Despite horrendous wind and rain for the entire week beforehand, the night looked promising. The wind was dying down and rain wasn’t forecast until Sunday afternoon. Surely too good to be true?! My brother turned up at my house wearing shorts and tshirt. Clearly he had seen the weather forecast and taken it to extremes, as he hadn’t brought a jacket. After laughing at him for a while, I decided to lend him my Aldi softshell jacket, which is actually a man’s jacket. He quite suited it. We were both wearing our Shelter tshirts, as we were both raising money for Shelter.
After eating dinner and chatting for a while, we set out for Crystal Palace. I hadn’t really checked to see where we were going but luckily we managed not to get lost on the way to the start – embarrassing moment avoided. We stood around for ages and judged people, because we’re nice like that. There were a lot of people riding terrible bikes, there was a lot of high-viz and there were quite a few people wearing the Aldi jacket. We are bike snobs… We spotted a man with one leg and vowed that we needed to beat him (see – nice!!).
Groups of 75 cyclists were setting off in five minute intervals, all kitted out in the high-viz vests provided, and shunned by us. Our departure time was 23:45, and we started getting into position a few minutes in advance. We then managed to completely miss the start as we hadn’t switched our lights on and I think I was still eating a cereal bar. But finally, at about 23:48, we were on our way!
It became apparent early on that we were a lot faster than the majority of people. It also became apparent that we were a lot noisier than everyone else, as we spent the first 20-25 km shouting quotes from The Wire and District 9. The route was quite circuitous and I lost my bearings fairly quickly. Lots of south London, including more salubrious parts such as Lee, Catford and Bermondsey. It was all quite uneventful.
The first stop was near Tower Bridge. J failed to spot the bridge, despite standing right next to it. He started chatting to a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) with a carbon bike. The man ended the conversation by noting J’s race number and saying “see you at the next stop – got your number” in what seemed like a friendly way but as we thought more about it, seemed like it might be a bit creepy.
From here we headed over Tower Bridge and into the City. I got annoyed at the number of people jumping red lights and irritating screechy woman who could be heard from wherever you were within the square mile. We rode to Bethnal Green with a very stroppy club rider, who may have been the most ill-tempered man ever but at least he stopped at red lights and could ride in a straight line. Someone fell off their bike – I’m amazed more people didn’t, there was some diabolical riding.
The Docklands were interesting at first, gleaming metal and mirrors jutting up into the sky. The route took us round and round and round the Docklands though, so I lost interest. I started shouting at the red light jumpers (including two girls also riding for Shelter). Finally we left the Docklands and headed up to Mile End and the second stop. I changed the battery of my rear light, we ate a cereal bar and headed off.
From here we rode to Dalston and Hackney, where J got in an argument with some boy racers. They told him to “f*ck off and pay some road tax”. Nice, original and so accurate! We rode almost past my old house in Stoke Newington and then up to Finsbury Park. An aussie couple high fived us in the street, absolutely hammered. From here the pace picked up a little as we shot up the Harringay Ladder and towards the half way point. A group of Spanish revellers stood out in the road cheering us. I attempted to chat to some of the riders around me but they were having none of it. Alexandra Palace edged nearer.
As we spun past the back of scenic delights such as Wood Green shopping centre, I reflected on when I’d last been up to Ally Pally. I used to live nearby and learnt to drive in the park (I realised after I passed my test that learner drivers are not allowed up there). The views are incredible, and I love the old building. However, knowing this meant I knew that it was a pretty steep hill up to the palace. It didn’t disappoint, but I made it up, and to the half way point! Hurrah!
We ate our (frankly revolting) sandwiches and admired the view, then made use of the surprisingly not too bad portaloos. I spoke to a very large man in a very tight skinsuit, riding fixed. He was showing off in front of his mates so I told him I’d seen a guy half his size, also riding fixed, going twice his speed.
The night time chill started to set in and we set off again. I wasn’t feeling tremendous, and after about 5 minutes my stomach let off the most almighty gurgle. And then continued to make very, very unsettled noises. I started to feel very sick and wracked my brain thinking of what I’d eaten that might have disagreed with me. Other than a vile cheese sandwich, nothing. I was getting shooting pains in my stomach every minute or so and if I moved too much (difficult not to do on a bike) then I thought I would vomit. We rode on and it suddenly felt very dark and very cold. A lot of the time we seemed to be alone, and I think if J hadn’t been there it would have been even less fun than riding with a stomach bug already is.
After an unpleasant hill and lots of north London streets that I didn’t recognise, we finally reached Hampstead. I was feeling no better. But never mind, here was a down hill! We rolled down, down, down… then realised we hadn’t seen any route markers for about 2 miles. Slight panic. Eventually we pulled over and stood around aimlessly for a while, until some other cyclists came along and confirmed that it was the right way. Phew. The route markers were a bit hit-and-miss throughout the whole ride, actually. Sometimes they were very clear, other times not at all so.
Near Camden we were overtaken by the skin-suit fixie man from Ally Pally, but only because we were STOPPED at a red traffic light. Tut tut, Mr Cool. What wasn’t quite so cool was when him and his mates had a head-on collision with a boris bike, and the police got called to the scene. Afterwards, J had a chat with them about what had happened. They were still acting all cool and eventually J wandered off as a bacon sandwich was more interesting than anything they had to say.
We rode past the zoo and south into central London. For some reason the route went through Covent Garden, a stupid decision (and I told the organisers) as no one likes cobbles at 3am, particularly on a road bike with skinny tires. From here it was a quick trip over Waterloo Bridge to the Imperial War Museum, the final break point. We stopped for about a minute then pressed on. I can’t say we were loving it by this point. We were tired, I was sick and we had seen enough cereal bars to last a lifetime. I knew we were very close to my house and this did not help with motivation as I quite wanted to slope off home and to bed (or to the bathroom, to be more precise…).
Still, onwards we went, past the back of the Oval (where I resumed my sightseeing duties and remembered to point it out to J), past Vauxhall City Farm and towards town. It was quite light by now and we high fived some cheerers on Westminster Bridge. After enjoying the glassy surface of Whitehall, we headed west and past the Ritz. A taxi driver slept in his car and we gave him envious looks. We continued out to Kensington, where we went past the Royal Albert Hall (it always looks so small from the outside) and the museums. I chatted to two French guys. At least I think they were French, they might have just been well dressed. J and I discussed the lack of appeal the V&A has for us. The route turned south and over Battersea Bridge, where I neglected to point out the power station as I was busy describing how a friend of mine had once done a pee off the bridge.
The route from here was pretty dull. Clapham, Streatham, South Circular, Tulse Hill, West Norwood. On the South Circular J and I admitted to each other that we were starting to hallucinate. I saw several animals running across the road that really weren’t there. I felt clammy, tired and my stomach was really letting me know it wasn’t happy. But finally, the end was in sight, with only Central Hill to ascend. Central Hill is the pussy way up Crystal Palace but I had to get off and have a rest as I felt so unwell. I had some final words with myself and jumped back on the bike, rode as quickly as I could up the hill and into the park, where I left my bike with J and spent 20 quality minutes in the portaloo.
100km – finish line!
On emerging from the portaloo, I found my brother judging people’s bikes and finishing off some cereal bars. We ate some breakfast and had a cup of tea, then chatted to a couple of my colleagues. We played “Specialized Bingo” (there were a lot of Specialized bikes) and then headed home. Ah, freewheeling downhill towards my house. A lovely feeling.
We got in, put the bikes in the kitchen, I forgot to lock the front door, and that was it, barring a few more trips to the bathroom.
In the morning, we compared performances on strava. 65.8 miles at 12.4 average speed – a lot slower than we’d hoped, but understandable due to actually stopping at red lights. J asked me how I thought I’d ridden. “Like a boss”, I told him, joking. Amazingly he said he thought I actually HAD ridden like a boss, which was very kind of him.
I raised £250 for Shelter, which I was really pleased with.
The stomach bug continued and I ended up having a few days off work after I hallucinated that I saw a giant eagle trying to peck me on the way home.
I won several QOM’s on strava, and seemed to have a very similar pace to another rider taking part in Nightrider. We are now following each other on strava and are internet bike buddies. I’m yet to decide if this is weird.