The day is finally here.
I thought it was going to be an emotional send off, but not so. Being a wee bit late I was keen to hit the road, and my daughter was keen to feed the ducks on Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. My wife had happily agreed, or so it appeared, to haul our overnight bags between hotels, and act as support vehicle if we got in to trouble.
I was due to meet up with Brian and Tony at the Cutty Sark at 8am, but getting to the start line at Hyde Park had already left me running 20 minutes late.
A rushed bike setup, a couple of photos, and a few hugs saw me hit the quiet Sunday streets at 7:30 am.
It felt great to be on the bike. I’d dreamt and planned this for almost a year, but to finally be on the bike, cycling through London, was exhilarating. Within minutes though I’d taken a wrong turn, or rather not turned when I should have turned, and needed Google maps just to get me from Hyde Park to Wellington Arch. A quick course correction saw me passing Buckingham Palace, and as I crossed Westminster Bridge the bells of Big Ben rang out with their good wishes.
Once on the south bank I followed National Cycle Route 4 to the Cutty Sark, which took around 45 minutes, arriving just as it started to rain.
After a quick hello, Brian and Tony, whom I had never cycled with before and whom were much more experienced at the art of balancing on two wheels, hit the road.
After a lot of Internet research I had chosen to follow Chris Smith’s route out of London, which pretty much followed National Cycle Route 21 down to the M25, a checkpoint I’d mentally set for 11am.
Following NCR 21 was fairly easy but we did manage to lose our way around Lewisham and once again in Addington. Chris Smith’s route occasionally left NCR21 which is where navigating the streets, parks and woodland paths became tricky and time consuming. By 11:45 we were only just at The White Bear, near Fickleshole, where we’d decided to stop for a coffee. Unfortunately it was closed, so we pushed on hoping to pass another pub or coffee shop, but no such luck. At least the rain had stopped though.
Punctures during the morning came thick and fast. My first puncture (ever) came after a short trail through a park. Next up was Brian, who had also never had a puncture before, despite riding for several years. Then Tony, after a wet trail through some woods. And finally, my second puncture came after a steep ascent on a wet gritty road.
We finally crossed the M25 around 2pm, 3 hours behind schedule. Our spirits lifted briefly, but we were running on empty, desperately looking for a cafe or shop to grab some food, and then we missed a turning ending up a couple of miles off route. Frustrated by the lack of progress, it was at this point we decided to ditch Chris Smith’s route and go with our backup plan, Google Maps.
From here things quickly improved. Sticking to good roads we soon came across the William IV pub near Bletchingley where we took an hour to recuperate and fill up for the push on to Newhaven.
Now we were on good roads, if a bit busier, we covered the miles much quicker, but the long hills were punishing. My bike locked up at one point and I found the back wheel hanging off, which I’d clearly not fitted right after my last puncture.
Four and a half hours after our late lunch we rolled in to Newhaven, just as the sun set.
Our long cycle had taken its toll on everyone and we all just wanted to crash out, but I knew I needed food. We had dinner in the Brewers Fayre adjoining our Premier Inn then I lathered my legs in freeze gel and slept like a baby.
What a first day. 82 miles, 4 punctures and 3,800 feet of ascent. Made it to Newhaven just in time for bed.