You don’t always need to know you can do something, you just need to believe you can do it. That belief will drive your motivation, your determination and your willingness to do everything you can to succeed. (Or just bone idled stubbornness which I have in abundance.)
I didn’t know for sure I could cycle 132 miles but I believed I probably could. I also believed (and confirmed this to myself frequently during the cycle) that this was an utterly ridiculous idea.
I packed my bags last Thursday night ready for my early start on Friday. I was anxious and worried particularly given that the longest ride I had ever done was 44 miles. I was about to do 3 times that non stop….by myself.
I started at 5.38am on Friday morning from my house in Surrey. By the time I had got to my starting point in Peasmarsh I had cycled 9.5miles and already lost 2 bananas (they must be somewhere on a towpath near Guildford) and I had managed to also snot all over my face by attempting to clear my nose (sorry, and something I really dislike but is sometimes necessary) and failing.
The downslink route is a flat (mainly) almost completely off-road route along the line of two disused railways the first from Guildford to Horsham and then Horsham to Shoreham – then I tagged on the bit to Brighton pier for good measure. It didn’t operate for very long in comparison to others closing in 1965 just a few months before its centenary. Old stations across the route include Bramley, Baynards and West Grinstead with, the now private dwelling of, Baynards being a beautifully well kept heritage site the garden housing the two well maintained station platforms that used to operate here. The steepest part of this route follows this station as the route avoids the Baynards tunnel (long since closed although the opening still obvious from the south side) – which makes you curse the fact you had to just go up an incline that felt like 90 degrees to get over it.
When I say steep, I mean ridiculously steep both up and down the other side. I had to do that 3 times on this challenge. I cycled up it the first. That was the only time I could.
The rest of the inclines on the route were less severe although to be honest by the time I had done so many miles anything steeper than a kerb seemed insurmountable.
I got to Brighton (the first time) about 10.30ish, 50 miles down and actually feeling good but I knew the worst was yet to come. As I had essentially formulated this route for myself I then I had to also plan in rest stops, somewhere where I could check in with my other half and also switch round food, etc or things I didn’t want to have to carry. At Southwater (for the second time) I was starting to flag desperate to get onto that last leg back to Brighton but that was still 20 miles away. In my head at the time I really thought that maybe if I got back to Peasmarsh that would be it, did I really have to go back to Brighton again? How disappointed would people be? But of course it didnt come down to that it came down to how disappointed I would be…I had to do it.
Then, at Rudgwick, under a railway bridge I was joined by my other half’s brother, Graham, he couldn’t have joined at a better time, I was flagging and grumpy and was desperate to get those last 10 miles back to Peasmarsh done. As we went through Cranleigh for a water / banana stop I knew we weren’t far yet it seemed to take forever along the endless trail. Not helped that it being an old railway it is also pretty straight so you can always see so far in front of you that it just adds to the thought that the trail will never end….ever. Soon after Cranleigh though we heard the unmistakable ‘Pssst’ noise. Puncture…on my back tyre. A huge thorn had got lodged and instantly deflated it, we did as quick a change as possible and got back on our way but it felt like a set back.
As we got back to Peasmarsh I knew I still had 41 miles to go but at least it was all in the same direction, the direction of the finish. Graham stayed with me for another 6/7 miles – thus avoiding the third time of going over Baynards tunnel (I don’t blame him) but I was grateful for the company on that stretch which I always knew would be the hardest. I got to Southwater for the final time and I knew I could do it but I was tired, my shoulder hurt (I think I trapped a nerve) and everything on my bike was rattling. Pepped up by some motivational words from Ali suffixed with ‘do you want another Snickers’ or ‘do you have enough water’ he told me he would see me at the end. The end. It was only 2 hours away. 2 hours.
By this point I could picture so much of this route in my head that I knew the bits that were straight forward and those that were going to be more challenging. The stretch from Henfield to Bramber was quite frankly….a bitch. Unconsolidated track with lots of loose stones that goes up and around the farmers’ fields before you get into Bramber. This part of the route, not a dissimilar surface to a lot of the route, just particularly rocky, was like a slendertone workout for your arms – my fingers, arms, shoulders aching so much from the continued vibrations as I bumped along the track.
I passed two older guys taking a breather at one of the bridges before the farm track and about 5 minutes later the older one caught up with me. ‘you slowed down?’ he questioned. His mate had bet him that he couldn’t catch up with me. I responded that I had done a lot of miles today, regaled my story to which he replied ‘wow, go on girl!’. When his mate caught up the older guy said ‘do you know what she’s doing?’ as he then shared my endeavours to which he responded ‘you’re kidding’. Oh how I wished I was at that point, although the retort did make me feel like i was in some kind of bad sitcom. Delirium had indeed set in by this point. They wished me luck and I sped on.
As I crossed the A283 at Bramber to get onto the nice gravelly track down to Shoreham which weaves its way down the banks of the River Adur I was reminded of the chap I had met earlier in the day off to get his morning paper who as he and I passed the ‘Shoreham 3 miles’ sign he turned to me and said ‘Funny thing, that sign says Shoreham 3 miles, so does the next one, and the one after that, its actually 4 miles from this point’. He was right. Those next 2 signs did indeed also say 3 miles to Shoreham – clearly there was a discount if they didn’t change the wording on the sign. I knew I was so close now to the end, I weaved my way from Shoreham high street down to the docks (NCN Route 2 in case anyone is interested) which takes you over the pedestrian lock. This same lock which I was stuck at for 10 minutes in the morning coming back from leg 1 because of a massive cargo ship. But I took my chances this time of a safer, albeit smellier and definitely not pretty route to the ‘front’.
British Airways have their 360o viewing tower a few 100m from Brighton pier, the problem is that you can see it for bloody miles. I knew I wasn’t far but it was deceptive and by this point any energy I had was in trying to dodge the idiots that walk in the very clearly marked cycle lanes and concentrate on not blubbing like an idiot before I got to the end.
As I reached Brighton pier I saw my other half smiling and knew I had done it and I burst into tears. I had just cycled 132 miles…apparently for my own enjoyment (I think my body may have disagreed at this point) in 13 hours and 48 minutes including stops.
It was a very odd day, I felt like much of it was very surreal, meeting random (mostly very friendly) country folk, alone with my thoughts (turns out I am quite boring) and avoiding small dogs (and a few children) who in their attempt to get out the way do their very best to actually get in my way.
I had become a big fan of MapMyRide during my training however at some point 1 hour 40 mins in I managed to pause it, not realising for some time and then getting grumpy that I had I just turned it off. To mellow out my rage with this occurring I was delighted to see so many messages of support on all forms of media – the family WhatsApp group for example had so many messages it was difficult to catch up with them all. My particular favourite was a picture of my dad on his bike cycling the 2 miles to the local town ‘2 miles, no support vehicle – and back again’. Thanks Dad…that definitely made me feel better.
It was a long old slog I am not going to lie there were many times I cursed at myself, the bike, the hill, the nettles, the lost bananas but that last leg knowing I was so close was the best feeling, that feeling of knowing I was going to complete this challenge made me want to get it over sooner…my legs just couldn’t pedal any faster than I did. Dodging the Friday night crowds in Brighton was almost as perilous as trying to cross the A283 although I think most people could tell by looking at my hot sweating and dusty face that if they got out the way then things would be a lot better for them – including the girl wearing the ridiculous fluffy flip flops.
Even being told at the end that we needed to walk a little way to the car…I didn’t care as long as I didn’t need to get back on the bike.
I am extremely grateful for all the support from everyone, those who put up with me delaying social occasions due to training, leaving early due to training or just for being the lovely friends (and family) that you are. I would especially like to thank Ali for being my support vehicle, motivation booster, peanut bringer, snickers provider and generally lovely human being. You stayed up all night (as did my parents) when I did the walk (and picked me up at 5am) and you took a day off to support me during this second challenge and spent most of it driving around the South of England – I know you are as relieved as I am its over but thank you I really couldn’t have done it without you! 😊
I have never been a sporty or fit individual, as I have said before, and it’s true. PE was the only subject at school my parents didn’t care what grade I got. But a challenge isn’t a challenge unless it pushes you so that’s what I did last year and pushed myself more this year. I have trained hard, been focused and ever conscious I am not a quitter (although it has felt like I may as well be at times). Its made a massive change to my focus and my direction and motivation towards what I do for MRKH Connect but also in life in general.
If I can do it, honestly anyone can.
I have raised over £1,300 in total so far (with donations still coming in). Thank you so much to the bottom of my heart I really didn’t expect to raise so much after we raised such a large amount last year. It means such a lot to me and will make a difference to a lot of what MRKH Connect has planned so thank you.
The challenges may be over for this year but the blog continues…
Lots of love