Why do we do it? London to Maldon. Overnight. On a bike.
Around 60 of us cycled overnight from London to Maldon in May 2019. Here’s a report from one of our regulars, Bob.
It starts with the mention of a bike ride….
At midnight? In the dark? To where? What for; charity?
And the responses; you must be mad; I’d rather be at home in bed; what do you see?
What do you do when you get there?
How many go? What kind of bikes? Is it a race?
How do you get back?
And on it goes.
So why do we do it? Why do we make fools of ourselves with family and friends who think we have lost our sense of reason.
But having done it last Friday night, you know why we do it. You know why Nick and Mr Orange and Ross and Tim and Greg and all the waymarkers and everybody else who came on the ride was there.
Because of nights like last Friday. Because of all the PITA Friday rides that you have been on, with rain/ wind, visits from the puncture fairy and unexpected mechanicals, unexpectedly steep hills, there is the occasional ride which reaches the pinnacle of pleasure, which reaches the zenith of a combination of a comfortable amount of climbing [not really very much] with great weather, with a pit stop [someone needs to invent a word that describes a 4 a.m. meal break which is clearly not an early breakfast or the latest of late suppers] where the 1/4 sandwiches and fruit and nut flapjacks led to perhaps the tiniest amount of uncomfortableness afterwards. Only because the victuals hit the spot so nicely that perhaps a person took a 1/4 sandwich or a particle of flapjack that was just consumed for pure enjoyment.
So we met from 11.30, old hands, newbies identified and welcomed, a bit nervous perhaps, remember we were all newbies once. Initiated into the arcane shouts ‘ bollards’, ‘glass’ and useful team building. Then off on a variety of machines, a couple of single speeds, no ‘fixies’ to my knowledge, up to the minute carbon fibre, titanium, Bromptons, trusty maybe rusty steel is real, any number of gears, Sturmy archer 3 speed on a drop handlebar vintage Raleigh, old school 42/52 chainrings, and 2 recumbents.
Heading out in a comfortable temperature to the North London route out of town, past busy late night Islington, Essex Road, highly appropriate, and into the sleeping Victorian suburbs of Wood Green, Winchmore Hill and overcrowded terraces of inner dormitory areas.
Who are these 60 or souls enjoying the late night exercise, with no need for bright beams here, lamp- post lit all the way for the first easily paced hour or so.
Then little by little we leave the city behind, the empty roads and now more generously spaced and becoming detached houses with larger gardens, eventually getting towards the edge of the metropolis. Our leader who had shepherded us closely to start now lets the stream of riders stretch out, not gathering so often as the route becomes straighter. Not so many waymarkers required now as the lamppost lighting decreases and people begin to appreciate why we now need the more powerful ‘to see by’ not just ‘to be seen’ front lights; and we are all thankful for the brightness of the LEDs that shine our way. So much better than the ancient poor light producing Ever Ready powered filament lights that barely lit the way for more than half an hour with a yellowish glow of yesteryear.
And unnoticed we have crossed the boundary into Essex. Often maligned as a county but here surprisingly showing an attractive side of small villages, pretty pubs on greens, with street views of well-kept pink cottages with thatched roofs. And on we go, careering down an unexpectedly steep incline where the corrugated surface, designed to slow cars, dislodges our leader’s pump, and we stop, while he collects it and we spontaneously regather on the down slope before resuming a speedy descent. Eyes straining to see the contours of the darkened roads and concerned at what we might not immediately see on our torch lit pathway.
Snatches of speech overheard, newcomers and old timers putting out conversational feelers about bikes, biking, and any number of other topics as the night passes. A travelling talking shop, heading north east, at a guess, at a steady but not over tiring pace. We pass through unnamed hamlets, villages, and the odd town, to stop at Waltham Cross for a brief history lesson. And on again. Where we go no one really knows, as we trustingly follow our leader along these empty roads, through spreading tree coverage, along country lanes in the middle of goodness knows where, with open fields and views now to the horizon and the very very slowly approaching dawn.
This is why we ride; to be awake and in the open, to be part of a secret nocturnal group who marvel at the now beginning to be seen bands of slight colour as the sky changes so slowly in front of us from dark to lighter blue then hints of white and pale orange and the morning star dead ahead.
A sight that all those tens of thousands of sleepers who are safely tucked up in bed will not see this morning. A dawn that we have all individually and jointly experienced on a magical journey where we have created extra time in our busy lives to madly pedal for hours on end through countryside we haven’t even seen.
And so to the pit stop. Gathered at Hatfield Heath, the Village Tearoom; open for our business at 4.30 a.m. Cups of tea, a wonderous display of cakes, and chunky sarnies and flapjacks. A well deserved round of applause for Jackie who singlehandedly has fed us all. Calorie laden we head off again two thirds distance covered, about 20 miles to go. Leaving at quarter past five we are making such good time we carry on now in daylight and have to stop now and again to regroup, as we do at Broomfield roundabout, to make sure we don’t hit our destination too early before the pub is open.
And then we are on the disused railway track suddenly heading into Maldon. And an unfortunate occurrence for one rider, whose front wheel gets trapped in a piece of of badly maintained pathway ironwork. A spill, a repairable tyre and commiserations, but no further damage.
The Jolly Sailor 8 am. A wriggle along the creek and the old Thames barges come into view. The sun shining, but also the odd spot of rain strangely, and earlier reports of rainbows seen confirm this.
A welcoming cooked and well deserved breakfast with an early pint of Guinness for those that want a real treat. All arrived safely and regathered for the final time. Inside and outside happy faces and full tummies. A relax, a chat, a plan to get home, and we scatter. Some to the nearest station at Witham in the sunshine, involving what seems to be a long uphill haul and a really speedy descent to the station, and back to normality. Back in the world of ordinary, the people who haven’t been cycling all night, in the dark, for fun.
They didn’t see the dawn, they didn’t enjoy the camaraderie and the exercise. But we did. That’s why we did it.
That’s why we will remember this wonderful perfect night for a very long time. One of the best, the best Friday Night Ride to the Coast.
Score; 9.9 out of 10, one puncture as we came into Maldon; seen; 2 raptors, small kestrels or the like flying near high branches somewhere on the route; 1 rainbow; 1 morning star; 1 line of red lights, seen from a distance from the back of the peleton across fields.
Ok, lets make it 10 out of 10!
Thanks to ride leader Nick for making it happen.
Photo credits: Mark Woollard & Jenny Hung