Cycling the Chaucer Challenge, England
My shaky grasp of geography meant that I was naively confident during the run up to September's, London to Canterbury, Chaucer Challenge. On my mind map, London was a hilltop fortress and Canterbury was near to the coast so, obviously, much lower. Therefore, yes 80 miles is a long way requiring hefty training, but it would be absolutely no problem because it would all be downhill. It would be a day of graceful cycling, picnics and literary references along the Pilgrim's Way. I greeted the news that it was very hilly with glee because, surely, every "hill" must be prefixed with "down" and only stopped my enthusiastic nodding when somebody, who actually understood notions like elevations, explained that for every time we crossed down the Medway Valley, we would be crissing or, put more scientifically, painfully puffing back up.
But, even after I gulped down the word "Up?!", I was still ridiculously excited about the challenge.
250 cyclists, all raising money for the fantabulous Children's Trust, would leave Greenwich park very early on a September Sunday and ride through sleepy London streets towards the timeless Kent countryside meeting the, centuries old, Pilgrim's Way and pedaling in Chaucer's footsteps, until we reached St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury.
The route is carefully calculated to avoid the cycling double nemesis of the M20 and busy Maidstone and, once you have left Dartford behind, you couldn't pick a more beautiful, traditionally English route. There's lowland lakes, steep woody hills deep in orchard country, fields that seem to be made of green and yellow Lego squares and then, finally, the first glimpse of Canterbury's spires.
So, how difficult was it? As a comparison, it's longer and more hilly than London to Brighton (even with the 65 mile long shortcut). The route is undulating but there are only about three hills that it would be fair to describe as "killer" with one of them occurring just before the end. You definitely need to have trained and have experience of cycling up to four hours in a day but if I can do it (albeit with the grace of a donkey on a bike), anybody can. Take the rest stops, water, energy drinks and snacks seriously - the high from the Carb Bars kept me loving everything for most of the way and it was only when they wore off, with the subsequent sugar crash, at mile 62 that I started sniffling with pain. My spirits and pedal rate rose again as the gates of the Abbey, and celebration picnic, came into view.
There was morning after pain and the need to sit diagonally for a couple of days until my bottom forgave me but every aching muscle was worth the soaring feeling of achievement. The Chaucer Challenge is an amazing ride it's beautiful; it's historical; it's short enough to be achievable for everybody but long enough for your body to show you it's capabilities when you let it off of the sofa.
- Anybody can spend a sunny Sunday cycling along sections of Kent's Pilgrim's Way but an organised challenge like this is great because you have the technical support, the snacks, the camaraderie and a route that has permission to cross private land, where needed. Accidentally ending up on the M20 isn't the most relaxing end to a day's biking!
- Next year's London to Canterbury Cycle ride will take place on Sunday 11th September 2011.
- If you are up for an even bigger challenge, with The Children's Trust (a national charity providing care, education, therapy and rehabilitation to children with multiple disabilities, complex health needs and acquired brain injury), have a look at their London to Paris Cycle Challenge or their Kilimanjaro Climb.
Francesca with pictures courtesy of The Children's Trust