The view across London from Anerley Hill was amazing; the morning was so clear, so perfect that you could see the whole city spread out in front of you, a little light summer mist wrapping itself across the buildings, the low morning sun reflecting off the skyscrapers.
Or so I think. I got a couple of glimpses of the view, but after 60 odd miles, nearly all my attention was focused on my front wheel as I willed it to keep turning up this one last hill. This was the last mile – all uphill – of this year’s Nightrider cycle ride.
I signed up for the ride about three months ago, primarily to raise money for Brain Tumour UK in memory of my friend Jeff. But despite the hours of training it was hard to imagine doing the actual ride. 100km is basically South London to Oxford and I’d no more think of cycling that distance than I would of walking to Edinburgh.
The route starts at Crystal Palace, swings down through Blackheath to Greenwich, over Tower Bridge and through the City, loops through Canary Wharf, thence to Mile End and Hackney. It was around here where I went off the route, following the tail lights of the bikes in front rather than looking out for the Nightrider signs. Many, many years ago I lived in Hackney and I knew that we should have gone along Ridley Road and come out by the Rio cinema, so when we hit Stoke Newington High Street I knew something had gone awry. Diving back down to Dalston I managed to pick up the route again, the relief at not getting hopelessly lost mixed with the irritation of having done an extra unnecessary mile. Finsbury Park and Haringay brought various groups of enthusiastic drunken spectators cheering on the peleton, and we then hauled up to Ally Pally. After a week of rain, this was the first clear night; the stars were out and the sky in the east was just turning light and it felt good to be two-thirds of the way round.
After a cheese sandwich and a bottle of lucozade, it was back on the bike and up Muswell Hill, down the Bishops Avenue into Hampstead, a career down Haverstock Hill and into an extremely busy West End. It was around 4am and there were traffic jams, packed pavements and huge numbers of the death trap rickshaws that now seem to infest the city.
Dawn had broken as we crossed the river and London looked, sounded and felt beautiful. And it felt good to be on the final leg of the ride – 80km done (further than I’d ever cycled before) and only 20km to go. Avoiding the temptation to nip off home as we went through Clapham, I pulled myself up the final hill by cursing as much as my breath would allow and free wheeled over the finish line at 6:00am. Very tired, knackered, and not a little smug.
Many, many thanks to all who donated money which has now topped £1000 for Brain Tumour UK. Those of you who haven’t done so yet can still visit my donations page for the next few weeks.