04:48 on Saturday, 19 May 2018 Forest of Dean, England (The Aftermath)
- Distance:- 610.73km / 379 miles
- Moving Time:- 29:42:38
- Elevation:- 8,488m
- Estimated Avg Power:- 137W
- Energy Output:- 14,600kJ
- Average Speed:- 20.6km/h
- Max Speed:- 79.2km/h
- Elapsed Time:- 40:30:04
Outwardly, I only suffered minor damage. On the surface, there wasn’t much you could see that I needed to recover from. There was the bruised shin after I missed my footing while failing to remount. Needless to say, the pedal swung around and bashed into me. Eeeek! I was also, quite comically, nursing half a sun-tanned hand. The sleeve of my jacket had been protecting the whiter section. Other than that, there was little visible physical damage.
But after my first double century, something deep down changed – forever.
The trauma to my body was more internal. I’d lost a tremendous amount of salt. Evidenced by the state of my salt-stained cycling cap. Eeew! Some electrolytes were needed me thinks…. Then there was the wear and tear to my bike, clothing and equipment. Batteries required recharging, my jacket was sun-bleached and my chain needed replacing. In fact, the whole bike needed servicing.
That’s some of the physical aftermath. But, the stuff that many people who do this rarely discuss is…
What does it actually feel like to cycle 379 miles in one go?
It’s hard to explain. There’s something weird that happens to you after riding this distance, particularly the first time you do it. It’s transformational. Something inside you changes. It’s like someone’s modified your very DNA. Yes, my first century felt like an incredible achievement. It was exhausting, life-affirming, huge, and something to celebrate. But after my first double century, something deep down changed – forever. However, this ride was on a different level again!
So many times, I was convinced I wouldn’t make it. Some of those moments were brought on by factors beyond my control, like when I wasn’t prepared to leave my friend Alex after his bike collapsed under him or when my chain twisted and I couldn’t see a fix.
There’s no option. Let go, follow the process, or suffer more.
Then there are those moments when you’re conflicted by deep internal battles, like having to find the strength to force yourself up after being huddled in a space blanket on the toilet floor of a petrol station. Or after the turnaround point, where I was faced with having to retrace all those miles when I couldn’t manage to stand on my own two legs! With these inner conflicts, you do have a choice. Not that you’re aware of that at the time.
Being unable to sling your leg over (the saddle) at the side of the road with Snowdon National Park ahead is one thing. Knowing you’re only halfway through your ride at that point… well, you’re looking at a wall you can’t climb. As described previously, all I could do was try to achieve one pedal stroke. Just one. Then only one more, and another, and another. If you do that one revolution, somehow the others will follow.
I simply ordered what my body thought might be possible to consume.
There’s no option. Let go, follow the process, or suffer more. Surprisingly, and it’s impossible to describe how, the miles roll by and you find yourself making progress. I’ve no idea if I would have succumbed to the temptation to bail: a train or bus back to the start, a convenient place to stay, a knight in shining armour only a phone call away. I guess if you put yourself in a situation where those options aren’t available, then the thing inside that you don’t know is there kicks in. You simply find a way.
Finally, it’s over. But how does it affect you?
They say all things come to an end, and when the end of the journey does arrive, it’s a massive moment while at the same time also being a strange anticlimax.
It’s at that point, when you have no cognitive function left, that the subconscious takes over.
I was seeing basic random foodstuffs and thinking; “I have to eat you”!
The body is incredible. It seems to automatically kick into recovery mode. There’s no control or intent. You need nourishment, yet you’re unable to keep anything down. Despite the fact that I ended up at a Chinese takeaway immediately after the ride, the food choice wasn’t really mine to make. I’d stopped ‘thinking’, possibly because the effort of thinking wasn’t energy efficient. I simply ordered what my body thought might be possible to consume.
The mental darkness aftermath
Once I’d shoved in that first meal, the memory of events became very blurred, like being unable to recall anything after a night on the lash. Even after grabbing some sleep, there were very few intellectual processes happening in my head. I only know I went to a cafe for two plates of beans on toast that morning because I made a note of it at the time. I also wrote down that I had my first espresso since the Friday before. Ordinarily, this would be significant and easy to remember!
Becoming more cognisant
My first clear memories pick up once I’d driven the car to Reading Services, where I stopped for a pot of spicy lentil soup and some so-called “fresh” still lemonade from Marks & Spencers. Again, these food choices weren’t made intentionally. They were chosen for me by my body’s needs, so to speak. I decided to be safe and take another hour of shut-eye in the car park before heading back to central London.
Food me… food me now!!!!
Back at home, the desire to take on food didn’t stop. At almost every opportunity, I’d cram in the calories. This wasn’t normal hunger. I was seeing basic random foodstuffs and thinking, “I have to eat you”! It felt like a primal type of drive. No cooking or prep needed. See sweet pepper; eat it until bored (pretty quick); see cherry tomatoes; and the same thing. See oranges the same again.
My blood pressure seemed high or was I just acutely aware of the thud of my blood being pumped through my veins?
Then the craving for that one food vanishes quickly. Your eyes, smell and all your senses seem to instinctively understand which foods contain which nutrients you’re in need of. They then send powerful messages to your brain to hunt down that very thing.
18 hours after finishing…
18 hours later, the hunger was still there. Yet finally, I was beginning to reflect on the whole experience. I spent time thinking about how others I know who ride bikes might have felt in my situation. I figured even my good friends, who love climbing with a passion, would have had their fill of vertical metres by the end of it. It was a massive undertaking.
The what if’s…
As my mind regained ever more self-control, I found myself thinking about the ‘what-ifs: what if it had been raining? What if it had been significantly colder? Who could complete a massive ride like this in those situations? I was really grateful for the good weather.
Lessons learned on reflection…
Some of the lessons learned: less than 100% functional kit can kill a ride. Worn shifters = dropped chain = bent chain = killed ride. Although it’s something I understood to be essential, I was reminded that you should thoroughly road test EV-ER-Y-THING you intend to take on a ride like this.
Sitting & Staring…
Just that… sitting… staring… staring and sitting…
Hearing your body talk to you…
During all this recovery, I sensed that my body was slowly switching from eating itself to using food for fuel. Things ached: a slightly ulcerated mouth, the sunburn on the skin that was left exposed (disappointed at self), the tingly hum of a body trying to fix itself and calm down after the onslaught it suffered. My blood pressure seemed high – or was I just acutely aware of the thud of my blood being pumped through my veins? My body seemed on fire, and I became increasingly aware that everyone else seemed to be in a different mental space. I felt totally unable to bridge that gap.
Relearning how to function
There was a lot of fumbling, falling down, and losing balance. I had to go through reorientation. It took several days to fully remember how to walk and control functional movements.
Eventually, you struggle to come to terms with the huge difference between reality, fantasy, and those beautiful pictures you see on social media. While I sat there typing, I kept feeling waves of sleep overwhelm me for a moment. I had to regularly shake myself out of it to return to wakefulness. There was also a low-level buzz in my ear that receded over the following days… Recovery from going that deep is a protracted process. Thankfully, given time, things eventually seem to return to normal… or do they???
Thanks and other info
Many thanks to the amazing Alex Turner. Without his support, I question if I would have managed to complete this challenge…
Link to the upcoming event details here:- https://www.pedalution.co.uk/events/bryan-chapman-memorial-600/
Guardian article on the event from 2015:- https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2015/jun/05/there-and-back-again-riding-373-miles-across-wales-over-a-weekend