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Cycle from London to Penzance

Cycle from London to Penzance

I spent 3 days, starting on Thursday last week, cycling just over 310 miles from London to Penzance. Planning to spend two nights in random hostels or B&Bs on the way; I planned to grab the last train back from Penzance into London Paddington leaving at 1740 on Saturday.

Cycle to Penzance
Cycling with my new friend Paul

Originally I wanted to visit Stonehenge for the first time and it is a convenient 100 miles from home. Then I thought why not push it down to Penzance for a bit more of an adventure.

The weather forecast showed Thursday as being brilliant in the 20s but Friday and Saturday being complete downpours. With the anticipation of doing another long distance ride (like London to Barcelona a few years ago) I wanted to push through the wet and even carry my laptop to see how reasonable it would be to have that on the road. Turns out having a big heavy laptop is the opposite of ideal and I re-learnt the same lessons from the Barcelona ride – the less you can take the better.

Therefore for my next long ride I will take a spare change of clothes for the evenings, toiletries and some cables to charge phone/camera. That is all. Anything else you just don’t need but the weight seriously hinders you on big hills.

Stone Henge
Stonehenge

Having reached the 100 mile goal to Stone Henge (where you have to pay £8 entry) on some fairly flat roads by about 3PM, I pushed on for another 22 miles with a commuting cyclist I bumped into (Paul) – the only cyclist of the day I met! Finding a rather cosy pub (The Somerset Arms – run by new owners Tim and Dee) I settled in for a nice hot meal and a warm evening sitting in their garden.

Starting on a cold and misty Friday morning at 6am I got on with my target of 100 miles for day 2 to make the last day just 80 at most. Having got lost several times, trying to avoid the A303’s scary dual carriageway, I found myself climbing a lot of short hills, only to come straight down the other side and immediately climb another. This continued for the whole morning giving me an astonishingly slow pace which made me question whether reaching Penzance, especially with these heavy bags, would be reasonable in my target of 3 days.

Fortunately there wasn’t the torrential downpours that the MET office predicted, which made me feel a nice sense of satisfaction as I passed their headquarters in Exeter in the early afternoon. My friend Daniel (who I cycled to Paris with recently) did a summer placement in Exeter last year and warned me of the ridiculous hills to come in Dartmoor. This time I was prepared for the hills, knowing I just needed to keep the legs turning and eventually (maybe) I would get to the top and could relax. After 6 miles of climbing and some nice descent I came to the final short 20% gradient climb into Moretonhampstead; with 2 hours of sunlight left and about 15 miles short of my 100 mile target I decided to push on – despite immense fatigue. Shoveling down chocolate, haribo and Mountain Dew; I just didn’t want to have to do these climbs the following morning when I had a train to catch!

Strong calves
Strong calves

I finally came to Princetown, which I later found to be one of the highest villages in England meaning lots of downhill the following day! They also had a large prison close to the hostel I was staying in which was a surprise to see getting over the last hill.

After a ridiculous amount of ribs I called it a night ready for my final day. Approximately 85 miles to go by 5pm.

Ribs!
Ribs!

I had a terrible night sleep in the bunk beds but had to get on with my final day if I wanted to make my train. By 630AM I was on the road again hitting even steeper longer hills than I had experienced the day before. Again my speed in the morning was slow and I seriously doubted making it. Morale was at an all time low when the rain began to pour down. This was all ahead of the serious thunderstorm warnings that afternoon. I couldn’t do much so chuckled to myself in the traditional British sense. I knew I had to press on through it. Thankfully it let up after half an hour and the sun same out to dry me off and warm me up.

 

Bad forecast for the last day
Bad forecast for the last day
Sad Bike
Sad Bike

The final push through Cornwall was nice and easy compared to the Moors. However a couple of local cyclists warned me of some serious hills on my way to Penzance (which never showed up). They obviously hadn’t been to the Moors! So much so that I got the second last train of the day to get into London for a reasonable time for a nice big dinner! Very excited to see St. Michael’s Mount and a great sense of achievement given so much doubt over the previous few days.

St Michales Mount
St Michales Mount
Penzance
Penzance

On the train home I met a man called Sammy who just completed John O’Groats to Lands end in just over 8 days. Having completed several challenges (e.g. walking across the whole of Spain and I believe a sail across the Atlantic) he was inspiring with his “why not?” attitude to adventures. We both agreed that carrying the least amount of weight is paramount to enjoying any sort of long distance trip.

Sunday was a big recovery day – despite naturally waking up at 630 and not being able to get back to sleep. But the endorphin kick was nice at energising despite most of my body aching.

 

I took a fair bit of footage on my GoPro and hope to get the time to turn it into a small montage soon.

Until the next adventure!

Cycle from London to Paris within 24 hours (June 2013)

Cycle from London to Paris within 24 hours (June 2013)

Dan and I were very excited on Saturday to set off, but having decided that we wanted to complete the ride within 24 hours, as it has a better ring to it, we needed to set off later in the day. We decided 1400 was a good time to allow us a casual ride to Newhaven via Ditchling Beacon and Brighton to have fish and chips on the beach.

We could barely contain our excitement but managed to meet at Westminster bridge at 1345 and waited impatiently to take a picture with Big Ben at 1400.

Ready to go at 2pm
Ready to go at 2pm

The ride to Brighton was quite a relaxed pace without many stops. We did plan to stop at turners hill for some late lunch but found the kitchen closed at 1500 when we arrived at 1605.

At the top of Turners Hill half way to Brighton
At the top of Turners Hill half way to Brighton

You always get to meet interesting other people and cyclists on the way; we bumped into some guys doing London to Paris (Marble Arch to the Arc de Triamphe), but taking 4 days instead of 1 to do it.

We continued all the way to Brighton only stopping for a short rest just before the “green beast” or “devil’s dyke” that is Ditchling Beacon. Whilst waiting, having a chat on a bench, about 40 other cyclists also doing London to Brighton showed up. This was fantastic timing as it allowed us to overtake most of them on the way up and it gave us people to chase.

I also managed to see a one armed cyclist make it to the top which was a new one! Very, very impressive.

(Ditchling Beacon climb video to come!)

Without stopping at the top for a breather we continued to Brighton for the obligatory photo next to the pier! 55 miles in 3 hours 45 elapsed cycling and just over 4 hours in total.

Reaching Brighton Pier ready for fish and chips!
Reaching Brighton Pier ready for fish and chips!

After a fish and chips, cheeky couple of beers and a 99 Flake we took the unnecessarily undulating road to Newhaven slowly. Just under 10 miles away, it was one of the windiest conditions I have ever cycled in.

Finally making it to the ferry stop an hour and a half early we took a quick nap until we boarded to sleep in the wonderful luxury accommodation for the 4 hour ferry.

Sleeping in the ferry waiting room
Sleeping in the ferry waiting room
Daniel asleep on the ferry with cushions on the floor - smart move!
Daniel asleep on the ferry with cushions on the floor – smart move!

We met another cyclist on the ferry who was a doctor and documentary maker who was delivering a sentimental DVD of a family he worked with on a documentary about triplets in Geneva. He was cycling there and back in just two weeks! Incredible.

Getting into the bitter cold with not much sleep at 4 am is a little painful, especially with no street lights and not knowing which side of the road you are meant to be one, but you can push on with the cycling and get a lot of miles knocked off before most people even contemplate waking up on a Sunday!

It's cold at 4am!
It’s cold at 4am!

After a beautiful ride along the Avenue Verte (40 miles of a paved over railway line that is brilliantly flat and incredibly smooth) where we took turns to take the headwind, we stopped for a breather at 615 with 40 miles under our belt. Just 65/70 odd to go.

With energy levels starting to drop we ate all the food we had: haribo, snickers, flapjacks, trackers and energy bars as well as a full bottle of Lucozade. We were like ravenous children consuming all sugar sources available.

With a new found burst of energy we continued for an hour until we saw a patisserie where we filled up on the water we desperately needed, as well as some pain au chocolats and croissants.

Slightly tired and confused having done close to 50 miles before breakfast
Slightly tired and confused having done close to 50 miles before breakfast

Again pressing on for another hour and a half we took shelter when the rain started in a small cafe for a coffee, then back onto the undulating hills to grab a quick breather in a bus stop another 20 miles down the road.

From here on in we knew we would be too excited to stop before reaching Paris just 40 kilometres away. Using Google maps with the route pre-loaded we could track our progress without needing to use the data.

Unfortunately just going past Pontoise, Daniel hit an odd pot hole or something and somehow managed to snap one of his spokes, immediately buckling the wheel. He tried to loosen the brake as much as possible but the bike was wobbling from side to side. It was like trying to run straight down a path whilst being pulled violently to one side every couple of seconds.

Snapped spoke
Snapped spoke
Unhappy speedy
Unhappy speedy

We decided to hit the train station conveniently next to us and see if we could get a train in. However feeling like it was cheating and with one working bike remaining I ruthlessly took the opportunity to get back on and meet Daniel at Paris Gare du Nord where this station had a train that also conveniently went directly to for just 5 euros. We could then check the bikes in for the Eurostar and have lunch around the corner at Montmartre. Perfect. And I could still complete the last 20km before the 24 hours was up (23 if you stay on English time).

I met another cyclist on the way into Paris who was taking part in a ride around Alpe d’Huez for the 5th year. It’s a 5000m ascent in just one day which he completes in about 10 hours; but the pros do in just 5 hours! This is a serious ride. Ridiculous.

We met at the station and completed the ride (albeit Daniel skipping the last little bit) in just over 22 hours door to door.

Shattered, but we made it before 24 hours!
Shattered, but we made it before 24 hours!

Checking the bikes into the Eurostar and grabbing a big meal we felt a weird sense of confusion as just a day ago we were setting off on a ride from home in London. Now we were in Paris. Soon to head back as well! A strange dream that leaves us exhausted.

Wandering round we found a discount clothing store where we got 2 sets of novelty tee shirts and jumpers for €20 (since all our other stuff was soaking from the rain) and grabbed a shower in a local gym after making a shady deal with the duty manager.

Heading back on the 1913 train to kings cross we were shattered, but still buzzing from the excitement of it all.

I hope to do this ride again with more people at some point, perhaps a little slower (so let me know if you are interested). But for now I want to get off the bike and regrow my gentleman parts.

Cycling to Paris within 24 hours: Preparation

Cycling to Paris within 24 hours: Preparation

A friend of mine (Daniel Speed) and I are planning a bike ride from London to Paris this coming weekend (8/9th June 2013). We are attempting to complete the ride in less than 24 hours. I have done the ride to Paris twice, but spent a really casual day down to the south coast of England both times.

Paris on my bike
Getting to Paris when I cycled to Barcelona

We are going to complete London to Newhaven on Saturday – leaving from Westminster Bridge at about 1400. Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe at 2230, getting in at about 0430 Sunday morning. It will be very cold there in the middle of northern France at that time, even in the summer, so we will be taking tracksuit bottoms and a hoody to keep warm. Fortunately the sun will be up before 0600 which makes for less dark riding with head torches.

There are about 45 miles of perfectly paved over railway line (called the Avenue Verte) from just a few miles after getting off the ferry. We will then stop at about 0700 for some breakfast once it is light enough, warm enough and cafe’s are open! Then onward for another 70 odd miles until we reach the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Hopefully, since there are only two of us which shouldn’t slow us down too much and we can benefit from drafting each other, we will be there by about midday/1300 on Sunday for a nice lunch at a local cafe in Paris. We are then taking the Eurostar back that evening. All good fun to complete London to Paris within 24 hours!

All in all about 180 miles (65 miles for London to Newhaven, then 115 miles for Dieppe to Paris). Easily do-able!

Reaching Brighton with Dan Speed (middle) and Dan Sherry (left) a couple of years ago
Reaching Brighton with Dan Speed (middle) and Dan Sherry (left) a couple of years ago

Normally I load up Google maps on my iPhone whilst in wifi range (or within the UK on data) and look at the whole route at a sensible zoom level to be able to tell all the turnings I would need to do. They then get cached so you can still track your position (as GPS runs off a separate system) and look at the map without having to incur ridiculous costs of data roaming. Also it is a lot cheaper than a Garmin that a few friends have needlessly bought!

I used the Cycle Meter app on the South of France ride where you could pre-load a GPS map, but again you would have to load the maps over data to see the exact turnings. This app was very good if you pre-load your route on it – which I am going to attempt to do this trip…if I get time!

Below is a picture of some of the things we need to take:

  • Water bottle
  • Multi-tool
  • Spare inner tube(s)
  • Tyre levers
  • Gloves
  • Bandana (to keep you cool during the day and warm in the early hours of the morning)
  • Helmet
  • GoPro (attached to the helmet)
  • Phone charger
  • Converter to charge phone on ferry
  • Lights (front and back)
  • Speedometer
  • New batteries to put in my lights and speedometer
  • Deoderant, toothpaste and moisturiser
  • Phone case for handlebars
  • Passport

 

Preparation
A few things to make sure I have

 

There are some obvious things like making sure you have enough tread on your tires, pumped up tires, a well lubricated chain, enough brake pads and general decent standard of your bike.

I will let you know how we get on – now to charge everything up!

Route we will take in detail:

Saturday:

London to Brighton along the normal route I take to Brighton, then an extra 10 miles on to Newhaven where we will take the ferry at 2230 and arrive at Dieppe at 0430.

Westminster bridge, Brixton, Purley, Turners Hill, Haywards Heath, Brighton, Newhaven. I hope to upload a GPS map too but here is a Google Maps version as I find that nice and easy to use.

Sunday:

Early start and head south from Dieppe, along the Avenue Verte for about 45 miles, Neufchatel-en-Bray, Forges-les-Eaux, Gournay-en-Bray, Gisors, Pontoise, Trocadero. Google Map

 

Norwood Charity Cycle: South of France 2013

Norwood Charity Cycle: South of France 2013

I just completed another charity international bike ride in the South of France. We cycled 3 days from Cassis (close to Marseille) to Cannes, via Toulon and St. Tropez. Approximately 100km a day for 300km in total.

Group picture 3 (1)

There were about 20 cyclists in total, along with a service user of Norwood – James – who was on the back of a tandem (a serious challenge) with Nigel.

Another great group of people along with beautiful weather and food. You can watch the video I made on a desktop machine (as the music I used cannot be accessed from a mobile or tablet device).

The video I created for the November ride in Sri Lanka you can watch on a desktop machine (as the music I used cannot be accessed from a mobile or tablet device).

If you would like to donate to the cause please do so on my giving page: www.virginmoneygiving.com/dezzy.

I am also planning another ride to Paris (but for a personal challenge) next weekend: more information to follow.