21 June 2011

memories of the night ride to Brighton

Amazing video from one of the FNRttCers

On Friday, May 13 Alberto and I had our first go at a new form of cycling adventure--an overnight ride.

We rode from Hyde Park Corner in London to the seafront in Brighton on a ride that was organised by the fabulous Simon from Friday Night Rides to the Coast (FNRttC). We heard about these rides last summer and Alberto was quick to make sure we signed up as soon as registration opened this year. As the date approached, there was a slight concern that I would have to be away for work that evening, but everything worked out in the end.

On the week leading up to the ride I felt quite nervous. I wasn't sure what to expect. I think I had a vision that everything would be pitch-black except for the beam of my light (we had purchased some good lights!). I was worried about riding in a large group, as its not something I do often, and I didn't know if I could keep up with them. Luckily, I had already been to Brighton a number of times so I knew the distance would not be a problem, but I had never gone over Ditchling Beacon before (having always chosen the other main way to get over the South Downs just outside of Brighton -- Devil's Dyke).

On Friday I arrived back from a work trip at about 5:30 and started to get everything ready for the ride. It was really strange to still have a whole evening at home, as we didn't need to leave our flat until 11pm. Alberto cooked a delicious pasta--stir fried farfalle with butternut squash and pine nuts. Eventually, it was time to get on the bikes and head to Hyde Park Corner.

Arriving at Hyde Park Corner a few minutes before midnight, at first we couldn't find the place where the cyclists had assembled. Then we turned and saw them: a hundred red lights blinking in the distance. We headed over to register ourselves with the ride organisers and Simon gave a safety talk, which I was a big fan of, as I was quite worried about safety in the darkness of the night!

The sight of 100 or more cyclists navigating their way through London after midnight on a Friday night must be impressive... many pedestrians asked us where we were going, and it was so much fun to see their faces when we answered, "Brighton!".

The first two hours or so we spent getting out of London. I have come to see the wisdom of this as it means that you have streetlights for the first few hours of the ride, and daylight comes early as well, meaning you really only have to deal with a few hours of darkness in the countryside.

I was in awe of Simon, the organiser, and the other volunteers, who marked the way and stayed with the slowest riders to make sure that everyone stayed together. To me, it just demonstrated everything that I love about communities--people coming together and giving their time in order to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Everyone on the ride was friendly and supportive, pointing out holes to one another and making small talk at the rest stops.

I felt great for the whole ride. I needn't have worried about being too slow, I think I was right in the middle of the pack and passed a fair number of people, though I was passed by many as well. Being in a group encouraged me to ride faster, and I think the fact that it was dark and I couldn't see my speedometer or what gear I was in really helped me to find my natural rhythm.

Alberto and I shortly after dawn. I stole this picture from someone on the cyclechat forums, but I can't remember who!

As the sun rose and the traffic began to pick up a bit, we approached the South Downs. Just before Ditchling Beacon, Alberto gave me a pep talk and we said goodbye as it was clear he would make it up much faster than me! I was working hard and in my lowest gear almost from the very beginning, but I just kept going, and even passed one guy! I really wanted to make it up and I think it was the mental will that kept me going more than anything else. I felt so proud when I made it the top. Having middle aged machacas congratulate me on a job well done was a nice bonus as well :-)

Cresting the Beacon!

We made it to Brighton at about 8:30am and ate the most delicious and welcome breakfast I think I have ever eaten at the Madeira Cafe in Brighton. But shortly afterwards, I started to hit a wall - having not slept in more than 24 hours, and cycled 115km as well, was starting to get to me. Although I would have loved to stay with our new cyclist friends, I just couldn't take it anymore, so we left and headed back to the station, tired but happy and definitely hooked on the night ride!

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