Updated: May 2
After having a chat with Gurpreet about overnight Audaxes and his planning for London-Edinburgh-London, we decided to set our eyes on yet another mammoth target. A double century, 200 miles in one day! Neither of us had ridden such a huge distance although we had both completed back-to-back century rides and the longest ever ridden was 140 miles. So, we figured why not round it up and set the goal of completing a 200 mile loop.
Our experience from riding our previous century rides gave us insight into the planning this epic. We knew that we had to limit stoppage time and setting off as early as possible would allow us to rack up 100 miles by noon, so we set a start time of 4 am. We were certain that some of the other SCC members would join us, in particular Narinder, who had accompanied myself and Gurpreet on all of our long distance rides in the past. After a posting a message in the SCC chat and having a conversation on Saturday ride, both Taj and Jas confirmed their interest, the group was formed, and the planning began.
Jas and I discussed the route and planned the route and decided upon a fairly non-elevated journey of only 8000ft! With the help of Strava and Ride With GPS, we created a loop to Bath and back, almost exactly 100 miles there, the ideal midway point.
On Saturday 18th September at the ungodly hour of 4 am, we all assembled at the Curve, despite only having a few hours of sleep. There was a great deal of positivity and enthusiasm amongst us. The start of our journey was well lit along the A4, until we turned off into Bray and Holyport, where our bike lights illuminated the road ahead. The morning temperatures were a slightly chilly 14 degrees, which felt cooler due to thick fog that surrounded us for first 20/30 miles. The fog settled over us, an experience I’ve not had before, thankfully we were prepared with our waterproof shells. Jas navigated us through Reading, he was most familiar with the roads there. The fog began to lift as the sun rose, this was certainly what we needed to help keep us motivated for the journey ahead.
At 8am we had covered 50 miles, a great achievement, especially as we would normally begin riding at this time on a Saturday. The day was going smoothly and we were still feeling confident about reaching Bath at a reasonable time. However, only a week earlier, Gurpreet had developed a knee injury, which had now started to cause a lot of discomfort. He made the sensible decision to abort the ride, as it was too painful to continue. Fortunately, our route took us through the town of Pewsey, where trains travelled directly to Paddington, we said our goodbyes and Gurpreet made his way home, London bound.
Disappointed to have lost one of our fellow team mates, we tried not to let this demotivate us, the weather had picked up and the roads became more scenic as we made our way through Wiltshire. Some of the roads were familiar, as Narinder and I had previously ridden to Cheddar a few months back on a similar route. I was on the lookout for the famous chalk White Horses found in this region, the first we spotted was carved into the hillside as we crossed into the beautiful town of Marlborough.
Having completed a few long-distance rides, we all knew the importance of frequently consuming enough calories, however none of us had ever ridden anything of this duration and it had begun to take a toll on a few of us. We soon began to see signs for Bath as we travelled through the historic town of Bradford-upon-Avon, where we decided to stop for a well-deserved lunch at a 14th Century Pub, the George Inn. Having already ridden 100 miles and burnt over 2000 calories, the lunchtime choice of burger and chips went down a treat! Keeping in mind not to stop for too long, we took the opportunity to fill up our water bottles, freshen up and recharge our devices.
Lunch had been excellent and we felt ready to continue onto the next leg of our journey. The first half of the ride had been relatively flat with few testing climbs, however, the second leg was a complete contrast, the roads into Bath were laden with undulation. We were faced with our first biggest climb of the day directly upon leaving the pub, perhaps burger and chips were not a wise a choice after all! Midford Road had an average gradient of 4.9%, with the steepest gradient of 16.2%, and a total distance of 1.3 miles, this was certainly one we weren’t going to forget easily. In fact, Taj’s Elemnt Roam, which seemed to have a mind of its own almost sent us back down the hill and to then ride back up it. We almost followed it until we spoke to a local resident who pointed us back to the main and in right direction toward Bath.
The city of Bath is positioned in a valley, which meant we were rewarded by some exhilarating twisting descents, however this also meant would need to climb yet again when leaving. The traffic in the city centre was heavy and although we managed to filter through most of it, our average speed did drop and time was of the essence on this journey. We eventually made our way to the cathedral for some obligatory photos and then swiftly crossed over the bridge to leave the city.
My GPS had been playing up for the whole of the journey into Bath, displaying a route, which was slightly adjacent to the route everybody had on their screens, so I had pretty much given up on following it. On the way out of the city the others seemed to be having technical glitches with their GPSs. Miraculously, my Elemnt decided that it wanted to work and so I led the guys, as I now seemed to have the only functioning device. It was only till after returning and inspecting the journey home, that I realised that there hadn’t been any technical issue after all. I had simply loaded Jas’s version of the route when leaving Slough and so in the end our ride was a combination of both routes.
Barely hitting the 120-mile mark, we encountered another three category 4 climbs! The first of which was the most brutal with highest gradient of 32% and average gradient of 5.2%, Bathford Hill dragged out over a staggering 1.5 miles. The elevation gain had now begun to drastically shoot up and we still had another 80 miles to go.
Time was beginning to press on and with all the climbing, the enormity of this challenge really had begun to kick in. Furthermore, Taj had developed pain in his right knee and it had become even more important to ride as a team and to communicate well with each other. We slowed down the pace and made sure to take more frequent stops. These little pauses throughout the ride, really helped us to carry on, however as Taj’s knee became more troublesome, Jas suggested we stop for a coffee in the nearby town of Royal Wootton Bassett. This was a welcome break, 140 miles into our journey and the fatigue was ever more present. We stopped at a Costa, which was adjacent to a Sainsbury’s, where we rested for half an hour, whilst scoffing down coffee and sandwiches!
The miles were ticking away now as we traversed our way through the busy roads of Swindon and eventually passed through the town to join the farm roads. Thankfully we still had daylight on our side, although sunset was looming, and the temperature had started to drop. The backdrop became serene as the light started to settle on the rolling hills of the North Wessex Downs and the sky was lit by fireworks in a distant field. We sighted a second White Horse of the day in the hillside of Uffington, a prehistoric hill figure, 110m long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. The sun had now set, and twilight was upon us as we rode for what seemed like countless miles through unlit country roads. The moon had risen and was spectacularly prominent in the night’s sky, making the journey evermore memorable.
We reached the town of Harwell, 168 miles into our journey, where we decided to divert from the planned route. The original route would have continued straight towards the Watlington and then eventually into the Chilterns, the idea was to avoid any more big climbs. So, we no longer followed our satnavs and looked for signs for Reading, what would be familiar territory. Harwell was approximately 20 miles from Reading, however the signposts were telling us otherwise, strangely the signs for Reading were increasing in mileage! We eventually stopped just outside of Streatley for a quick pause and to confirm with Google to see how far we were from Reading, thankfully it was only 10 miles away. The day had become about consuming as many calories as possible to get by, so far we had all done well not to ‘bonk’. Our final fuel stop was at a Tesco express, in Goring, where we tucked into sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps and chocolate milk!
Having reached the 180-mile mark and our determination to complete this ride was greater than ever. Although fatigue had really began to settle in at this point and so tackling yet another category 4 climb. Flint Hill dragged on for just under 2 miles with an average gradient of 3.7% and maximum gradient of 13.7%. The good news was that this was the last climb of the day and not before long we were well and truly in Reading, where once again Jas navigated us through the city. The roads were relatively quiet, we were all so pleased to see sign signs for the A4 and Maidenhead, we were finally on the home stretch. Once reaching the edge of Reading, we decided to continue on the A4, this would be the most direct and well-lit route. It felt great to be back on familiar roads and knowing that we would soon reach Slough. The signs for Sonning and Henley came and went by in a blur and then we passed Warren Row, we would soon be in home territory. I must have ridden this stretch through Maidenhead hundreds of times and with my newfound energy I began leading the pack. Everyone road strongly, we held formation all the way down the A4, nobody was left behind.
The end was near and what a relief it was to enter Taplow, where we stopped at the Shell petrol station as Jas was in need of water and going on without would have been a struggle. A littler further on we parted ways with Jas as he made his way down Marsh Lane towards Dorney, it was only a few more miles for me, Nindi and Taj. We had completed it, we had made our way back to Slough, saying our goodbyes as the Mercedes garage lights, still comprehending what we had just achieved. We had ridden just under 15 hours and ~205 miles with 8146ft of elevation, a very long day in the saddle!!
In reflection, none of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for the camaraderie, hard work and dedication from everyone in the group. Everyone played a role in getting us to the end goal, keeping spirits high and pulling us through right to the end.
Thank you all for a truly unforgettable ride made ever more memorable with the laughs and fun that were had along the way.