The closer I get to departure the less I feel prepared and the lack of long ride miles has been playing on my mind. Last weekend I once again felt as though time was slipping through my fingers and so with some last minute negotiation at the pink ticket bank (another extension of the overdraft) I popped out of the door at 3pm on Sunday afternoon for “a quick ride”.
I didn’t really have a route in mind except that I had heard Kent was a picturesque ride and good from SW London because you get out into the countryside pretty quickly. I had figured a run down to Edenbridge with a loop back would be relatively straight forward so having stuffed a bar, a gel and my phone into my back pocket I was on my way in the afternoon sunshine.
It was a lovely ride as I headed out past Crystal Palace via West Wickham en route to Biggin Hill but I couldn’t help but notice that it wasn’t exactly flat. Unlike rides into Surrey, the ride to Kent seems to involve significantly more vertical even before you’ve hit the South Downs and there’s doesn’t seem to be any avoiding it without a serious detour. The upside of all this climbing was some spectacular views as the ‘Garden of England’ blossomed and the increasingly attractive pubs tried to lure me inside. I reached Edenbridge via a cliff face called Stock Road in Biggin Hill and then turned left to take in Hever Castle, Leigh and Tonbridge. I even dropped in on Manor House (Tonbridge School) to see if the housemaster was at home but it seems that he wasn’t and it’s probably just as well because I didn’t really have the luxury of time at this point as it dawned on me that my ‘quick ride’ was taking on somewhat grander proportions.
So on I went heading north out of Tonbridge with a rough direction in mind to head back towards the A20 and the South Circular and at this point I would say that everything was in hand. The sun was out, I wasn’t feeling too tired and I was still on the flat part of Kent. But in scenes disturbingly reminiscent of my South Downs Way adventure, my iPhone battery promptly conked out. When you’re sort of ‘feeling your way’ and using your phone as your navigational guide this isn’t great news. It was especially alarming because I was entirely unfamiliar with the area and so the signposts that I did pass didn’t really give me much of a sense of direction as I didn’t know where one place was in relation to another! Naturally I could have stopped to ask for directions but I’m a man and so this was out of the question. Any men reading this will nod approvingly at this point whilst the girls will no doubt go back to browsing Net A Porter.com! So I struggled on along single track country lanes navigating by the sun (all very Vasco Da Gama) via such places as Pratt’s Bottom until eventually I entered what I can only describe as the Little Chef Triangle where you cross the M26, M20 and M25 in fairly quick succession but these motorways all seem to nestle in their own private valley and every time you think you must surely be cresting the North Downs there’s another drop down with yet another ridge to be conquered in the distance.
Self preservation had by this time necessitated the swallowing of some male pride and direction seeking which actually confirmed that my Elizabethan navigational skills were surprisingly (sort of) on the money and I don’t think I lost too much time/ distance in the end but it’s a hard ride home from Tonbridge and by the time I finally rolled onto the South Circular Road (more climbing … the final sting in the tail) I was well and truly on my way to bonking (a cycling term that I am sadly already familiar with – essentially just running out of fuel which manifests itself in a rather unpleasant feeling that you’re about to pass out in the saddle.) Some of those directions came from a very nice guy I met at a service station just outside of Farnborough. He was standing over an achingly beautiful red convertible E-Type which he’d filled up with diesel. I was just starting to feel sorry for him when he mentioned that he spends 6 months of the year living in Australia, and had been given the E-Type 30 years ago for his 21st birthday by his father who had owned it from new. He probably won the lottery on the way home just for good measure!
All in, about a 5 and a half hour ride in the region of 120km/ 75 miles. Stava link with the route/ profile etc (until the battery died!!) here.