My friend Hamish, who had given me the idea of the century challenge, was asked if he wanted to join me on the final ride as a thank you for the year of punishment but he sensibly declined. I'm sure I would just have whinged at him!
The plan was to ride to London and get the train home. There's often engineering works on Sundays, which means buses replace trains, and they don't take bikes. That meant choosing a Saturday for the ride. I could only really do it on 19th December, so the date was set. As it's only 70 miles to London, I had to make a detour. I chose to ride to Brighton first. That way I could use the reverse route from one of the many London to Brighton bike rides. I chose the BHF London to Brighton Night Ride route in the end as I guessed it probably used quiet roads (I can't remember that much from when I did it a few years ago).
The weather forecast was looking good. SSW winds and 13c temperature no reported rain. Unusually warm for the week before Christmas.
The plan was to take some snacks with me but to buy food as required on the ride. I got up at 6am and had porridge for breakfast. With my train booked for 5.47pm I had plenty of time for my ride. I left the house at 7 and it was still dark. The first part of the ride to Brighton was a complete reverse of my last century ride. Heading inland to Hailsham then Arlington and onto Lullington before coming out at Exceat. Heading into Seaford was a nice change without the wind. I was able to ride at 15-20mph along the Esplanade which was over twice as fast as last time.
By the time I reached Newhaven I had my first traffic stop. I was held up by the level crossing. It was only 3 minutes according to my Garmin but it felt like ages. Just short of 2 hours in I stopped at Subway in Peacehaven for my second breakfast. Back on the bike it was a quick run into Brighton. I reached the pier at the 30 mile mark. It was now time to head north which meant a climb. 3.6 miles in total. It was drag up to Devil's Dyke. Riding over the other side was fun though. I hit 47.8mph! I remember this road in reverse. I much prefer riding it away from Brighton.
The next village I arrived at was Hurstpierpoint. I was now 41 miles in. It's a nice little village with a number of shops. I stopped at the local Co-op for some food. There were a large number of people out. There must have been some event on but I'm not sure what.
Back on the road and I headed to Hassocks and then Burgess Hill. The roads were noticeably busier now and major. The roads were vaguely familiar but as I last rode them in the early hours of the morning, that's most likely why they were so quiet. The route skirted around the outside of the town. By the time I got spat out completely, the main road I ended up on, didn't make me favourable with the traffic. It wasn't too long before I was back on quieter roads and less of an issue for the Saturday morning traffic.
Riding through the village of Balcombe the road started to climb again. Nothing serious but long and steady. It wasn't long before I rode over the M23 and arrived in Crawley. At the 60 mile mark, the route turned 90 degrees due east. It was at this point I realised why the route turned. Gatwick Airport was directly ahead of me. There was a plane coming in to land and was so close. As I was riding in line with the landing approach, I got to see a few more planes close up as I rode away from the airport.
My route turned north again and as I entered a village called Smallfield, I decided to take a break. I was now 63 miles in, after 5 hrs 30 mins. More rural roads ahead and I crossed the M23 for the third time followed by a bit more climbing. It wasn't long before I arrived in a more urban environment in the form of Merstham. It was time to cross over the M25. A right turn ahead and up a seriously steep hill called Shepherd's Hill and crossing the M23 for the fourth time. I was now in the Surrey Hills and at the highest point of the ride. There was practically no climbing left.
I now had a fast descent into Purley. The environment definitely felt like the outskirts of London. More traffic and busy junctions were plentiful. I was back in familiar territory when I got to Mitcham and didn't need to look at my Garmin every 5 seconds. 86 miles in and I stopped at a Tesco Express for food and water. Only a few miles more and I was at Clapham Common. This is the start point for the London to Brighton bike ride and from here on, the route was completely new to me.
92 miles in and I arrived at Lambeth bridge and got my bearings again. Ahead of me was the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and at that moment, it took my breath away. It was a feeling I've never felt before, Maybe it was down to the fact I was so close to the finish. Maybe it was because I'd ridden to the Capital. Maybe it was because I had almost complete my biggest challenge yet. From here I rode at a leisurely pace to take it all in. When I arrived in Parliament Square I stopped to take a photo of Big Ben, or the Elizabeth Tower for all you pedants. I then rode down Whitehall passing the Cenotaph and Downing Street. The traffic was not bad at all. With Trafalgar Square ahead of me it was a left turn under Admiralty Arch and onto The Mall.
Buckingham Palace was ahead of me and once again, my breath was taken away. I've been to the Queen's main residence many times and it's never had this effect. I can only guess that it was the culmination of what I'd achieved that had this profound effect on me. I'd pictured this finish in my head and something was missing - darkness. I'd presumed it would be dark with everything lit up but I'd arrived sooner than expected. It was only 3.30pm. I'd also only completed 94 miles. Time for a lap of honour.
I headed up Constitution Hill, through Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park and down South Carriage Drive. I then headed north up West Carriage Drive then east along North Carriage Drive towards Marble Arch. I continued along Oxford Street, by now it was getting dark and the Christmas lights were on. The traffic was a lot busier. I turned down into Regent Street and I seemed to be racing Rickshaws. I paused at Picadilly Circus to take a photo and I headed back to Trafalgar Square and it was time for another trip down The Mall. Buckingham Palace in the distance was now lit up. Time to capture the image I'd pictured in my head several times before.
With a warm feeling inside and a smile that nothing could wipe off my face, I headed for Victoria Station. I now headed for the Wetherspoon's on the station concourse for my celebratory pint of beer.