of the day and see how she felt in the morning. Probably a wise choice; the shock was probably beginning to kick in by then.

Leafy kent country lanes
Winding through leafy Kent lanes

Those Kentish hills got worse and worse, and most of us were defeated at some point and had to resort to a bit of walking. Only Ptol made it up every single one, including the final climb up the aptly named Castle Hill Road to the Dover Hotel. A big meal at the adjoining Brewer’s Fayre (after a stupid argument with the staff about whether or not we had a table booked) and then to bed.  In a room that was far too hot and too noisy to get much sleep. And with an alarm set stupidly early so we could set off to catch the first ferry of the morning.

87 miles later: Dover at last!
The Premier Inn at the top of the hill

And that, my friends, was day one. 87 miles in all. Except for Ptol who didn’t think he’d done enough for one day so shot off on his own to notch up a hundred.

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