Usually when you do something, it’s for a reason. I’d like to think that cycling is an exception to that rule. Over the recent bank holiday weekend, and for no reason other than “to see if it's possible”, I decided to ride to Derby all by myself. Whilst I was doing the ride just to experience it, my destination was for a reason, I spent 10 years growing up there and still have family in Derby. Before this my longest day in the saddle was a group ride with the Motel club lasting around 70 miles to Cambridge. So a 160 mile solo ride would be quite the different beast.
Being fairly new to this whole “proper” cycling thing I made the decision to do a ride of this length over 2 days, setting myself as target of 90 miles on day 1 and around 75 on day 2. After loading my bike up with the essential supplies and enough energy bars to keep me awake for days I set off up the River Lea out of London. One of my biggest worries was being able to stick to my planned route, thankfully the first 15 miles were all along one canal side path so I was able to settle into a rhythm before having to negotiate through many little towns and villages along the way.
Thankfully I had almost perfect weather the entirety of the first day, just enough sun to stay warm, but not too much to turn me into a sweaty mess! Before I knew it the miles were racking up as I raced through village after village, meeting lots of friendly (and some not so friendly!) dogs along the way. Whilst breaking for lunch around Luton, I met another friendly cyclist out for the day who decided to tag along and show me some nice local routes through the area. After leaving me safely on the other side of Dunstable I powered through the last half of the day to Northampton. I can truly say I’ve never been so happy to see a hotel in my life! And after a well earned Mc Donalds dinner and a quick drink in the hotel bar, I got to bed nice and early.
One thing I was worried about was feeling achey and drained at the start of the second day, but thankfully all my muscles were in surprisingly good order come breakfast time the next day. After filling up on a full english, plus a couple muffins for the road I got back to work. The whole morning was a 20 mile straight line down an old coal train track. Over gravel, through pitch black tunnels, and past every farm animal possible I found myself going through Market Harborough in no time. After some impromtu motivation from a few passing cars up a big hill I started to actually recognise some road signs! This helped me put down some difficult miles on 8 miles of unpaved grassy/muddy canal side, which was the only time I actually considered what I’d do if I fell into the water.
After one last pasta/energy bar break I set of on the last 15 miles, and for the first time I turned off the lovely robotic, yet slightly calming voice coming from my GPS. Although it felt strangely quiet without my little assistant barking at me to “BEAR SLIGHT RIGHT IN 600M”, the fact I was now well into my old stomping grounds gave me all the motivation I needed to get the last few miles down. Everyone says that the last few miles are usually the worst, and I was no exception. Although it was down to my first and only mechanical problem of the whole ride. After somehow squeezing on bigger tyres, my bike started to show why it’s called a “road bike”, and not a “muddy/grassy/dusty canal side” bike. With the rain finally starting to fall the last 30minutes turned into an hour as I had to keep cleaning mud out from my front fork which was perpetually clogging up. Even after all this the last mile through areas I grew up in were the most enjoyable part of the trip. After such an epic ride I almost hoped I’d turn the corner onto my mum’s street to be greeted by hundreds of well wishers. Although it didn’t quite work out like that, my lovely mother had still gone to the effort of putting some sort of finish line up for me to cross! 172 miles later, and almost exactly 15hrs later I finally made it.
All in all, I loved every second of it. As a beginner this was quite a big ask of me but now I’ve got that kind of distance under my belt, I’ve found myself already looking at more multi day rides! And with the weather turning nice hopefully camping can become an option and open up even more options. With our new kit now here, I’m sure that Motel Velo Club will be out in force this summer, so keep an eye out for us!
In the meantime, check out my Strava log below to see exactly where I went!