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Tuesday 8 October 2019

Dulux London Revolution 300km Cycle: Smuggling Bodies, Losing Your Mates & Drinking In Your PJs

I knew it wasn’t going to be a normal day when I woke up at 5am, went to get a coffee and there was a leporid staring at me. 

No I’m not on drugs. Or carrots. I was staying at Becca’s house and had been introduced to the delightful ball of fluff that was Poppy The House Rabbit. And Poppy was currently staring at me, wondering where I’d hidden the rabbit treats.

I suspected this wasn’t going to be the only surreal thing happening this weekend. I was staying at Becca’s house as together we were going to be cycling 300km. Yep. That’s THREE HUNDRED kilometres. Becca had been offered a place by Dulux London Revolution Audax and like a good cycling buddy, had brought me along for the adventure. I am ALWAYS up for an adventure. Particularly when I hadn’t thought it through properly and had no real concept of how far 300km really was. 

It’s a loop around London, right? How bad can it be? All I knew was that I would be earning quite a few cakes for a 300km ride and I was totally up for that ...

4 hours later I was cycling through central London, dodging red buses, black cabs, wondering if every church chime I heard was from the Bo Bells and whether stopping at one of the many pubs I passed would be considered bad form.

But let’s backtrack …

My organisation game isn’t always the strongest and this isn’t always helped by my attention to detail. Or lack of it. My attention span is similar to a small child off its tits on blue smarties and Sunny Delight who has been told that Superman was giving prizes for the best jumping. Or a ball pit of toddlers who have just heard Baby Shark come on the sound system. As a result I’d managed to stick the wrong postcode into the sat nav and we were circling a fairly dodgy area in North London. if it wasn’t for the fact I was driving a clapped out Skoda, I’d have been expected to be challenged by the local drug dealers for touting on their area. As it was they probably took one look at the car and decided if this was the best I could do I clearly wasn't any good at dealing drugs and left me alone.

Finally after finally putting the correct postcode into the sat nav I found the start which was clearly signposted and had plenty of marshals in hi-viz … let’s hope my navigation is better on the actual ride. It wasn’t looking good. I was planning on following Becca.

There was plenty of car parking in a field, so we got the bikes out of the car, checked the tyres and juggling our bags made our way to the start. Now I made that sound fairly simple, writing it like that, didn’t I? It wasn’t simple in real life. We were allowed one cabin sized bag which sounds plenty. But for me, that’s my packing for a couple of hours out of the house. For 2 days of cycling plus a sleeping bag I would have liked a case the size of a small car. Well … ideally a medium sized car. 

Ok a van. I’d like a van.

I’d brought my triathlon bag and had shoved snacks into every crevice. Of the BAG. Hung a pair of trainers off the front and managed to shove my dryrobe inside it with virtually of all the cycling kit I owned. But there was nowhere for me to attach the sleeping bag. I tried trying it on with the shoe laces. No joy. But I heard that as rain was forecast, the organisers were suggesting we put our bags inside bin bags to keep them dry. Perfect. I didn’t have a bin bag in the boot of my car but I DID have a suit bag. Winner. I shoved everything into the suit bag and tried to look as though it was just me and my bike and a normal cabin sized bag, not a suit bag which appeared to be approximately the shape and weight of a dead body. I looked as though I was trying to smuggle a person across an imaginary cycling border. Or had killed someone (possibly someone who had suggested I take a smaller bag) and was attempting to dispose of their body. 

I finally got bike and bag and Becca and bike to the baggage lorry. Becca handed over her reasonably  sized bag with no issues while I propped my bike up against the baggage lorry and tried to hand over my ‘body-in-a-suit-bag’ baggage. Two things happened simultaneously. The chap in the baggage lorry shifted his weight causing my bike to fall over and the bottom fell out of the suit bag throwing sleeping bag, snacks, pants and dry robe all over the floor. 

Great. Bloody great. But at least they knew it wasn’t a body. Just a Tour De France Cycling Team’s worth of cycling stuff. There was nothing I could do. I tied everything onto the triathlon bag with the shoe laces. Tied the sleeping bag on with the cord. Tied the dryrobe on with the straps and handed the franken-luggage to the baggage man with a pleading expression and a silent request not to start on my snacks.

I then realised I’d left my phone in the car. 

Eventually we were ready. Becca was clearly beginning to wonder why she had invited me along and I was thinking about lunch. However as we came up to the colourful start of the London Revolution, we couldn’t stop smiling. There were colourful quill flags, the cyclists were chirpy and excited and the event was clearly well organised. The toilets had an attendant so they could get people in and out quicker without too much waiting, the water for bottles was clearly labeled and near the start and the start area was multicoloured and the marshals were enthusiastic. Becca and I looked at each other – eeek! We were ready to start our adventure!

300k … it was going to be a HECK of an adventure!

Becca and I got ourselves into our start pen and listened while the announcer gave us some basic safety rules. It was good to hear that there would be plenty of safety cars with us for the whole day keeping an eye on us and that the route was fully marked. I had the route on an app on my phone but Becca and I would be mainly relying on the route marking.

So that went well as we chatted away the first 2 miles and full of enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, we suddenly realised that we hadn’t seen a route marking for a while … and all the cyclists we had been following had also vanished. We stopped. And the cyclist behind us who had been following US also stopped. We introduced ourselves and Sarah and Becca turned into Sarah, Becca and Vicky. However, none of us could work out where we’d gone wrong. But we could see where we needed to be. So we went there. 

Within an hour, I’d had a quick education into ‘How To Cycle In London Without Dying Immediately or Being Killed by a Fellow London Cyclist’. Normal pack cycling rules were out the window. None of this ride elbow to elbow in twos and look straight ahead only. Nope. This was all about getting in the cycling and bus lanes for safety, getting to the front of the queues by undertaking the vehicles on the right (or else you’d annoy the cyclists behind) and being in single file or a big jumbly pack depending on the space available. It was definitely an education. And those big red buses? They give NO SHITS about cyclists. It was strange cycling so close to other vehicles on the road and due to all of the traffic lights it was surprisingly slow. But EXCITING.

Becca gave me a tour guides’ type verbal tour as we went along, pointing out the places of interest. The safety cars stayed close by, shouting cheery words out of the windows and checking everyone was fine and having no mechanical problems. It was like being part of a cycling team having them alongside. If it wasn’t for my shoddy cycling technique and having to stop at every junction for the red lights I could almost pretend I was part of a pro cycling team. 

Although I was clearly enjoying the guided tour too much as one of them told me the ringing bell I could hear were the Bow Bells. I was of course massively impressed to hear such a famous chime. II didn’t realise until 2 days later that he was having me on and we were NOWHERE NEAR the East End. Oh well. 

Cycling in central London was exciting, chaotic and as we went along the embankment seeing the London Eye and coming up to the Houses of Parliament, I realised how very lucky I was to cycle along such an iconic route. It really was something special.
But oh my goodness, it was SLOW. It took an hour to do 8 miles. But what views.

We were soon out of central London and heading towards Brixton. We went past Brockwell Park (where I’ve had a chilly dip in February as part of The Swimmer open water swim runs (Blog). I wasn’t getting off the wheels for a dip today though … places to go, snacks to eat, epic bike ride to do ...

Despite being more start / stop than BREXIT, the route had been fairly flat through Central London however the next 10 miles went from 93 feet to 793 feet of elevation. As we cycled towards Crystal Palace, the route gave us a few juicy climbs including Dulwich Hill which DID NOT END. I saw a London Revolution cyclist pushing his bike up this hill and really hoped that he had some long game strategy which involved walking this hill and smashing everything else or this was going to be a long day out for him as we weren’t even 20 miles into the ride yet. Dulwich College had some lovely buildings which I had plenty of time to look at it as I cycled up the hill. I’m not saying I was slow, but I had a LOT of time to look at it. Note: I was slow.

It was typical May weather which basically meant it was very changeable and had an English sense of humour. Every time it started raining, I stopped, put my rain jacket on and within 5 minutes it had stopped. If I didn’t put the jacket on, it just rained harder. And didn’t stop until I’d put the jacket on after which it stopped at the 5 minute point. Thanks then.

But I did get REALLY good at speed jacketing and de-jacketing. I’m sure that’s a skill that will come in handy one day when I’m a master magician and need to change my clothes in a hurry for a trick while cycling around London. **sigh**

It was a good mixture of people tackling the ride. Everyone from triathletes to serious cyclists to people out for their first century and cyclists on electric bikes. Every single person I spoke to was chatty and friendly and we all had a nice word to say to each other as we leapfrogged on hills or during snack stops. 

On every adventure, I’ve realised that while doing something out of the ordinary is motivating and pushing yourself to achieve is good for the soul, it’s the people who make the journey what it is. From the chap on the electric bike who told me as I went past him on the uphill that it was because ‘the friction of the motor’ was slowing him down to finding out that our cycling companion Vicky had grown up living one village away from Becca as a child. The husband and wife cycling together for a weekend away that was out of the norm to the competitive cyclists looking for their strava segments. The mix was  great and everyone had something interesting to say. 

I really enjoyed the route which had gone from cycle lanes, to roads to lanes. The scenery was stunning and each area had it’s own individual look and character. We cycled through Croydon, Warlington, Oxted and towards Titsey during which I realised I have the emotional maturity of a 10 year old boy because I will never NOT like that name. 

We got to the first aid station at Warlingham and I realised that I hadn’t been drinking enough and I had barely touched the bottle. That was definitely something to keep an eye on as I wasn’t just fuelling for today, but for tomorrow too. The first aid station was just refreshments so drink refills, loos and snacks. We’d been hoping for something more substantial as we had a lot of miles ahead of us still and we arrived later than we’d wanted having been much slower through Central London than we’d expected. However, I am NOT one to travel light and had food enough to feed probably 15 cyclists (and their support crews) and should we require something more substantial before the next aid station, I pointed out that there were plenty of village pubs to choose from. And wouldn’t that be TERRIBLE, having to stop at a pub. **cough**

As we were leaving the aid station, I noticed a girl upset so went to check on her. It turned out she’d been knocked off her bike and had fractured her elbow. She’d cycled 15 miles to the aid station with one hand to be picked up. We really felt for her and hope she’s had a speedy recovery. 

Becca, Vicky and I were thoroughly enjoying the lanes and the tree-shadowed small roads. The sun was out and every turn of the route brought another pretty view or small village nestled around a village green. The lanes were starting to have a few more climbs now as we cycled towards Redhill and Dorking and the famous Surrey hills. Famous for pain. The Surrey Hills are famous for pain. 

You wouldn’t know that we were riding a loop of London. The pretty lanes and tiny villages felt a million miles from the red buses and black cabs of Central London we had seen only a few hours earlier. If it wasn't for the route that had been mapped out so beautifully for us, I wouldn't have known that London was still within 20 miles.  Becca managed to sum it up by saying “I have 2 geography degrees and I still don’t know where I am”. That was pretty much how chilled out it was. It was lovely to enjoy the ride with no stress or pressure and just enjoy being able to cycle. It was bliss. 

We skirted Leith Hill wood and while we didn’t do the familiar Leith Hill climb, we were treated to a similar one with an alpine style climb on the other side. The loops were fun and the gradient certainly got the heart-rate into the red and it’s always a smug feeling to overtake other cyclists walking the same hill. I did however get brought back down to earth after flying down a lovely swooping downhill to have a good go at the uphill on the other side to lose half the snacks out of my snack bag … my momentum went as I came to a screeching halt and one of my fellow cyclists scooped them up and handed them to me. I’d never leave a snack behind … 

The second aid station was on us before we knew it and it was an absolute banquet. Stacks of snacks,  selections of sandwiches and dozens of deckchairs set out on the village green to rest in while scoffing our food. We secured our bikes on the specially set up poles and spent the next 45 minutes eating as much food as we could. Food always tastes SO much better when you’ve earned it with plenty of miles. We finally rolled ourselves back onto our bikes with full stomachs and got back onto the road heading towards Windsor, the day 1 finish line and a hot shower.

The next section was lovely. Sun-dappled lanes and a steady climb which meant when we got to the top of the hill the view just opened up around us. It was so so beautiful that I had to stop for a photograph before enjoying the long twisty downhill. Then Becca wanted a photo. Then a cyclist passing saw us taking pictures and asked for a photo and then another cyclist asked and another … and basically it just turned into Instagram in real life. A mass of cyclists taking photos of each other. Eventually we extricated ourselves and hopped back onto the bikes and away from the instagrammers … finish lines to find and showers to have. 

I enjoy cycling hills while Becca does not. Becca loves the flat twisty lanes but I love the thrill of a long steep climb. So when the route got bumpy I headed off for a bit of a play on the hills and then enjoyed the views before regrouping with Becca. We did this for a lot of the hilly sections as then we could both cycle at our own pace but stay together for the nice bits. I cycled a long hilly section and pulled in under some trees in a layby to wait for my cycling bud. After a while, I realised that Becca should probably have been along by now. Maybe she’d stopped for a snack? Or a toilet trip? I waited. And waited. And tried to call.

And started worrying.

A group of cyclists went past and I asked if they’d seen Becca. They hadn’t. But one said that he’d seen a cyclist along a section after a turn off but he wasn’t sure whether it was one of the London Revolution riders or not. I left a couple of messages for Becca and after a bit she called me back. PHEW! She hadn’t initially noticed she’d been lost but she’d realised that she hadn’t seen a sign for a while. The route was so well marked that that was what alerted her to the fact that she was lost. We turned on live locations and she decided to try and come to me while I stayed in the same place to mark where the route was. I didn’t move in case we both ended up lost and off route.  

Becca is super-smart but her geography degrees didn’t include random electives such as ‘Working-out-how-to-get-to-the-food-at-the-end-of-a-sportive’ and ‘How-to-find-Sarah-again-when-on-an-epic-adventure’. While Becca and I were waiting to meet up, the safety car and one of the marshal cyclists turned up to check that we were both ok. I confirmed we were fine but Becca had wanted some bonus miles. It was really reassuring that we were all so well looked after in this event. There were loads of signs, plenty of people supporting at the Cheer Stations and we regularly saw the Safety Cars. It was lovely. 

Becca turned up, bonus miles completed and correct route found and we set off for Windsor with one of the marshals riding with us towards the finish. Probably to check we didn’t unintentionally add MORE additional miles in but it was nice to have a chatter and to have a bit of an escort to towards the finish.

As we drew closer to Windsor, we were riding towards a stunning red sunset and as we turned into Royal Windsor Racecourse, there were quill flags lining the route in beautiful colours. It was one of the loveliest finishes ever. We were tired but so pleased to have cycled this amazing route over this long day and as the road wound towards the finish line, there were flames lighting the finish funnel. It felt very special.

We were tired, hungry and definitely a bit fragrant so we put our bikes into the security paddock provided by the race organiser and went along to pick up our luggage and find a shower. Everything in the race village was really close together and the pick up point was very close to the camping area which was close to the showers and loos and also the food tent. Everything was within about 200m which was brilliant particularly with tired legs. 

There were rows and rows of identical, perfectly pitched tents. These were to be our bed and shelter tonight and all we had to do was crawl in! We picked up a mattress, sleeping mat and a blanket each (plus everyone got an extra if they wanted it!) and were assigned a tent each. I was tent 166 and Becca 167. We dropped everything into our tents and had showers in a portable shower cabins. Plenty of hot water and a clean shower – perfect. However, Becca and I realised we’d forgotten our shower gels but luckily about 20 people had left shower gels in the cubicles so we had a range of gels and smells to choose from. 

I got dressed in my pyjamas with my DryRobe over the top and Becca got into her onesie and we wandered over to the food tent in the evening dusk. Food was included and dinner was epic with cooked food and pudding and plenty of both. We had a little visit afterwards to the beer bus where we both had a drink. It was the first time I’d been out in public in pyjamas (even if I DID have a DryRobe over the top) and certainly the first time I’d been served an alcoholic beverage while wearing PJs and we probably looked a little unusual but no shits were given. Deckchairs were set out around fire pits or you could sit inside a marquee with tall heaters. There was yoga and live music but Becca and I were content to chill out and drink cider with the warmth of a fire pit keeping us toasty.

We were too tired to drink more than a couple but it was so lovely to be warm and cosy in our PJs with a cold beer, tired legs and the thought of another amazing day of riding ahead the next day too. After our 2 beers, we went back to the tents and I crawled into the private cosy warmth of my tent and sleeping bag. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear someone snoring a few tents along, but wrapped in my sleeping bag and DryRobe and with my headphones in, I fell asleep toasty and warm.  

Day 2: Windsor to Edmonton

Alarms had been set but not too early. We’d had an epic day yesterday and we wanted to enjoy today too. I have something I like to term my Triangle of Grump. If one of these 3 is not satisfied I’m grumpy: sleep, food, warmth. 

Coffee is also VERY important. 

We had an epic breakfast with plenty of choices and after dropping our luggage and mattresses off and picking our bikes up from the secure compound, we were ready to hit the road again. I was awake, fed and warm. It was looking like a good day. 

It was a gorgeous morning and the weather forecast was divine. Unlike yesterday which had lots of showers, today was set to be a scorcher! The waterproof was packed away and I decided that today was to be a Work-On-The-Cycling-Tan kind of a day. The cycling jersey stayed on for 30 minutes before it was off and packed away for the day. 

Heading out of Windsor, we initially thought we were hallucinating before realising we were near Legoland.  Crossing a roundabout and seeing statues made out of Lego in the middle in the road was quite bizarre! It was certainly unexpected and for a reasonably early start I wasn’t sure whether I was having a ‘Not-Enough-Coffee’ hallucination. But nope. There were definitely lego animals staring back at me. 

The lanes were busy with Sunday cyclists out in multicoloured kit. The car drivers hadn’t yet surfaced and the roads were the domain of the cyclist. The lanes were smooth and pretty in the sunshine and it must have been lovely to enjoy as your local ride. We passed plenty of village pubs making an early start preparing for the Sunday dinner rush and the scents of good food filled our nostrils as we cycled past in the sunshine. 

I loved having the quiet roads without worrying about car drivers making close passes or overtaking in dangerous places. Sunday morning really is the perfect time to cycle. And in the sunshine and in pretty lanes? Divine. 

There was a lovely descent at one point and the road turned back on itself in a hairpin bend. I had an early warning as the safety crew were standing in the road shouting “SLOW DOWN!!” as the cyclists came to the bend. I slowed down like a good little cyclist and gave them a thumbs up. As I passed I laughed and said “You’re spoiling the fun!” but I was glad for the warning as it was a properly tight hairpin bend and if they hadn’t been there, I probably would have shot over the end of the road and ended up in a tree below.

And that would have been fun explaining to the coach how I broke my leg falling out of a tree on a cycling weekend. 

Time went really quickly. Good weather makes everything 10x lovelier and good company helps even more and I wasn’t letting Becca too far out of my sight after her detour yesterday. She might have wanted bonus miles but she wasn’t allowed any today! 

We cycled through some idyllic-looking villages and as we came into Marlow we crossed over a beautiful white bridge which spanned the river. After we crossed, I spotted some signs showing the road closures ready for the Marlow 5 running race. We’d managed to make it over the bridge just in time before it was closed for the runners!

I’d checked the route map beforehand and noticed that today there were only 2 really juicy climbs and overall 2000ft less elevation than yesterday. It was quite reassuring as despite my legs feeling quite fresh and happy right now, I wasn’t sure how fresh and happy they’d feel after another 70 miles. And I didn’t want to have to cry while cycling up hills. I didn’t want rust on my bike, thank you very much,

The day really was gorgeous. It was one of those fresh bright early summer days when everything looks bright and pretty. Winding lanes, quaint English villages and a scenic route. It really was perfect.

One of the lovely things about this event was that there were plenty of organised cheer spots for spectators … most of which were conveniently at pubs. And the later you were through, the more pints had been consumed and the more enthusiastic the cheering was. It was the perfect combination for both cyclists and spectators! At one of the pubs a man was cheering on all the riders with a pint in his hand – and he had a London Revolution transfer on his forehead! - he was one of the cyclists. He’d clearly noticed how much fun the supporters were having and decided he wanted a piece of that before continuing with the bike ride! 

On one of the longer hills, Becca decided she wanted to take it steady and I wanted to see if I could get my tired legs working so I went up it hard. I got to the top and decided I might have time for a quick wee in a hedgerow before continuing but had to wait my turn as it was clearly a popular spot. While I was waiting with other cyclists, a van watching us (bike envy?) rather than the road, missed the corner and drove up the verge. He managed to avoid the ditch and the sign somehow and saved the van before landing it in the hedge but it really was a bit of a wakeup as to how much damage a van could have done with just a moment’s lapse of concentration. That moment’s lapse could have killed or severely injured a cyclist if they’d been at that spot when he’d done that.  Bike handling skills are really really useful for cyclists as are an awareness of surroundings but sometimes you really are at the mercy of the drivers around you. However, that was the only near-miss I saw. 

There was quite a mix of villages, towns and lanes. We ascended a steep road which I was assume was a millionaires row of some sort. Each house was very large and very individual. Some were quaint old English-style with a crooked tile roof – but clearly built recently. Others were modernistic and futuristic with strange angles and some designed to look like old village cottages. Each house was enormous but was only about 5ft from it’s neighbour. It was a very strange eclectic mixture. It felt as though each person wanted a unique house with 10 bedrooms but was scared of being too far from their neighbour in case of something horrifying like a stock market crash or some better money-laundering laws. 

We were on the final leg of our adventure now and when we reached the last aid station, we felt quite sad. It signalled that our lovely adventure was almost over. We’d cycled around 160 miles at this point and it was a sunny day, we’d had a brilliant time and after this aid station, a few more miles and it was over. 

We racked the bikes up and went to get some food and the crew let us know that they were running short on sandwiches so they’d dashed out for some extra ones. As we waited, they came back with bag after bag of sandwiches. It was typical of what we’d seen over the weekend – it really felt like the crew and events company cared about the participants. The whole weekend was full of great little touches – extra blankets, really great volunteers, the safety crews checked on us every time they went past and chatted. You really felt valued and looked after. 

We sat in the glorious sunshine as we ate our sandwiches but soon it was time to hop back onto the bikes. We were off the lanes soon and coming onto larger roads as we came closer to London and our finish. We noticed that the closer to London we got, the worse the driving became. People became more impatient with the cyclists and we weren’t given the space or courtesy that we’d had in the lanes and villages. But it was fun to be back in the mix with the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Despite being nearly 300km into our longest bike ride, Becca and I were still smiling. We couldn’t quite believe that we’d achieved such an epic distance and had such lovely adventures. As we came towards the finish on familiar roads, we spotted the colourful quill flags in the distance and the finish line came into view. 

We looked at each other and laughed in delight at what we’d managed to do. What an epic journey!  

We crossed the finish line together smiling our biggest smiles.

300km? Smashed it, mate.

Fancy a go at this ride? You can enter it here: DULUX London Revolution. It’s 155 miles in 2020 rather than 200 and you can choose the one day or two day option. There’s a festival at the halfway point and you can choose to camp. 

Edmonton  - Windsor **cough QOM cough**

Windsor – Edmonton:

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