Colchester to London
Despite being in a room fronting onto a main road I slept the sleep of the exhausted and woke with the alarm at 07:00.
Peering out of the net curtained windows I could see the weather forecast was living up to expectations; the sky was clear and there was a brisk westerly wind ruffling the leaves of the trees on the opposite side of the road.
Putting on the kettle for a wake up coffee I sat back on the bed and glanced around the room. The decorative style was eclectic. There were pictures of foreign streets and religious buildings hanging from the walls in cheap frames and numerous knickknacks dotted around that had a definite continental European feel about them.
The room was warm, mainly because I had turned the radiator on the night before to dry out my cycling clothes after washing them. Plucking my shorts from the radiator I hauled them on whilst waiting for the kettle to do its job.
I was feeling groggy and not appreciating being awake but after playing catch up for most of the previous day I was hoping to be on the bike by 08:00. If I managed to maintain 10 mph I would be at the next B&B by 18:00. Getting close to the summer equinox it would still be perfectly light at 21:00 so I could go slower if necessary without getting too stressed.
The kettle was still grumbling away, trying to persuade the water to get hotter so I dragged on my other cycling clothes and decided to pack my saddle bag. To save time I had sorted it all out the night before into clear plastic bags for waterproofing, should it rain heavily and my saddlebag leak. With a little thought I managed the puzzle of fitting everything in with the most needed items in the most accessible areas.
By now the kettle was growling at the water and it was finally getting the message.
Spotting my reading book on the bedside table I cursed. Wrapping it in its waterproof plastic bag I emptied the saddle bag and shoved the book, which was not needed during the day, at the back and re-packed.
Eventually the water was roared to boiling point and I made myself a long awaited mug of coffee.
Whilst I waited for it to cool I realised all my devices were still charging. Starting to get hot under the collar I retrieved them and set them to one side, ready to take downstairs and to be attached to the bike. I shoved all the chargers and leads into their plastic bag and once more emptied the saddlebag and re-packed it with the leads at the back, with the book. The puzzle was a little more difficult this time and the bag rather more bulging.
By now the coffee had cooled sufficiently to sip. The whole boiling and cooling process had taken an age and my 08:00 starting time was fast approaching. Feeling hot and bothered I swigged a mouthful and reached for my shoes, only to discover my tablet, charging on the floor near the bed, from where I had blogged the night before.
In a boiling rage I ripped open the saddle bag and unceremoniously dumped the contents onto the bed. I then shoved the tablet and its charger in a bag and repacked the whole bloody lot. Coffee now eclipsed from my mind by the vibrating bulk of the troll, as he sniggered on my shoulder, I bustled out of the door. Juggling the saddlebag, my helmet and two water bottles I stomped down the stairs and loaded everything onto my bike. Glancing at my watch I cooled to a simmer realising that it was still a couple of minutes before 08:00. I would just have time to say goodbye to my hosts.
Not being British my hosts invited me into their kitchen and wanted to chat. Feeling it would be rude to refuse I thought I could perhaps allow 5 minutes or so without ruining my plans too much.
The kitchen was like a European conference. There were eight people in the room of varying nationalities. There were two Italians, a German, an Austrian, two Spaniards a Pole and a Brit (me). And my host was talking to all of us in our own languages. I have to admit it made me feel rather inadequate, although it was clearly not intended to. I was plied with coffee and home-made muffins which were an unexpected bonus but I became increasingly anxious as the caffeine toxicity levels in my blood rose and the hands on the clock ticked around. Far from having been washed down the plug hole the night before, the troll seemed to have had a good night’s sleep and was reminding me that each five minutes spent chatting was a mile on the road. I resolved to excuse myself but the troll advised against it. For once I had to agree; how would it affect diplomatic relations if Britain was the first nation to leave the conference?
Eventually the two Spaniards made a move and I quickly followed in their wake with a final muffin, handed to me by my host, sticking out of my back pocket. By way of thanks I promised to ‘accidentally’ leave her business cards at each of my stops along the route.
Pushing away from the kerb I couldn’t help thinking that the night’s stay had been one of my strangest. The hosts were warm and friendly and generous but it hadn’t felt like a traditional B&B. It was very much a tiny European enclave in the middle of ancient Britain. Although I suppose Colchester is Italian at its root, even though those roots are nearly 2,000 years old. Of course, it might seem strange talking about Europeans as if Britain is not part of Europe. We are all European. The non-Brits just happen to be foreign.
A mile of residential back streets brought me to Oliver’s Lane, a single track strip of tarmac between wheat fields. The wind was strong and cold but, despite my delayed start, my mental attitude was better today and I refused to be cowed by it. Fighting the instinctive urge to push too hard against the pedals too early in the day, I eased off. Saving 10% of effort had little effect on my speed and I would appreciate the conserved energy later in the day.
As if to reward me, hedges began to appear, shielding me from the wind. I started to feel upbeat. The sun was shining and I was free of responsibility, king of the road before me. With the wind mostly deflected I felt like the fresh green wheat in the field alongside, standing tall and proud with its collective heads held high, not bowed down like the wheat of yesterday.
I was even philosophical when the lovely lane seemed to end in a deeply gravelled parking area behind some modern but isolated houses. There was no indication that the route turned so I had no choice but to go on, climbing off and pushing through the gravel on my thin tyres.
The lane continued beyond the gravel but started to narrow and go downhill through a wooded area. As it did so the tarmac started to decayed and soon disappeared under mud and grit. The further I rolled the steeper and muddier the path became. The nettles and brambles on each side of the path were reaching out to each other, making a concerted effort to join forces. It was now early June and I was convinced that by July they would have succeeded.
I’m not sure how far back in history Oliver’s Lane stretches but at the bottom of the hill it crossed the Roman River before climbing back up the other side of the V valley. The climb was not massive but was steep and slippery and can clearly be seen on the route profile at the end of the chapter as the sharp down and up after about 4km.
The lane soon levelled out again and continued as a mud track for a few hundred metres until it re-joined a tarmacked lane. A short distance along the lane I spotted an impressive looking building in the distance. A couple of turns later I glimpsed it again, so when I came to a sign to Layer Marney Tower I decided to meander off the route to have a look.
The building was well worth the extra effort, particularly the gatehouse, which is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the country. When I first saw it I thought it had eight floors but later discovered that it only has four. It has been cunningly designed with double windows on each floor to make it appear bigger than it already is. Clearly Lord Marney was seeking to make a major impression when he commissioned the tower in the 1520’s.
Back on my route I rolled along the lanes contemplating how much history there was in the area. I had stumbled upon a mediaeval castle, a Georgian windmill, a roman gateway and now a Tudor tower, not to mention the numerous Saxon and Norman churches along the roadside, and all that without really looking for it. There were also lots of straight roads and I wondered whether these dated all the way back to Roman times. I know the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and the Middle East have a visible seam of history even deeper but there is plenty in England to make you feel the fleeting insignificance of your own time on the planet.
Whilst contemplating my own insignificance in the greater order of things I slowed to a stop beside a sign to Poyston Fruit Farm. The simple addition of a small black line and the sign would read Royston Fruit Farm. Who’s insignificant now? (I should stress I did not add the small black line on the actual sign, just on the picture I took!)
There were a surprising number of cyclists around. I suppose I should have expected such on a national cycle route but I have been on routes before and met next to nobody all day. Still, it was a sunny Sunday morning, the most likely time to find people on their bikes.
At one point a group of riders came barrelling towards me, going fast in the opposite direction. They looked young, lean and stern of face and made no reaction to my cheery, “Good morning!”
Over the next 20 minutes or so various other groups scuttled by and I realised that it was a local cycling club out on their Sunday morning run. The main group must have split, forming clusters of equally fit riders in smaller groups. The composition of each group became steadily older and chubbier but their faces showed more joy at cycling and their responses to my greetings were ever more genial.
Right at the back came the true MAMILs [Middle Aged Men In Lycra], a group to which I consider myself a part. Sporting brand new World Tour team kit, astride their sparkling £3-8K steads, they were several minutes behind the rest, sat up chatting to each other about their latest piece of super lightweight cycling kit that would save them that extra 5% of effort.
I must have been in prime cycling country for only a few miles further down the road I started coming across marshals at the road junctions. They looked at me a little bemused but halted traffic for me and waved me on my way. To be honest I don’t think they were there for my benefit, I guess there must have been a local cycling event in the area and I was ahead of the pack. They weren’t expecting anybody yet, especially someone ambling along at a snail’s pace. Although, thankfully, I was not leaving quite so much of a snail trail behind me today.
Aside from the short descent and climb on the mud track at the beginning of the day and a welcome stretch of downhill at about 12 miles, the day had been pretty much flat until 25 miles in. Then the road started to turn upwards. Not steeply, but steadily. It dragged on and on and I grew slower and slower, the effect of gravity on my laden bike out doing the minimal power in my unfit legs. The two miles of climb, after so much flat over the last two days, felt like a lot further and I was thankful to drop down the other side.
At the bottom of the hill my Garmin tried to direct me through a farm building. I could see that if I stayed on the road I would be joining the A12, which looked menacingly busy. I wanted to avoid that so I scooted further down the road looking for another way. Fortunately, just before the A12, I was signed onto a dirt track that led alongside the main road. The track was rough, having been used by farm vehicles, and headed north for 400 metres before turning under the A12, as the road crossed the River Chelmer. It then backtracked 400 metres on the other side of the road to a point opposite its start. If I had jumped off the bike and pushed across the road it would have saved me half a mile of rough track. Then again, it could have gotten me killed.
The track turned away from the A12 and climbed a gentle slope through a vast field of cabbages. It soon joined a tarmacked lane leading into Chelmer Village, now subsumed by Chelmsford.
I felt uncomfortable on Chelmer Village Way, which was one of the busier roads I had been on. By the standards of the roads I commute to work on, it was not particularly hectic and I took it as a good sign that my mind was beginning to get into long distance mode, shunning busy and fast in favour of quiet and leisurely.
I was soon turning off the road onto a succession of excellent cycle paths that guided me along the banks of the River Chelmer, crossing it several times, to pass through Chelmsford without really noticing it. It reminded me of passing through the urban sprawl of the Midlands via canal paths on my Land’s End to John O’Groats adventures. There was a whole world of manic not far away but the path I was following was calm and tranquil, bedecked with poppies and being enjoyed by other like-minded cyclists.
The paths and lanes may have been quiet but the troll was keen to point out that I was starting to fall behind schedule. “It’s midday already and you’ve only covered 30 miles!”
“Yes, but I did lose half an hour at the conference,” I retorted.
“So! That’s still only 30 miles in 3½ hours – 8½ mph! If you keep that sort of speed up you be lucky to get in before dark.”
I couldn’t fault him, the troll was annoyingly good at maths. Trying to ignore him I pressed on.
If you contemplate the screenshot from Google Maps above you will perhaps understand how my mind wandered between Chelmsford and the next reference point in my notes, roughly 15 miles later. The whole was a constant succession of quiet narrow roads with barely any traffic, aside from the odd cyclist. The only things I passed to distract me were ‘PUBLIC FOOTPATH’ signs. These appeared with alarming frequency and none of them gave any indication of where they led or how far away ‘where’ was. It was a network of paths for the adventurous, those more concerned with traveling than their destination.
As more and more signs were passed my mind began to warp the wording on the signs. I don’t know why. Maybe I glimpsed a sign with the ‘L’ obscured from PUBLIC or a twig adding a bottom curve to the ‘P’ in FOOTPATH but soon I was reading ‘PUBIC FOOTBATH’. Perhaps I was starting to get very tired. Or maybe I am just weird. Whatever the cause I stopped to take a photo of one of the signs, just to remind me of how my mind was dealing with the endless miles of sameness. Of course, a network of signs to the pubic footbaths would be for the really adventurous.
My mind must have been desperately looking for something to do by that stage because the next two notes I have are for more plays on names from road signs. One wondering what happened up Faggotters Lane and another at ‘Matching Tye’ wondering if there was a nearby village called Shirt. Clearly there was nothing much happening but I was making better time because I had travelled 15 miles in 1 hour and 7 minutes, an average speed of 13½ mph. In your face, troll.
Despite being good for my overall moving speed the time spent in the country lanes meant that I hadn’t passed a shop for a long time. My water bottles were empty and my supply of pocket food was rapidly diminishing. On previous trips I had planned to the extent of sending ‘red cross’ parcels containing energy drink powder and cereal bars for pocket food to each B&B along my route so that I would always have a supply of food. On this trip I had decided to try without and was now starting to regret the decision.
Fortunately, not long after crossing over the M11, I entered Old Harlow and the route directed me up the pedestrianised High Street. Purchasing water, orange juice and food I packed it into my silk rucksack and set off to hunt out a comfortable place to eat. I rejected a few benches as being too close to the busy road into Harlow but tracked down St John’s Church and sat in the sun amongst the gravestones. I wasn’t the only one, there were plenty of birds flitting in and out of the trees and an optimistic cat slinking between the graves.
Lunch was welcome and refreshing but ate up time. I think I relaxed for too long in the sheltered heat as it reflected off the stone walls of the church onto my little bench. It was 14:05 and I was at 50 miles. My average speed had improved to 9 mph but that was still less than I had been managing on my Land’s End to John O’Groats ven tures, which I had thought were slow themselves. I had put my 10 mph speed on those trips down to the stop-start nature of the route, with its frequent canal paths and cycle paths with their obstacles that required you to stop or slow down to almost a stop and then accelerate away again. The route so far today had suffered from little of that. I could only put it down to the wind and my fitness level this time around.
On the positive side, I was just over halfway so another 5½ hours (the time so far) would get me in at my B&B by around 19:30. Also the wind was forecast to swing northerly and I was about to turn south.
Reluctantly returning to the bike I followed a network of excellent cycle paths through Harlow and then a lane to Roydon where, just before the railway crossing, I turned left onto a lane alongside the River Stort. Unfortunately the lane turned north and my route continued by the river as a dirt path. It was very narrow and rough and there were a lot of walkers using it. It made for very slow going, constantly stopping to let people amble by.
The condition of the path improved when it became the towpath of the River Lea Navigation and the number of walkers dwindled as I cycled further from Roydon. There was a real maze of paths and I was glad I was following a route on my Garmin. I think I would have quickly become lost without it.
The paths were variable, at times wide and smooth and sometimes narrow and pitted but overall the atmosphere was tranquil and relaxed, not entirely what I had expected this close to London. One section was playing on my mind though. Prior to riding this part of the route through the Lea Valley I had taken a little time to view it on Google Earth and had noted that the track took me across some open fields, zig zagging erratically at one point. I was please to find that when I got there a brand new tarmacked path had been constructed, although the zig zag was a hairpin bend path up a fairly stiff climb (steeper than it looks in the picture anyway).
I caught my first sight of a Boris Bike* just before passing under the M25 near Waltham Abbey. It was a long way from the City! I’m not sure it was exactly the use they were planned for but it seemed like an excellent idea.
South of the M25 the path continued alongside the King George’s Reservoir and then the William Girling Reservoir. These were not noteworthy in themselves but I had been anticipating them. When we visit my brother-in-law and his family we cross between the two reservoirs by road and they were a sign I was getting close to the end. I knew it could not be much further into London now because my brother-in-law often commutes by bike into the City of London. I was looking forward to covering some of the same route.
That enjoyment was marred somewhat by the ever present tick. Despite several attempts to locate the cause I had still not found it. No matter how I tried to ignore it the troll whispered about major problems, like a broken bottom bracket [bit attaching the pedal crank arms to the frame]. Eventually I succumbed and stopped on a long straight section of canal path, where I was unlikely to cause an obstruction, and tested the bottom bracket. There seemed to be no give in it so I told the troll to shut up and carried on.
Passing under the North Circular Road, signalled that I was now approaching the main heat of the city. But things continued much the same along the River Lea Navigation, except that it started to get busier and there was more graffiti.
A low bridge under a railway line had me off the bike. Not out of necessity, it was possible to limbo under, but to take a shot. It is not an ideal obstacle on a cycle path but no worse than the bridges with ridges of bricks across that I had come over, forcing me to walk.
Before long I was picking my way through the walkers on the path through the Olympic Park at Stratford, bringing back memories of our visit to the Games in 2012.
I cycled close to the velodrome, weaving through the walkers at a stately 8 mph. At that very moment Sir Bradley Wiggins was inside, preparing for his attempt at the hour record, basically covering as much distance as possible in 1 hour. He set off at six thirty and by seven thirty had covered 54.526 km or nearly 34 miles. That was nearly four times faster than I had been moving today. He would have covered my trip in less than 3 hours. His bike wouldn’t have been very comfortable on the canal paths though.
Having brought me most of the way into the city, I left the Lea River Navigation and cut south west between the Hertford Union Canal and Victoria Park. The park was hosting an annual Field Day music festival and as a result the crowds were particularly thick [lots of people, not stupid people] and the cycling extremely slow despite the path being as side as a road.
Breaking free of the crowd I joined a road for a few hundred metres then cut onto the tow path of Regents Canal, which led me south to the banks of the River Thames. Alongside Canary Wharf the route kept to the river path before moving to the road for the last mile, past Millwall Docks to the southern point of the Isle of Dogs and the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
The tunnel was opened in 1902 to replace an expensive and sometimes unreliable ferry service and was intended to allow workers living on the south side of the Thames to reach their workplaces in the London docks and shipyards then situated in or near the Isle of Dogs. I was going to use it to take me to the south bank of the Thames where I would leave Route 1 and pick up Route 4, which would lead me all the way to my goal of St David’s on the western tip of Wales.
I joined another heaving mass of humanity at the domed entrance to the foot tunnel, all waiting to descend to the tunnel itself. Fortunately the lift arrived at the same time I did and I squeezed my bike into a corner, trying to take up as little space as possible. The space became more and more crushed and I was soon pushed up against the bike, wishing I had stood the other side of it so that I could use it as a shield. Eventually the doors closed and the lift descended quickly to the tunnel under the Thames.
I let the press disembark and then swiftly followed before the up going crowd swamped me. I pushed my bike through the tunnel though many coming the other way seemed to ignore the no cycling rule. To be honest I was quite happy to be walking, stretching out my tight hamstrings. I might have felt differently without the benefit of the recessed cleats on my shoes though.
At the end of the tunnel all the people I had let off of the down lift first were massed to take the lift up to ground level. Not wishing to try and squash in with my bike I decided to ascend the spiralling stairs. The lift had taken mere seconds to descend so we couldn’t be that far down.
It was a mistake. The weight of the laden bike was soon grinding into my shoulder and my legs were protesting against this sort of weight training exercise after nearly 90 miles in the saddle. Thankfully, 100 steps later, I emerged into the sunlight with the bow of the Cutty Sark* looming above me.
Cutty Sark is one of the last tea clippers to be built (1869) and one of the fastest. She once held the record for the fastest voyage from Australia to England. Listed by National Historic Ships as part of the National Historic Fleet (the nautical equivalent of a Grade 1 Listed Building), she is one of only three remaining original composite construction (wooden hull on an iron frame) clipper ships from the nineteenth century.
Perching on the concrete edge of one of the raised flower beds, I stopped to eat, drink and soak in a bit of the atmosphere. And to let my legs recover from the hike up the stairs.
London is nothing if not cosmopolitan. I’m sure it must have the broadest range of ethnic groups of any city in the world. Certainly as I sat munching my way through a pasty I had bought back in Old Harlow I could overhear a multitude of languages. My ride down the, at times, rough canal paths had broken the pasty into handy bite sized chunks and as I fished another from the pack I tried to identify some of them. Sadly my language skills are poor but what was notable by its absence was English. I had noticed this heading south from Roydon. The snippets of conversation picked up as I cycled by chatting groups had become frequently less English the closer I came to the city. It seemed our great capital city was considerably more ethnic than it was English. That is in no way supposed to be a judgment, it was just a very noticeable observation from someone who lives in a backwater county that has a population that is 95% white British and a town where less than 1% are not white British. Strangely I felt a bit like a foreign visitor.
Shaking myself from contemplation I loaded the next stage of my ride onto the map of my Garmin. This would take me from the Cutty Sark to my hotel in Chelsea, 10 miles away on the north bank of the Thames.
By this stage I was very tired and I found it difficult to follow the twisting, turning route as it writhed and fought its way through the back streets towards the centre of London. This was not helped by the Garmin starting to freeze intermittently, the tall buildings and the predominance of stonework all around seeming to play havoc with its satellite reception. I kept going off route and soon had to rely upon signs for Route 4, rather than the Garmin.
It was a good plan. At least it would have been if my mind wasn’t so fatigued. Either I kept missing signs or they didn’t exist at every junction. It didn’t help that some were painted on the ground, others were on sign posts and some were tiny stickers on lampposts the other side of the street, several metres from the turn. I suppose Sustrans had to put them wherever they could fit them but with traffic and pedestrians to negotiate and other bikes that knew where they were going speeding by in both directions it made them easy to miss. So I did. Frequently.
It was also stupidly busy on the roads and concentrating to the max was draining. It didn’t help that I was contending with some crazy pedestrians as well as cars and buses. It appears that Londoners are like sheep on Dartmoor. If I lived in a place with screaming death barging along the streets the whole time I would look twice before stepping into the road. Looking even once would have helped! To be fair, those with a seeming death wish were probably tourists, not expecting the traffic to be approaching from the opposite way they were used to, but it still added to the obstacles.
From studying the map I knew that in that last ten miles I passed within a mile of a cornucopia of world famous sights: the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Covent Garden, Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, 10 Downing, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tate Britain and Battersea Power Station Street to name but a few. I passed Tower Bridge (that famous bascule bridge), London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and Westminster Bridge, eventually crossed the Thames on Lambeth Bridge. A few back streets later I was cycling along the Chelsea Embankment and turning left at the Albert Bridge to my hotel.
My Garmin decided that was the time to freeze up completely. Nothing would work. Pressing buttons did nothing. It wouldn’t even switch off. Fortunately I had reached the right street but, despite having looked at the hotel using street view on Google Maps, I was finding it difficult to locate. Every building looked the same and none of them had hotel signs. Stupidly I hadn’t made a note of the street number.
In a half drunken state of tiredness I scooted up and down the street until I eventually spotted a very small sign, hiding in the corner of one of the windows as if embarrassed to state that it was the required hotel. I mounted the steps, rang the doorbell and waited, my bike down on the pavement, leaning against the railings.
It took some time for the door to be answered because, I was later to learn, the reception room was down in the basement. I introduced myself and the young Australian receptionist said she was expecting me and ushered me in. I asked where the best place to leave my bike was and she pointed across the road to a Boris Bike stand and suggested that I chained it there. I patiently explained that I had booked with a bike and there was no way I was going to chain my £2k bike to a bloody rail in a backstreet of London overnight. Not that I had a chain with me, aside from a flimsy thing designed as a minor deterrent when parked for a minute or two outside of shops.
Perhaps I wasn’t as patient as I thought I was being because I was met with a stony face and told there was no room in the hotel for the bike, the corridors were quite narrow and a bike would cause an obstruction. Trotting down the steps and shouldering my bike I mounted the steps and confidently told the young antipodean that I would carry it to my room, leaving the corridors free. She looked dubious but shrugged.
The corridors were narrow. The stairs even more so. The turns were particularly tight, necessitating me to tip the bike vertically to edge around without scraping tyre rubber across the walls under the watchful eye of the receptionist. I was soon wishing I had taken the bag off of the bike before starting up the stairs. Three flights later I was sweaty and my arms were beginning to tremble with the effort of keeping the bike in the air. Lucky I had got in that training earlier at Greenwich!
With the trace of a smug smile the receptionist opened the door to my room. Except that it wasn’t the door to my room, it was a door to a pointless short corridor. The door to my room was opposite the open door and there was a door to another room to the right with about a 3 foot length of corridor leading to it. Clearly the hotel owner had tried to cram as many rooms as possible into an old building. And he had employed O’Reilly’s, the builders from Fawlty Towers, to do the job because the door to the ‘corridor’ and the door to my room opened into each other! The only way into the room was to open the outer door, step to the side, close the outer door and then open the door to my room. This would have been inconvenient under normal circumstances but with a bike in tow it was a conundrum. I had to shuffle the bike in on its back wheel, squeeze in next to it, close the outer door, open the door to my room and reverse in. During the operation I was just praying that the door to the other room didn’t open, because that would have probably opened outwards too. With a bit of swearing and cursing I was in and just managed to squeeze the bike in at the end of the bed.
The receptionist seemed satisfied, either that I had managed to get the bike in without damaging anything or that I had struggled heartily in doing so, I’m not sure which, and left letting me know that breakfast was served in the dining room next to reception in the basement between 8 and 9am. This was later than I had hoped but I didn’t rate my chances of pushing for an earlier start so smiled sweetly and bid her goodnight.
I’m not sure why the receptionist was so concerned with me making a mess with my bike, the hotel wasn’t exactly salubrious. But then it was listed as budget and cost very little for a Chelsea address. Slumping on the bed I relaxed my shoulders, letting the tension out. I had made it. The bed seemed comfortable enough, which was the main consideration. And it had an ensuite so I needn’t worry about waiting for a shower.
Before getting too comfortable I went through my evening routine of unpacking my bag and re-sorting the contents, washing my bottles and re-filling them, then showering and washing my kit.
Feeling refreshed I then remembered that the Garmin had frozen. I tried it again and found it the same. I tried plugging it in with all my other kit that was charging, thinking that a power boost might work. No. I tried a forced shut down by holding the power button for several seconds and this finally shut it down. I left it for a couple of minutes and turned it back on, hoping it would have sorted the problem. No. Still frozen. That left me with one final option, which was a factory reset. This would wipe out all my customised data pages, which would be a pain because I would have to spend half an hour setting them up again but with no other choice I held down the power button and the reset button together for a few seconds until the unit blipped off. When I powered up it was unfrozen! Hooray!
I struggled to set the data screens up. Despite having stared at them hundreds of times I couldn’t remember exactly where I had put everything but eventually I had it looking sort of right. Then I went to load the route for the next day to see what I was up against. Ah! No routes. The factory reset had wiped out all my routes, something I didn’t think it was supposed to do.
My mind froze in panic at the thought of not having a route to follow for the next few days. On top of feeling wretchedly tired and unfit and the constant irritating tick on the bike this was too much to handle. The tiny travel troll yanked my earlobe and hissed into my ear that I should give up and go home. When he said it I was strangely relieved. This was just the excuse I needed to abandon the ride. I was struggling anyway and not enjoying it as much as I should have been. I could get a bit fitter and try again later.
Frowning I realised what the troll was up to. He was playing a blinder. He hadn’t said a word since entering London, despite several opportunities of spreading the gloom, and now hit me with a quite reasonable remark. Cunning! But I wasn’t falling for it.
I had found myself in a similar situation on my first end to end ride from John O ‘Groats to Land’s End. When I reached my B&B for the night before the start I discovered that I had completely forgotten to load my routes onto the Garmin. At the time I was new to satellite navigation and it was more of a backup to my paper route so the loss wasn’t too much of a problem. Nevertheless I had still managed to borrow a computer from the B&B owner and had download the routes. I could do the same now.
Calling the 24 hour emergency rescue service (wife) I gave her some instructions as to where to find the gpx files and asked her to email them to me. Checking my email on the tablet a few minutes later I could see that they were there but unfortunately I had no way to transfer them to the Garmin because the tablet had no USB port. This meant I would have to go and chat up my new antipodean friend down in the basement.
Grabbing my Garmin and a USB cable I exited through the double airlock and descended the numerous stairs, which was a lot easier without the bike.
To cut a long story short, Laura turned out to be very friendly and pleasant. Also very helpful, letting me borrow her laptop to transfer the files to my Garmin. She had to help a fair bit because her laptop was a Mac and I was unfamiliar with the operating system but we got there in the end; with one small exception and that was the gpx for the first few miles of the next day, from the hotel to Hampton Court. After failing to load it for the third time I decided that it didn’t matter. I could get the Garmin to navigate me to the beginning of the following route, from Hampton Court to my B&B for the end of the third day.
Much relieved I headed back to my room, stuffed down some food and then phoned home, there being no Wi-Fi connection for Skype. Finally I typed a few thoughts onto the blog and crashed.
Today was a much better day for the mental. I set off much more positively and had a much better day. The lanes and paths were extremely quiet with barely a car to be seen. There were a lot of bikes though. I guess you should expect that on a national cycle route but I have been on others with very few.
A large club run went by in several batches. The first group whizzed by, full of young, lean riders, stern of face with no response to my cheery hello. The composition of the groups became steadily older and chubbier and slower but their responses more joyful as each went by. The true MAMILS were at the back, several minutes behind, having a good chat about their latest super light kit.
There was more off road today but nothing too bad. The paths along the river Lee into London were great. It was hard to believe I was moving through London at all. The only problem was the mass of humanity using it. The last 20 miles took FOREVER.
I have discovered that humans in London are like sheep on Dartmoor: bloody stupid. If I lived in a place full of lethal dangers I would look before stepping out into the road.
I had trouble navigating in London. I kept losing the r4 signs and the sat nav kept losing satellites because of the tall buildings and all the interference. With 500 m to go it froze completely. The only way to unfreeze it proved to be a factory reset. The downside was I lost all my routes! I had to get my wife to email me the routes and then beg computer access from the B&B hosts to download them to the sat nav. It seems to have worked. The only one I do not have is the first 10 miles tomorrow to Hampton court. If I cannot pick up r4 I will have to use the sat nav to route direct to Hampton court.
No Wi-Fi access tonight so this will have to be posted tomorrow:-)
Day 2 Statistics
Av heart rate:
Sadly, the factory reset of the Garmin wiped out all the data for the day.
Day 2 Elevation Profile
Note: The elevation profile is from Colchester to Greenwich and does not include the last 10 miles to the hotel, which was pan flat. Also, the major spike on the elevation profile was actually a steady 3% hills for a couple of miles up and then down. Just goes to show how flat the day was as a whole.