Graphs.

Time for my yearly round-up of statistic-filled cycling nerdiness, and this time I’m even including BAR GRAPHS!

Since my ride through France in June, I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging about my cycling, so a summary of 2014’s two-wheeled adventures seems like a perfect excuse to start back up again, for what promises to be a year full of changes, challenges, and definitely a lot less cycling.

2014: The Numbers.

Total distance: 6245.24km

Time spent cycling: 289hrs 47mins 10secs

Average speeds: 21.74km/h (Ridgeback touring bike) / 24.98km/h (Giant road bike)

Top speeds: 62.2km/h (Ridgeback) / 67.1km/h (Giant)

Crashes: 2 (one chin split open and glued shut, one horribly bruised hip)

Punctures: 2 (both in France, one piece of metal, one thorn)

Here are two nerdy graphs, the first being 2013’s riding and the second 2014’s:

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2014

My year of cycling began about as badly as it could, when on only my second outing I came off on a patch of ice, landing on my chin and splitting it open. A trip to hospital followed, where I had my chin glued shut, and then whiplash set in and kept me off the bike for the next ten days or so.

Over the next few months I enjoyed some relatively mild weather, gradually building up my distances in preparation for June’s adventure to the south of France. April saw me complete the ’30 Days of Biking’ challenge for the first time (annoyingly I never got round to writing a blog about this), riding my bike every day during the month of April, and racking up 636.72km in the process.

Then, in May, I took park in my first Friday Night Ride to the Coast ride, cycling overnight from York to Hull, via Garthorpe with a group of 30 or so other cyclists. Again, I don’t think I found the time to blog about this ride, but perhaps I’ll join them again for another ride this year or next. I did manage to post a YouTube video of the ride, which can be seen here.

Other than my ride with the ‘Fridays’, May was a fairly quiet month, other than a couple of 100km training rides at around the same time, and I spent much of my time making final preparations for what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and challenging trips of my life – a solo ride from Caen on the north coast of France to the Mediterranean coast and Ceret in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I wrote a daily blog entry during the trip, the first of which can be found here.

On my arrival in the south of France I received the amazing news that I was to become a father, and as I write I’m just over six weeks away from the arrival of my son! Naturally, 2015 will be a year of much less cycling, and I won’t be setting any targets to get anywhere near this year’s total of over 6000km. The touring will be on hold for a while, but only until I can get the boy in the back of a bike trailer… I plan to get my touring fix by completing the ‘C2C‘ route from Whitehaven to Sunderland towards the end of the summer. (On my own, obviously. I’m not sure six month olds are very well suited to cycle touring).

Much of my summer riding after France took place in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, including a Lincoln to Sheffield ride, a gruelling circuit from Sheffield into the Peak District taking in part of the Tour de France route, and a trip along the Monsal Trail with two of my colleagues.

Bike upgrades:

In preparation for the French tour, the Ridgeback was treated to a bit of an overhaul this year. I built a new set of wheels from scratch, with a Shimano Dynamo hub built into the front wheel, and Mavic A719 rims. These wheels have proven to be well worth the expense, and remained rock-solid and totally true all the way down through France with the bike fully loaded with panniers.

The dynamo did an excellent job of running front and rear Busch & Muller lights and powering a battery pack which in turn kept my GPS fully powered all the way through France, eliminating the need to carry spare batteries. I’d strongly recommend a dynamo hub and  lights to both touring and winter cyclists. Knowing you’ve always got lights and power without worrying about batteries running out is a big bonus.

I also fitted an Ortlieb handlebar bag, which was invaluable in France, allowing easy access to small bits and bobs like my phone, wallet, snacks, and jacket. It’s now a permanent part of my bike, and I wonder how I coped without one.

Social media:

I’ve been following some great blogs and podcasts throughout 2014, the standout ones being the Pedal Hub podcast, presented by three cycling fanatics from Minneapolis/St Paul, one of whom is the brains behind 30 Days of Biking, and The Path Less Pedaled, a blog about all things cycling, run by a couple from the USA. Their Facebook page is definitely worth a follow, and provides lots of cycle touring inspiration. The Sprocket Podcast is another highly recommended show, presented by Brock Dittus and Aaron Flores from Portland, Oregon, who sample a new beer or other alcoholic beverage during each show whilst chatting about bikes.

And so, into 2015, which promises to be a year full of new experiences and excitement. My riding will probably be made up of mainly smaller, local rides, and perhaps I’ll even be able to post an entry to mark the first time I take my little boy on the bike! I’ll have a go at completing 2015’s 30 Days of Biking, and will be looking forward to a three day mini-tour in September when I ride the C2C.

Finally, I can’t finish without mentioning my colleague Martin Winslade, who has set himself the highly ambitious challenge of using his bike every day of 2015, and is blogging about his progress. Good luck Martin.

Happy cycling!

Adventures.

Here’s a quick round-up of 2013’s adventures on the velocipedes.

On January 1st 2013 I set myself the target of reaching 4,000km by the end of the year, which would mean cycling more or less 333km each month, which is pretty much 11km each day of the year. Which doesn’t sound like much, but for every day of the year I didn’t cycle, I’d have to add another 11km to another day. During January, February, and March, I wasn’t cycling anywhere near the distance I needed to be in order to be on track for my December 31st target, but only had to remind myself that I had some big rides ahead of me over the summer and would easily catch it back up again. Apart from my 4,000km target, my main aims for 2013 were to cycle from London to Paris, to complete the Devon coast to coast twice in two days, and to ride 100 miles in one day.

June saw me complete the first of these rides, and I spent four of the most enjoyable days of my life cycling from central London down to Newhaven, across the Channel to Dieppe by ferry, and then along the Avenue Verte to Paris (click here for my London to Paris blogs). To say that I caught the touring bug would be a huge understatement, and I could quite happily have cycled off across Europe and not come back. A simple twist of fate (name that artist) saw me meet two other cyclists, Megan and Alice, while I was waiting to board the ferry in Newhaven, and we cycled together all the way to Paris. When I left for home, they carried on, spending the rest of the summer on the adventure I’d have loved to have been on myself. They ended up cycling down to Marseille, across the top of Italy and into Slovenia, then Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and back into France. In other words, the cycled around the Alps!

We’ve stayed in touch, and towards the end of October I visited London and met Megan and Alice in The Chandos just off Trafalgar Square. Despite having only got to know eachother for four days way back at the start of the summer, it was like meeting up with old friends. I hope we’ll stay in touch, and I’d love to be able to join them on another European adventure in the future. Had we met under any other set of circumstances, we almost certainly wouldn’t have become friends, but the common ground of a cycling tour united us, and it wouldn’t have been the same without them. And best of all, after meeting me their often-used acronym A.C.A.B (look it up) is now N.A.C.A.B, or even S.A.C.A.B, which doesn’t really make sense but made us laugh.

Just a couple of weeks after I got back from my London to Paris adventure, I was back on the road for another tour. I put the bike on the back of the car and headed down to the south-west, to attempt the Devon coast to coast. Handily my younger sister Rosie currently pitches her tent in a little place called Down Thomas on the south coast of Devon, which is right at the start point of the coast to coast route. So after spending a couple of days at Rosie’s, I headed off north, taking in Drake’s Trail, the Granite Way, and the Tarka Trail, on an incredible almost entirely traffic free 109 miles. The first day of the trip happened to be one of the hottest days of the year, and the heat combined with some ridiculously steep and seemingly never-ending hills, made for the toughest single day of riding I’ve ever completed.

I’d achieved my goal of cycling over 100 miles in a single day, but arrived at the campsite in Ilfracombe completely exhausted and accepted that there was no way I’d make it back down to the south coast in one go the following day. Instead, I enjoyed a far more sedate two-day ride back to Down Thomas, and overall it was a fantastic three days of cycling and camping that I’ll never forget, and would love to do again. Just not as quickly and not in 30 degree heat.

Clearly having failed to learn the lessons of the gruelling first day of the Devon coast to coast ride, I attempted another century ride early in September, which turned out to be the last really big ride of 2013. My friend Bret had never cycled 100 miles, so I devised a scenic route taking in the best of the Lincolnshire Wolds, and named it the ‘Wolds 100’. We’d originally planned to complete the ride one day late in August, but an illness which kept me in bed for three days ruined that plan. So early on the morning of September 4th Bret and I set off on what turned out to be a amazingly scenic 113 mile (182km) route around and across the Lincolnshire Wolds. We were treated to perfect cycling conditions, both in terms of the weather and the quiet, rural lanes with great views of the countryside, and Bret was over the moon to complete his first 100 mile ride.

And so, what lies ahead in 2014?

Well, I’ve got plenty more things I’d love to achieve on the bike, and have already got some adventures lined up in spring and summer in order to start ticking them off the list. 2014’s main trip will be a 1000km+ trip in June, from Caen on the north coast of France all the way down to Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast, followed by a week in the Pyrenees with the rest of the family, and then perhaps a  bit more cycling up to Montpellier before catching a train back home.

I’m also hoping to cycle some of the North Sea Cycle Route, which is a 6000km route taking in the whole of the east coast of Great Britain, as well as Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. Conveniently the route passes straight through Lincoln, so I’m going to complete the sections within a 4-day cycle north and south of here in preparation for my Mediterranean adventure.

Then there’s the traditional coast to coast route, which is a 140 mile route across the country from Whitehaven to Tynemouth, crossing both the Lake District and the Pennines. Also, having passed the magic 100 mile mark twice in 2013, I’m going to go all metric (the way things should be) and plan a 200km route, and try to cram that in somewhere between all the other cycling I’ve got planned.

And finally, I decided there was a big gap in my bike repairing knowledge when it came to straightening buckled wheels and replacing broken spokes, which would undoubtedly come to haunt me if I did nothing to fill the gap between now and my trip to France in June. So I’m in the process of building a new set of wheels for the tourer, and have just about finished the front wheel. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m now confident I’ve got the skills to repair my wheels if I knock one of them out of line or break a spoke in France, which is exactly what happened during my London to Paris ride.  And here’s the (almost) finished product…

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Roll on 2014. This year’s target? No idea! Given that I’ll cover 1000km in ten days in June alone, maybe 5000 or more by the end of the year. Watch this space…

Paddling.

Devon coast to coast day 3: Wednesday 10th July.

Bridestowe to Down Thomas.

Departed: 11:10

Arrived: 15:45

Total distance: 56.58km

Average speed: 17.1km/h

Maximum speed: 66.3km/h

Total cycling time: 03:18:28

I allowed myself an even later start than day two, and got up at around 10:00. The Dutch cyclist had left early, and I cooked a breakfast of three boiled eggs and a tin of beans before showering and packing away all my gear. It was a nice feeling to set off knowing that I only had around 65-70km to cycle, and was under no pressure at all to rush. As well as being the shortest of the three days in terms of distance, day three was also going to be the least hilly, as I’d got the worst of the climbs out of the way the day before.

There was some hard climbing out of Bridestowe towards Mary Tavy, but then it was downhill almost all the way the Tavistock, where I picked up Drake’s Trail again. The trail climbed steadily all the way through to Yelverton, where I started an uninterrupted, 15km descent all the way along the trail to Plymouth. At the end of Drake’s trail, all that was left was a final 6km back to Down Thomas, which included one final kick in the teeth in the form of a painfully steep hill along Goosewell Road. 

Finally, at 15:45, I finished the ride, having completed a punishing 350km over three days. I parked the bike up, and jumped straight into the paddling pool to cool off. It had been an amazing ride, through some beautiful countryside, but I found it far more challenging than my ride from London to Paris. Had it not been for the heat, I’m sure it would have been easier, but whatever the weather the sheer number of hills was a killer, especially on a loaded touring bike. 

Some advice to anyone looking to do this ride would be to allow four days, which in retrospect would have been a far more comfortable amount of time to take, and would have made it more enjoyable and less exhausting. Also, the route isn’t really suitable for road bikes, as there are some poor surfaces, which at best would make for a very uncomfortable ride, and most likely result in some broken wheels.

Beware though, as the traffic free trails used on this route follow disused railway lines, so these sections climb more gradually than the nearby roads do. If you were to try to plot a route for a road bike, using country lanes, it would almost certainly involve significantly more climbing… You’ve been warned.

 

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After I got back and checked the bike over, I realised that the rear tyre had reached the end of its life, and it was very fortunate it hadn’t disintegrated during the ride. The huge amount of braking on steep downhill section and the rough surfaces had shredded the outer layer of rubber, and it just peeled away when I pulled it.

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Sahara.

Devon coast to coast day 2: Tuesday 9th July.

Ilfracombe to Bridestowe.

Departed: 10:10

Arrived: 19:00

Total distance: 110.58km

Average speed: 17.0km/h

Maximum speed: 59.2km/h

Total cycling time: 06:28:23

I allowed myself a lie in on day 2, and woke up feeling party recovered from the huge ride the day before. I was still aching a lot, particularly my thighs and…er…gluteus maximus muscles, from the hours of standing up on the pedals climbing hills. It was nice not to have the pressure of knowing I had to complete over 170km to get to where I needed to be by the end of the day, and I’d be able to go at a more relaxed pace. However, this would still turn out to be a pretty challenging day, and at over 100km it was still roughly the average distance I’d cycled each day between London and Paris.

I took my time over a decent breakfast (well, a bowl of porridge actually. Decent in terms of fuel, pretty rubbish in all other aspects), and had got everything packed away by about 10:00. I pushed the bike down to the shower block, changed into yesterday’s Lycra, and applied masses of suncream. It was going to be another very hot day, and despite sweating huge amounts the previous day, the suncream had somehow done its job and stopped me from burning.

I set off at an easy pace, aching quite badly for the first few km into Ilfracombe before my muscles had a chance to warm up. It was a series of steep ascents and descents back into town, followed by a very tough, long, steep climb out of the town to join the traffic free path up into the hills. I knew what was coming, and started up the very long, steady climb at an easy pace in a very low gear, making sure I didn’t work myself too hard. This section of the ride actually turned out to be easier than I’d expected, and the descent along it at high speed the evening before must have made it seem steeper than it was. I stuck at the same pace all the way up, not really having to work too hard, and before long found myself at the top Willingcott, where I joined the small roads across the top of the hills.

Again, I knew what was ahead of me, and on (slightly) fresher legs than the day before, the series of short ascents and descents seemed easier, although they were still challenging. Because I’d started later in the morning, by this stage it was already hot, and I hadn’t benefited from a whole morning of cooler temperatures.

The descent into Braunton was fantastic, and it was nice to know I’d got the first part of the climbing out of the way fairly quickly, and could enjoy a relatively flat section along the Tarka trail.

I stopped twice in Braunton, first in the main town for a couple of sandwiches, and then again almost immediately at a supermarket right next to the trail, as I realised I was running low on water. Then I set off along the trail, following the estuary through to Barnstaple, crossing the bridge, and turning to follow the opposite bank heading towards Bideford.

This section, between Barnstaple and Bideford, was really easy going, and with the aid of a slight tailwind I made really good progress. After 15 minutes or so a guy on a racing bike caught me up and pulled alongside me. He said hello, and asked what it was like cycling with panniers, and how they affected the handling of the bike in crosswinds.

We got chatting, and cycled together all the way through to The Puffing Billy just north of Torrington. It was great to have someone to cycle with, and it made the kilometers go by far more quickly than they do when you’re on your own!

My temporary companion was Scott Butler, a firefighter who lives locally but fights fires in Berkshire, and he told me all about some crazy physical challenges he’s got planned. Next year, he’s embarking upon a solo adventure, cycling from the UK to the Black Sea, rowing across it (rowing for two hours, then resting for two hours, continuously for as long as it takes!), and finally climbing a mountain at the end. Apparently the trip has never been done before, so he’ll be setting a world record in completing it.

He’s also planning on entering the Marathon des Sables, which is considered to be one of the most physically challenging races on the planet. It involves running the equivalent of five and a half marathons in six days, across the Sahara desert, carrying your own food and water. Quite why anyone would be crazy enough to even consider taking part in this is beyond me, but it was pretty inspiring talking to Scott about it all, and made me see that I can definitely achieve the challenges I’ve been dreaming of doing.

Scott said he’ll be blogging about these adventures at the time, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it and track his progress. I’ll post a link to his blog when he sets off!

We’d made really good progress along the Tarka Trail, and arrived at The Puffing Billy, which is a small railway themed pub located at the old Torrington stationg. Scott turned back and headed off home, and I stopped for lunch. Despite the fact that it was now probably about 28 degrees, for some reason I chose the chilli con carne, but fortunately it wasn’t too hot. I sat outside, and after a few minutes a couple on a very impressive looking yellow Thorn tandem arrived, and I talked to them while I had my lunch.

I set off again after lunch, and began the gradual climb up to East Yarde, where I’d stopped and met the dutch woman the day before. It was hardly any time since I’d had lunch, so I carried on past the cafe without stopping, and before long found myself at Petrockstowe. This meant that I’d enjoyed the last of the nice flat riding for the day, and ahead of me lay a series of gruelling climbs all the way through to my target for the end of the day, Bridestowe.

For the next few hours, it was just a case of getting my head down, trying to get myself in the right frame of mind, and taking each set of hills as they came. The ascents were extremely tough in the heat, and my legs were still aching from my efforts the day before, and hadn’t stopped hurting once I’d warmed up.

I pushed on through to Okehampton, and enjoyed the steep descent into the town, then psyched myself up for the final series of tough climbs, and set off on the final 10km of the day through to Bridestowe. I arrived at the beautiful Glebe Park at around 19:00, and was greeted by a really friendly site owner, who instantly made me feel welcome. He showed me to the area reserved for tents (the site is primarily a caravan park, and is nicer than it sounds), and I wheeled my bike over to find one other camper, with a small tent and a bike… the Dutch woman I’d met at the Yarde Orchard Cafe the day before!

It was nice to see a familiar face, and we chatted while I put up my tent and sorted out my gear. She’d recently finished reading a book, and had been waiting to find someone to pass it on to, so very kindly gave it to me. It’s a novel set during the Iraq war, and looks really interesting, so I’m looking forward to reading it. I told her I’d pass it on to someone else once I’d finished with it, so I’ll have to make sure I take it on my next cycling adventure in case I meet someone!

Once I’d set up and had a shower, I cycled down into the village and had a big meal and a decent couple of pints at the local pub, before cycling back to the campsite and going straight to bed. I was pretty worn out, but nothing like as much as I had been the night before!

Splitting the return leg into two days was definitely the right choice, and although it had been another very tough day, with lots of challenging climbing, I’d enjoyed it a lot, and it had been nice to know I didn’t have the target of 170km looming over me the whole way.

My sea view on the morning of day 2…

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The Puffing Billy, just north of Torrington on the Tarka Trail…

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Perfect pitch at Glebe Park, Bridestowe…

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Heat.

Devon coast to coast day 1: Monday 8th July 

Down Thomas to Ilfracombe

Departed: 06:10

Arrived: 19:30

Total distance: 176.16km

Average speed: 17.6km/h

Maximum speed: 57.3km/h

Total cycling time: 09:59:43

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I set off from Down Thomas at 06:10, and took a quick detour down to Wembury bay so that I was actually starting from the coast. From there, I set off towards Plymouth, and made quick progress to the first of the cycle paths along the route, Drake’s Trail, which is a traffic free cycle route leading from Plymouth all the way up to Tavistock. The majority of this section is uphill from Plymouth, although there are no steep climbs at all, due to it being an old railway route. It climbs steadily out of Plymouth, crossing a number of pretty impressive viaducts and going through some old railway tunnels.

As it was so early in the day, it was still pretty cool, and the climbing was really easy. I arrived at Tavistock having cycled 40km in just over two hours, and stopped by a river for a second breakfast.  There were some short, tough climbs out of Tavistock, followed by more climbs and descents all the way through to Lydford where the Granite Way, the second of the day’s traffic free cycle paths, began.

The route was fairly flat along this section, as again it follows the route of an old railway track, and there was a short section of climbing before a steep, fast downhill section all the way down to Okehampton. This next section from Okehampton through to East Yarde was very challenging, and by this time the temperature had risen to at least 30 degrees in the sun. I spent what seemed like a lifetime fighting my way up unbelievably steep hills, which were rewarded by lovely fast descents, but immediately followed by more punishing climbs.

For the first time ever, I used the lowest gears on my bike, and stopped half way up a hill. I never stop half way up a hill… After this gruelling section of the ride I finally joined the Tarka Trail at Petrockstowe, and the terrain levelled out to a gradual climb. Although it was a huge relief to have the repetitive steep hills behind me, the Tarka Trail wasn’t a great riding surface. The previous trails had been either sealed surfaces or fine gravel, but the Tarka Trail was a rough, stony, bumpy surface.  I climbed gradually until I came to a fantastic little place called the Yarde Orchard Cafe and Bunkhouse, where I decided to stop for a rest and some food.

I sat down at a table outside, next to a Dutch woman who was also touring the area by bike, but  traveling in the opposite direction to me. She was having a day off as she’d had a couple of tough days, and we chatted for a while over our drinks. She told me how she’s done some amazing trips all over the world, and started out on short trips like the one’s I’ve been doing recently. She’s toured in New Zealand, all over Europe, and has even crossed America, which is right at the top of the list of rides I want to complete. It was really inspiring talking to her, and it showed me that it’s well within my capabilities to achieve the goals I’ve set myself, and I just need to get on and do it.

After 45 minutes or so I said goodbye, and she joked that we might bump into one another when I was on my way back down the following day. I set off along the Tarka Trail, and soon came to a long, gradual descent, which made coping with the rough surface a lot easier. This descent took me all the way from East Yarde through to Great Torrington, and on to Bideford without any significant climbs at all. The route follows the river Torridge downstream all the way to the point at which it becomes a tidal estuary at Bideford.

At Bideford the river opens out gradually into a wide estuary, and route 27 hugs the edge of it all the way through to Barnstaple. This was another energy sapping section, and it seemed to take forever to reach Barnstaple. Despite it being completely flat, it was still very hot, and I was battling into a headwind all the way from Bideford to Barnstaple, with tired, aching legs from the earlier climbs.

At Barnstaple the route crosses the river Taw and then continues for 5km or so along the opposite side of the estuary, in the opposite direction from the previous section between Bideford and Barnstaple. Fortunately this mean the headwind turned into a tailwind, and I made quick progress down to Braunton, and arrived with a renewed energy. I was now within the final 25km section of the day, but knew that the section between Braunton and Ilfracombe was going to be the most challenging riding of the whole day.

As soon as I got out of Braunton the land rose very sharply, and within 5km I’d climb around 200m in two very steep, hard sections. There was little relief at the top, as despite the fact that the route profiles show this to be a flat plateau, in reality it was a series of rolling hills, with numerous short, sharp climbs followed by equally short descents. Finally I arrived at Willingcott, absolutely exhausted, and was able to enjoy a long descent all the way into Ilfracombe.

Unfortunately, the campsite turned out to be further out of Ilfracombe than I’d anticipated, and the coastal road heading east out of the town was a series of yet more very steep ups and downs. By this point I was totally out of energy, and all I wanted was for the day’s riding to be over.

It’s really difficult to get this feeling across in writing, and the above account doesn’t do it at all. The combination of physical exhaustion from climbing over 1000m in 30 degree heat all day, and the toil it had taken mentally, had left me with nothing. I finally arrived at the campsite at 19:30, having been on the go since 06:10. I was elated to have completed a 100+ mile ride, but far too tired to face cycling back into Ilfracombe to find somewhere to eat supper.

The campsite didn’t have any mobile signal, so in order to let Mum know I wasn’t dead or in hospital, after I’d set up my tent I had to cycle up to the top of a nearby hill so that I could use my phone (2.29km / 13.2 av. / 42.8 max. / 00:10:28), and I watched a beautiful sunset before going back to the site, eating an entire tube of Pringles, and going to bed.

By this point I’d already decided that there was no way I could complete the return leg down to Plymouth in one go the following day. Had the weather not been so hot, I think I’d have been able to do it, but I couldn’t have completed another 176km the next day in the same conditions. I decided that I’d split the return into two days, camping somehwere half way. This would allow me to enjoy the trip much more, and not have to constantly be thinking about getting as many kilometers done as possible.

Day 1 was by far the most challenging day of cycling I’ve ever done, and surpassed all of the challenges I faced on the London to Paris trip. Exhausted and aching, I collapsed into my tent and didn’t bother setting an alarm.

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