"100 miles. That's like riding from London to Bristol!"
It is 8 am on a beautiful Sunday morning, and girlfriend and I are at Sevenoaks Rugby Club, about to set off on quite a challenge. Whilst keen cyclists, we are not competitors, and our Hybrid bikes appear in stark contrast to the others, all lightweight road bikes with dropped handlebars, weighing half what ours do. Never mind, eh ? it's all for charity. We have signed up to ride 100 miles to raise money for the Wooden Spoon, and are determined to achieve our aim.
Like most rugby players I am not built for cycling. A far from svelte 17 stone I look rather out of place, and more than one observer is less than confident, but we set off into the already warm sunshine full of enthusiasm. Straight into the steep Plymouth Drive, through the silent High Street and thence to Sevenoaks Common and Ide Hill. And it is already warm ! The sweeping bend past Ide Hill Village Hall gives us the first fantastic views of the day and a welcome few miles downhill to Four Elms, and on to Edenbridge.
We are the first riders to arrive, and are greeted enthusiastically, with a welcome assortment of fruit, drinks and plenty of jelly babies. Wonderful, but there's a long way to go. We set off for Tonbridge. It's pleasantly flat, and as we glide through the garden of England, I'm already grateful for the effort that went into planning the route. Hever is beautiful, and we cruise along through Bough Beech and Leigh. Of course, we're now overtaken by the speedsters, including El Presidente Mike Wooldridge who is definitely pushing the envelope, as he doesn't cycle often. Hats off to him, but I'm secretly chuffed to overtake him as he attends to a puncture.
Tonbridge Juddians have a superb spread of flapjacks, fruit and juice to help us on our way, and we're starting to feel quite confident. Not that difficult is it ? About 17 miles under our belt, just under two hours, and off north east to Aylesford. More beautiful countryside, a fair few hills and soon we reach Offham, where 'Trin and I often cycle to for a beer. No time for the King's Arms or beer today though, and we carry on to the A20, Larkfield and Aylesford. More jelly babies, welcome facilities, and it's so far, so good.
The next stage, dear reader, is a reminder that there are easier ways to get around Kent, that not all roads are cycle friendly, and that Kent is far from flat. With our backsides starting to ache, limbs not so fresh, and over 30 miles done, we slog back towards Wrotham, under the M20 and up towards Vigo. Yes, the view is outstanding, and the countryside looks beautiful, but many of you will have ploughed up the hill in your comfortable Land Rovers towards Kent's muddiest pitch, so spare a thought for us stuck in first gear for half an hour in the midday sun. It's brutal.
Still, we are nothing if not committed, and eventually reach Vigo, and yet more welcome snacks. More than ever we are grateful for the hospitality of another club, who like everyone else have laid on extensive refreshments and support for the riders. Several who have opted for the 65 mile option decided it was time for Guinness, but 'Trin and I were more disciplined for a change, exercising huge restraint, and stopped for only a few minutes, lest our resolve weakened. We did not know it at that stage, but no-one else from Sevenoaks continued on the 100 mile option, and I'm very proud that we carried on.
The next stage, through New Ash Green, Hartley and eventually Dartford, was the longest stage without a break, and though not too savage, with gentle and rolling hills, meant we were quite weary by the time we arrived at Bexley, home of Old Dartfordians. It was far from encouraging to bump into one of their riders who had just completed the entire circuit, but now the route came into its own.
And not before time ! Dartfordians, Sidcup and Colfeians are barely five miles apart, and the long slogs we had endured earlier in the day were replaced by swift darts between several fine South London Clubs. The enthusiasm with which we were greeted at Sidcup (we were the only Sevenoaks riders to get there) was absolutely uplifting. 'Trin was also one of the few lady riders, and received some deserved congratulation. Struggling to maintain ten miles an hour we doggedly stuck to the task and knocked off Beckenham and Old Beccehamians. A special mention to the gentlemen at Corkscrew Hill who were the only hosts of the day to supply that well known high energy snack, sausage rolls.
We were almost the last riders still on the circuit when we reached Bromley, and were again delighted with the enthusiasm, the goodwill, the sheer bonhomie of our hosts. For their part the Bromley riders stared at our bikes, incredulous that 'Trin had made her way around on a three speed hybrid. She may as well have been on a Boris Bike ! ( A well meaning observer later tweeted about "the Sevenoaks riders in such high spirits on their Penny Farthings") Thank you !
I'm very proud to boast that my girlfriend (and fiancé) is made of the right stuff, and we sped off from Bromley Rugby Club with victory in our sights. It was by now gone 6pm, and with Westcombe Park and Sevenoaks already closed, it was a straight ride back to Chipstead, where all my journeys end, and the Bricklayers Arms. With my odometer clicking on 100 miles as we crossed the M25 at Chevening, it was a welcome sight.
Beer, pizzas (and cigars!) soon followed, and the delight at completing the challenge more than made up for our aching joints. Our wonderful event shirts were stuck to us with sweat and 'Trin was grateful for multiple cushions. Think about it. 100 miles is the distance from London to just outside Bristol, and we had done it in about 11 hours including breaks, with a smile on our faces, and no punctures. Deep joy.
Many thanks to our sponsors, to the wonderful volunteers at all the Clubs, to the Wooden Spoon for getting it all together, and to Mark Ridout for making the dream come true. Sign us up for next year !
And finally, dear reader, we slept for England..........