We all have dreams, right?
Last weekend one of my dreams became reality.
I set the date for my first cycling challenge, spread the word via social media and set to work organising it.
Myself and 35 brave souls rose in the very early hours of Saturday morning on the 1st of February. We met in East London at 5am and cycled 145 miles from London to Bristol. We cycled through blue skies, gales, flooding, mud and rain all in the name of adventure and beer.
Cycling and Beer
I used to dream about being an athlete sponsored by a beer company. The two go hand in hand, right? You challenge yourself and endure the pain of the latest crazy adventure you and your friends come up with. You celebrate in the pub with mud and sweat dripping from your lycra and come up with the next challenge.
This is what I love to do and why I do it.
It's 5am on Saturday 1st February 2014, BrewDog Bar Shoreditch.
The bar is filling up with cyclists dressed from head to toe in lycra, chatting and making friends. There’s a nervous excitement in the air. I look around and notice that people are smiling – that’s a good sign, it’s very early for a weekend. I can’t believe everyone is here, this is happening.
The weather forecast issued gales and flood warnings for the SouthWest, and in particular our destination, Bristol. Our only option was to ride and embrace whatever came our way.
BrewDog's best selling ale, 5am Saint was on offer but only one brave soul took the plunge!
At 5:45am we headed out into the night. 145 miles of road to conquer.
We cycled through the dark streets as one big group to Richmond Park. Our group began to stretch out as first light crept over the hills and lit up the London skyline. Bingo, we had our first puncture.
I can remember cycling along, smiling to myself as I listened to the buzz of everyone chatting to each other. No more organising to do, time to relax and enjoy the ride.
The aim was to nail 90 miles before the first stop, lunch at a little village called Pewsey in Wiltshire. Simple right? What could go wrong?
We meandered out through West London and over the Thames. Of the 35 people on the ride, 40% were people I knew and had cycled with over the years, 20% were female. It's always great to have more ladies, but the ones there were true gems and I can't wait to do the next challenge with them. Thanks for coming girls!
For the first half of the ride we couldn't believe our luck with the weather. Stunning blue skies and not too cold.
Around mile 45 the support car with Jonathan, Charley and Riccardo caught up with us. They did a fantastic job helping us with route, topping us up with water and Jackoat bars and driving Anna around so she could fix punctures. Riccardo, our resident photographer captured the action as it unfolded.
We thought we had escaped the flooding, we were wrong!
Most of us in the group I was in took our shoes and socks off and walked through the flood. It felt adventurous. We found out later everyone else went for it and cycled straight through. Of course...
About 10 miles from our lunch stop the weather changed. Cycling uphill and into a strong headwind with 80 miles in our legs was the first real test of endurance and ability to dig deep. Lured by the thought of lunch in the pub we encouraged and helped each other tackle the hill, beat the wind and cycle the last few miles into Pewsey.
At lunch I enjoyed hearing how everyone else on the ride was getting on. It turned out that all the groups (bar the two leading cyclists) stopped for lunch here and left just as the next group was arriving. This meant the information travelled down the line and reassured me that everyone was doing well.
Lunch involved soup, omelette and chips. Everyone tried to dry their socks and gloves by the fire. Service was slow so we ended up staying there for about an 1hr 1/2 but it was the first and only rest stop of the day.
It was now 4:30pm and starting to get dark. Some of the group made the wise decision to take the train from Pewsey to Bristol and meet us in the bar. We had been making fairly steady progress which was fine when it was light and the weather was good, but now we had neither of those on our side and another 50 miles to go.
What matters is not finishing at all costs, but challenging yourself, your limits and comfort zone and knowing when to call it a day.
Alastair, Emily, Anna and myself headed out into the dwindling light to tick off these last 50 miles. Before we left I commented that the distance we had left was "just a London to Brighton bike ride", perhaps not the most motivating thought! I knew we would get there, just need to keep spinning those legs and take it one mile at a time.
The following 25 miles was some of the most memorable riding of the day. We had been cycling since before sunrise and were continuing after dark. This created a feeling of adventure, we needed to have our wits about us as the fatigue and cold started to kick in. The rain was constant by now but we hardly noticed it biting away at our faces. Our focus was on overcoming the challenges ahead; map reading in the dark, managing the increased risk of cycling in the night and motivating ourselves to avoid letting our speed drop.
In theory, the last 15 miles should be easy. You've already done 130, what's another 15...
In practise they are often the hardest.
Mentally you're already there, your mind starts to think about drinking beer in the bar with your friends, getting off your bike and eating food that's not energy bars. However, without that focus from your mind on the task at hand, your body can struggle to produce the goods. This is what I love about endurance. The relationship between body and mind and how you utilise both to achieve more than you ever thought you could.
It was 9pm as our team pulled up outside the BrewDog bar in Bristol.
What a welcome! Riccardo was there to take a snap of Team Smash-a-Lot, as we'd named ourselves. Cold beers were thrusted into our hands, hugs and high fives all round. It was amazing to see everyone there, 15 hours after we'd all left the bar in East London.
What a day! We shared tales of adventure whilst drinking 5am saint and Punk IPA.
I went to bed tired and happy.
Thanks to all who helped me make it happen.