Wednesday 11 May 2016

Sixty Centuries

The century or 100-mile ride has a special significance for many amateur cyclists. One hundred miles seems like a fair distance. A 100-mile radius circle drawn from Charing Cross in the centre of London for example extends north to Boston in Lincolnshire, west almost to Bristol and south almost all the way to the French coast. Go east and you’d be well into the North Sea, but that’s not recommended!

For many newcomers to cycling a century ride is almost a rite of passage. Seemingly unattainable when starting out but over time achievable with some training and persistence. The massive growth of cycling sportives in the UK has brought this milestone within the reach of many riders.

Although I don’t remember my first century I can remember the first really long ride I completed. In the summer of 1973, after finishing my O level exams I set out with a school friend from Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire to ride along the Icknield Way to Goring on Thames and then along the Ridgeway to the Vale of the White Horse and back home via Wantage, Wallingford and West Wycombe. I don’t remember a lot about the ride apart from the fact that it was a hot summer’s day and we arrived back just as it was getting dark. But my clearest memories are the sense of achievement – of a big journey completed – and the freedom to explore that having a bike had made possible. My other memory is of my mother giving me quite a telling off when she found out where we’d been. This was in the mid 1970’s when roads were a lot quieter and attitudes to ‘independent exploration’ rather different to the present day.

Since that first big ride I have spent many, many happy hours in the saddle and have completed many, many century rides. Now, during the summer months I like to complete at least one century ride each a month.  At the start of 2016 I thought it would be good to try and complete at least one century a month over the whole year. Somewhere along the way I got to thinking about 2016 and the fact that this was my sixtieth year. And then I started pondering how I might mark the occasion.

Having completed Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2015 my thoughts had turned to riding across America in 2017 as a sort of 60th birthday present to myself. This however would be a major undertaking and one which would not be cheap. Whilst not completely ruling it out I started to think about other ways to mark my sixth decade. And I started to think about the possibility of completing 60 centuries, one for each year of my life.

The biggest motivator for me when I ride is to enjoy myself. I always say that, tiredness aside, when I finish a ride if I feel that I’d like to do another one then it’s been a good ride. The day I stop enjoying myself is the day I probably stop riding. That doesn’t mean I’m a masochist who enjoys riding in extreme weather or on extreme terrain. Quite the opposite. But for me, a good ride always leaves me wanting more.

So the plan is to ride as many centuries as I can, without pursuing a rigid and potentially all‑consuming target. I want to revisit as many of the places in Britain where I have previously lived and ride a century there. I’m going to blog the rides and at the risk of self‑indulgence record some random thoughts and observations along the way. I’ll have to get my finger out though since as I write this post I’ve already ridden 12 centuries this year. But it’s taken me a while to clarify my aims and aspirations and be ready to ‘go public’. And if you’re reading the blog I hope you enjoy it and are able to share in some of my miles and some of my experiences.

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