Author Topic: London to Hastings


London to Hastings
« on: July 25, 2015 »
It's Wen to Wen time again

The route
There are faster ways to get there, but this isn't about faster.

let us go forward together

Hastings Hustle
in the beginning

2014 ride report
three to the sea

127 Hours
what fresh hell is this?


« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2015 »

I left out the station that people actually used: Eastbourne.


Ahoy there
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2015 »
Herewith an accounting of which fortunes got told. Did I not mention that those were fortune muffins?

There is a fair amount of coasting downhill in your immediate future.

Trade this with someone, but don’t tell them you didn’t get a fortune.

You will live to regret your regrets.

If you made more money you’d probably just spend it.

Roughly half your dreams will come true.

You will smite your enemies then mellow with age.

The zombie apocalypse won’t affect you because zombies don’t have feelings.
(Just kidding. You won’t become a zombie. But some of your least favourite relatives will.
So there’s that to look forward to.)

You will live long enough to help in the fight against the Empire, but it will strike back.

The CCTV footage will exonerate you.

You will inherit a large sum of money on the condition you don’t spend any of it.

You will be given the opportunity to right an historic injustice, but the newspapers will spell your name all wrong.

Your fortune is on the other side. If the other side is blank, that means you get to write your own.


this time it's epic
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2015 »

When you're planning a ride you may think about who you want to show up. "Well, everybody!" might be the first thought, but of course you can't have everybody. Where would you put them?

No, you want the right people. Ideally they will all be comfortable with the pace set by consensus, they will have conversational reserves to last the miles, and they will finish content with their accomplishment, pleasant memories to share. You also want the optimum number to match your organisational skills.

The Wen to Wen was my first group ride, if you don't count the previous two. I'll count them, but with all respect to those few intrepid early adopters who took part, let's call them warm-ups. This time there were a dozen of us; still quite modest (the same number as have walked on the moon). Enough to qualify as my first major expedition.

I advertised here and on a couple of cycling forums. My pitch wasn't Shackletonesque,

however, I did stress that there would be hills. This was my way of weeding out participants who don't like hills. (You might ask does anybody, really? Some of us hide our masochism better than others.) Essentially I was casting my net for those who were up for a challenge and prepared to pay with what I hoped was a humane amount of pain. And I definitely didn't just want men.

Our cast of characters in roughly the order they arrived at Somerset House: Stuart, me, Russ, Geoff, Terry, Catherine, Kristian, Adrian, Claudine, Mike, Nigel, and Jason.

Geoff and Terry were recruits from our chance meeting at the Dunwich Dynamo and had themselves recruited Catherine, on her first lengthy ride. Kristian was a veteran from my second warm-up. I'd met almost everyone else on other, mostly nocturnal events, which stymied my facial recognition software such that I couldn't always put names to faces. Apologies especially to Stuart, now a serial victim of my forgetfulness. And to Mike, who may be Nick; accounts vary. Pre-ride jitters can only be blamed for so much.

I handed out flyers with subjective ratings of the hills to come and bailout stations, then we were off into the splendid window of opportunity the weather had afforded, a generous helping of rain having been handed out the day before as it would be the day after.

London isn't everybody's cup of tea, or so I've heard. Personally I'm always enthralled by city miles, but appreciate that for most the quicker they're out of the Great Wen, the better.

A previous incarnation of this ride had been billed as The Magical History Tour. Crystal Palace Park was a good first stop, then: more or less at the dawn of time. There are better dinosaurs to be seen, even in London (the animatronic T-Rex at the Science Museum begs a visit), but none in as peaceful a setting. I think most are herbivores, too.

Our next official stop was Downe House, where Charles Darwin lived and worked for 40 years. The humble worm was a speciality of his. The gardens behind the house are inviting to anybody who wants to walk in the revolutionary's footsteps over earth turned by those mighty little labourers.

Not far down the road we passed the house of a man some readers may recognise as a comedian, others as a politician.

Then came our first Honest Hill – though anyone who classifies Church Hill in Cudham as a Hill from Hell will suffer no corrections.

close enough

To borrow a line from the late great Douglas Adams: the first part is the worst. The last part is also the worst. It's the kind of hill you go up thinking "Wouldn't it have been easier for the road builder to move a million tonnes of dirt to even things out?" Cursing also helps despite a lack of scientific evidence for it.

The reward for climbing this staircase is to slide down the bannister a few miles later, Pilgrim's Way (Canterbury being over our shoulders a fair distance) and a lovely but ominous backdrop of verticality to come. There was one casualty. Russ scraped a hole in his jersey as it slowed his unexpected descent after launching himself from a bump in the road. A mini hill, if you will. If his chin had been scalped his beard might have fetched a good price; I haven't seen its like outside of sepia toned photos.

There are, of course, hills in other parts of Britain which Mini-Me these, and actual mountains elsewhere in the world. France springs to mind for some reason

Those mountains would laugh at our Kent and East Sussex anthills if they could. Fortunately they can't, or the taunting would be even worse. This does not detract from the effort it took to ride ours, particularly as there was no public honor, recognition, or reward. Except coffee, which I believe a few took intravenously on that wide spot in the A25 aka Westerham.

Most of us then passed Chartwell, Churchill's home, while Claudine and Adrian went astray through no fault of their own. Believing myself capable of being ride leader, occasional backmarker, and wayfinder, I had fallen short on my commute between those jobs. Fortunately they were perfectly capable of finding their way back to the fold, though I will admit to making a prematurely grief-stricken phone call to ascertain this. I felt especially remorseful towards Claudine, who had come all the way from Wales.

We enjoyed a very fine view of the North Downs from Bidborough before coasting most of the way into Tunbridge Wells and our lunch stop at a cycling cafe packed with Tour watchers. As some of us waited (and waited…) for food, I had a good look at this:

No, not Nigel's perfectly shaped rations. this:

That's right: our own L'Etape du Tour, if you'll pardon the complete translation misfire. You're looking at a tyre with a split casing which has been matter-of-factly mended with electrical tape. This was supplied by a workman at a house we had been stopped outside of while waiting for the unsplintering of our group. Take a bow, Geoff, for the expert use of adhesives, and Terry for braving it.

Speaking of mechanicals, in addition to that delightfully crude yet highly effective repair we counted a split chain for Jason, a rather too derailled one for Catherine, and two punctures, one for Adrian near the start

and another for Geoff closer to the end which resisted all efforts to reintroduce rear hub to dropouts until fortitude combined with what may have been black magic prevailed. My own bike started creaking about halfway through and has yet to be diagnosed. It's probably just feeling put out after one too many chevrons.

My original estimate for the ride had been 10 hours, which is 3x as long as it took Chris Froome get fitted for another yellow jersey on another hilly ride. To be fair they had cleared the roads for him. As the sky darkened briefly over T. Wells, so did my optimism at keeping a semblance of a reasonable ETA at Hastings. Which was OK. I wanted people to enjoy this, and getting to watch the end of stage 20 turned out to be a part of it.

We passed Bateman's, where Rudyard Kipling held court for many years, then tackled the last big climb of the day, which culminated in the Brightling Pyramid. This curiosity is the final resting place of another one, "Mad Jack" Fuller, who built follies to tickle his fancy and employ pre-Victorians.

We were met there by Jack himself, or a reasonable facsimile, starring in a small production by a history group. It's the sort of thing I wish I could take a bow for planning. All credit goes to serendipity. I can, however, take credit for arranging to have my wife meet us in more contemporary costume, with refreshments.

The nearby observatory used to house a camera obscura. Most of us made do with a mental photograph of the glorious view to the south. Perhaps Mike, halfway through his dissertation on (I'm likely getting this horribly wrong, sorry) how geography shapes culture, reflected on how our ups and downs had shaped us.

It wasn't all breezy downhill from here, but the end was nigh easier than everything that had led up to it: the Pevensey Levels are commendably level. Before the final stretch, part of our group left to find a train to get back to the lives they had left so long ago. Although a shortcut had been mooted "only if we're taking longer than expected," I hadn't availed our expedition of it, desiring a less traffic-strewn finale. I think everyone who joined me at The America Ground in Hastings preferred it and those who couldn't, forgave me.

We were a small merry band who landed at a fish & chips shop in the Old Town nearly 12 hours after setting off, keeping company with the net shops, marinating in whatever sweat that hadn't been evaporated by the cool breeze, soaking in the distant mariachi music. We toasted ourselves and the lovely evening, contemplating the achy aftermath of a fully satisfying folly of our own.


what goes up
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2015 »
Signs you may be addicted to hills:
- You occasionally stop in the middle of one, ostensibly for a gulp of water, but really because you enjoy a cold start on an incline.
- You choose gearing apropriate to your pain threshold. Due to tolerances which have been pushed and pushed again over time, you don't actually know what your pain threshold is.
- You say it's OK to walk if necessary. But when you do meet a hill that forces you off the bike, you consider it the walk of shame (only applies to self, I hasten to add).
- You go up one again & again because you didn't quite get it right the last time.


hills bestiary
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2015 »
I like hills. Some more than others. – Nigel

The route flyer makes much more sense to me now - post-ride!

Wen to Wen
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2015 »
‘Sam gave us his pre-ride talk complete with highly entertaining flyer, before the same-as-it-ever-was trudge to the 'burbs’

This reminded me of something. A free Easton beartrap headset adjuster to the person who can name the movie:

‘I know I'm different, but from now on I'm going to try and be the same.’
‘The same as what?’
‘The same as people who aren't different.’

One of the nicest things about cycling in London under the guidance of another person is that you get to join the dots differently, making new places out of old ones using the new bits in between. I’m not sure I’d remember every turn of our route from Somerset House to Crystal Palace Park, but the exit from the city is not an inconvenience to be wished away, but the all-important opening chapter of the story.

I’ve seen the dinosaurs before, but on this balmy morning I fancied there was something more fittingly swampy about their habitat than I remembered. I pictured humongous dragonflies landing on my handlebars – big enough to topple the bike over. Although they’ve got nothing on the tautly-stuffed Walrus in the nearby Horniman Museum, the slack-bellied, lizardy dinosaurs have a suitably dated vibe in this era of agile, gaudy, sometimes feathery CGI representations.

I am reminded of the evolution of Bill Watterson’s dinosaur drawings for Calvin & Hobbes (I’d post pics, but he gets upset about that sort of thing):

Back in the ‘60s, dinosaurs were imagined as lumbering, dim-witted, cold-blooded, oversized lizards. That’s how I drew them in the first strips, and these drawings are now pretty embarrassing to look at. When I realized that dinosaurs offered Calvin interesting story possibilities, I started searching for books to rekindle my interest in them. It was then I discovered what I’d missed in paleontology during the last twenty years.

Similarly influenced, I am now unable to view groups of grazing wood pigeons without them morphing into herds of brontosaurus, but by far the most dinosaury thing I have ever seen was in the unlikely setting of a backyard in suburban Bielefeld, Northern Germany, where a friend’s father kept Modern English Game Chickens. These rangy, belligerent mofos could jump from a standing start onto stuff Danny MacAskill would flunk – the only thing stopping them eating you is that they’re about a foot tall. Spot the difference.


Modern English Game Chicken:

[Enough about dinosaurs. – Ed.]

The ride was hilly. This might have been mentioned before. I excused myself in advance for lollygagging™ – I’m not a fast climber over any distance anyway, and I have got slower of late through beer and general hopelessness. Adrian was nursing an iffy knee and was thus also on somewhat reduced power, so over the course of the ride Team Kaffenback settled into a reasonably well-matched rhythm, lagging near the back on the tougher bits, and reeling the front back in over easier terrain. Sam, meanwhile, was pulling off some kind of time travel or doppelgänger trick, whilst the rest of us puzzled, like the parents in The Happiest Days of Your Life, over just how he managed to be simultaneously at the front, the back, and in the middle of the ride. ‘There he is again!’ we’d occasionally exclaim, wanting only Margaret Rutherford there to chime in, ‘So he is. The fellow is quite ubiquitous.’

After Hosey Hill, we nodded to one of the Sams pedalling upstream and hammered along a rolling road through the woods until we hit a T-junction. ‘Got to be a left,’ said one of us. ‘Got to be,’ agreed the other, ‘but maybe wait and regroup here anyway.’ So we waited. And then we waited a bit longer. And then we recalled a left turn we had shunned, signposted ‘Chartwell’, and remembered that the route was to be punctuated by stops at Houses of Note (we’d paused at Darwin’s earlier and narrowly avoided nomination for the appropriate award whilst standing in the road gawking at it). I texted Sam: ‘Ade and I have gone the wrong way. We are at the end of Hosey Common Road. Don’t come back for us. We will turn left and head you off.’

So we turned left, and then left again because that looked like the way, and had travelled barely a mile when another of the Sams – the shepherdy one – came positively hurtling in the opposite direction, exuding a concern for our wellbeing that was both touching and slightly guilt-inducing. I resolved to be better behaved.

My penance was to be the reluctant immediate witness to the two pre-lunch incidents that weren’t as nasty as they could have been. I was close behind Jason when his chain snapped, and can testify that he did well to stay upright. The momentary panic involved in thinking that a companion is about to hit the deck was, as it turned out, just so much training for a much hairier moment on a long descent. We might or might not have been warned to take it easy, but that is tough advice to follow on the kind of ride where the topography is an unfolding hymn to the power of gravity. I was definitely the third person going too fast down the hill, and I suspect I was not the last. A cheeky left-hand bend near the bottom co-incided with a bump or dip of some kind. It was the best of motives that persuaded the rider at the front that the thing to do was to stop and warn the remaining riders of the hazard, but the decision, and the manoeuvre, was too abrupt. The dual time-frame in which I had leisure to watch the second rider (Russ) consider an evasive manoeuvre to the right, change his mind and aim for the larger gap opening up on the left, and then reconsider once more on the grounds of momentum, camber, and relative softness of landing surfaces, before seeming to have made it clear and then finally being claimed by an advancing hedge, requires the skills of a better writer. Here’s one, describing something only marginally more terrifying:
He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a carving knife. It flickered up and down. Its movements were leisurely. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise the limb and the weapon.

They were leisurely enough for him to take in the full meaning of the portent, and to taste the flavour of death rising in his gorge. His wife had gone raving mad - murdering mad. They were leisurely enough for the first paralysing effect of this discovery to pass away before a resolute determination to come out victorious from the ghastly struggle with that armed lunatic. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence involving a dash behind the table, and the felling of the woman to the ground with a heavy wooden chair. But they were not leisurely enough to allow Mr Verloc the time to move either hand or foot. The knife was already planted in his breast. It met no resistance on its way. […] Mr Verloc, the Secret Agent, turning slightly on his side with the force of the blow, expired without stirring a limb, in the muttered sound of the word "Don't" by way of protest.

I think it was ‘argh’ that I exclaimed, or possibly ‘nnngh’, but you get the gist. Russ was on the deck - shaken, scraped and bleeding but in much better shape than he might have been. Adrian appeared in time to ask the all-important question, and to puzzle briefly about an unlikely form of spoke damage, and we pressed on to Westerham, where we paused on the green with coffees (iced and otherwise), argued about Wolfes and Foxes, and somehow prevented Jason from taking a selfie on Churchill’s lap.

Our lunch stop at a Look-Mum-Alike café in Tunbridge Wells was enriched by a visit from a local dignitary, and by a particularly nail-biting moment of the penultimate Tour stage. By rights, and by the schedule, we should have been away long before Quintana’s sensational attack on Alpe d’Huez and Froome’s perfectly-judged response, and we’d have been none the wiser until the highlights; but a hiatus with someone’s baguette bought us just enough time to be obliged to dig our heels in until the end of the race, while our leader chewed his nails and doubtless pondered on the relative merits of herding cats and driving a mule train.

Did I mention the hills? There were lots. Looking at our charmingly-illustrated Hill Guide, as I write this a week or more later, feels not so much like a memory-jogger as a sort of supplementary fiction. It may be a product of Welsh toponymic tendencies, but as we approached Rogues Hill its ominousness, and its hint of inbuilt reproach, had caused me to paraphrase in my head a question of Padgett Powell’s: does a nameless hill make you more or less nervous than a hill with a name? Church Hill did not have one, for me, until afterwards when I read up on it via the guide and the ride reports. I have no recollection of a church on it, but it was undeniably a hill.

Sam has cultivated an approach to hills which is a heady concoction of hedonism, masochism, conscientiousness, necessary deception and brazen effrontery. He has an invisible balloon-machine attached to his bike. Being invisible, I don’t know quite how it works, but it means he can go uphill at whatever speed he chooses. I haven’t got one of these, so I always go uphill slower than I go on the flat. The hill I liked best was the ‘last’ one, even though I didn’t like its little kick at the beginning. Its surfaces were smooth, its gradient varied, its summit graced with a kindly figure bearing sweetmeats.

Things have been written elsewhere about the extraordinary good fortune or sinister masterplan that led to Mad Jack Fuller being disinterred in remarkably good shape for a chat. I will decide which explanation I favour when I have a more robust data set correlating Rides Led by Sam AND Unlikely Star Appearances.

I didn’t finish the ride – I had prevailed upon the hospitality of a Ridiculous Old Lush in Brighton and wanted to make it over there in time for a sociable pint, and before I risked courting a pillorying in the CycleChat ‘Beer?’ thread. There were a few others who Had to Be Somewhere Else, so after a briskly exhilarating dart across what I later discovered were the Pevensey Levels, Nigel, Adrian, Stu and I did a celebratory lap of the roundabout and followed a sign to a railway station. Shortly this became two signposts, and two stations; variations on a Pevensey theme. Adrian flipped the Magic Tossing Coin and it came down on the side of Pevensey and Westham. A lucky escape.

The last cyclist to wait at Pevensey Bay for a train to Brighton:

We established the time of the next eastward train, which left a window just large enough for me to effect a dash (I say a dash, but it was more of a mince, as I’d already carried the bike over the footbridge to the other platform and returned unsteadily on cheap Chinese fake-SPD-SL cleats) to The Heron Inn, where the people were charm itself, to procure three bottles of Abbot Ale for the majority bibulous contingent.

Been searching for the lost mojo a while now. It seems possible that I will look back on the road to Hastings as the place where I caught a glimpse of it again, always ahead of me over some hill or other but not so far that I despair of catching it on the descent. The company was great, not to mention impossibly stylish. Next time I’ll make the whole ride.

Thank you, Sam.


Wen to Wen
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2015 »
A free Easton beartrap headset adjuster to the person who can name the movie:

‘I know I'm different, but from now on I'm going to try and be the same.’
‘The same as what?’
‘The same as people who aren't different.’


Under the volcano
« Reply #8 on: July 03, 2019 »
I don’t really know much about Claud, other than that she works underneath a volcano – a lair, if you will – along with her business partner Dr Evil. She handles marketing and communications for their firm, Evil Cloud, accepting her lack of equal billing for the greater good, else potential clients might think the name an unprofessional typo.

not to be confused with these vapers

Evil Cloud’s portfolio of services includes, in no particular order, pestilence, plague, chaos, and gender reveal parties – that last one “Pro bono,” according to Claud in a documentary I recently came across on the dark web. “To show that we think of the children.” It's also handy for building a client base for the future.

The programme shed quite a lot of light on what goes on in the undisclosed location. “If we ever get planning permission to make the volcano active again, we may not be undisclosed for long!” joked Dr Evil himself in a wide-ranging interview, unprecedented access being granted in exchange for the ritual sacrifice of the producer at the end of filming, which the unfortunate man apparently also took to be a joke.

Evil and Claud share an open plan office in the currently repurposed magma chamber. It’s actually a very cheery work environment, with modern art on the walls, ergonomic desk chairs, a complimentary masseuse for visitors (they take posture very seriously), and quality Welsh spring water on tap. It goes without saying there’s a well stocked bar. Drinking is frowned upon without coasters.

There’s also a torture chamber/conference room (it’s important to book using the right timecode!) with the latest instruments in persuasion, including an Easton ‘beartrap’ headset adjuster, which is as gruesome as it sounds. “I heard about it on,” said Claud. “It works a charm. We rarely even have to use it – the unveiling is often enough to get results.”

The client list is impressive. “You name them, we’ve helped them,” according to Dr Evil, who can often be found in his lab, where he likes to keep a hand in to avoid death by a thousand papercuts. “We’re often approached by political parties. Client confidentiality normally forbids me from telling you this, but they refused to pay their last invoice, so….” Here he leaned in conspiratorially to the interviewer: “The Greens hired us for that Skripal business. I know, right? But I’m sure they had their reasons.”

The staff have weekly meetings to ensure everybody is aware of what everybody else is up to, to avoid unfortunate injuries, dismemberment, etc. of their own colleagues. A funeral notice on the communal bulletin board, usually reserved for advertisements for flat shares, fun activities, and jokey postcards,

is a sad reminder of the dangers of the business. “We lost the head of HR a few weeks ago in what newsreaders called a freak cricket accident. All because she wasn’t CC’d on an interoffice email,” sighed Evil. “Health and Safety were all over us about that one.” (“Crickey!” headlined the Sun, while the Mail Online posted an exhaustive series of photographs of the sharpened cricket bat, and the thicket where her head was found.)

Evil Cloud take corporate responsibility seriously, earmarking a respectable portion of their pretax earnings for donations to bad causes such as plastic microbead dispersal in the world’s oceans, anti-vaccination disinformation campaigns, and Brexit. “It’s the least we can do,” said Claud, who maintains an impressive Chinese wall between her personal and professional life.

At the end of a busy day marketing mayhem, she tries to put the nature of her work behind her, usually reaching for a bicycle or a beer. “Bicycles and beer,” people said when asked what kept their boss from blowing her top. The more thoughtful suggested, “Beer and bicycles.”

Although much work is done by in-house talent, Evil Cloud has useful contacts everywhere, including the London Museum of Natural History, where an old university mate of Claud’s juggles her research into molecular systematics with freelance gigs in which her knowledge of invasive species comes in handy. We’re a long way from biblical showers of frogs.

What might be termed white-collar plague also comes in handy, as witnessed by the deluge of cheap money, which will eventually lead to financial armageddon. “Who do you think got Mark Carney installed at the Bank of England?” asked Evil without rhetorical intent.

The corporate philosophy is simple: Be evil. “We’ve got to constantly drum it into employee’s heads,” said the new head of HR, Felicity Kendalmint, who's been known to pass out lapel pins with cute little devils on them. “Let’s face it: people are basically good. But we’re running a business in a ruthless and unforgiving environment.

“If you'd rather be good," she added, sticking her finger down her throat for humorous effect, “Go work for Oxfam.” [Kendalmint would later be found half digested in a walrus, the coroner ruling death by natural causes.]

The firm nearly suffered an extinction event last year when the prop master for their amateur theatre group used a live warhead for a production of Dr Strangelove at the Fringe. Dr Evil, meant to play the lead, noticed the geiger counter on his keychain going crazy and evacuated the premises just in time, though most of the accounting department were turned to graphite right in the dress circle. “Work hard, play hard,” said Claud soberly. “These things can happen in an organisation temperamentally attracted to risk.”

Business is booming. This is due to many factors, including canny investment in television shows such as the recent docudrama Chernobyl, which research shows helped stoke unease enough to have an affect on the bottom line. Call it a kind of cold war nostalgia. “Scared people hire scary companies,” the marketing guru said simply. “We can’t do product placement as such, so we’ve had to learn to be creative.” To balance out the more troubling aspects of the job, she’s on retainer ghostwriting tweets for several comedians.

As the documentary ended and the credits rolled over the agonised screams of the producer being fed to the beartrap, I reflected on how I really hadn’t known Claud very well at all.

Which is one way to bump.