Today I did the toughest ride that I have ever done. It was tougher than the first sponsored ride that I did which knocked me for six. It was tougher than my 100 miles to nowhere ride. And this one was less than 40 miles. It was the London to Southend off road.
This route was graded by the organisers as grade 2 – 3 and, the website said “provides a tough challenge”. But I was lulled into a false sense of security when I read the definition of the gradings:
- Grade: 2 – Cycling events rated 2 are of moderate difficulty and suitable for riders with some experience and a reasonable fitness level.
- Grade: 3 – Cycling events rated 3 are challenging. They are suitable for cyclists who ride regularly, and who have a good fitness level.
I’m sure it was more like this!
Cycling events rated 5 are extreme and suitable for only the most experienced, fit, skillful riders
Having done the ‘normal’ on-road London to Southend many times before, I thought why not do something different. Pete Arnould also thought it might be a good day out. So we signed up.
The ride started well enough as we left the Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre and passed through Hornchurch Country Park and out of the city, and then continued on what was described, and was, “a tranquil trail through the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marsh, with wonderful views over the city and estuary”. It was great to round a corner and see the QEII bridge at the Dartford crossing. Maybe not the greatest of views, but nice to see anyway.
Then we turned away from the Thames, though a track alongside a wood in Purfleet. Just as I was really beginning to enjoy it, the ‘fun’ began. We started along the banks of the Mardyke river. And so ended the gravel tracks. We were on grass. And when we thought we’d just about had enough of the grass, it became the edge of a farmer’s field. Talk about a bone shaker. As Pete put it, it was enough to rattle our fillings out! But this was no short-cut onto a quiet road or gravel path. Oh no. From what I can tell from Strava, this went on for 8 or so miles. It felt like forever. I said Pete “Is this hell and we are going to be riding this path for eternity”? But it could have been worse. It could have rained heavily last night and we’d have been riding through thick mud. Correction, trying to ride through thick mud. Correction, pushing our bikes through thick mud.
Finally, we were back on tarmac and both cheered.
We arrived at the first feed stop, and after a quick top-up of the water bottle and having munched down a banana we were off again. We headed up Langdon Hills. And man, hills they were! And not the sort on a nice tarmac road you can get stuck into. No, these were through the forest. It was impossible to ride standing up as my back wheel slipped all over the place. So it was lowest gear, gritted teeth . Finally, I gave up and walked when confronted with large tree roots across the track. But, of course, what goes up must come down. And down was a narrow single track path that I have to confess was pretty scary at times.
Hill profile from 15 miles to the finish line
We were then back on cycle paths through Basildon and off to Wickford. To my great surprise and joy, we went past the Gable Racing kennels where we adopted one of greyhounds from. Being a Sunday morning, the dogs were all out being walked by owners and volunteers. I just had to stop for a quick chat. Sorry Pete!
It was back to roads and cycle paths again until we reached where I think was Coombe Wood. The single track we rode down was a very real white knuckle, life or death ride. I have to confess to having my brakes on for most of the way which was just was as there was a pothole that would have had me off. But we then hit the final hill. And if I thought Langdon Hills were bad, I hadn’t seen nothing yet! Coming out of the woods, the track was impossible to ride. One person who was pushing their bike up the hill even commented that it was vertical!
After that it was back to the roads. Although hilly roads nonetheless.
Riding up the hill
We thought we had about 3 or 4 more miles to go when we turned a bend and there was the finish line. Complete with balloon arch. I can’t say I wasn’t glad to have completed the ride but, at the same time, felt disappointed that the organisers hadn’t used any of the olympic track that is open to the public or the cycle tracks in Hadleigh Country Park. Maybe to do so would have posed a risk to the general public. Don’t know.
I’m sure that it might sound to you as though we didn’t have fun on the ride. It might come as a surprise to learn that actually we did. It was challenging. It was tough. But it was fun. And we now know what to expect, so we’ll be back next year. You can count on that!
Pete and me at the finish