Less than a week after the Exmouth Exodus me and Alan took on the Friday Night Ride To The Coast (FNRTTC) from Hyde Park Corner to Whitstable. We had originally intended to get a train to Victoria, do the FNRTTC, then ride back from Whitstable to Maidstone. That would have been about 100 miles of riding. When I checked the train times, I noticed that the fair was £17. “Bloody hell, that’s a bit steep! I may as well cycle to London as well”, I thought. And so I decided to ride to the start and meet Alan there. The overall distance for me would now be about 140 miles. “Hmmm”, I thought. That’s so close to 150 that I might as well go for that; it’s only another 10 miles. Then I wondered how far the next big km target would be, 250k. I converted to miles and got 156 roughly. Well that was only another 6 additional miles, so I decided to go for the whole 250k experience.

The ride consisted of four distinct stages for me:

  • Home to Hyde Park Corner (~40 miles)
  • HPC to Whitstable (~70 miles)
  • Whitstable to Maidstone (~30 miles)
  • Random route to make up the miles (~16 miles)

In contrast to last week, the weather forecast predicted dry conditions and a westerly tailwind, but a slightly chilly morning. I wore longs and long-sleeve roubaix top and took my rain jacket in case I needed a bit more warmth. I rode the Colnago (25mm on Shamals).

Stage One – Home to Hyde Park

Distance: 40.9 miles. Elevation: 2213 ft. Average: 14.6 mph

I wanted to reach Hyde Park Corner in the most direct way possible and initially considered riding all the way to Catford on the A20. But I didn’t really fancy the thought of that so I changed it to what transpired to be a really great route. I set off at 20:10, about 15 minutes later than intended, which meant the first part of the ride was at a faster pace than I would have liked, considering the mileage that lay ahead. I travelled along the Pilgrim’s Way until Otford and then through Shoreham and Chelsfield to Orpington, which signalled the end of the dark country lanes as street lights became the norm.

My parents’ house was en-route and I stopped there for a quick chat and a toasted cheese sandwich! Then it was on with the ride as I travelled down the very familiar streets of South East London through New Cross and Camberwell to Vauxhall Bridge and then on to Hyde Park Corner by 11:40, which was just about right, although I hadn’t left myself much leeway in case of punctures, etc! I had really enjoyed that 40-mile stage, although the plethora of traffic lights over the last few miles, most of which seemed to be stuck on red for no reason, started to get annoying.

Stage Two – Hyde Park Corner to Whitstable (FNRTTC)

Distance: 67.7 miles. Elevation: 2353 ft. Average: 14.1 mph

I met Alan and the other riders for the FNRTTC under Wellington Arch. Our names were checked off and we were given instructions about how to signal to each other, etc. It was a friendly group and very well-organised. We set off at midnight and headed straight for the embankment, along which we travelled all the way to London Bridge, where we stopped to regroup. This being a group ride and with riders of different abilities and different machinery, stopping to re-group was a major factor of this ride.

We rode through Deptford to Greenwich, Woolwich, Plumstead, to Dartford and Gravesend where we re-grouped but then continued to wait because we were ahead of schedule for the mid-way food stop. Someone had called ahead by phone and was told that they hadn’t finished buttering the rolls!

We reached the food stop at 03:15 and tucked into some delicious rolls and cake and a cup of tea. Everyone was pretty-well finished by about 03:55 and ready to go, but then we we were told that we were ahead of schedule for the café opening in Whitstable so we had to hang around until 04:25!

After another ham roll, we duly set off again. Between there and Faversham we stopped another six times, totalling 40 minutes of waiting around, ostensibly to re-group, but also to waste time to prevent us arriving too early.

After Faversham things got more interesting as the pace picked up over the final 8 miles to over 20 mph average. We arrived at the café at 07:30, whereupon I tucked into my second full English breakfast in as many weeks!

Just over an hour later, Alan and I left to head home.

In so many ways this was an extremely well-organised ride. There was good communication by email before the event. During the ride there was ‘rolling marshalling’ whereby riders would take it in turn to wait at crucial junctions to make sure everyone went the same way, and there were riders at the back to make sure no-one was dropped. But I found the waiting around very frustrating. In the 7½ hours it took us to get from Hyde Park Corner to Whitstable, we were only moving for 4:48, so we were stationary for more than 2 hours and forty minutes!

If there was one more criticism of the ride it would be the practice whereby the whole group would wait in the middle of a sleepy village at 4AM (for example) and talk reasonably loudly right outside people’s houses. Additionally, many times riders would shout (yes shout!) “HOLE” to warn other riders of a pothole. Again this would be in the early hours in an otherwise almost silent village, and it wouldn’t be just one rider shouting “HOLE”, but many, as they all warned each other. I found this practice to be extremely unsociable and had me thinking “no wonder cyclists get such a bad press!”

Stage Three – Whitstable to Hollingbourne 

Distance: 21.6 miles. Elevation: 962 ft. Average: 14.7 mph

Me and Alan left the café at 08:35 to make our way back to Maidstone. The wind was slightly against us now but it was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining. The route we used entailed a nine-mile continuous, but gradual, climb through Newnham and Doddington to the top of Hollingbourne Hill.

After a fast descent into Hollingbourne we stopped at the bottom to have a quick chat before going our separate ways. Checking my Garmin I saw that I had more miles to make up than I had been hoping for. Alan suggested a road I could use to go via Lenham. I topped up my water in the pub before setting off on the fourth and final leg of this marathon.

Stage Four – Hollingbourne to Home

Distance: 25.6 miles. Elevation: 1273 ft. Average: 13.1 mph

The final stage consisted of my riding around in a pseudo-random fashion, checking my Garmin to see how many miles I needed to ‘use up’ and then trying to guess how far I was from home. Somewhere near Lenham I estimated that I should be able to head for home with sufficient mileage on the clock.

As I got to within a few miles from home I couldn’t remember how many miles there were in 250 km. Would 155 be enough? Or was it 155 point something, in which case I would need to do 156 to make sure. In my head, using the ‘1 km=5/8 of a mile’ rule, I got a figure of 156.25, which was even further than I had thought. I was sure that the 5/8-rule was only a rough guide. I needed to know for sure. So I stopped at the top of Hunton Hill and used my phone to convert. I noticed my phone was extremely low on battery and there was hardly any signal! But luckily the conversion was done – it was 155.34 miles. Excellent! So all I needed to do was to ride the one mile home. Just at that point my Garmin (for the first time since I have owned it) warned of low battery. The thought that I might somehow lose all the data for this, the longest ride I had ever done, alarmed me!

Luckily I got home with all data intact! The time was 12:25. I had been cycling off-and-on for the past 16.25 hours without having had any sleep since Thursday night. After I got in and uploaded the data, I went to bed for 4 hours, after which I got up because I had to be in Bromley for 18:30!

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