And so another epic bike ride ends. Epic? Well, maybe not. But it was a very good one.
Saturday the North Devon Downhill Cycling Club set off from deepest Devon to make our way to the smoke. Two hundred miles along quiet roads to London, so that we could take part in the annual London to Brighton ride in aid of charity.
Two of us had done it before. A few years ago, Mark Bazeley, the madly magnificent melodeon player from Dartmoor Pixie Band persuaded me (against my better judgement) to join him. And, I have to say, I had a great time. So much so, that when he asked me again this year, I agreed with alacrity. And then set about persuading some other long-suffering friends to join us.
Thus it was that five of us jumped into the Frangle bus on Saturday night. Mad Mark, Franglepop, Del Boy, the Bagman and me. Two bikes rested inside the van, three were hooked on the back, and being five sensible, careful fellows, the drive went without major mishap. Not, however, without ribaldry and a fair number of insults! We reached the prestigious and salubrious hotel (Travelodge, Battersea) and devanned moderately late.
What a joyful arrival that was. Three rooms for us all to share, all defined as “family” rooms, which meant that for our extra few quid, each room was set up with two separate beds. In theory.
Personally, I was happy with the thought of sharing a bed and saving the cost of a third room, but my middle aged companions viewed this concept with more than mild panic. Something to do with potentially wandering hands at night, or something. Which is why, when they saw that Travelodge in their wisdom (yeah, wrong word there) had forgotten to set up the spare beds, and that was a double bed to be shared in each room, there was some terror in the eyes of the poor darlings. A visit to the reception desk helped. We were allowed one spare sheet per room, and the chance of making our own beds, one sheet to put on the sofa … One duvet to share between the two beds? For that were paying over a hundred quid a room? Never again, Travelodge. Never again.
Still, we managed to sleep. A bit. I will pass over the whistling, the rasping and the other sounds emanating from the other side of the room. And the other, still worse ones. Suffice it to say, my unnamed companion proved that his ability to sleep was undiminished by sounds of sirens, cars and (later) birdsong.
I was glad he slept so well. Really I was.
Up early, we prepared ourselves for the ride. Bikes all there? Check. Slab of cold smoked meat for my breakfast? Yup. Bowl of cereal for Bazley? Gone. Onto the bikes, and off we went.
For the LtoB, there is a certain amount of paperwork. Tickets to catch a bus back fro Brighton to the start, a ticket for the bike for the same journey, a card that must be stamped at the start and end of the ride, and a ruddy great lump of paper with the rider number on one side, and little details on the reverse, mainly covering next of kin and such delights, which must be pinned to the shirt.
And it is necessary. Both times I’ve done the ride, there have been ambulances picking up wreckage. Men being carted off on stretchers, men with backs and necks in braces, claret everywhere. Usually it’s at the bottom of steep hills in the last quarter of the ride. There were two bad ones I saw this year. Hopefully both are ok now. I hope so.
Anyway, we cycled the three or so miles to the start and waited for the off. The beginning is always staggered (with 27,000 entries, it has to be), and we were off soon after 08:30. People everywhere. Although the roads were more or less clear of cars, there was no view ahead whatsoever. So we pedalled gently, taking it easy in the crush. But we couldn’t avoid mishaps.
Along the first sections, all the bollards in the middle of the roads had a large stick with a warning notice nailed to it. I didn’t understand why at first. Surely anyone would see those large bollards? But, no. About three miles into the ride, I saw one of them lying in the road.
‘Someone had a good night, last night,’ I chuckled merrily and lightly to my companion, and then saw a familiar figure alongside it. When I had assumed a car had hit the thing the night before, in fact it was my mate the Bag Carrier, who had been pedalling happily with an apparent wall of bikes before him, only to find the masses parting like the seas before the Israelites, to reveal this flaming hazard. And it had no pole and sign to warn him.
It wasn’t life threatening, but even a slow speed knock like that jolts you, and we had to pause a while for him to take some essential nutrition on board, a Mars bar, and collect himself before we could carry on.
Off we toddled, towards the south. Past Mitcham and Banstead, up How Lane into Chipstead, where I was raised, and where we had our first break. Very nice, it was too. I had a nutritious bar and a cup of tea. Bazley had a huge bacon sarnie with a cuppa, then a sweet bar, then another cup. Why he stays so skinny, I’ll never know.
Off again, along the High Road, down to Bletchingly, and for the first time, had to debike and walk for a bit – just too many people on the road to be able to pedal.
Another fifteen miles or so to the next stop. There Bazley had the largest ice cream I’ve ever seen. And a cake. He wanted another bacon roll, but eventually decided against. I had a cup of tea. Another ten miles, and we stopped again. This time he had another bacon sarnie, while the others had some cake. I had a cup of tea.
You get the picture? This was a Bazle feasting party. Every time we stopped, he had to restock his belly. In the most shameful manner. While I had cups of tea. One doesn’t wish to be a glutton!
Mind you, that stopped at Ditchling Beacon. We had a shower or two in the lead up to it, and while it was cool, we were all warm enough after forty miles not to even think about putting on the wet weather gear. At the bottom were loads of people cheering us on, and three youngsters who stood in the road to touch hands with all the riders, a sort of gentle low five in encouragement. I was suspicious: seven miles before, two kids had appeared with enormous water cannons to drench the riders. I retrieved my water bottle and gave a battle cry in retaliation, and they bolted at the sight!
Still, I’ll pass over the climb itself. The Beacon is noted for its brutality. Not many riders can make it to the top. About a mile and a half of one of the steepest roads in the country, I think. But at the top, glorious views, and an ice-cream van or four. So, what do bikers do? We chatted, we laughed, we rested – and then we retrieved our sticks from the bikes, Bazle fetched his daughters’ toy melodeon, and we danced the Ockington four man stick dance. Silly? Possibly, but it also seemed to do our muscles some good. It certainly made mine feel much less tired.
From there it was an easy last seven miles into Brighton. Almost entirely downhill, I’m glad to say. We rattled down in good order, and soon reached the finish, where we danced the four man again.
That was about it. It was already getting on, so we went to queue for fish and chips, until we realised we weren’t far off the time for the last bus back. It would have been embarrassing to miss it, so we gave up on chips, and cycled off to the buses. Which is where I came nearest to crashing – purely lack of concentration on my part, I hasten to add. Apologies to the young lad I nearly met head on. The one with the very round eyes and wide mouth.
We got back to London at about half nine, and hung around for our bikes to be returned to us, and then it was about ten fifteen before we got back to the van and got the bikes stowed away. From there it was a lengthy drive. But we managed to break it halfway or so. Bazle needed a half chicken and chips at a service station.
And he’s still skinny.
That was last weekend. This Sunday, more lunatics will ride the Dartmoor challenge. It’s rather more serious than my little saunter (take a looksee at http://www.dartmoorclassic.co.uk/ ). The first ride is not far off the LtoB ride, but the difference is, between London and Brighton there is an embarrassing dearth of hills. Not so round Dartmoor. Here there are lots of hills, and none ‘minor’!
So, good luck to the challengers on Sunday.
Meantime, I have to tot up the total of the donations to the British Heart Foundation. I think I took in a fair few pounds. It’s a good charity, anyway, for a bunch of five middle-aged men to support! If anyone feels inclined to help the charity, please go to British Heart Foundation donations where you can add to my sponsorship.
And now: back to book 32!
Forgive any typos. This was typed on my iPad, and I am still not quite as accurate as I would like to be!