Shortly after my PBP ride, my daughter Abi sent me a message that took me by surprise a bit…
“Mum, I think I’d like to ride LEL in 2021”
My response, “Blimey, you don’t do things by halves, do you? Have you any idea how hard that is?”
She thought I was doubting her ability, but in reality, I was simply surprised that instead of working up to endurance rides, she had stated her intention straight up, and was just going for it. I was so proud, and then promptly set about sending her advice about all the things she would need to consider, and ways to build up her mileage and progress to the really long miles. This ‘advice’ was mostly unwelcome, but that’s what mums do, and it’s certainly what I do.
When my daughter sets herself a challenge, she usually follows through, so once she started considering some of the ‘preparations’ I suggested, I knew that she was taking it seriously.
She had decided that one of her challenges to do before she was 30 was to run a marathon. She quite likes running and had run a half marathon before. She has since done 2 marathons – however, she wasn’t in love with running long distance, and before long sought out a new challenge. Upon entering Ride London for this year, she was surprised to get accepted and decided to buy a new bike to train on and ride the event.
From the moment she took delivery of her new carbon Boardman bike and rode it, she was hooked on cycling. Not only did she enjoy it, but she was good at it. With a triathlete boyfriend with his high-end bikes, she had a riding partner that would push her and she really took to it.
She adored Ride London, rode it quickly, and after watching my long-distance exploits I’m sure she figured if I could do ultras then so could she.
As a supportive and caring mother (my words, not hers!), I figured it would be a good idea to get her trialling a few typical long-distance style adventures so that she could start to work out where her strengths were, and what she might need to focus on more when training. One of my local groups had suggested a group night ride to Brighton and knowing the route well, I thought it might be something she would enjoy. The route is well lit for most of the way, with a number of places open 24 hours to stop at. It’s also flat and at night we would be using more major roads than a daytime route would take. She was very enthusiastic about the idea, although we discovered a bit later that I had failed to tell her the distance.
In the end, as a group ride, there was not much enthusiasm, although there were a couple of other friends of mine that had expressed an interest. So we figured we would go anyway, whether as a group of 2, 3 or 4. The two others dropped out for various reasons, and then there were two.
When I arrived home from work, she was keen to start riding as soon as possible, especially once she found out it was 100 miles, and not the 100km that she had thought. However, I had seen the weather forecast and didn’t want to set off too early. Very high and gusty winds had been forecast until at least midnight, and on the way back we would get a full-on headwind. I wanted to avoid the potential 45mph gusts that were due to accompany it. Having ridden back from Brighton before at night with strong headwinds, it wasn’t something I wanted to repeat, and certainly wouldn’t be ideal for a newbie on her first night ride. So we set off at 7:30 pm, with a plan to reach Brighton in around 4 hours.
We enjoyed the benefits of a helpful wind without issue for the first 12 miles. We made a good strong pace, hopefull that if the wind carried on in the same direction that we would get to Brighton really quickly. Then all of a sudden my dynamo light switched itself off. Now I’ve been having trouble with my lights and had only recently had the front light fixed. Since it was the brightest of all our lights, and I wasn’t sure whether our other lights between us would get us there and back I was keen to check if it was simply a loose connection and so stopped. Abi wasn’t impressed, she was enjoying the swift pace, and did not welcome stoppage time. I wiggled all the cables, everything was plugged in but nothing. So I switched to my back up light and we continued on our way. A little further down the road, I could see that I had power to the light, and in a bright underpass stopped again to see if I could persuade it to turn on. I was concerned since my backup light is normally only useful for a couple of hours riding and we had at least 8 to do. I had another light with a battery pack but realised I hadn’t bought its attachment bag, I would review it when we stopped later.
A little further along while we still had the street lights of Chichester I wondered that since there was clearly some power being generated, maybe I could plug my back up light into the USB charge point and both see and charge at the same time – so I stopped again.
“Mum, please stop faffing, this is really putting me off, I hope we aren’t’ going to be start-stop like this all the way?”
Now I have learned over recent years to reduce my stoppage time between ‘controls’ to the bare minimum so that I can rest properly at designated stops. But where there are technical issues at night that could cause problems I usually find it’s best to try to sort them where there is light. And since it was light that was the issue, and I knew we were about to be plunged into darkness for the first time on the ride, it was now or never.
The idea of charging and having light at the same time didn’t work as it turned off the light, so we were no better off. I said that we would stop next at MacDonald’s at Bognor, and I would effect a way to attach my battery light to the bike. It wasn’t going to be a quick roadside set up as it would involve cable ties and gaffer tape…. a cyclists fix anything toolkit.
With these unscheduled stops, and then a sudden direction change from me that sent Abi tumbling to the floor, things got a little tense between us. On the top of a footbridge over the A27, we were exchanging words when a gust of wind took my bike from underneath me, and it was my turn to tumble to the ground. We sorted things out now both tender from our tumbles, and went on our way, sticking to a cycle path along the A259 towards Bognor Regis.
It was at this point that we really started to realize the extent of the winds. At night your sense of hearing and smell increases, and there was no escaping the sound of the wind, like ghosts playing in the trees. Flags were standing to attention like a windsock in a hurricane and we knew we were going to be in for a bumpy ride. We would ride to Bognor, see how we were doing, and make a decision there whether to continue or turn back earlier than planned. There would come a point where we were committed since the trains would stop running in a couple of hours.
We were able to stay on cycle paths for most of the way to Bognor and decided that we would stop only long enough for me to fix my second light to my bike and have a quick comfort break.
Making our way through to Littlehampton it was high tide. Even in the darkness, we could see the massive waves crashing onto the beach with a thundering roar. The wind was behind us, so we didn’t stop to take it in, but it was quite a spectacle as we road past.
Later we would hit the sea roads further along the coast, with the same dramatic scenes.
Traffic had reduced to just occasional vehicles, and although it was lovely having the roads to ourselves, the gusty crosswinds were getting stronger, and so we sought out cycle paths wherever possible as we felt safer when a gust would send our bikes sideways suddenly. The crossed words of earlier were forgotten and we began to work together to get to Brighton safely.
As we passed the boatyards and marina’s around Shoreham, the noise of the wind stepped up another notch. The ghosts were back again, but this time swirling around the rigging which also crashed and clattered like giant wind chimes. Plastic wrappings around palleted goods in the industrial yards were being battered adding another dimension to our sensory overload.
As we headed along Hove then Brighton seafronts the gusts started coming from all directions, we now just wanted to get to our destination and stop for food, drink and a rest. First though we had pictures to take. A trip to Brighton is never complete without a photo on the pier. As I leaned against the closed pier gates, this was the first time I realized the true force of the wind. I was being buffeted from behind, so it was a quick picture and then we made our way to Buddies 24 hr cafe along the seafront.
After pizza, soup, nachos and coffee, and a good hour break, we left for the part of the trip we were looking forward to the least. The gusts had not calmed down and if anything they seemed stronger than ever. It was a surprise, therefore, to find that we were actually being pushed by the wind. I knew that when we got to Shoreham that would all change and prepared Abi for a few miles of hell before we moved away from the coast roads and started heading inland. Heads down we battled on, gusts threatening to take us out on occasion, but at 2am there was no traffic and we made it to Worthing town and finally out of the wind. I could see the exhaustion on Abi’s face, so we stopped briefly for her to grab a gel, some chocolate, and rehydrate ready for the ride back to Bognor where we decided that we were going to stop properly and make use of MacDonalds.
Sticking to the A259 made life much more straightforward. Nicely inland, we were spared the worst of the wind. It was a welcome sight when at 3:45 am we reached the 24hr MacDonalds, every Audaxers night time best friend. We only wanted coffee and to sit down for 20 minutes, and it was such a warm night that we were able to sit outside – meaning we didn’t need to leave our bikes unattended or mess about with locks.
The gusts gradually subsided, and those flags from earlier were now flapping around with a lot less force. Some of our lights started to die by the time we reached Chichester, but we were able to make it back with enough between us to be seen.
Our plan to take a longer loop to make a nice round 100 miles, was overtaken by a desire to just get home, and we weren’t prepared to keep riding around the block to make up an extra 3 miles. Abi was done and just wanted to go to bed and my knees had started to feel the effects of the long, flat windy ride.
We arrived home around 6:10 am. It had taken a little longer than we would have liked, but we had decided to ride more slowly back to both conserve energy and also for safety.
We’ve now slept a bit, had more food, and are now looking out the window at the Saturday rain coming down glad that it waited until after we got home.
I am so proud of my girl, she was nervous about the ride initially, but she knuckled down and got it done. She has fully proved that she can take on the weather and that she has the determination to succeed – so I am really looking forward to where her training journey will take her next
I asked her just now how she feels
“Hungry, achy, tired and achieved”
That’s my girl, a chip off the old block