I’m not fond of getting up early, well, getting up earlier than normal, I prefer to wake at a sensible hour and let the world slowly take focus. This is why I had packed Gracie the Trike into the car the night before, along with all the things I needed to take with me. This meant that I wouldn’t be running around in the morning trying to get myself together whilst being crippled by morning fuzziness. If I’m going to lose some of those precious sleeping hours I prefer for them to be lost at the end of the day rather than the beginning. Riding 300km is always going to take a long time and unless I went for a really early start it will involve some riding in the dark, which is why more experienced long distance cyclists’ start earlier than me. Sometimes everyone else can be right.

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Gracie, almost ready to go, except for the brakes

It didn’t start well. Gracie like many Trikes has two front brakes and I failed to make sure they worked after I fitted the wheel. My mistake soon became apparent at the first junction, when I had to deploy the age old feet braking method of my childhood. Luckily it was Easter Sunday so no one was around to see my moment of stupidity. It took moments to fix the problem but I should have learnt by now to check this sort of thing before I set off.

The first section of the ride was over very familiar roads. Some of them I covered on the last 24 hour Time Trial and others on various Audax rides. The great thing about Easter Sunday was the almost complete lack of traffic. It makes riding the Trike so much better. I also enjoyed the big smiles and waves from the group of Lewes Wanderers who were assembling in Uckfield for a club run.

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This is not a proper Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunch is a thing of legend. A proper Sunday lunch should involve a lot of roast things, mountains of vegetables and something red and alcoholic to chase it down. In my ideal world it would have a little sleep after as well and then maybe a stroll. Sainsbury’s forecourt in Chichester is not the place for a proper Sunday lunch and a proper Sunday Lunch should not consist of a Ginsters Spicy slice, a bottle of Sprite and a chocolate bar. This has never been and will never be a good meal choice. My stomach was threatening to rebel, there were going to have to be some serious negotiations later on in order to ensure the food followed the proper course through my body.

Being outside all day is lovely, putting some effort into keeping moving makes it worthwhile. The views over the Downs near Winchester were stunning. However I had a problem. I’d consumed water and sweet fizzy drinks; it was inevitable that at some point I would have to “go”. Al fresco urination is a tricky business. First of all I would have to find somewhere suitable. I’m not in the habit of “going” whilst in motion. I’ve heard that this is the forte of a certain section of the cycling fraternity but this was not a section that I had a desire to belong to. I really didn’t want to stop at the bottom of a hill as a rolling start is much more preferable that a puffing and wheezing uphill start. Then there has to be cover. No one wants to see a sweaty cyclist watering the wildlife. A thing like that can induce trauma in young minds. I found what seemed to be the ideal spot. It was at the top of a hill with a number of strategically placed trees and bushes. It always happens mid-stream, the sound of voices, close and getting closer. My ideal spot was now a long way from ideal, what with it being on a footpath. I rushed the last few drops and whipped out my camera in a vain attempt to look as if I was admiring the view. No one was fooled.

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Nice view, but damp under foot

Somewhere outside Winchester I clocked up 150km, halfway, eight hours. Some basic maths told me that I should be back before midnight. I’d forgot the long distance cyclists maxim that “if it is going to go wrong, it’ll go wrong in the dark”

At the next stop I had a choice, Service station food or MacDonald’s. There really was no choice. A big greasy burger with bacon coupled with fries (not chips!) and a cup of tea have their place. That place at this time was served up in front of me to be devoured in a matter of minutes. I wouldn’t want to do it every day but right now it was the best thing in the world.

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A Hungry man’s heaven

Just outside Petersfield there is a village called Steep. It’s on the side of a steep hill. This amuses me. I’m easily amused.

I’ve cycled between Petersfield and Midhurst before; the last time was something of an disaster. It involved many punctures, rain, running out of spare tubes and patches, sleeping fitfully in a derelict bus shelter and finally, in the early hours of the morning, begging a spare tube from a passing cyclist. Last time it took me many hours to travel along that road. This time it just flew by with just the odd prick of memory when I passed the bus shelter.

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I feel let down

It was now properly dark and Gracie was fully illuminated. Three red lights on the back, a not too bright light on the front an all supplemented by a head torch. Trikes like going in a straight line but anything that involves going round corners becomes problematic. During the day this is not too much of a problem, just a matter of seeing the corner and moving my weight around accordingly. In the dark the whole seeing the corner part of the equation is taken away. This makes the whole experience much, much more scary. I was praying for the moon to rise quickly into the sky and provide more light but it remained enigmatically low for a very long time. My simple calculation of how long it was going to take had failed me. It was going to take a lot longer. The calculation didn’t take into account the slowing effect of the dark and the slow creeping exhaustion of a long ride.

The last stop was 40km from the end in yet another service station. I really couldn’t face food, the thought of pasties, pork pies, spicy slices, pre-packed sandwiches or chocolate sent my stomach into weird and wonderful contortions. A yoghurt drink was about the closest to food that I could handle.

This may sound obvious, but it gets cold at night. The moon had risen in the clear sky and the mist lay hauntingly over the fields. It was all very still and mystic, but mainly cold. This is the time of night when thoughts come uninvited and stay a while to haunt you. Am I really capable of doing a 12hr Time Trial on Gracie? What about the plan to do the Mersey Roads 24hr Time Trial? Is it advisable to do the 400km ride in a few weeks? Why don’t I just sit in front of the telly and get fat for the rest of my life? When will the pain in my legs stop? Why am I doing this? Why don’t I feel hungry? Have I just missed a turning? Where did that Owl come from? Why didn’t I fit a comfortable saddle?

After an eternity I arrived at the last check point. All I needed was a receipt to say I’d been there and at what time and it will all be over. Late nights in service stations are frustrating. They won’t let you in. instead you have to give your order item by item to the cashier. He then walks to the far end of the shop to get whatever the first item is, checks it’s what you want and then repeats for every other item. The woman in front of me wanted a healthy late night snack of a bottle of white wine and two large packets of crisps. My heart dropped when the cashier brought a bottle of red. This could take a long time.

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