Monday, 15 April 2013
Westminster to Islip...by bike
Having dropped our bikes off to be transported up to London the previous afternoon, I picked up Cycling Claire and we drove the four miles to Islip to board the minibus to London. The ninety minute journey passed fairly swiftly with plenty of chat about triathlons and our respective employment and we were soon at Westminster Abbey, collecting our bikes, and trying to work out how to put on all of the equipment, food and clothing onto our bikes. We were definitely overladen, especially with clothes. In some ways, it was fantastic that it was the warmest day of the year so far, in others, not so good, as we had not cycled without multiple layers since last September (or possibly even August) - the first 10 miles would see us shedding lots of layers and eventually abandoning some of them with one of the marshalls!
There were around 150 riders I think and we congregated outside the Abbey, amid a number of worshippers arriving for service. A few words from the Dean of the Abbey, and a blessing, appropriately, the Irish blessing "may the wind be always at your back"...and we were off. Well, nearly. The fastest riders were starting first and the slower/medium riders second. We were in the last but one wave!
I absolutely loved the first part of the journey. It was awesome cycling down the Mall and past Horseguards' Parade and Buckingham Palace. We went through Hyde Park and past the Serpentine, where I wished for a dip a la the openwater swimming of the Olympics. We stopped briefly at traffic lights in front of Marble Arch. And then it was out through the outskirts of London, going along the Grand Union Canal for four miles, looking at industrial landscapes and seeing ducks and swans. After that it was on and up into "Metroland" as John Betjeman would have described it, going through Harrow, which certainly earns its name of Harrow on the Hill (sorry again Claire that I didn't quite comprehend the hillyness of the ride). I decided that I like cycling through urban landscapes so much more than the countryside because there is just so much more to see, and it was awesome seeing places whose names I know from tubemaps (like Rayners Lane).
After leaving London, we made our way out through the borough of Hillingdon, through Harefield and then out into the countryside. We crossed the M40 and then made our way down through Chesham (with a steep descent that I managed to stay on the bike for, rather than doing my usual getting off and walking - I may have been clinging to the brakes, but at least I was sitting on it!), and then Great Missenden which was the main stop where we sat and ate sandwiches and hot cross bun respectively, before using the facilities. There was a lovely teddy bear sitting in the porch.
The last 28 miles I found harder, although Claire said she had struggled more with the first half. My back was hurting as usual and, unusually, my bottom was starting to hurt. (I did wonder (and this may be slightly TMI) if it was because I wasn't wearing pants with my padded cycling bottoms, which Mr Tuna has been trying to convince me for ages, but I am assured by a female friend that however unladylike this may feel it is The Correct Way). We carried on towards Thames, and really enjoyed cycling down the Phoenix Trail, which had a nice surface (unlike most of the roads we travelled on), and being a trail, means no traffic, so we could cycle 2 abreast and have a chat. Thame was the final rest stop, and then it was on to Stanton St John (more hills, sorry!), and back into Islip, where we were able to claim our commemorative mugs.
It wasn't the fastest ride - there was a lot of stopping and starting in London, as well as trying to sort out clothes, and eating enough to make sure we got back, but it was hugely enjoyable. Apart from the sore bottom, which is difficult to sit down on today. Claire seems to have escaped unscathed, so I am quite envious, and obviously need to find out what sort of saddle she has. I wish I had more pictures of the route, I really am going to have to learn to get my hands off the bars!