MECBC Cycle 100 Miles

As announced at the Neptunes Dinner in February, and in the most recent issue of Neptunes, MECBC has been fundraising for a new boat, ideally a second hand VIII for our W2. We had a target of raising £2000 before 30 June, and we are very close to achieving our funding target– at the start of Bumps we have achieved over £1200. Just one final push to reach our goal!

Since Lent term, Rowanne and later on Freya had been planning an epic 80 mile bike ride between Oxford and Cambridge for the final fundraising push. However, in the excitement of exams, Bumps, and May Week, there was increasing confusion about who is actually on the ride, and how the bikes and human beings can make their way to Oxford to start the ride on Monday 23 June. Various plans were made to get bikes to Oxford and places were arranged for people to sleep before the ride, thanks to Freya, Thea, and friends and family of Siena and Sal. However, the X5 was fully booked up and it seemed impossible to get the people to Oxford at the right time.

On Saturday 21 June, two days before the ride, the list of riders have been pared down to Sal, Laura and Holly, all stalwarts of MECBC W1. They realised the logistics of getting people and bikes to Oxford were not feasible, so Sal planned an alternative circular route that would start and finish in Cambridge. Though the route is now closer to 93 miles (~150 km) rather than the original 80 miles, it is considerably flatter, which is a notable advantage considering that none of the cyclists have road bikes, and Holly and Sal were planning to do it on a rented city and mountain bike respectively.

Sal's original planned route
Sal’s planned route

Looking at this route, I realised that I have cycled to many of these places before (Huntingdon, Chatteris, and Ely), that I missed long rides (haven’t been on one since my light bikes was stolen in 2012), and I have the equipment and experience to fix punctures if needed. So I volunteered to join the ride at the last minute, armed with spare inners, a puncture repair kit, and a GPS-capable phone and tablet.

There is a slight problem in that my bike is a town bike, and I love it, but it does weigh a ton. Here’s a picture of my bike not long after I bought it in 2009.

Ying's bike at a particular London landmark
Ying’s bike at a particular London landmark

It is still a lovely bike, though not really suitable for cycling anything more than 20 miles. So I thought: I will rent a bike on Monday morning, when the bike shop opens (at 8am), then join the girls on the ride at 9am. Unfortunately, when I got to the bike shop on Monday morning, they say that they have a big group of prebooked bike rentals that morning and won’t be able to give me a bike before 9am. I decided that I probably can keep up with a mountain bike on roads, so I joined the girls and we set off around 9:15am after a quick helmet and tyre pressure check.

Holly tweeting our start!
Holly tweeting our start!

The first leg of the journey, about 20 miles from Cambridge to Huntingdon, went by in a breeze. We followed signs for route 51, which were mostly easy to find, and passed by pleasant villages with thatched roofs and summer blossoms.

Cycling through Hemington Abbots.
Cycling through Hemington Abbots.

The only obstacle we encountered was a cow blocking the path in Huntingdon, which Sal dispatched smoothly with a pat on its back.

Holly: MOO SHALL NOT PASS
Holly: MOO SHALL NOT PASS

From Huntingdon, we continued on route 12 and had a fairly uneventful 25 miles to Peterborough, with a couple of climbs that made us really glad that we picked this route rather than the Oxford hills. We enjoyed a picnic at Crown Lakes, and felt pretty good that we had such a smooth trip so far. Also, Peterborough is half way! (roughly)

At Crown Lakes, outskirt of Peterborough
At Crown Lakes, outskirt of Peterborough

The next 3.25 hours we followed a fairly well-signed, very flat, very straight, and really, kind of boring path from Peterborough to Ely. That 35 miles was mentally the toughest for me. I started to feel the weight of my bike and was having trouble keeping it at 10 mph, and everything was starting to hurt. We were trying to ride with some speed as we planned to meet Siena at Ely. Originally we said around 3pm, then we deferred to 5pm, then further deferred to 5:30pm.

A few drops (literally) of rain came down when we went past Mepal, which is about 5 miles from Ely, but luckily most of the rain cloud seemed to have missed us. Once we started seeing Ely cathedral on the horizon, it was psychologically much less painful. At 5:30pm we were on the outskirts of Ely and just have to make it across town to meet Siena!

Ely cathedral in the distance (11 o'clock)
Ely cathedral in the distance (11 o’clock)

At Ely, after meeting with Siena, we got a water refill from the Cutter Inn (THANKS!), and had our second food/water/loo break of the day. We were all quite tired by this point, though the fact that most (all?) of us have been to Ely made it felt more familiar and close to home.

At Ely, found Siena!
At Ely, found Siena!

From Ely to Cambridge we had to deviate from the planned route because we were worried that the route along the river bank from Ely is too overgrown and not possible to cycle over. Freya’s dad suggested going through Wicken, Quy, and returning to Cambridge via Newmarket Road (route 11-51). Sal prefered to follow the river back, which is marked as route 11 on OpenCycleMap, though the first section still goes off the river bank and through Wicken, presumably because the river bank route was completely marked as a footpath. Having been on a few footpaths earlier near Peterborough, we decided on taking the cycle route through Wicken, then trying to rejoin the towpath near Waterbeach. This little detour will add about 7 miles to our route, but it is probably better than trying to battle through 5 miles of footpath when Sal and Siena are the only ones with mountain bikes.

The views on this section are, in fact I think, the best on the route. We enjoyed the scenary and the wildlife, and took the cycling rather more gently through this section (about 8.5 mph).

Holly making friends with a donkey.
Holly making friends with a donkey while waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
At Burwell Lode.
At Burwell Lode.
Impressive/ominous clouds at Burwell Lode.
Impressive/ominous clouds at Burwell Lode.
The other side of the sky from Burwell Lode.
The other side of the sky from Burwell Lode.

The ominous clouds unfortunately caught up with us 2 hours later, when we were still about 6 miles away from Cambridge. It was a full blown rainstorm, no thunder, but raining so heavy that it hurt when it hit you. We decided to hide in a hedge until it calmed down a bit, while I tried to work out on my tablet/map the last section where this route is supposed to join back to the River Cam. On the map, we are supposed to follow route 11 and it will take us across to the river. However, note that part of the route (thick red dashed section) is not marked as a road but as a footpath…

The final hurdle.
The final hurdle.

We took the footpath because we want to be back on the River Cam towpath which we are very familiar with, and we felt it would be a nice ending to the ride. Unfortunately, the footpaths were a bit confusing and we ended up picking the one with 4 stiles/gates to climb over.

IMG_20140623_195555
First stile.
Siena (the pun master): Doing it in stile!
Siena (the pun master): Doing it in stile!

The footpath also ran through a field with two over-friendly horses. One started eating Holly’s handlebars.

A bit too frisky.
A bit too frisky.

This section was probably only ~300 metres but it took us around 30 min to get through, by then it was 8:20pm. Thanks to the British summer, we still have daylight.

Finally we were back on the Cam, back on the towpath, and it was familiar territory for all of us. We cruised through the last 5 miles, appreciating the much calmer than usual river (it was after all, getting on 9pm and nearly no one is training on the river). We got back to the boathouse at 9:10pm, nearly 12 hours after we set off.

"Point at the part where it hurts most"
“Point at the part where it hurts most”. We would have taken a photo in front of the boat bays, but none of us could face the thought of going down steps or walking around the tree with our bikes at this point.

You can check out the final route and elevation on MapMyRide (Special thanks to Maprika/Maprika on Google Play and OpenCycleMap for helping with navigation on the way.)

It was a very memorable day for all of us. We were very pleased that we managed to complete the ride, and we trust that donations will continue to come in; Monday 30 June is the last day for this fundraising drive! Please get in touch with a friendly MECBC-er or contact boatclub-captain@murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk to arrange a donation.

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