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.
The Olympic torch is coming to Guildford in 2012 as its last stop before London.
The grass running track in Stoke Park was laid out again recently. It’s from here in Guildford that the Olympic torch will begin the the final leg of its journey into London for the 2012 games.
There’ll be an evening celebration in Stoke Park on Friday, 20th July next year.
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.
The snow was half a metre thick in Guildford when I returned from Spain last week.
That’s the most snow we’ve had in England for twenty years or more, and easily the thickest fall I can remember anywhere outside the Alps.
“Upon the whole it was an excellent journey & very thoroughly enjoyed by me; the weather was delightful the greatest part of the day… to my capacity it was perfection. I never saw the country from the Hogsback so advantageously.”
So wrote Jane Austen of her trip along the Hog’s Back, in 1813. But today is a different kind of day. The view from the top shows nothing but fog. A December morning, chill, damp and misty. That’s how we live.
And yet, I can’t complain. An hour ago, I was still tucked up and fast asleep in bed. Thirty minutes of muesli, tea and fast driving delivered me to the start in Artington. Five minutes to jog to the start, another five minutes to score a race number, and I almost arrived too early for my geological odyssey. But not quite.
Time at the start line is always good. A few minutes to share notes on the course, and establish credentials.
A woman next to me is wearing London Marathon leggings from 2006. I ran it that year, too. Her son is a huge rower from Belfast. He’ll struggle on the hill, as will I.
And yes, the Hogs Back Race — it’s all about the hill.
A police car and a screaming siren
Pneumatic drill and ripped-up concrete
– The Jam: That’s Entertainment, 1981
Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
‘Cos it’s the one we’ll never know
– The Jam: A Town Called Malice, 1982
Gritty urban realism. Recession.
That’s how it was then, and this is how it sounded. The Jam captured the mood of Britain at the start of the eighties. The loss of hope and the mindlessly brutal banality of an existence with no glimpse of economic rescue or absolution.
Back to the beginning.
The school playing field, on a Saturday, was a place I never knew. The only time I saw it, as substitute at hockey. we won 3-1, but the hockey coach refused to bring me on. I wasn’t picked again.
Now, thirty years later, I’m on the playing field again. I’ve picked up my number from the teachers in the gym, and ticked my name off on the list. And this time I’m ready, more or less.
There are a few of those long-nosed and lanky-legged running club runners you so often see in a local race – I can see them warming up around the track. But there are many more nervous housewives and out-of-training Dads, sipping anxiously on their water bottles. Revenge for a school career of sporting failures lies tantalisingly within my reach.