3 days of alternating painkillers and anti-inflammatories brought us to Saturday evening. Typically, it had been a busy day so I hadn't had much chance to relax. Such is life with a young family. But by 10pm I was as ready as I was ever going to be, so I got dressed and set off. Although the start is only 15 mins from home, I decided to go by train to save my back. 2 stops, I'd meet Mike at the station, and we'd go to the park. What could possibly go wrong?
Foolish boy, I heard Captain Manwaring say in my head, this was Southern Rail on a Saturday night...the train got to the first stop and stayed there. After several minutes and a series of announcements, the driver advised us to seek an alternative means of transport...! I had the bike of course, but I was also on the wrong side of Crystal Palace and needed to cycle up the steeper side of the hill to get there. Score One for laziness...
I got to the station where I met Mike and a chap called Adam who Mike had met on the train & was riding alone. So we merry three went off to the start, signed in and set off at 11pm. This year the organisers had remembered to talk to the park, so the exit we were using was unchained and we could ride through. It was all very jolly, but there was a person in the group with crappy pop pumping out of some hidden speakers (some dreadful Jessie J number which my daughter had been playing all day). Not only that, but they weren't even dressed as a cheerleader with the music coming out of comedy breasts, like the chap on the Ride London last year. We rode past them and escaped down the hill.
The route to Greenwich was the same as last year. Mike put in a few bursts on the hills but I was conscious of leaving *his* new mate behind so I rode with him. As it turned out, Adam was more than capable of keeping up, and proved to be a good ride companion.
After Greenwich it was the backstreets of Bermondsey & Rotherhithe before we hit Borough (in the shadow of the gargantuan Shard), through the market past Southwark Cathedral and along to Tower Bridge, stopping at the break stop on the way.
Though it was after midnight, there was still plenty of traffic, but I was already noting that it wasn't as busy as the previous year, because we were about 45 mins later. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really feeling it yet but as time went by I started to get more and more into it. I think the new energy drink I had prepared (breaking the cardinal rule of never trying a new product on your main ride) was making me feel a bit sick too, so I binned it and stuck to the water. I have to admit I was eyeing railway stations, thinking about my back and considering whether to stop and go home, but never that seriously...!
The route was slightly different in parts than last year, but it was a bit more direct. Through the city, then over Southwark Bridge, wiggle, back over Blackfriars Bridge, up to St Paul's, and back toward the Tower before striking out east. The cobbles of Wapping were tantalisingly close to the delicious grub of Whitechapel, but we were starting to outlast opening hours of the better establishments, so on we went through the utterly deserted and faintly dystopian Canary Wharf, towards Poplar, Bow and then Stratford.
There was a section of about 150m on the road up to the velodrome without any street lighting, so we briefly had some proper darkness. It didn't last long and we had our second break in the shadow of the Velodrome, where the articulated lorries of international broadcasters were already lined up ahead of Wiggo's successful attempt on the hour record, later that day. I was getting quite cold now, only having one long sleeved layer on and two short-sleeved ones, so was keen to get going again, having stocked up on crisps & cereal bars.
The next bit was also unfamiliar to Mike - through Hackney, Stoke Newington & other achingly trendy North London postcodes towards Alexandra Palace. There were still plenty of "revellers" out and about, though being later than last year, traffic was lighter. People were interested in what we were doing...next year I should take a donations bucket along or something, maybe hand out printed cards with the sponsorship url...
Progress was good, but I hadn't quite remembered how far Ally Pally was! Once we turned onto the access road, Mike told us that we were now heading south again - albeit briefly as we turned again to go west up the hill. I had been happily telling anyone who would listen to prepare for half an hour of misery, for the bottom of Ally Pally to the top of Hampstead involves quite a lot of up and not much down
Last year I had bonked badly going up to Hampstead, but this year there was another break stop 3/4 of the way there in Highgate. I was also surprised to find myself "flying" up Ally Pally, and rolling pretty smoothly up Wood Vale. That's when I remembered that my gears were recently upgraded to 32 from 28 on the back, which, it turns out, makes some difference!
I was also amused to see that though I had remembered the climb up Wood Vale, I hadn't remembered that once it finishes, there's even more climbing up to Highgate! Oh how we all laughed! Fortunately, the break stop was in exactly the right place, and we refuelled while the first glimmering of dawn broke. It was about 0315.
Last year this stretch had been solid with traffic and people staggering out of the pubs & clubs, but it was now well past 4am and it was much quieter. There was still a bit of a jam on Shaftesbury Avenue, caused by a delivery lorry, but we swept past and then on through Covent Garden, past the pissed lads doing skids on Boris Bikes, and over Waterloo Bridge, with this marvellous view:
A quick stop at the Imperial War Museum, then it was back over Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben, then along to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall towards Victoria.
Look at our guns!
Westminster Bridge & the Palace of Westminster, 0440
Nelson on his column
The boys were starting to struggle a bit now. My knee had been giving me gip for a while (ironically the back was ok, but it may have been referred pain), but I could still ride. Mike & Adam were getting very tired, but I still felt fresh - I reckon this was because as the dad of a kid with Type 1, I probably haven't had a proper night's kip for about 4 years, so an all night bike ride presented no problems!
The sunrise from Lambeth Bridge cheered us up, and we struck out for home, past the Oval, up towards Brixton then through the deserted streets of Herne Hill, leafy Dulwich and up College Road to Crystal Palace. I have done this climb many times - it is the easiest route up to Crystal Palace, though still has its moments, and I chatted to people on the way up and tried to offer encouragement. The end was nigh!
Then, after coming round a final bend and up a final ramp, we reached the top and there were just a few 100 metres to go to the finish. It was better organised this year, we had something to ride under before being presented with our finishing medals.
Here's me at the finish, shortly before the rubbish bacon sarnie and weak tea, both of which tasted like ambrosia!
We stood in the sun and chatted for half an hour, before going our separate ways. It was lovely to see so many people relaxing on the grass, some popping bottles of fizz, others stretching, all feeling quietly satisfied that they had done it. I said goodbye to Mike & Adam and went off down the hill for home. It was now after 0630, and I had promised to take the kids on the Tour de Penge at 9am, so I was planning to tough it out and stay awake. Initially I was so cold that I just undressed and got into bed to warm up - but after a few minutes, decided a better plan would be to have as hot a shower as I could, then go to bed. I duly did, and got a whopping 90 mins before the kids woke me up, and I got dressed again, ready for another bike ride. Madness, pure unadulterated madness - but they had a great time, and it was worth it!
I finally had a bit of a power nap at 1630, from which I was woken to be fed a couple of hours later, but by then I was feeling so rough that I went back to bed as soon as I'd put away a huge pizza and was probably asleep by 9pm...I'd like to say I slept the sleep of the virtuous until morning, but T1 parents don't get much sleep and I was up from 2am-3am dealing with a hyper!
The best thing about Nightrider is that it's very democratic - as it is mainly a charity ride there are all sorts of people in all sorts of kit on all sorts of bikes at all sorts of speeds, and a very different atmosphere to a testosterone fuelled sportive. I ended up really enjoying this year's ride. It was good to do it with friends, and it was good to know the route - even if I might have gone on a bit about the differences between the 2 years! I have so far raised £500 for JDRF - please think about donating if you haven't already! It's at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fatladonabike - THANK YOU!
The key difference between the two years though was what I felt I had missed last year, and that was the peace of the early morning. I used this poem on that blog then, and it still resonates.
Roll on 2016.
Upon Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth
EARTH has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,—
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!