Jo and I arrived in Portsmouth at 21:30 on Saturday. We unloaded bikes and then met Annie off her train. Annie had met a fellow Devonian on the train who was also doing the 100 mile Dawn Raid, so she had no time for a sleep. People had travelled from far and wide to take part - two ladies we met later had come on the ferry from Guernsey.
Jo, Annie and I registered and found the gazebo serving free porridge, tea/coffee. The whole event was extremely well organised by Help for Heroes and all their volunteers were extremely efficient, but more importantly, fun. We stuck our bar codes on our helmets and labels on our bikes and luggage - they were not going to lose any of us. The boys from London arrived on time at 11:20 and got themselves registered.
After a cheeky beer and a cheers to us, we set off covertly, under the cover of darkness, at half past midnight having been briefed to follow the white arrows on red boards. The first few miles out of Portsmouth passed by in a flash and then we got out into the countryside. There was now a decided lack of streetlights, which is mostly what you expect, and want, in the countryside, but on this occasion I would have been happy with industrial floodlights all the way.
The initial lot of fast cyclists passed our group at mile 14.5, so our head start had worked.
The opening 26 miles were what we all called "challenging" (we actually called them lots of other things). You had to cycle so carefully downhill so as not to slip up, and to find your way, and the uphills were pretty steep so our average miles per hour was not looking good.
Jo and the boys were faster than Annie and I up the hills, but they kindly and patiently waited for us at the top of each one encouraging us to keep going. It was tough going and I was really looking forward to daylight.
We had a quick stop at mile 26 - 03.30 - and then continued via RAF Odium - 04:00 - where they had parked a couple of Chinook helicopters to welcome us. Watched an incredible sunrise and all was well in our world. We were bowling along apace now and swallowing up the miles. Our average was gradually improving. Crawf had two punctures along this section which, although unfortunate for him, actually helped us girls as we managed to catch up and overtake the boys.
Stop 2 was at the halfway point - at Aldershot - 50 miles done and just gone 06:00. More tea for us all and some snacks before setting off again for next section and the next stop - at 75 miles and at the bottom of the famous (or infamous) Box Hill.
We weren't sure what to expect for this section - hills like the first 25 miles, or easy cycling like the last 25 miles. A lovely surprise - it was an easy section and we got to the stop at the bottom of Box Hill in good time. We had the best incentive to get up the hill as quickly as possible - Kenny's wonderful wife, Catherine, was meeting us there - and with beer!
Annie and I got in a rhythm and just kept pedalling. We had all had the fear of God put into us about Box Hill so we were set for a long, hard slog. Having said that it wasn’t as bad as we thought and the views were fantastic.
For the last 25 miles - downhill pretty much into Central London - we were flying. The boys set a blistering pace through the streets of London and before we knew it we were turning into the Imperial War Museum to a sea of cheering friends and family arriving at 11:50. We had cycled for 9 hours 28 minutes and with stops had completed the ride in fine fettle in 11 hours 20 minutes. Not bad for a bunch of amateurs, some of us on pretty unsuitable bikes. We all felt pretty good considering we had just cycled 100 miles.
We were issued with free pasties, bacon rolls and tea and we settled down for a picnic lunch washed down with lots of fizz. Thank you to everyone who turned up at the end to cheer us home. What a fantastic night/day we had, and all for a great cause and guess what - we averaged 10.5mph.
So, will the Magnificent Seven ride again ... watch this space!
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