Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Attempt one

King Alfred statue with friends and family
I was ready but the conditions also needed to be right. I tracked the weather forecast with forensic attention and two weeks after my 120 mile ride it was looking ideal – the trails had been dried out by a warm sun and strong easterly wind which was due to die on the evening of Sunday 9th June. I decided to leave at 8pm on that Sunday and the conditions were, indeed, close to perfect.

Which is more than could be said for me; as I waited at the King Alfred statue I felt anxious, sleep deprived and heavy legged. The build-up over the previous couple of days had been rather intense and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been up for 36 hours when I set off and now I was planning on riding through the night.

I rode off into the evening waving goodbye to my family and a small group of friends, accompanied for the first few miles by my old mountain biking buddy, Aidan. I got to Cocking without incident and continued into the night. It was at Chanctonbury Ring that the rot started to set in, I went the wrong way and had to back track about three miles uphill. This was a blow and I’m sure was a result of tiredness leading to poor decision making.

Now, I was paranoid. I stopped to check every junction, back tracked a couple of time when I was convinced I’d gone the wrong way but hadn’t.  To make things worse, I got a puncture as I headed down to Botolphs and it took me ages to sort it out. I regrouped at the water tap and set off up to Truleigh and beyond.

The night turned out to be much colder than forecast and I had every last bit of clothing on as I passed Devils Dyke and descended to Saddlescombe. I had a comedy fall off the bike on the next climb and just lay on the grass with my eyes closed. I eventually forced myself back onto the bike and plodded my way on towards Eastbourne hoping for the first light of dawn and a warming sun.

Dawn came but it wasn’t sunny, instead it remained chilly and cloudy. I knew now that I wasn’t going to get any further than Eastbourne, I had zero energy and I was cold. My journey was now a mixture of ridiculously slow pedalling, pushing the bike up steeper hills and lying down for five minute snoozes every so often. 

Thirteen hours after leaving Winchester, I arrived at Paradise Drive in Eastbourne. I was cooked and I just sat for a long while not really thinking about anything. I had a fantastically uplifting call with Helena and then made my way slowly to the train station. Everything was difficult now - working out which train to catch, buying a cup of tea – it was all rather a challenge.

Somehow, I managed to get me and my bike on the right train, found a seat and fell asleep instantly. The world seemed a different place when I woke up, I was mildly irritated that the ride hadn’t worked out but I was mostly thinking about what I had learnt and what I would change for my next attempt.

Leave fresher and ride lighter, this was the main result of my post attempt analysis. I decided to leave in the morning instead of the evening, hopefully after a good night’s sleep. I would depart quietly and try to look at it as just another long ride.

I was also pretty sure that I’d carried a lot of unnecessary weight so I went through absolutely every piece of equipment aiming to shave off a few grams wherever I could. This included:
  •  a new lighter wheelset - American Classic All Mountain wheels fitted with Bontrager 29-1 tubeless tyres, very fast rolling
  • only two light weight tubes, in case of tubeless crisis (I’d taken four normal ones on my previous attempt)
  • a new rucksack, about ¾ kilo lighter than the old one
  • single cell Exposure piggyback battery for my lights rather than triple cell – the nights are very short in June 
  • less food – I’d had last minute anxiety about running out and shoved additional food in my rucksack just before my previous attempt, totally ignoring what I’d learnt from my training rides
  • a new, lighter pump
  • no GPS tracking device – people couldn’t follow my progress online (as they did on my first attempt) but this was a chunky piece of gear that wasn’t essential
In total, I took over 3 kilos off the total weight of bike and gear. I went for a short trial ride - the bike felt fast and I felt ready. 

I had everything prepared to leave at a moment’s notice so when I woke on the morning of 29th June I simply stuffed down a big breakfast, made some sandwiches, got on my bike and rolled down the hill to the King Alfred statue.

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