Leaving at midnight
The following report is from one of our certified fresh-air-heads, Tom Gibbs, aka @bicyclefactory
Bikepacking luggage company Apidura set up the #parallels24 challenge to take place on the summer solstice, June 20th. The idea was to cycle midnight to midnight and ride as far as possible in that time. Final distance would be measured ‘as the crow flies’ so turning back, or riding a protracted route would result in a shorter official distance. It’s self-supported, so no pre-arranged support from friends or family allowed. Riders can stop as many times as they want for rest or sleep but the clock’s always ticking.
Leaving at midnight
My alarm goes off at 11pm. I come round slightly dazed but excited about what I’m about to take on. I wanted to get some sleep before I set off but with some last minute packing I only manage 45 minutes. Bleary eyed I make a coffee and cram the last of my things in my bikepacking bags. With the route being in a straight line I decide to take a bivi bag and find a spot to sleep when I’m done the following night. I pack a stove and some dehydrated food just in case.
It’s 12am and I head out the door into the cool but calm night. My route starts from where I live in Hackney, London and heads South-West towards Somerset and Devon. It’s my first attempt at a 24hr road ride and I have no idea how far I can ride in this time. 99% of my riding is off-road and gravel based so this is new territory for me. I head out through the twisting maze of London streets which in normal times would be heaving with Friday night drinkers. They are eerily quiet. I resist the urge to bomb it through the empty streets as I know I’ve got a long way to go.
Once out of London I start feeling more at ease as I join smaller lanes weaving through the Surrey and Hampshire countryside. One of the reasons I wanted to do this ride was to ride through the sunrise on the longest day of the year. There’s something really quite special about the pitch darkness starting to give way to dawn colours and sounds. I take my first break at 60 miles to watch the sunrise and listen to the chirping of hundreds of birds.
I quickly start feeling chilly so jump back on the bike and into the morning light. I ride through hour after hour of chocolate-box villages and lush farmland until I reach Dorset. I’m starting to feel the time spent on the bike at this point and know I need to resupply at village shops as much as possible to keep the energy levels going. Knowing that you’ve ridden for 11 hours and you’re still saying 'morning' to people feels a little odd but I’m still loving the adventure and I press on.
By the time reach Exeter at 180 miles I’m really feeling it. I stop at a shop and consume my weight in wine gums now that I’m out of OP bars. I know the going will be tough from here on as Devon’s hills don’t mess about. Some gradients are crazy steep and the frequency is physiologically battering. My stops become more frequent but I keep telling myself “this is the part you’ve known will come” and dig deep to keep the pedals turning.
My progress slows as hill after hill starts to take its toll and I start thinking 'why did I decide to come to one of the hilliest parts of the UK to do a long distance ride?'. I soon remind myself 'that’s the challenge you set yourself’. It’s amazing what a short break and very well timed disused railway turned cycle path can do for morale. I was plugging on again.
By this point a fair headwind had started blowing. I stopped to check the weather to see whether it would get any worse and realised that if I wanted to keep riding until midnight I would be riding through torrential rain and 45 mile an hour winds. I decided to ride until sunset and then find somewhere with shelter to bivi for the night. In the town of Tavistock I found a welcoming church doorway to bivi under and escape the rain. This provided the perfect bivi spot to cook food under and then wriggle into my sleeping bag. I wasn’t disturbed once and slept right through the storm.
The total distance was 224 miles with 4300m climbing and is my biggest day on the bike. As with all the events I go into, the challenge is against myself, to see what I’m capable of and I had an amazing time on this crazy experience.
Words and Photography by Tom Gibbs
OP - Chapeau, Tom! We’ve been doing so many shorter, more local trips this year it’s nice to be reminded what a big one is like. As you've read, Tom’s effort was herculean, but with room for creativity in the ‘as the crow flies’ brief, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the full report from Apidura once it’s released.
We also recommend following Toms exploits @bicyclefactory for more lovely photography and his usual gravelly/off-road routes out of London.