Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Ginger Menace Strikes


In July I received my start time and start details for Ride London. My start time would be 7.30 am and my number was 30205.

It wasn't as good a number as say 72 but 30205 was MY number.

It was starting to feel real now. I had a number and everything. This was actually going to happen.

I felt that physically I was ready. On a club ride Hannah, who does triathlons asked me if I was "tapering"  or basically reducing my training load prior to the big event.

That seemed a little too professional for me but on second thoughts was a great excuse for all kinds of questionable behaviour.

Cream cake ? Yes please I'm tapering.
A few beers ? Yes please I'm tapering.
Cocaine and hookers ? Yes please I'm tapering.

OK maybe that's stretching it a bit. Definitely no cream cakes.

I now started to obsess about other things like the logistics of the trip and in particular if the bike was in good condition.

I morphed into a bike hypochondriac.

What is that noise ? Where is it coming from ? Does the chain need changing? Are any components worn ? Do they need changing ?

Like an over anxious new mum with a new born baby I had that bike into the bike shop on several occasions to have it checked out and then back again because I was hearing funny noises.

By the way new mums, don't take your new born baby to the bike shop, it was just a metaphor and it's not the right place.

In the end I decided not to ride my Specialised for a week before the event to eliminate the risk of new faults developing and because I was mentally exhausting myself worrying about every little rattle and squeak coming out of it.

The Missus would be coming down to London with me. Annette had originally applied to do Ride London herself. I had secretly hoped she wouldn't get in because selfishly I wanted her to look after me.

" I hope you don't get in" I said to her " I need you to look after me" 

OK maybe it wasn't that secret after all.

"What do you mean look after you ?!"

"Well, you have got to be my soigneur when I go down there. I need you for physical and emotional support and to possibly run a few errands for me. That's the situation. Deal with it ! "

"In fact you can start now" I continued, pushing my luck "My shoulders are a bit tight darling, a nice shoulder massage would be much appreciated"

"Hang on a minute darling, I think you are mixing up massaging and strangling ...Arrrghhh ! "

So apart from the one incident of attempted murder that all went rather well. That's exactly how it went down and once I'd bought the engagement ring she was fully on board.



We were staying at the Premier Inn on the Olympic Park in Stratford. As the event was starting from the Olympic Park there was going to be no problem getting to the start the next morning.

Packing up the car for the trip down was a bit of a military operation checking the bike and accessories were stowed as well as kit, clothes, GoPro, etc. 

However when I came to check the GoPro there was a problem. I was planning to record the whole ride for which I needed a spare SD memory card and spare batteries. These would need to be changed over at some point on the ride. 

The spare SD card had gone missing. I didn't understand where it could have gone as I had laid everything out the night before. The guilty party soon presented himself.

Chester helping with enquiries
"Was it you ?! " I boomed at the suspect " Where have you put it ?!" I continued trying to put the frightners on.

"Alan he is a cat" said Annette "He is not going to crack under questioning" 

"Oh I don't know love he looks guilty as hell to me give me another 5 minutes with him and I'll have a confession"

"Have you looked under the table that's where he normally deposits things he's stolen"

And lo, that's where it was complete with teeth marks. However I had it in a plastic sleeve so the card itself looked OK. No need to test it I thought. A decision that would come back to bite me (pun intended)

Chester was bang to rights and his punishment was prison for 3 days. 
Chester In Prison With His Cell Mate

After Annette had dropped the cats off at the cattery we got on the road for the trip down to London.

I really hoped that this time my experience of London would be a good one. I don't want to be down on our nation's capital but over the years I have found London to be an expensive, overcrowded shit hole.

When I get on the tube for the first 30 seconds I find the experience new and exciting. When the novelty has worn off after 31 seconds I just find it a giant pain in the arse. From the moment I arrive in London normally I just can't wait to go home. I think there is a name for this type of attitude ..oh's called "being a northerner".

 "No it's not called "being a northerner" " replied Annette as I reminded her of my opinions on the way down " It's called being a "miserable bastard" ! "

"No I'm not having you saying " I want to go home" as soon as we get down there" she continued "You might be going down there for a bike ride but I want a nice weekend away and you are not going to ruin it for me ! "

Bit touchy.



We arrived in London at about 4 pm on the Friday after a predictably tiresome journey where the only highlights were an attempted picnic that was aborted due to wasp attack and a flurry of merriment when we saw a sign for Trumpington.

"Hey look at that. Fancy living in a place called " Trump......ington ! "  "

Oh yes the long winter evenings fly by in our house.

There was time on the Friday evening to get to the Excel Centre to register for the ride and pick up my numbers, final instructions and Ride London kit bag.

Words Fail Me
During Saturday we scouted out the starting area, checked out where I had to be and did some touristy stuff looking around the Olympic Park. 

 By the way the Arcelormittal Orbit .....why ? 

In the afternoon Annette went shopping and I sat in the hotel room in my underpants watching rugby league on the TV, being northern and formulating my plan for the ride the next day.

I wanted to get round as fast as possible both in terms of moving speed and overall time. This meant avoiding getting bogged down at feeding stations. 

Hence, I would carry all the food I needed with me. 

As far as water was concerned there would be 2 big bidons on the bike. This would not last the whole ride so I had to pick a spot where I was going to refill my water.

There was a drinks station at the top of Box Hill that was 69 miles into the ride. I could make my water last that far and then refill at the top of Box Hill.

Annette Pins My Number On - That's The Spirit !
Another consideration was the start. 

I was going to be waiting at the start for a good hour before I got going. 

To stop me using my precious reserves of water on the bike if I had a small bottle of mineral water in my back pocket I could wet the whistle if I needed to whilst waiting. It could also serve as an emergency water supply on the ride.

Another thing to obsess about was the contents of my saddle bag. The bike was fitted with a large saddle bag. It was bursting with stuff. 

Hundreds of inner tubes (OK , four ), CO2 inflator & canisters, tyre irons, multi tool, Go Pro batteries, SD card, spoke key, chain splitter and spare links. 

I have never used a chain splitter in my life but I had one in that bag.

After Box Hill there would have to be one more stop to change the GoPro battery and SD card. That would surely be just a 5 minute job and I would play that by ear....... 

In terms of pace I knew I had to avoid my usual rookie mistake of going too fast too soon. There would be plenty of people blasting past and I didn't want to get suckered into trying to keep up with people who were far better than me.

In the calmness of the hotel room sat there in my underpants the logical approach would be to ride within myself up to the top of Box Hill and then empty the tank over the last 30 miles.

OK I had a plan. Now all I had to do was execute it.


A Throng Of Cyclists
The alarm was set for 4.45 am. I didn't need it. I was already awake.

At 6.15 I was fed, watered and ready to go at the front of the hotel.

All that remained was for Annette to take a photograph of me looking anxious and I was off for the 5 minute ride to the start line.

By 6.30 I was in my allotted start pen taking the first of my many photographs of a throng of cyclists.

The Legs Of A Throng Of Cyclists
As I had an hour to wait I tried to sit down as much as possible on the curb to rest my legs. I began taking the first of my many photographs of the legs of a throng of cyclists.

After 30 minutes they started to move us towards the start line where there was the obligatory DJ come MC blasting out music and talking like Smashy and Nicey.

Smashy announced (or was it Nicey ?) that we had some celebrities starting in my wave.

Would they be "A" listers ? 

John Inverdale ( BBC presenter ), Sam Bailey ( X Factor winner -2013 ) and Jenny Faulkner ( TV presenter ) .

Going Over The Start - John Inverdale Is Close By !
The fact that I had to put who they were in brackets tells you that they were a lot further down the alphabet than "A".

And then at 7.30 am on the dot my wave was started, I rolled across the start line and my Ride London experience was under way.


I had ridden in mass participation events before but immediately the big difference of this event was apparent.

Going The Wrong Way Down A Dual Carriageway !
After a couple of minutes I found myself on the A12, a major arterial dual carriageway going to the heart of London surrounded only by fellow cyclists.

This was weird. Was it a trap ?

Were we only being lulled into a false sense of security before the cars, lorries and buses made a surprise appearance and mowed us down ?

Well I certainly wouldn't be doing this event again if that was the case and Boris would get a sharply worded letter.

I needn't have worried. It was not a trap.

It did take some getting used to not looking out for vehicles particularly when we went through underground and tunnel sections of this major road.

I had never been in a road tunnel except when driving a car.
This Is Different
Once at the north bank of the Thames the ride moved west past the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral and The Strand before popping out into Trafalgar Square.

The iconic names just kept on coming. Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Knightsbridge. Was I on a bike ride or a massive Monopoly board ?

Yes I know Knightsbridge is not on a Monopoly board.

Then further out into West London the ride crossed the Thames at Chiswick Bridge and shortly thereafter the urban and city scape was replaced with the green open spaces of Richmond Park.

I looked down at my Garmin which told me I was already at the 20 mile mark.

Wow, that had gone by in the blink of an eye.

Going into the park naturally slowed everybody down. It was time to get some food and drink down. I chomped away on the first of my energy bars. A bar at every 20 mile mark was the plan. Pretty soon I would be sick of these energy bars but anything to keep the dreaded cramp away.

Coming Onto Trafalgar Square

The pace had been frenetic and I was going way too fast. There would be a reckoning down the road if I kept this up.

However, whilst my brain was fully cognoscente of this fact the message was not getting through to my legs to knock it off a bit.

There had been a mutiny in my body, something else was in control.

As my bike handling is so poor I knocked it off a bit for food and drink to avoid a crash. Then it was back to the wholly inadvisable pace I was doing.

Exiting Richmond Park I pressed on to Kingston and Molesey going through Hampton Court Park where I saw my first prostrate cyclist of the day. She was being tended to by paramedics in the middle of the road.

The terrain was pan flat here so she must have come to grief by a touch of wheels.

Note to self. Do not fall off.

Richmond Park
I certainly didn't want a ride in the air ambulance that was landing on my right as I pedaled into Molesey.

Walton On Thames and Weybridge were next with good natured crowds lining the route followed by Byfleet, West Byfleet, Ripley and West Horsley.

After West Horsley at the 44 mile mark the ride started to move into more hilly terrain.

The Newlands Corner climb on the A25 between West Horsley and Gomshall was a wake up call. A one mile climb with an average gradient of 5 % . As I coasted down the other side having set the 15893rd fastest time on this Strava segment I was feeling stressed for the first time on the ride.

Air Ambulance Landing On The Right
I looked down at the Garmin and as the total distance covered hit 50 miles the ride time was almost exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Whilst my brain was not in control of what my legs were doing it was still able to work out that I had just done 50 miles at an average speed of 20 mph.

Absolutely a personal best but surely suicidal.

I knew Leith Hill was coming up around the 57 mile mark so now when it was too late I decided to start conserving some energy.

The next climb up to Holmbury St Mary took it out of me as well. This was a gradual climb over 3 miles and when I pressed the accelerator to go faster there was less and less oooommf there. My turbo lag was getting longer and longer until it was ...just plain old lag really.

A rider who perhaps was feeling the same way as me asked

"Was that Leith Hill mate ?"

"I am afraid not pal" I replied "That is still to come"

Once through Forest Green there was a sharp left hander and that was it we were on the Leith Hill climb.

Leith Hill - Not Much Banter Up This One !

1.4 miles with an average gradient of 6.5 % and a maximum of 12 %. I wasn't expecting it to be easy but equally I wasn't expecting it to be as hard as it was.

There was no chance of me scampering up this like a mountain goat. I stuck it in the bottom gear and ratcheted my way up. There was a lot of people suffering on that climb. No banter. No chit chat. Just the sound of creaking bikes and creaking cyclists no doubt wondering why they were doing this.

Things got a little tight for space at times with the narrow lane, the field bunching up and the odd person pushing their bike.

The top of Leith Hill was a welcome sight and came in the nick of time for me as I started to feel some warning signs for cramp in the legs.

"Well that's what happens legs"  I scolded myself  "when you disobey direct orders from the brain."

There was now an 8 mile down hill section (mostly) running through Abinger down to Westcott and Dorking. Time to recover or try and recover at any rate before Box Hill came along.  I tried to shake my legs to loosen them off as that's what I see the pros doing on the TV.

All I achieved in doing that was to veer across the road alarmingly so I stopped doing that.

The ride was returning to more built up areas now and going through the town centres with the roads barriered and the public clapping was pretty cool.

Box Hill was upon me all too soon.  I was pretty keen to get to the top and get off the bike as my arse was killing me now. 69 miles without a stop was enough for me. However I knew that I was still at risk as far as cramp was concerned and there was no way I was going to be tempted into standing on the pedals.

Box Hill - Call That A Hill ?

It seemed everybody was going past me on that hill as I stayed sat down in an easy gear and just made steady serene progress. My experience in the Tour De Yorkshire was uppermost in my mind. I was not going to stop part way up this hill with a cramp attack and cry like a baby on the side of the road.

In Yorkshire I don't think they'd even call Box Hill a hill. It would be a pimple or a mound or perhaps a lump. They probably have cracks in the pavement with a higher elevation in Yorkshire.

It was certainly nothing to be concerned about which was a great relief to me and my failing legs. At the top I rolled into the drinks station and dismounted much to the relief also of my derriere.

Drinks Station Top Of Box Hill
I had just about exhausted my 2 bidons so the timing was just right. Annoyingly I hadn't touched the small bottle of mineral water in my back pocket and therefore I had just carried it unnecessarily around with me for 69 miles.

After refilling my bidons and a quick comfort break I was on my way again. With only a third of the ride left to go I was already tasting all the forbidden foods I was going to tuck into when this thing was over.



From the top of Box Hill there was a 5 mile down hill run to get to Leatherhead. There was opportunity to get the average speed back up again. This is where I hit my maximum speed of the ride which was a very conservative 43 mph.

There were many people doing a banzai on this stretch. Not for me thank you.

Banzai Section To Leatherhead

However, occasionally the road did kick up again and when it did it was clear that I was not firing on all cylinders. On the flat I could get my speed up to 20 mph but as soon as a hill ( or gentle upward slope ) came along and I had to push harder my speed was coming right down.

To continue the engine metaphor my engine management warning light was on and I was in safe mode to get home.

Hello Good People Of Leatherhead
When the ride time had reached 4 and a half hours I was looking out for my GoPro battery to run flat. This was a slightly precarious business to keep looking down at the camera to see if it was still on whilst surrounded by so many other cyclists.

Eventually I clocked that the camera was off and I pulled to the side at the 80 mile mark just after Oxshott.

I would change the SD card as well as there was not enough memory left to record the rest of the ride. It was a bit fiddly and thank heavens it wasn't raining but eventually battery and SD card were changed and I switched on......what's this ?!

The camera was displaying an error message " SD ERR " and it wouldn't work. I must have been stationary for about 15 minutes trying to get the thing to work.

Slowly it dawned on me....that cat !! It looks like the chewing that Chester gave the spare SD card had rendered it useless.

I only had one option and that was to put the original SD card back in which still had some recording time left on it but not enough to record all of the ride that was left.  I would have to only switch the camera back on when I was sure that it would last to the end of the ride.

After all I didn't want to miss crossing the finishing line.

As I rejoined the stream of cyclists heading for London I decided that Chester's sentence would have to be go through judicial review. I would of course advocate the case for the death penalty but no doubt Annette would plead it down to a stern talking to followed by a tummy rub.



After the GoPro debacle the final few miles whizzed by pretty quickly.

After Esher there was a return trip through Kingston and then to Wimbledon and across the river again at Putney.

Not The Best Shot Of Big Ben You'll Ever See
Then all of a sudden I found myself cycling along the north bank of the Thames in central London with obviously just a few minutes to go before the end of the ride.

I started to reflect on my "journey".

There had been a lot of miles covered to get to this point figuratively and metaphorically.

I was proud of how I'd improved on the bike and the work I had done off the bike in raising money for the charity.

I was relieved I had done it, it was over and I had achieved what I set out to achieve.

I must confess as I cycled along the Thames there was some chin wobbling going on.

Just as I began to wallow in sentimentality and the Simon Bates " Our Tune" theme was playing in my head I pulled myself together.
Just About To Go Under Admiralty Arch

I remembered that I am British, I am male and I am from the North.

Emotions must be suppressed and buried deeply. Serious issues must be trivialised and made light of.

Thank goodness I remembered my heritage just in time otherwise I could have let myself down in front of those soft southern pansies.

The end was surreal.

Firstly I went past the Houses of Parliament where I distinctly heard the sound of expense forms being filled in (little bit of politics there) and then all of a sudden wallop I was on The Mall.

Let's Get The Celebration Right !
I could see the finish line a short way ahead. Just how would I finish ?

No way would I take both hands off the bars as I would fall off immediately.

Maybe a Superman punch and a roar like Bradley Wiggins on the final time trial stage of the Tour De France 2012.

Or maybe more reflective like an 80s power ballad singing to a clenched fist. Or maybe a fist pump with a "get in ! " . Or maybe ....hang on what's this ?

Just Over The Finish Line - The Mangled Bike
The announcer at the line was warning there had been an accident at the finish line and everyone should slow down and be careful.

Sure enough as I crossed the line there were paramedics around a gentleman who was laid out on the floor.

It was a nasty one and his bike looked like he had hit a wall at high speed as the front wheel was caved in.

Just how does that happen on an open road with no obstacles on it ?

Buckingham Palace, Some Cyclists & Jonathan Edwards
That is why my official finish line photo does not show me grandstanding but looking confused and startled.

There is no way I am paying £17 for that !

I rolled up to the front of Buckingham Palace and stopped at the throng of cyclists waiting to get into Green Park.

Oh, there's Jonathan Edwards.



Having now returned to Barton and drowned the cat in the bath....I'm kidding...I killed him in the I'm kidding honestly. 

I have put together a video of the whole ride speeded up so it only lasts 12 minutes.

That is the whole ride minus about 10 miles of course !

I have watched it all the way through only once as it made me feel dizzy, nauseous and sick. However I have spent ages putting it together so you can all bloody well watch it.

If you have read all the way to the bottom of this blog you must be one of my hardened fans and therefore I thank you for reading the blogs leading up to my great Ride London adventure.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to Alzheimers Research UK via my page and to all the members of Cottingham Road Club who have both helped me get fit for this challenge and supplied material for my blogs at the same time.

Similarly thanks to all my friends and family particularly Annette.

I think like Harper Lee I will now retire from public life and resist the clarion calls to write more at least for a little while.

I am looking forward to letting myself go a little and indulging in some of the treats that I have been denying myself of late. 

For example I have just got myself a rather nice chocolate brownie to eat....hang on where's that gone ? 

It was just next to me a minute ago........CHESTER !!! 

To make a donation towards the vital work of ALZHEIMERS RESEARCH UK please click on the link below. Thank you very much.


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