Leaving aside discussions about why women are only challenged to ride 100k and also Rapha’s use of men to lead the women’s ride last year, we – as in, some of the women from LFGSS – decided to organise another ride this year for the Rapha Women’s 100.
Discussions for this took place on the way back from Windsor, a really enjoyable ride with lots of animals, good views and homemade vegan cakes. We felt that by stating from the off that this wouldn’t be a slow ride (some people seem to think women can only ride slowly and think that an LFGSS Ladies ride would be a good time for someone who’s not really ridden before to get involved – it’s not that we’re unfriendly, we’re just not a crèche), men wouldn’t be allowed (contentiously, for men who like to tell women what to do) and we would go to the seaside.
10 of us met at Greenwich station, at the start of a glorious day, heading for Whitstable. I was ostensibly leading the ride, as I had the route (indeed, I had planned the route) although I wasn’t feeling on fine form due to events the day before.
We set out through southeast London, eventually surfacing in the countryside outside Bexley. We were unable to detour to Dartford to visit the Mick Jagger Leisure Centre but instead were treated to some nice views and beautiful sun.
With only a few wrong turns and a long drag up over the Medway Bridge, we stopped in Rochester for lunch at a café. Although we tried to keep the stop as short as possible it was hard to keep it much less than an hour, although it did give the 11th member of our group a chance to find us (she’d missed the start point). Rochester, the old bit at least, is nice and was about the halfway point, which is why I’d chosen it as a lunch point.
Setting off again, there was plenty of Medway still to navigate and it was good to finally escape it and be hit by the smell of salt on the flats near Iwade. The air felt close and humid, we all felt sticky and thirsty.
As we arrived in Sittingbourne the first rain fell. Almost immediately it picked up some weight and we looked for shelter while it blew over. Hiding under a large tree we watched the rain and listened to the thunderstorm, counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning (the storm was right on top of us).
The tree didn’t stay a good shelter as it was quickly saturated. People with jackets put them on. I was wearing a sleeveless jersey and denim shorts, and had no jacket. We got cold. One girl left, for the station. By now it was extremely wet, the rain kept coming and the roads were waterlogged, with terrible visibility.
Eventually we realised it wouldn’t stop and we had to move before we got any colder or wetter. I got on my bike and set off down the road, hardly able to see and letting water into my shoes. We stopped at a garage briefly to decide what to do – some people had been toying with the idea of carrying on to the seaside – but it was just so wet we all decided to go to the train station.
The station was only a few minutes away but it was the sketchiest riding I’ve ever done. Flash flooding meant there were rivers of fast flowing water on the roads, wash from cars and overflowing drains. A downhill in central Sittingbourne ended in a foot of water. It was a case of hoping that there was nothing under the water, holding on and hoping for the best. We later found out that we’d ridden into a “major storm”.
We arrived at the station, soaked. The thunder hadn’t stopped (and indeed didn’t until we were nearly back in London) and the lights in the station kept going out. But despite the cold, having to wring our gloves out, feeling like our feet would never dry out and not making it to Whitstable – despite all this, I had such a good day.
Great company, nice pace, good laughs, gorgeous sunshine, comfortable on my bike and enjoying spending time with old friends and meeting new friends. I got home with a grin on my face and a warm feeling inside.