Back in early June, Liz Pepper suggested a club ride to Whitstable for early August. Depending on the route, total distance would be 100-120 kms (65-75 miles to old codgers like me) and about 1000 metres of climbing. At Foxgrove we tend to run two levels of cycling group. An ‘elite team’ known for their speed (16-18 mph average) and amazing exploits in the more challenging events and sportives such as L’Etape, Maratona, Ride London and so on. Oh, and their ability to consume vast quantities of lager! The second ‘leisure group’ who are just as keen on their cycling but usually happy with shorter distances and 12-14 mph average speeds.
As a relatively new member of the club’s leisure group the idea of riding to the seaside appealed to me but the distance and climbing were about three times my normal repertoire. Maybe as once upon a time as a teenager I might have possibly done 40 miles but not since picking up cycling again many decades later! Anyway, I thought well there is a couple of months for training and maybe the leisure group could set off earlier (hours?) and arrive at Whitstable around the same time as our speed merchants.
In the end it was decided we would ride together as one club group at a pace that would make sure everyone got there in one piece. One of the rules I think was the faster guys and women were only allowed to use their smaller chain wheels. Another was they had to go slow enough to be able to talk to the leisure group during the ride. Coffee stops were mandatory for refuelling of course. In the meantime, I had increased my capabilities to 40 miles and up to 1000 metres, but that was still rather short of the target so I was quite nervous about what I had committed to. I knew for others in the leisure group 115 kms would represent a ‘lifetime achievement’ as well! In the end I was reassured by the fact that the whole thing was being well organised by our amazing club Secretary ‘Westie’ (Hannah) and the ride would be led by the club’s top cyclist Dave Hemming.
Even before the 7.30am start from Beckenham there was a certain amount of Whatsapp traffic on what to have for breakfast for a ride like this. It did seem that the women were better prepared for this length of ride. ‘CJ’ (Caroline) had advised the use of a secret cream currently unknown to average mankind! We were also blessed by perfect cycling weather at the start which lasted all day and Dave led the group off at a steady pace that gave everyone confidence we were in good hands and at least stood a chance of getting there.
Our first target was an amazing sounding place near Yalding called ‘Teapot Island’ on the river Medway. Before that however, once we left the busy roads behind, riding through the woodlands on the North Downs felt like we were really in touch with nature. Even more exhilarating were the fast sweeping sections of ride coming off the Downs into absolutely gorgeous Kent countryside. Right across the Medway Basin the ride was in gently undulating, beautiful open country. I noticed the pace had picked up compared to earlier but it seemed everyone, including me, seemed quite comfortable with that.
Teapot Island was a perfect first stopping place for coffee, cake (me) and breakfast for those who had abstained before the start of the ride. It is genuinely an island in the middle of the Medway, see their website for details of other attractions if you are not a hungry cycling group with still 60+ kms to go. This was where our amazing leader Dave got his first ‘puncture’ during the coffee break. Well if you will use tubeless tyres! Dave is well known in the club for his mechanical skills as well so it was fixed in the time it took to eat about two mouthfuls of cake.
Many more kilometres across lovely rolling Wealden landscapes took us to the next climbing section up the A274 to Sutton Valence. For me this was a challenge and several times I wanted to get off and lie down but Westie was just in front keeping going even though she was apparently in pain with her knees and, in any case, it would have been too much of a blow to my male ego to have a rest stop! Dave did have a rest stop though halfway up for his second puncture! Flashy tyres again. CJ’s friend Hannah left us at this point to ride to her parents’ home in Maidstone. She had done really well as my impression this ride was, like some of us, also beyond her normal range.
We had planned to stop at Lenham for further refueling but as most things seemed to be working except Westie’s knees and various bits of my ageing body and we had momentum as a group the decision was to carry on. With hindsight we should have stopped for a short break as there was another tough (for me at least) climb to come up Hubbards Hill and Lenham was about at my previous maximum range of 70 kms. From this point on I really appreciated the verbal support from the elite riders, Liz, Dave, Mark, Colin and Steve. Once over Hubbards Hill it was another great, fast undulating ride down through open country to Faversham where Dave had his third puncture. I think at this point we had worked out that 25mm road tubes in a big fat tyre was a dodgy set up.
The last section along the coast with gentle sea breezes felt good as tired legs were pedaling towards Whitstable. Sand dunes provided just about the right level of shelter, otherwise it might have been more of a push. As we were going down Whitstable High Street Dave spotted Herbert’s Cycles shop who sorted out his tyre problems on the spot. We should say that Dave is actually ‘cycling royalty’ so the owner immediately recognised him and all the staff were keen to ‘help’. It sounded like trade discounts were involved!
After a little bit of satnav problems, we ended up at our final target which was the Neptune pub on the beach. Very crowded but it was such a brilliant day to be at the seaside and Westie’s parents plus Mo were there to welcome the team. I noticed that Foxgrove CC has an interesting warm down routine. It involves mostly sitting down with very precise arm movements, i.e. beer from table to mouth. Maybe the Team GB coaches could learn something from us! I am afraid I wimped out fairly early in the re-hydration proceedings to get the train back to Bromley but it was an amazing day for me and has undoubtedly extended my confidence about what I can achieve on a cycle. Garmin said we did 117kms (73 miles) in 5 hours 25 minutes moving time at 22kms/hour (13.51 mph) so a long distance at the upper end of the leisure group’s speed range. Thank you to the rest of the team for making that happen.
Written by Andy Spencer