Well, almost. London to Brighton to Guildford, anyway.
Travelling home with the bike on the car roof was a comfortable way to rest weary legs after the London to Brighton Bike Ride. And then, somewhere along the bleak A23 south of Crawley, I saw them.
Lone cylists, still carrying their London to Brighton numbers, pedalling along the bleak dual carriageway and working their way through the late afternoon across Sussex. Heading north and back to London.
The idea was born — to complete the 54 miles of the London to Brighton Bike Ride, and then glide (or limp) home to Guildford afterwards. That would make a long day’s ride of perhaps 100 miles in all.
And the last four years, I’ve done that — although on different routes each time.
Over the summer I’ve discovered two more tough ascents in the Surrey Hills.
Both lead through the woods up to Winterfold Heath, deep in the Hurtwood Forest set high above Cranleigh.
The Hurtwood is one of the largest privately owned estates in Surrey.
Mercifully, most of it is accessible on a dense network of footpaths, one of which is an ancient Roman road.
Alderbrook Road (A to B); Barhatch Lane (D to C)
The two ascents are different.
“The past is another country” — The Go Between, LP Hartley (1953)
August days are with us now, the ripe Lincolnshire corn shimmering tall and golden in late summer afternoons.
The stuffy, restrictive heat and bustle of London feels a world away from here.
The landscape has changed little across the years — parched harvest fields and desiccated stately lawns still wait ready for a boy or girl delivering some fateful message to Julie Christie in The Go Between or Keira Knightley in Atonement.
Only the slow progress of the monster machines that gather in the harvest serve to tell the tale of a landscape now worked with many fewer people.
Across long, easy days we cycle over gentle Jurassic hills. Three miles to reach another village, four villages to find a pub. It’s a pleasant way to slow down and find the summer.
The pace of life seems slow, and it’s hard to equate this landscape with a world speed record set three quarters of a century ago and still standing firm today.
It’s late on a summer’s evening and I’m cycling homeward along one of the most beautiful country roads in England.
This morning’s London to Brighton bike ride is well behind me now and I’m rolling towards the sunset on the longest day of the year.
Eighty miles are in my legs by the time I pass the pretty Saxon village of Slinfold, with twenty more ahead to Guildford.
Beyond the church, I slowly climb a steady rise and turn right onto the main A29. One of my favourite cycling stretches, this — perfect blacktop, arrow straight, and for now at least, heading gently downhill towards the river.
This is Stane Street — the Roman road from Chichester to London. Built in the 1st Century AD, it’s more than good enough for me now. I pause to eat and think at the bridge across the Arun. Here, inside the meander of the river, the Romans built a staging post or mansio.
Ditchling Beacon is the high point of the London to Brighton Bike Ride each year, in lots more ways than one.
A whole year of training is finally distilled into one breathless blur of uphill climb.
And no matter how many hills I’ve toiled all winter, it never seems that success on Ditchling is guaranteed — because it’s the toughest ascent I do.
Here’s a map and a profile of the hill, and a comparison with White Down, the steepest climb in the Surrey Hills close to where I live, and the last training test I do before setting off to Brighton each year.
The streets of London deserted … except for a million people lining the roads.
A Brit leading the Tour de France halfway through Kent, and pulling on the King of the Mountains jersey, later that same evening.
The best weather of the summer.
The Tour de France – in London, for the first time ever.
Truly, the weekend of a lifetime. And we were there, too.
On Saturday afternoon, we wandered happily from Green Park to the Serpentine, watching the cyclists flash by. The speed of the racers was simply unbelievable – Hyde Park Corner hasn’t seen traffic moving so quickly for many a long year.