This post relates to my adventures on Saturday night when I took part in a 100km night time charity bike ride round London - organised by http://www.nightrider.org.uk/ . I was raising money for the Lymphoma Association as they are my aunt and uncle's chosen charity.
My uncle David (my mum's little brother) had a long but successful fight against Burkitt's Lymphoma in 2007-8, and earlier this year my aunty Laura (David's wife) was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. They are both young and it has been a huge shock to our family, firstly when David was ill but even more so when we heard Laura had been diagnosed as well.
This is a very long post but it was an incredibly special night for me, although very sad in places too.
Saturday was a very busy day to start with – a very long wedding that I’d done a lot of preparation for. Once that was over, I did a drive by on Waitrose to get some nibbles for the ride (including a tough choice, Jelly Babies vs Dolly Mixtures) and then headed home. I put my head down and had about an hour and a half’s sleep – this wasn’t difficult as I am always wiped out after weddings. I faffed about, packed all my kit and was in the car by 7pm.
On the drive down to Gabriel’s, I flicked over to Radio 4 and heard Richard Branson talking on a fascinating programme all about his life and adventures. He talked about some very near death experiences on his balloon adventures, but most of all what struck me was that as soon as he finished one, he was straight on to planning the next.
My fantastic friend Gabriel lives in Crystal Palace, conveniently 5 minutes ride from the start of the Nightrider route. He had kindly volunteered to ride with me to the start and collect me the next morning. He also cooked me some dinner and put the lights on my bike – very much appreciated. I was bouncing around in my normal excited state and was probably being mildly annoying.
The time came and we headed off to the park. The queue to register was huge, but it moved quickly and before long I was at the start, bang on time. 23.55. We counted down from 10 and off we went.
The first stretch was quite dull bar a couple of fairly impressive inclines, but I managed fine and felt positive about the long ride to come.
A few miles in and my bike started to feel really hard to ride, I could hear a hissing sound and was afraid I had a puncture. I knew I couldn’t be that tired yet so stopped a couple of times to check things over, thinking my brakes were jammed. Even riding down hill where I should have been freewheeling, progress was still painfully slow.
I thought the first stop was meant to be at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, so planned to get some mechanical help there, but I gradually realised this wasn’t the case as we went past and then headed through Greenwich. Eventually as I got through Deptford there were a few other riders by the side of the road – so I stopped and asked for some help. Fellow rider #1824 very kindly helped me as we worked out the back wheel had dislodged a bit and was rubbing against the frame, no wonder it was such hard work. He dropped it out and tightened everything back up, and off I went again, and riding was so much easier this time!
The first stop finally came into view – not really realising where I was, I heard someone say we were at Tower Bridge and then as I turned around, it came into view, all lit up.
It was about 1.15am so we had made pretty good time. I remember feeling a bit disappointed as I thought we were going to ride across Tower Bridge. I had a quick loo break, glugged some drink down and had a quick nibble then got back on my bike. One of the marshals directed us - “turn left and head over Tower Bridge” – I was thrilled. I’ve walked over it many times, been over it in cars etc but have never driven over it myself. There was a photographer there – the first shot I know I was definitely pulling a daft face but managed to smile for the second one so hopefully I will be able to find that online somewhere.
We headed through the City and progress really slowed, as there were so many traffic lights to stop at and at approx 1.30am, still a fair bit of traffic around. Plenty of people were still out and about and were asking what we were doing and cheering us on which was really uplifting – and incredibly funny in places!
We headed east out of the City into Canary Wharf which was pretty special – I’d been briefly before but this was a few years ago when it wasn’t so developed. Seeing it so quiet at night was very eerie. A policeman on the least secure security checkpoint ever cheered us on, and after looping round all the towers we then passed him again on the way out.
I’d started to feel a bit rough and had started to hurt round my stomach. I suspected my fetching bum bag was a bit tight – normally I wear it on my motorbike and snug is good so it doesn’t flap around. Not so in this case, and as soon as I loosened it off, I felt much better.
The next break point appeared at Mile End stadium, another quick loo stop here and another munch. A kind marshal topped up my water bottle and waved me off towards the next leg – past the Emirates stadium and up up up to Alexandra Palace. I felt cold getting going again after the stop but this didn’t last long and I was fine once I got going again.
Just after the stop, I saw another cyclist who had stopped and was struggling to hold her bike up while she got her pump out so I stopped to see if I could help. She was OK, just struggling with her coordination a bit, and I was struggling to get my words out – I was trying to say, are you OK, you look like you know what you were doing – but it came out as a right old garble and I realised how tired I was. It was about 3am by this point, so no surprise there. In the end she decided to head back to the Mile End stop, and I carried on.
The postcodes on the street name signs moved up the E numbers, and as I hit E3 I thought of my friend Zanna who lives in Bow, and felt jealous as she was probably snoozing away just feet away from us! I saw a bus going to Romford Market and saw signs marked A12 Chelmsford, and felt a bit flat that I was so far away from home.
As we rode across Victoria Park (on roads I’ve been down with Zanna many times in various states!), I could see the sky was starting to get lighter already. The E numbers got higher, then hit E9 which I recognised was getting towards Hackney. At one point I saw a beautiful fox, with the bushiest tail I ever saw, obviously not bothered by humans as he/she was pretty close to me.
Es headed into Ns and I knew we would shortly get to the Emirates Stadium. As football stadiums go it was certainly impressive but all I could think about was how big the climb was going to be up to Alexandra Palace. I’d walked up it a few years before but thankfully couldn’t remember any details.
I remember going past Finsbury Park interchange as my back started to ache here. I was then surprised to go past the actual Finsbury Park – felt a bit daft here as I didn’t know it was actually a real park!
So. A few little inclines and there it was, the unmistakeable climb up to Alexandra Palace. It was very long rather than being very steep, but it was hard going. By this point we had covered 60k/40 miles so were just over halfway. As we got nearer the top, people were starting to get off their bikes. While I really, really wanted to ride up, I am afraid to say I followed suit and walked the last third of the hill.
The sun was really starting to come up now and when we got to the top, we could see over the whole of London – the Shard and Canary Wharf on one side (to the right of photo), the City (on left of photo) on the other. It was very uplifting thinking that not so long ago, I had ridden past those areas that now looked so very far away.
Another quick loo stop, then I grabbed a drink by my bike. A guy started chatting, asking me who I was riding for. It turned out that not only was he also riding for the Lymphoma Association, he was actually someone I was in touch with via Twitter. I asked, was he Ian, Mel’s Dad, and he said yes. His daughter Mel had died a couple of years previously and he was fundraising and raising awareness of an organisation that had supported his family, just as I was. He is doing a 140 mile Coast to Coast ride this coming weekend!
Meeting Ian, my thoughts turned from keeping myself on my bike, to why I was actually doing the ride. It was a sad and very poignant moment. I thought of Mel and of Ian and his family, and was so grateful that David and Laura are still with us when so many others are not. Mel was younger than me when she died.
A quick chat with Ian, who was on his third Nightrider, revealed the distinct possibility of more, and bigger, hills around Highgate.
Sure enough, after some false hope in the form of going downhill, before long we began to climb again through some beautiful residential streets full of big old houses. This was Muswell Hill, then Highgate. I had to walk/push up two rather substantial hills. I was now regretting the fact that I hadn’t eaten more than a couple of dolly mixtures at Ally Pally. I doubt I would have made it all the way up both hills, but I might have done a bit better if I’d eaten a bit more!
We passed Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House – I remember my back was really starting to hurt by now.
The next part I remember was one of my favourite parts of the night. Hurtling downhill past Belsize Park station, I was on my own at this point, and was the only person on the road. This was very special and I really loved the sense of isolation and being out and about while everyone was asleep. I can only begin to imagine the hustle and bustle of that road during the daytime, but here as I whizzed down the hill, I could collect my thoughts a bit and knowing the hills were over for a while, I began to relax again.
We came through Camden, then began to head into the West End and I started to recognise street names. We turned onto Regent Street, which was a feast of union jack flags, left over from the jubilee. We came across Oxford Circus, past the big Topshop which is a huge part of my day job.
Then we turned onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The sun had really started to break through by now, and I was struck by the polluted haze of the city. We turned into Covent Garden, across lots of cobbles – an interesting experience riding across them and one I don’t feel the need to repeat!
Then across Waterloo bridge – had a quick photo stop here as it was pretty much daylight. According to the clock on Big Ben, it was 5.45 and the city looked beautiful.
Soon after, we reached the final break stop at the Imperial War Museum. I made a point of eating here although I still didn’t really feel like it.
We set off again, this time past the Oval cricket ground. Having an avid cricketer for a father, I had seen this on the telly lots, but had never appreciated just how close the flats and houses are to the ground itself. After the Oval, we headed back towards the river again, and just before we crossed Westminster bridge, I found myself behind Ian again. He stopped just outside Westminster Abbey and I carried on.
We rode down Whitehall, past all the memorials. Around here and Pall Mall, there was LOTS of horse poo – again left over from the jubilee. We rode past past Trafalgar Square and into St James’s. The traffic in the city was starting to get busy now, and I was amazed how many people were up and starting their days already at 6.30am.
At Hyde Park Corner, I took a wrong turn here – just one more arrow would have made things a bit clearer, but I definitely wasn’t the only person to make the mistake. I turned off down Grosvenor Place rather than going straight over onto Knightsbridge. Some people followed me, but I made to pull over and they stopped too. Fortunately someone knew where he was and where we needed to go.
The downside – he said “I’m sure we are meant to head up Knightsbridge past the Albert Hall and then past Harrods”
At this point, I’m afraid to say, my only thoughts were, I don’t want to see the f**king Albert Hall or Harrods, I just want to get to the end!
As we went past the Albert Hall, I thought of the last time I was there, with Donna to see Goldfrapp playing an incredible gig. This was actually the first time I saw an electric harp (before I started playing again) and I remember being very excited about it.
A woman at the traffic lights had said we only had 10k to go and I felt relieved. Then we headed past the museums, past V&A and past a little Italian coffee shop where I’d caught up with Paivi for a good gossip, then we looped back along Brompton Road – I barely registered Harrods! Finally we headed back over the river, across Chelsea Bridge this time.
It was starting to feel like a very long 10k. We started to see signs for Clapham and knew it wasn’t far. One of the marshals said it was now 6k to the end. There were a couple of minor hills, and the group I was cycling with at this point had gone very quiet. It was hard work for everyone by now. By this point I was counting as I was pedalling, just 1,2,3,4 each time. I used to do this when I was climbing and it’s surprisingly effective at keeping you going.
I pulled over at Clapham Common to text Gabriel to let him know I really wasn’t far away now. Back At the Imperial War Museum, I’d optimistically sent Gabriel a message saying I wouldn’t be long, but trawling round some of the most exclusive parts of London really took ages with the traffic. I could have cursed the woman at the Albert Hall – looking at the map now I think she meant 10 miles not 10k!
I rode past some bizarre shop called This and That and Something Else (or something like that) and remember starting to feel really really incredibly tired by this point.
Gradually more road signs said Crystal Palace, and there it was. The very last hill we all knew was coming.
I got up it via a mixture of riding and walking, and was mortified to be passed by a girl on a bike that appeared to have hardly any gears, and to add insult to injury her bike had a basket on the front.
I walked with another girl briefly, and mentioned about the basket, and the girl I was walking with said she was beyond feeling any shame now, and she just wanted to get to the end. I had to agree.
Sure enough, at the top of the hill, we could see the park which meant the finish point. We rode briefly down the hill and into the park. It was really busy with people collecting medals and getting in the queue for breakfast. The time as I came in was 7.53, so I had taken 8 hours to complete the ride.
Gabriel was waiting, flaked out on the grass, enjoying the early morning sunshine.
The weather had been unbelievably kind, perfect in fact. The previous week had been rain and wind, more rain, more wind, and I was really worried about what sort of conditions I was going to be riding in. I’m writing this now and it’s hammering down outside, so to have had a little window of no rain and no wind just at the right time, well I feel very blessed to say the least.
I saw a guy who I'd been in the queue with, who looked far more like a regular cyclist than I did, and I was pleased to hear that I'd only finished half an hour after him.
Gabriel took a couple of very unflattering photos but frankly, after being up all night, I doubt any photo would have been particularly attractive. I couldn’t stop rubbing my eyes, a combination of being awake all night and wearing contact lenses as well as a bit of smog and general dirt/grime. By the time we got back to his flat (up hill again!!!) I had very fetching pink eyes.
We celebrated with a G’n’T which I have to say, knocked me absolutely sideways. But after the buzz of finishing the ride, I figured something to get me off to sleep was not such a bad thing. I had a bit of a stretch, much to Gabriel’s amusement, and then headed off to bed.
The after effects? I was a bit stiff on Sunday afternoon, and had an ache in my right knee, on the exact spot where I landed after getting knocked off my motorbike when I was 17. I haven’t felt anything there in years so that was a bit strange. Back at work on Monday, I still felt a tiny bit stiff, noticeably if I had been sitting for a while. But other than that, I’m absolutely fine.
The ride was brilliantly organised (apart from a clarifying arrow that would have helped on Hyde Park Corner). The break stops were well manned and all the volunteers were so kind and helpful, doing their best to keep our spirits up. Not having done an event like this before, I didn't have a clue what to expect, but everything went really smoothly and I have to thank all those involved.
Most people rode in groups but when I wanted to, I chatted as I went, and lots of giggles were shared at some of the nightlife going on around us, particularly after the Emirates stadium where a group of guys were laughing at us for stopping at traffic lights. It was great to meet Ian, and to take plenty of time to reflect on why I was doing the ride.
Mostly I was happy with my own company, lost in my own thoughts and enjoying the whole experience as I rode. I’ve never done a big organised charity event before, let alone such a mammoth undertaking. I did a few bike rides to get some training in, but harp events meant that this was probably not enough. Although, I doubt I would have got up all of those hills unless I was on a motorbike, regardless of how much training I’d done!
Best of all, I’ve rediscovered my sense of adventure and am looking forward, Richard Branson style, to the next event. I hope to continue with my fundraising for the Lymphoma Association, and am looking forward to training for September's triathlon.
If you would like to sponsor me, my page is still open - sponsorship page - it's via Virginmoneygiving which is a not for profit organisation that distributes funds raised to my chosen charity. Every £ is gratefully appreciated.
For those who are interested, a rough guide to the actual route is here: