Day 4:Horley to Ham: Woke Up, It Was a Chelsea Morning (errm, afternoon) - Grampies on the Go - Again! - CycleBlaze

May 23, 2012

Day 4:Horley to Ham: Woke Up, It Was a Chelsea Morning (errm, afternoon)

After returning from our big day in London, we set about getting our panniers organized for beginning the actual ride. There are twelve actual bags between us, and although we had planned what goes where earlier, it got disrupted by the needs of the stays in Missoula and Montreal and the long train trip. Evening passed into night and seemingly soon I remarked that it was light outside. We had whiled away the whole night sorting our stuff!

We fell into bed and stole five hours' sleep. Then we extracted our bikes and bags from the tiny room and down the narrow corridors. After more time spent finding for the first time how best to strap things down, and discovering that a seat post or quick release here or there was not tight enough, we set off to the now familiar Horley Station.

Getting on the train was no problem. We arrived at Victoria Station and fairly quickly made our way to the River. Here we found the broad blue bike lane that we took to be our magic carpet to Oxford and West. We were pleased to see many bike/walking route signs, including the ones we wanted: National Cycle Route 4 an the Thames Path.

The signs soon became a very mixed blessing as there was a plethora of routes indicated, with destinatons we had never heard of. This included the tempting sounding Cycle Superhighway 8 (CS8) which we also had never heard of.

What was clear, though, was that the various routes, including the two we were specially looking for, included little or no dedicated cycleway. Rather there were painted lines on roadways, that continued for a bit and then faded away, and mainly, cobbled walkways that wove around and in front of myriad condo complexes and housing fronting the River.

We passed through Chelsea, noting that the Chelsea Flower Show admissions were sold out. You snooze, you lose!

As often as not, the housing walkways would feature "No Cycling" signs, which we largely ignored. We can't walk to Bristol! Through this, the various cycle route signs continued with more or less gay abandon, popping up with a direction indication, and subsiding into silence.

The walkways featured, naturally, people walking. But these were not "walkers", these were strollers, sitters, babies in buggies, sun tanners, out for a smoke-ers. There was absolutely no chance to get into a cycling rhythm and make some distance. It was more like orienteering, coupled with stop, walk, squeeze through somewhere, excuse me, and so on.

One advantage of stopping along walkways was a stop by a shady bench. Seated at the bench was a fellow who turned out to be George de Jong. We shared the shade for a while and chatted. George, now retired, had most recently been a minicab driver in the vicinity. He could therefore share a lot of local knowledge. More than that, he gave us a chance to connect to a local person. In the short time we were there, we developed quite a fondness for George. He will never read this, since internet is unknown to him. He says he works by postcards. And he promised to send us postcards. In turn, he is first on our postcard list, instead of being contact number 100+ on our email list. Good on you, George.

After four or more hours we were shocked to read our odometers and see that they recorded 15 kilometers covered. Had we set the wheel diameters wrong? No, we were just getting more or less nowhere.

Before ever deciding to conclude "this sucks", I reminded myself that we were beside a gorgeous river, in a (somewhat) car free environment, seeing interesting new things and people. Perhaps I was just some sort of ugly (North) American, expecting a cycle freeway so I could blast through 100 km before stopping for a stroll through some local Walmart equivalent.

Instead I relaxed a bit and opened my mind a little to the life along the river. The people blocking our way were often people sitting at riverside pubs, enjoying the ambiance. And as we drew a bit further from London, we were entering the "messing about in boats" culture, together with increasing Greens and a bit of less built up open space.

By the time we reached Kew, passing through Kew Gardens parking lot, a lot more green space was appearing around us. It was 7 p.m. and the Gardens were closed. so much the better, since not only were we "nowhere" but we had not spotted a single indication of a place to stay (whether campground, B&B, or hotel) through the entire day.

When we reached Richmond, shortly thereafter, we found so many people by the river we thought there must be a rock concert of something in progress. But no, it was just throngs enjoying the riverside and pubs. Asking about a place to stay, we learned that the minimum cost in Richmond was probably 100 pounds. We cycles on, of course.

However, evening was falling fast, and we could see that we could very well end up cycling all night, or sitting by the bikes on the path.

This is where Phillip approached us. An avid cyclist with a folding 26" Dahon, he was planning his own long trip. Not a "road angel", since there was no road, Phillip became our "path angel" by directing us to Ham Common. This was a place where we could find some open land to pitch our tent.

We tramped through some tree to the edge of a very large open meadow, with knee to waist high grass. Choosing a spot where the grass was not too high, we made camp. We cooked and finished in the dark. Thank you, Phillip! (And thank you Black Diamond (the maker of our excellent very bright headlamps).

Ready to leave Horley
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No problem getting on the train
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The magic blue road - not!
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Cycle route signs
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An ornate bench by the river
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Housing complexes across the river
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Dodie exchanges addresses with George
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George de Jong
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The path often wandered into towns, like Wandsworth
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Many fancy bridges across the Thames
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Lovely apartment building by the bridge
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How do you cycle here?
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Village green at Kew
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At last, a cyclable path
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Not a rock concert, just people at Richmond
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Phillip "path angel"
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England!
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Oh, oh, our day is over (but where to stay?)
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Camp at Ham Common
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Today's ride: 35 km (22 miles)
Total: 35 km (22 miles)

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