All The Way On The Shortest Day

It’s the winter solstice today, which prompted a memory … 

Back in 2016 I was living down south in the UK, almost dead-halfway along The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road. It runs for 140km from Overton Hill to Ivinghoe Beacon. As I did similarly, years later on, I thought it’d be fun to make a challenge based on it being the shortest day and to the ride length of it between sunrise and sunset.

This meant leaving Overton Hill at 8:10 am and arriving at Ivinghoe Beacon by 3:56pm: 7 hours 26 minutes averaging no less than 18.8 km/h. Straight time and distance-wise this is obviously very doable, but given it being mid-winter and the the ‘road’ surface being what it is, things aren’t quite so simple.

The chalky-mud and rutted tracks that make up a lot of the route through to Goring make for tough riding, riding which I’d added another dimension of difficulty to in choosing to do it on a cyclocross bike, shod with ‘cross-regulation 33mm tyres.

7 years on I don’t recall the ride fully, but my expectation was to get through to Goring as quickly as I could while not being unduly concerned if I was a little behind schedule, and then to ride a negative split taking advantage of the better surface on the second-half. Things unravelled thanks to a couple of factors. Approaching halfway I had string of punctures one after the other, thanks to some hedge-trimming that had been going on. This was still when riding tubeless for ‘cross was pretty new, and so I was replacing and then repairing tubes old-school style.

This was somewhat unavoidable and just bad fortune, but my ignorance of route beyond Goring was perhaps the biggest issue. To that point the route is obvious, but beyond it ceases to be a continuous bridleway and instead, if you’re on a bike (or a horse!) deviates onto small lanes and alternate tracks roughly following the Ridgeway but not signposted as such. My GPS head unit at the time didn’t really do navigation proper (just a breadcrumb with no context) and I found myself stopping repeatedly to work out where I was meant to be heading.

The repeated stopping and starting meant that my average speed never picked up to where it needed to be to complete my self-set challenge and come sunset I was still perhaps 20km short and rules, albeit made-up rules, being rules my time was up. I stopped at the next village and called for a lift home. Oh well … 

Thinking back, this was perhaps the first self-supported solo challenge I ever rode and while not far and not particularly arduous perhaps set me up for much of the riding I’ve done since.