102.4km, av. 18.3km/hr, max 52.8km/hr, cal 1502, co2 offset 15.35kg, time: 5hr 34 mins
Following my slightly underwhelming first group ride with LBB, I decide to give it another go; this time a much longer jaunt out to Box Hill in Surrey.
It’s a beautiful sunny day when I set off, although it’s cold. Like, really cold. Rather than head into London to meet the group, I head towards Richmond Park and meet them there. By good luck, and a bit of help from their Glympse live tracking, my timing is perfect and I find them no problem. They look a little surprised to see me, with my touring bike and pannier (apart from one guy, they all have super-speedy road bikes) but are friendly and welcoming.
At this point I briefly reflect on my pre-Paris warm-up ride when cycling to Richmond Park seemed like a big deal and I had to turn back because of the cold. You’ve come a long way, baby…
We soon get going, riding out through the park and spotting the famous deer as we go. Pretty soon I’m at the back of the pack. These guys are fast! There’s a small hill and they all zip up it with ease. Hmmm, this could be an interesting ride…
From here we head out towards Kingston, where the first stop of the day takes place, for a puncture. Had I known the route it would have been nice to go an ahead at my own pace and let the others catch me up, which they surely would. But I don’t know the route, and the (unspoken) rule of the ride is that everyone sticks together. While we’re waiting, Maria, who did Time To Cycle with me, joins us (she’s also been using Glympse to find the group!)
We’re soon on the move again, passing through Esher and on to Cobham, but it’s here that another mechanical fault stops us in our tracks. A woman called Joanne’s bike chain has got jammed in a really weird way, and we wait for a good 30-40 minutes while various attempts are made to fix it. Unfortunately all are to no avail. Although the sun is still shining, it’s really cold and getting colder as we stand around. Sadly Joanne has to retire, and Maria also decides not to stick with us, perhaps also struggling with the pace. For me, it’s definitely challenging; I can see and hear some of the others freewheeling while I’m pedalling hard! But I keep going.
Although it’s freezing cold, the air feels fresh and clean and it’s definitely bracing. It is a perfect January thing to be doing, and the frost and ice only adds to it. The roads are mostly quiet, and we pass through lovely countryside and tiny, picturesque villages. Also, as the ride goes on, the group gets smaller and the countryside more rolling, I don’t quite feel like I’m holding everyone back as much as I did at the start, and there’s even time for a bit of chat and camaraderie with the others. One woman, Susana, even compliments me on my steady pace (I think this means I’m slow but steady!)
Eventually we get to the first big test of the day; Leith Hill. It’s hard work, but I manage it without stopping; which can’t be said of everyone (he noted, smugly). There’s a lovely misty sunset view hidden behind trees at the top of this hill. And yes, dusk is fast drawing in..!
After a nice long bit of down, we take on another hill, this time going up White Down Lane, which is *really* steep. I think it would be far more fun to go down White Down Lane. I’m about ready to stop pedalling and push, but there’s a bike and a car right behind me, which means I have no choice but to go on – and feel the burn! By this point, the darkness is really starting to take hold. I have a bright back light but my front light is a pathetic affair, doing nothing to actually illuminate the road ahead, which makes navigating the downhill – complete with potholes and black ice – hugely treacherous.
At the bottom of the hill we meet a main road and I spot a sign for Dorking – a mile and a bit away. With Box Hill still to go, I decide to quit while I’m ahead (or at least, still able to wiggle my toes) and bid the others farewell. I am so cold by this point (feet especially), and I figure it will be more fun to come back in the spring or summer and do Box Hill when I can actually see the view from the top. I wish the remaining riders (I think there are now just 7 left from the 10 or 11 that started) good luck.
Never have I been more relieved to see a railway station as I am to see Dorking station, which handily has a pub next door. I lock my bike, head in, get a drink and a snack, take off my shoes, attach my feet to the happily full-on radiator… and defrost.
By the time I finally get home I am absolutely shattered, with 102km on the clock. All I can do is run a hot bath and sit in it for a very long time. It was a fun, challenging ride and I think with the smaller group it worked much better and was way more fun than the big group ride to Watford the previous week. I’ll definitely go out with these guys again.