Euro City Cycle Challenge (Day 1)
London to Harwich
Brentwood in Essex was the precise departure point for my Euro City Cycle Challenge. I was taking part to raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust. The original quest was a London to Newcastle ride but this was cancelled due to poor marketing by the charity. Advertised as starting in London, I played the gullible Northerner and asked if any Pearly Kings or Queens would be walking the streets.
I was on the Challenge as my original charity ride from London to Newcastle was cancelled due to lack of numbers. But I have to say that London to Brussels via Amsterdam sounded more appealing. The Sick Children’s Trust would still get the money I’d raised, I’d still cycle 300 miles – what could possibly go wrong?
Having attended the signing-in on the previous night at bang on 8 o’clock(ish), myself and 15 other riders were assembled in the Holiday Inn car park basking in the sunshine but rubbing arms with the early morning temperature. I had a quick look around all the bikes and there was a fair mixture of differing types. Mixed in with a couple of decent road bikes there were a couple of hybrids, a mountain bike plus something that was beyond description (more on that bike later). We were introduced to the three support staff, had a helmet check and were waved away. NOBODY MOVED! The majority of people in the group were strangers to each other and between nerves and not wanting to appear flash everybody looked to everybody else to make the first move.
After a pause which seemed to last a long time, the first person to make a move was Richard, who was a veteran of organised multi-day charity cycle rides. He looked like he knew what he was doing so I and the rest followed. We hit the busy A1023 rubbing shoulders with the Essex car driving community. After only half a mile we had to negotiate a busy junction with the added attraction of a low loader articulated lorry carrying two tractors which came off the pavement and proceeded across four lanes of traffic. This split the nicely formed peloton into smithereens (and it never came back that day). I was now in the leading group which consisted of three riders. Unable to see anybody behind us we just pedalled on. The first stop was only 12 miles away at Stock and the staff were amazed to see us and in fact hadn’t got anything set up. I’m keen to stop for refreshment at any time but 12 miles into a 300 mile ride did seem a tad early. It was at this stop the three food refreshment boxes made their first appearance. One box of oaty bars, one of bananas and one of tangerines. I was asked if I wanted topping up with water but needless to say I hadn’t broken the top of my bottle yet. Whilst we were at the stop I spied another rider (Kevin) going past the stop and the wrong way. After a frantic arm wave and shout out he turned round and made it to the car park. Kevin seemed unperturbed about his early navigational mishap as many more were sure to follow (more about that later too). The rest of the riders made it into the rest stop in groups of two or three.
My two other pace setters (Richard and Carolyn) were keen to push on so we left the rest to enjoy an oaty bar and we set off. Thankfully we had left behind the main roads and were now into the Essex countryside. There were a few inclines but nothing I would class as a hill and we were averaging a respectable but comfortable 16 mph.
We had been given an information book that had the route marked in but also Dave from the support crew had been out and affixed yellow arrows for us to follow on various sign posts and trees. Out first non-signed junction caused us to look at the map properly. My map reading skills are atrocious but luckily the left turn pointed us towards Great Totham which was our lunch stop destination. It was only 18 miles to Great Totham – so the three of us arrived for lunch at 10.30!!
The landlord of the pub came out to greet us just as the support van screeched into the car park and Dave told us off for being too early. I wasn’t bothered about being early as it was a lovely sunny morning so I ordered a coffee and relaxed on one of the comfy chairs. Noticing my Hull KR cycling shirt the landlord announced that he was a Leeds Rhino fan – despite this he seemed a nice guy. Over the course of the next half an hour the other riders arrived at the pub. A few people took the opportunity to update their Facebook status or phone home; but one of the two Irish guys (Steve) seemed to be on the phone for an awfully long time. It transpired that he had left his passport behind and was frantically trying to arrange for it to be couriered to Harwich.
Lunch was a nice choice (or combination) of pasta, chilli, jacket potatoes and salad. Having enjoyed a break of over two hours I was now ready to hit the road again. As before the ‘fast trio’ set off first (or so we thought). After about 15 minutes we could see a cyclist up ahead – she appeared to be going at around 10 mph. It was beautiful winding road with no buildings to spoil the view and before long we were about to pass her, we were amazed to see it was one of our group as she had one of the bike IDs on her saddle stem. As a slower rider she (Jane) had decided to set off early from lunch to get ahead and not hold the rest back.
The next stop was at the Cross Keys in Bromley Cross – it was a pub/Post Office and the three of us were the only customers in either. The next part of our team to arrive was Dave in the mini bus that also contained Jane and her bike. She looked pretty shaken up as Dave led her across the car park. As we had passed her she had lost her concentration and failed to negotiate a bend and fallen into a ditch. She said that she had called out to us but we had failed to hear her. It was at that point I thought that maybe on the next day I would hang back a bit as much as it wasn’t our fault I still felt a bit responsible for her mishap. Mim gave her a quick once over and decided that she would be okay to carry on. Steve paced around the car park on his phone and we all decided it was best not to ask him how things were progressing with his passport.
The decision to hang back would not come into force till tomorrow so the three of us set off first again towards Harwich and the ferry that would take us onto the continent. It was only 16 miles to the ferry port and as the miles were ticked off we emerged out of the countryside and into more built up areas. The sun appeared to have finished for the day and it crossed my mind that as the wind picked up it could make for an interesting sea crossing. Global Adventure had arranged for a couple of rooms at a Premier Inn by the ferry port to freshen up in – so we were pleased to be first into the car park and collect our bags from the van and get a shower and into ‘civvies’.
We had arrived at the hotel at 3pm and weren’t due to leave for the ferry until 8pm. This gave me ample time to walk across to Argos and purchase a mini USB charger for my Garmin as I realised it was the one vital piece of equipment I had left at home. Two weeks previously we had been asked to pre order our choice of meal so the hotel could serve us all together at 7pm. Luckily the fax was never sent as people were ready to eat much sooner. We made use of the ‘two for a tenner’ offer and a chorus of “who ate all the pies” was sung to Kevin as he indulged in the ‘two for £2’ pudding offer and ate both without offering anybody even a spoonful of custard. All the bikes were stacked outside and Sam was on guard duty. It had begun to rain when he was eating his meal with the bikes. I offered to spell him so he could eat in the dry and warmth of the hotel but he insisted on staying outside. I’d only had a couple of beers but there seemed to be more people than had started the ride. When I was outside I took a look round the bikes and there was a Planet X and a carbon Bianchi that I would have remembered. The two riders were Julian and Colin who had ridden from the centre of London to join up with us. The third extra was Ann (US) who had driven to Harwich with her boyfriend. (The US was to help distinguish between the three Anns). So there was Ann, Annie and Ann US.
Steve’s passport appeared with an hour to spare and as everybody just checked they had theirs Sarah’s expression told its own story – she didn’t have it – Operation ‘People trafficking’ was born!
To get to the ferry it was a short five minute ride but by now it was dark, pouring with rain and not many people had lights on their bikes. So our ‘safe passage’ was to ride between the mini bus and the van to passport control. You handed over your passport and received it back with a cabin key and a breakfast voucher. Sarah was smuggled through in the middle of the scrum. She didn’t need a cabin key as she was sharing with her daughter and she had her own breakfast porridge. The whole deceit was helped or hindered (depending on your point of view) by Frank (Irish guy No.2) telling the port officer to get a move on as we were all ‘fecking soaking’.
We wheeled our bikes into the massive car hold of the ferry before the cars and lorries were allowed on. Day 1’s cycling was 67 miles at an average of 16.2 mph.
The end of day one was spent with a couple of beers in the bar. I really only had spoken at any great length with Richard and Carolyn on the road, I had got to know Kevin as we showered together in the courtesy room but in the bar that night it was a chance to get to know people a little bit more.
Read about Day 2
Guest post by Francis Brogden