London to Brighton Cycle Ride 2023
I thought I was reasonably well prepared with months of spin classes and a number of long rides. The last hill on this 55 mile bike ride, Ditchling Beacon, showed me I really wasn’t. I had heard the hill was long but not that steep; it turns out that statement was only 50% accurate. As the mountain filled the sky in front of me I hoped for a winding road ahead that gave an easy gradient. Unfortunately that, too, was only 50% accurate.
But let me go back to the start.
The day before the race… sorry, not a race – a spirited bike ride, my bike was sunbathing in the back garden after all final checks were done. Looking at my bike, hands on hips, telling myself “I’m ready for this”, my bike decided to suggest otherwise by promptly deflating the rear tyre. A hurried trip to Highway Cycles resulted in some great advice and my bike spent the rest of the day in the shade. Lesson learned: latex inner tubes really are that sensitive to temperature.
The following morning the 3am alarm had me questioning my life choices, but somehow I made it to the start line at Clapham Common for 5:30am to meet my fellow fundraisers. The day was due to hit 30°C again and for the first time I was glad we were given the 6am start time. There were thousands of cyclists taking part with staggered start times throughout the morning; if I could finish by 10am then I would avoid the worst of it.
Starting the not-a-race and unfamiliar with the yellow route signage kindly put in place by the organisers, a group of us took a wrong turn within a couple of minutes and ended up back at the start line shortly afterwards. The second time around and with the direction signage now recognised, off we went with much enthusiasm and cars honking in encouragement (I think).
Just minutes later again, with no real plan in place for my first group ride, a couple of cyclists steamed past the group I was in. My lizard brain had me sprint after them before I could consider restraint and so began my unintentional strategy for the rest of the ride. I loved every minute of it. Right up until Ditchling Beacon.
The first four hills on the route were hard. In first gear I would plod up them, telling myself to do some research on appropriate gear ratios for next time. But ascending Ditchling Beacon, I didn’t have a gear low enough that I could maintain a pace. So exhausted that I had a very near-intimate moment with the hedge, I decided to dismount and walk the rest of the hill. I am not sorry.
The final 5 mile descent from the top of Ditchling Beacon into Brighton was rapid. With roads mostly closed the only concern was the latex inner tube failure just 20 hours earlier, and the hope that air cooling was more effective than thermal friction. Thankfully the tyres held and I crossed the finish line, crowds clapping. After a few congratulatory comments with other not-a-race companions met en-route, it was back to the finish line to join the growing crowd and cheer on the finishers. What a fantastic day.
This article has to give recognition to all the people who make Ditchling Beacon insignificant in comparison. To the gentleman riding the whole route on his BMX, complete with cape; to the runner and his companion doing an extreme distance on foot and in the heat; to the event organisers, sponsors, staff and volunteers for getting up earlier than I did to coordinate an excellent day; to Milton Keynes Hospital for their relentless efforts to help the community; and for all the people affected by dementia and those that support them.
If you wish to donate towards the cause: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stratos-agency1