December BHAG update: this is the end

Throughout the first couple of weeks of December I keep up a steady pattern and plug away with the commute ride, so by the time the days of the year are dwindling, the end is in sight.

The sales started early, so I bought myself some new gear to help with the final push (if anything, in addition to the year of steady riding, this has been the year of buying clothes for cycling in) – some bib tights, which the Canadienne refers to as a ‘penguin suit’, thanks to its sleek wetsuit appearance, and finally, clip-in pedals and shoes. The first use of the bib tights is on the loop out to Meopham again, with Sasha. Amazing how different the scene is from just a month ago. All the cleanness is in the sky now, silver and solid, while the roads are mucky, and the fields muddy. Bare trees, and darkness all around. Cold, cold, cold.

It’s a rush finish to 2011 at work, long days and nights, and as usual, when I am finally done for Christmas, I was slapped down straightaway by another cold. Full of it, I drive to Mum’s in Sussex on the 23rd, bike in the back, new pedals still in their box. The BHAG has become famous, so they ask me how many miles to go; I sleep and drink lemsip and when I come round on Christmas Day, her husband helps me fit the pedals, and she parcels up the Christmas cake, and in the afternoon, all three of us head out.

The route is around the South Downs, towards Ditchling. I cycle the whole way; my Mum and her husband drive to the car park for the main ride, and they stop on the road waiting for me, checking. The three of us slip through the quiet villages and stop for our cake in the wintry countryside. In the evening, when we’re back, Mum makes me tea and cooks Christmas dinner. This is how you do the things you care about: buoyed by the people around you, carried by the words and the help of the people who care about you.

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November cycling BHAG update

This is the month when I thought I would get to the home straight. The 11th round. The weather was good – mild, sunny often – but it’s not over. Not by a long shot. I tried some city rides at the start of the month to build up the miles, cycling from home over Blackheath to the new Brockley Market. Managed to squeeze my cycle shorts under my skinny jeans, remember my hefty D-lock, and saddle up. A typical grey Autumn day, but without the metal edge of winter; Greenwich and Blackheath were softened by piles of damp leaves, and as it’s Saturday, tons of children kicking through them. After the market, I realise my back tyre has several large bald spots, where I’ve worn the rubber down to the bone of the construction.

The next day is an absolutely perfect example of Autumn. Yellow leaves and black tarmac, woodsmoke floating through the branches, shot through with gentle sunlight. I loop out from Dartford, through Darenth and Meopham and Culverston Green.

The Kent countryside feels like a forgotten world - little villages, low stone walls with rooks flying over, partridges in the fields. It’s a great route, particularly a blast down Speedgate hill.

And then work kicks in – we launched our biggest project of the year – and the day after, it’s as if something in body remembers I am exhausted. I get a heavy cold, and my chest feels like it’s been cracked with baseball bats, and I spend the best part of two weeks in bed, having early nights, dosed up on Lemsip, echinacea, paracetamol. There are no more miles and the reason I am late writing this is, frankly, I was worried what the total was going to be. And, in fairness, 136 isn’t too bad. It leaves me with less than 200 to do in December. The only problem is that the cold carries over, and then I’m going to be involved in more time sucking work stuff. I’m going to essentially have two weeks to get it done.

Still, I’ve done that kind of mileage before. I can do it again. If I have learned anything this year it is that distance is no obstacle. It’s not to be feared. It is to be worked with. The longer the journey, the more satisfying the arrival.

NOVEMBER
Total miles: 136
Commutes: 7
Total to cycle: 196 miles.

October cycling BHAG update

It’s starting to get dark earlier; 7:30, 7, 6:30 so that now it’s dark when I leave work, not just when I arrive. Sometimes I find cycling at night dull; there’s a flatness to the city, a literal lack of light and shade. But there are some good rides in the dark, when it’s not just the light which has receded, but life too. There are fewer cars and busses, more deserted corners and buildings empty despite having their lights blazing. Sometimes these moments of emptiness come in the strangest places: the Bloomsbury roads around the British Museum, or right outside Canon Street station in the city. If you come to these places late enough, you feel like you’ve come after humanity entirely.

From a cycling point of view, quietness means speed, and I log some fast rides home after working late, tearing home with the tyres lifting leaves in the air. One or two rides stand out in particular, when the traffic lights all line up and the smoothness of the tyres is matched by redone tarmac and the traffic is non existent, so I can really build up the momentum.

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September cycling BHAG update

No riding for the first two weeks as the Canadienne is visiting, and there are too many other plans. She is surprised it’s Autumn here, but at the start of the month, it really is. Coolness nips at the edges of the days and a sort of regal mustiness is settling over Greenwich park as the change in season really comes on. The weather is mostly good when she’s here though; at the top of the London Eye, the city is covered in blue sky, and it’s the same when we drive to York.

Autumn in Greenwich park

When she’s gone, there are a series of beautiful mornings, the trees in Greenwich park surrounded by dropped leaves, orange and ochre shadows at every angle. When she’s gone, it’s a case of doing lots of commutes, getting through the miles and coping with the distance. The route is getting dull though, particularly the part after the park, a straight charge down the unlovely Jamaica Road, through Deptford and Bermondsey. It’s made worse by noisy roadworks, and now that the schools are back, backed up traffic, churning away slowly. I buy myself some new lights and hi-viz bands to put on my bag; the back light is particularly good, a nobbly grenade of a thing which spits out bright red light to the sides as well as backwards.

As the month draws to a close, the temperatures rise again and we’re back in summer. This is deeply confusing to the people I see when I’m waiting at red lights. They’ve already mentally adjusted so they wear wooly coats and scarves despite the bright sunshine. I have a wonderful ride on a Boris bike from Charing Cross up to Bayswater, skimming the edge of Hyde Park, under the huge trees and past the Serpentine.

168 miles is a respectable total for the month; it leaves me just over 500 to do in the remaining three months, so I’m almost exactly on target – which would be fine, but November and December have the capacity to be both busy and full of awful weather. The BHAG is in reach though.

SEPTEMBER
Total miles: 168
Commutes: 13
Boris bike: 12 miles
Total to cycle: 527 miles

August cycling BHAG update

August has been a funny month; the weather seemed unsure of itself, sunny in patches, damp often and generally grey and cool. There’s a golden edge coming to the leaves already, and the people on the streets seem unsure of things: a man in a t-shirt, a girl in a mac, someone else walking past in a jumper and a heavy grey wool coat. Everyone is waiting for this tentative summer to end and Autumn to begin.

Still, while the low, grey summer is a disappointment, I got the BHAG right back on track in August. Rather than relying on big rides to Westerham to bulk up my mileage, I decided to just put my head down and work.

Commute.

Commute.

And commute often.

I cycled the commute route 19 times over the whole month – 12 miles each time – taking 228 miles out of the 2,011 total I need to cycle over the whole year. I even tried cycling in every day, home to work and back again, for a week. I realise this kind of regular riding needs a different kind of fitness to one long ride like London-to-Brighton. And it is a type of fitness I don’t have. By the Friday I am crushed, my legs aching as I walk up the stairs, knee clicking ominously.

The bike is having problems too: the left crank keeps coming loose, and since it’s over a year since I bought it, I take it for a service. There’s a new bike shop round the corner from work – Fitzrovia Bicycles – and they do a great job. Riding home afterwards the bike feels great.

In addition to the endless commuting, I manage 11 miles just beetling around the city on the Boris bikes – even though the system that seemed so charming in Montreal is, in London, somehow more frustrating and graceless. I cheered myself up by visiting the Rapha sample sale; it’s great stuff (and yes, the branding and design and all that is part of it), and even better when reduced to sensible prices.

On the Bank Holiday, I finally cycle the Regents Canal as well. It’s an excellent discovery, and makes for a nice mid-range ride, shorter and more manageable than a trip out into Kent. I cycle through Charlton, then down from the top of Greenwich park to the foot tunnel, and round the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf, picking up the canal near Westferry. Then it was a very pleasant cycle up through Hackney, past the moored boats at Victoria park and I stop for tea and cake at the Hackney Canal User Group pop-up cafe. I turn for home just before Islington, speeding down towards Barbican, over the river and back to waiting. Roll on September.

AUGUST
Total miles: 261
Commutes: 19
Boris bike: 11 miles
Total to cycle: 695 miles

July Cycling BHAG Update

July is supposed to be midsummer, but here in England it’s not so sure; the weather is sketchy, blowy and cool, the sun fleeting. Sasha has fixed the troubles with his road bike – fitting hand built wheels with strong spokes in place of the good-looking but fragile stock ones – so we tend to cycle back from work together. Frequent stops at The Greenwich Union break up the ride home. It’s very cycle friendly as well as having great beer.

In the middle of the month, I’m in Montreal for a week. Here, summer is sure of itself, the sun high and hot in a boundless blue sky. Parts of the city feel overgrown; the houses pull back behind porches and balconies, or retreat beneath trailing ivy and flowers. The sunlight falls gently through leaves and at night you see fireworks, or kids still in shorts and dresses, or Hassidic jews, dressed devoutly in black and deep in conversation. It is hard to believe this place spends so long under ice.

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June Cycling BHAG update

Finally. I have broken the 200 mile barrier. 208 miles in total this month, thanks mostly to cycling from London to Brighton for the British Heart foundation.

In preparation for it, early in the month I cycled to my Mum’s in Hayward’s Heath to scope out the route, a fun 38 miles that takes me the now established route out to Biggin Hill, and then through a series of rudely named roads and villages (take Lusted Hall Lane towards Titsey…)

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