I don’t really remember how the conversation started, but I know it wasn’t long before the ride itself. With a personal best of 140 miles under my belt, it seemed only right at some point to try and take this further and I always felt that 200 miles was do-able. The real issue was how long it would take and whether it would actually be possible, or even desirable to do.
With the Summer drawing to a close and Autumn temperatures in the air I mentioned to the one person I thought might savour a long ride as much as me and that was Archie. “Fancy a 300km ride?” I asked, as we rode along slowly one weekday. “Yep”. was the answer that came back before my next pedal stroke had turned. I knew it wouldn’t take much to persuade Graham and Douglas and I wasn’t wrong. It was on!
I planned a route that gave us the best chance of saving our legs and reduced the climbing to an absolute minimum. But, as the orange line on my route planner dotted its way through Stratford upon Avon, it started to dawn on me what we were taking on and just how far 300km is. With an average speed of 15 mph/24kmh hoped for, it was going to be a long day however you measured it.
I remember prior to my first 50 mile charity ride setting my things out on the floor two days before like I was returning to school in September. My new pencil case and clean shoes replaced by folded arm warmers and spare inner tubes. For this ride, which was almost four times the distance, I decided to chuck my clothes into a pile in the spare room and set the alarm for 5.15am. The chain was clean, the bike shiny and the lights and Garmin charged. I was ready!
We left Marshfield pretty much on time at 6.00am and the darkness was forgotten to the wind that rattled our ears as we gingerly rode along Scarecrow Straight. We had all ridden this stretch several hundred times in our cycling lives, but this experience was a first – and perhaps even a last. Archie was definitely buzzing off the anticipation of the day ahead and overall everyone’s mood was great and even excitable.
The early miles went really quickly. That was quite a surprise given that we were facing a headwind that we knew would be against us for the next five hours at least. We rode neither fast or slow, but just rode. We chatted a little where the wind would allow but ultimately we just got on with it. Malmsbury came and went, Charlton too and then Minety came and went in a blur. Cricklade was scheduled to be our first coffee stop but having beaten the barista bar owners to their day jobs, we decided it would break our rhythm to hunt out another opportunity and instead kept going and it was a decision we wouldn’t regret. The sun was coming up and everything was looking a bit more colourful!
We had never cycled to Lechlade before, but we will again as it had a great coffee shop. Whatever they wanted to charge for their sough dough, we sure did get a great coffee and the cinnamon whirl pastries were at most, freshly baked two hours beforehand. A local cycling group inside politely asked how well our ride was going and enquired how many miles we had already done that morning. I really didn’t want to sound like one of those guys and start talking about the grand ride we were planning so I managed to divert the discussion away – but only after I had made sure he knew we were over 40 by 9.30am! “Oh! A bit more than us he said”. I spared him the same question.
The tour of RAF sites wasn’t planned and didn’t go unnoticed by us. Hopefully, it did by the MOD. Brize Norton, like Fairford, was an impressively sized base and a firm reminder of just how important the military is to this country. Whilst not a town to stop and photograph, with the warm sun now challenging our arm warmers, everything was going well.
My one niggle at this point was starting to play on my mind as it had been there since Malmsbury. My right hand leg was pulling away at me just below the glute. It wasn’t painful, but it was noticeable and I started to think about how it was likely to be a problem later. I didn’t say anything but it was there niggling away at me with every downward stroke. I made the decision that I would keep my cadence sensible, keep the exertion and heart rate down and see how it was in 30 minutes. Whatever happened to resolve it I honestly don’t know, all I know is that I forget about it until later when it dawned on me that it had gone. In fact, I now felt great!
When we exited Banbury there was a real feeling that we were making great progress and this was helped by the unrecognisable roads and villages we were rapidly leaving behind. We had worked out that Stratford upon Avon was on the 100 mile/160km mark and as this was past the half way point, and one of the areas most scenic locations, it was perfect for the lunch stop. No problem I thought.
Prior to that we were all rotating the front slot and on this point Archie had taken the lead on one of the busiest ‘B’ roads we had been on all day. The tarmac was rough, the cars impatient and the conversation was minimal. This is when my first grumbles started to get the better of me and my empty stomach and the headwind were not making a positive contribution. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you can go from comfortable to hungry when you are cycling! With a good 20-25 miles left before we hit Stratford I suggested the idea of a quick stop at some point before we got to lunch. Fortunately, Douglas had the same idea.
Sat on that epitaph thirty minutes later, Lucuzade in one hand, flap jack in the other, everything was immediately better. Judging by the way Graham polished off his Soreen loaf I would suggest it was a stop we all needed. Suddenly, Stratford was just was a short hike away.
Stratford Upon Avon
Known mainly or perhaps even only as the home of Shakespeare, there is much to be excited about visiting the riverside town. That is if you like all that stuff. In reality, the Marshfield Four were motivated only by the blue sky, warm sun and the thought of getting some real food inside us with a cold can of Coke! I’m not sure the Bard of Avon would be pleased about that, but then I don’t think he was much of a cyclist anyway.
Lunch was an ordinary but overpriced cafe baguette served slowly with an attitude and a packet of crisps. The Coke though was indeed cold and there were no complaints as I sat back on a monument, kicked off my shoes and enjoyed the boardwalk banter with the guys. It was a nice well earned moment.
The final leg was a mere 86 miles or 138 kilometres. Just an average Saturday ride, well average if you did 100 miles before hand that is. Mad when you think about it, and I did – a lot. Regardless, after a slow gravel cycle track exit, the tarmac returned along with some high speed riding at the front by Douglas who was aided by the lunch time summer temperatures and a rewarding tail wind. The next ten miles were great! As we rode in a synchronised line, weaving around one bend after the other, I think I can speak for the others when I say it was clear that we were going to smash this. I felt fresher than I had done all day and at that moment even mad enough to think I could time-trial my way home. There was no way I could, but I genuinely felt differently.
The beautiful Cotswold town of Broadway came in a flash. In fact, as beautiful as it was, it broke our rhythm and that wasn’t great. As a result, we stopped for no more than two minutes and took some photos, more for the sake of it than anything else. However, beautiful it was, and however many people walked past us in leather trousers, we didn’t want to hang around as we were literally now chasing the sun.
Tewkesbury was our next destination and again the tempo was high. A-roads are never great for cyclists and therefore not the route of preference, but they sure did help us make some progress as when you can’t chat or look around the only thing left to do is pedal. And that we did lots of.
On the outskirts of Tewkesbury we turned south with a new target of Gloucester. Normally, Gloucester is one of those far away places that you set as a destination when you are planning your main summer ride. Today, it was the sign that we were nearly home!
Gloucester is one of those far away places that you set as a destination when you are planning your main summer ride. Today, it was the sign that we were nearly home!
The main reason we were excited about getting to Gloucester was because we knew it was our next coffee stop. The docks were busy with people enjoying their Saturday with many dressed as if they were just going out for the evening, which of course suited us as alfresco coffee drinkers. It was a great stop. The coffee was strong and the cakes and Pringles went down a treat with the mood relaxed and accepting of the fact we had this ride beat.
I don’t really have great memories of my previous visits to Gloucester as historically, whenever we have cycled through, it has been a battle against busy roads, traffic lights and is frankly one of those places you just want to get out of. On this occasion we found ourselves crossing a beautiful canal and lots of country roads that were designed for cycling and as a result were well received by us. Another five or six miles of fast, fun and scenic riding followed and the more it went on, the easier things seemed to become. Nothing lasts forever of course, except that is the A38 which was now going to be our only companion as we left the countryside. With our bikes now illuminated and the dusk creeping in the four of us adopted time trial positions, found our preferred cadence and basically just got the job done. Nothing too great to remember, nothing to see and nothing other than pedalling to do. But got it done we did and it meant that Berkeley was now also about to be ticked off.
Normally familiar roads now approached yet they looked different in the dark and in a way that helped. When it’s dark you tend not to be thinking about where you are going or whether the road is grade but instead whether you are avoiding holes two metres in front of you. The ‘distractions’ might be unwelcome, but the ride passed more quickly and that right now was more important than sight seeing.
For me, the next section was by far the worst part of the ride. As we left the street lights of Alverston behind we replaced them with narrow, dark and uneven country lanes that are a challenge on the brightest of days. Right now, with 10 hours of riding in my body, I was struggling to concentrate and my flashing front light was starting to hinder as much as it helped. I can honestly say that I am amazed I didn’t crash at this point as there were a number of times I was jolted away from a hedge at the side of the road by a shot of adrenalin at the last minute. At one point I even had to slap myself on the face! It was, at the very least, a firm reminder that this ride wasn’t over yet.
I can honestly say that I am amazed I didn’t crash at this point as there were a number of times I was jolted away from a hedge at the side of the road by a shot of adrenalin at the last minute. At one point I even had to slap myself on the face!
The saving grace was that as we arrived in Iron Acton, nobody else needed any persuasion to change the route and to instead keep to the street lamp illuminated roads back into Yate. By now it was obvious we were well on target for the 300km and in fact would be more, so with one or two miles to spare. Not only did I know where I was and where I was going, but I could also see where I was going too!
Archie took control of the group at this point and the brightest of his front light matched the apparent freshness in his legs. Yate quickly turned into Chipping Sodbury (where I got a Strava PB!) and that then disappeared behind us as we climbed the hill to the Cross Hands Hotel. As far as I was concerned, with just six miles to go, was that once we were up Shire Hill I was back in the village. Easier said than done at the best of times, but right now I didn’t care and knew that we just needed to pedal and the rest was just a matter of time. With a cold wind on our face and the lights of Marshfield in front of us, thoughts were now turning to the warmth of the Catherine Wheel.
And then in a flash that is where we were. As we sat there in that warm pub, bikes parked next to us, beers on the table and the crisps all over the table and floor we slumped and enjoyed the moment that we knew belonged only to us. Cheers!
The Thine Own Self Be True
It’s easy to get sentimental about these things and likewise it is easy to hear how long the ride is and to not actually stop and think about what is required to complete it. Sure, it is a long way and it takes a long time, but, unless you have done it or seriously thought about doing it, it’s not really anything other than just a long way or a pretty mad thing to do. But when you have cycled all year with the same people, enjoyed every one of the thousands of miles that has brought them and you together it means quite a lot more than numbers. It was an adventure. In a year of stress and often unspoken pain and uncertainty it was our chance to stick two fingers up to the world and do something positive.
As someone famous once said, “nothing will come of nothing”. Where next?