London Underground Mission

Well, I can honestly say that this week has been one that I won't forget in a hurry! When I first conceived the idea of riding to every tube station in London I had told a friend I was going to do it in a weekend - that was before I realised the sheer scale of the challenge, that there are 270 stations and it would include around 350 miles of riding. Nevertheless the seed was planted and so began the arduous task of mapping out how to get to each one. I had a week off work before Easter and decided that I would ride it in 5 days and travel light, staying with people so that I didn't have to carry camping gear. Having realised just how big the ride would be I decided that it would be a good idea to try and raise some money for a good cause. I chose the mental health charity Mind as they provide much needed services to those with mental health issues. I suffer from depression and want to try and raise awareness, as mental health issues are incredibly common and yet are still sometimes viewed as a taboo subject.

So after a rather last minute packing spree on Sunday evening, Monday morning saw me arrive at my first station, Morden at 8am (an hour later than planned due to oversleeping, doh!) eager to get pedalling.

Morden

The sun was shining as I followed the northern line towards London Bridge and then headed towards North Greenwich where I took my first ever trip on the Emirates Airline cable car over to Royal Victoria Docks.

CableCar

I headed east on the district line and stopped in Upminster for a brew in a cafe by the station. After explaining what I was doing to the man behind the counter he refused to take any money for my tea and cake which was a really nice gesture. After struggling earlier in the day to engage with people outside the tube stations to tell them about my challenge and give them a card, this just made my day.

Until I started riding I didn't realise just how close together the tube stations were and so I was stopping every 10 minutes at each station and taking a picture before getting back on the bike to ride to the next one. I was craving a bit of uninterrupted time in the saddle and luckily with my next station being Epping at the top of the central line I had just that. 1.5 hours of cycling northward, out onto country lanes in the sun was really refreshing, although this is where I realised that London isn't as flat as I had hoped!

OutToEpping

The rest of the day continued smoothly and after having managed to finish my first day on track at Barkingside station, I arrived at my hosts for the evening just before 8pm. Warmshowers is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists and hosts Celia and Harry had kindly offered me a room for the night. It was my first experience using the website but I needn't have worried as they were lovely people and their hospitality was second to none. Sharing stories of cycling trips over dinner is my ideal kind of evening and so I went to bed after a lovely meal thinking that if this is what my first day was like then my week was going to be rather relaxing.... little did I know what was in store over the next few days.

Waking early I was eating breakfast when the rain began but I wasn't too worried as I headed out for the start of my second day. By the time I had reached my first station 15 minutes later however I was soaked through and hoping that the forecast was wrong and that the rain wouldn't last all morning. 3 stations later and I had a much bigger problem as my chain slipped off the top cog and managed to wrap itself around the cassette, breaking a spoke and rendering the bike completely useless! I tried in vain in the pouring rain for ten minutes to free it but it was clear that I was in need of a bike shop. Luckily for me I was about half a mile from the Woodford Cycle Centre and so I manhandled the bike there and then sought shelter in a cafe for the next hour whilst the guy worked his magic. I was so relieved that it was sorted and by 11am I was back on the road, albeit a good few hours behind schedule and still riding in the rain.

BikeFixed

The afternoon continued to be a bit of a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I missed Stepney Green tube station and so had to double back to that, then I spent a good 15 minutes trying to find Shoreditch High Street station only to be told by someone that it wasn't an underground station, just an overground. As I didn't have a waterproof cover for my phone that still allowed it to be mounted on the handlebars it meant that I was simply listening to Google maps navigation instructions which are sometimes completely puzzling and rather wrong and so at times I was literally going round in circles and had to stop, get the phone out the bag and actually look at the map. All of these little things just picked away at me and I found it difficult to enjoy the riding. Thankfully the rain did stop around 3pm and there were only a few showers after that but I was very aware that I was way behind my predicted route. Cutting the loop out that headed out to Edgware, I continued on to make Kentish Town my last station for the night before arriving at my friend Marions house in Chalk Farm at around 8:30pm where I was staying for the night.

Wednesday morning I was up and out of the door by 6:30am with an aim to make up a bit of time only to find that it was raining already. 2 hours later and I was a shivering wreck and had to stop for a cup of tea to try and get some of the feeling back into my fingers. Sitting dripping wet in a Starbucks by Embankment tube station I was struggling and wondering how on earth I was going to see the day through if the heavy rain continued. Getting wet is inevitable and I'm usually fine with that but being wet and cold is a totally different problem. It really wasn't very warm out there and my gloves were sopping which meant cold fingers and after a while the inability to use the phone to navigate or take photos. A least slightly refreshed I headed back out into the wet, willing the weather to give me a break.

Roughly 2 hours later I had had enough. I was cold, wet, miserable and really pissed off at the constant hammering of torrential rain.

ChanceryLaneDayThreeWet

I headed into Cafe Nero by Chancery Lane and really didn't know what to do. I was already behind from yesterdays mechanical issues and now to have to keep stopping because I was so wet and cold was just so demoralising. All I wanted to do was stay in the warm and try to dry out. Messaging my friend Tim to have a good moan was probably the best tonic. His sound advice to go and buy some dry kit was the best option and after feeling sorry for myself and drinking 2 cups of tea I nipped next door to Sports Direct, bought a new pair of undershorts and then a rather fetching £1 poncho from Robert Dyas which would hopefully keep some of the spray from the road from my new dry pants and headed back out into the rain!

Feeling slightly revived I continued winding my way through the central London streets dodging puddles and pedestrians and ticking off the stations. Having managed to finish the central loop and get to Belsize Park I stopped again to try and thaw out my claw-like fingers and thumbs that were becoming increasingly useless.

TeapotGloves

Emerging with working digits I plodded on and to my sheer delight the rain finally stopped around 4pm.

HappyDays

It's amazing how quickly my mood improved when the rain stopped and I actually started to enjoy the riding again although Google did seem to want kill me around Brent Cross with it's plethora of crazy busy spaghetti junction roads. I also may have ended up in the Westfield underground carpark trying to find my way out again - fun times, haha. However it was riding down a massive hill towards Golders Green that I nearly had to change my pants again when I realised that my brakes were seriously unhappy. Managing to stop with my feet I walked the rest of the hill and looked up the nearest bike shop to get some new brake pads. £15 is not a bad price to pay for staying alive!

My legs kept pedalling and the rain returned for a few brief showers later in the evening. It had been a long day and I was ready to stop, so rolled into my last station of Alperton around 8pm.

Alperton

Luckily Chris from the SayYesMore Facebook group that I'm part of had very kindly offered me a place to rest my head for the night on his canal boat just west of Alperton. A nice shower, hot meal and some shared bike stories later and I realised that I had made a grave mistake. Whilst riding to the stations that I should have completed on day 2 I had missed out Mill Hill East. It wasn't going to be an easy one to fit into the next days riding and so I was faced with the prospect of a 20 mile detour the following day. Time for an early night then!

Waking to a misty and frosty start I was just pleased to see that it was dry.

CanalMistMorning

Riding back into central London the sun was shining in Regents Park and I was beaming from ear to ear. The traffic was a bit mental but I was warm and dry and that was all that mattered after such a horrendously wet day the previous day.

RegentsPark

Alas, it wasn't to last as the rain appeared again as I left Pinner station to head off on my 20 mile detour to my forgotten Mill Hill East station. At one point there were hailstones as I pulled up to the 'one that nearly got away' but there was no time to rest as I headed back towards Northwood. Reaching Watford I was having a total sense of humour failure. The rain was hammering down and I just wanted to escape it and so I sat in the foyer to the ladies toilets for about half an hour eating cookies and feeling thoroughly cheesed off. All I wanted to do was just to get on a train and go home. Being so far behind schedule was frustrating me to the point where I couldn't see how I was going to complete the challenge but I also knew that by sitting there hiding I wasn't making any progress. The cycle ride had changed from a physical challenge into a mental challenge and I was finding it incredibly hard to overcome the feelings of impending failure. In times like this getting messages of support and encouragement from friends and family was a godsend. Every Facebook or Twitter comment from those willing me on was a massive boost and I honestly wouldn't have managed to get up and get back in the saddle without it.

Reaching the far west of the metropolitan line at Amersham station just after 7:30pm I was about as far away from home as I could be and still a very long way from my host for the night in Hatton Cross.

Amersham

The section down to the next station at Uxbridge was about 13 miles away and by now it was dark. I knew that I had to get to Uxbridge to stand any chance of reaching my bed for the night and to keep on track for the ride and so I battled on. A ride that should have taken just over an hour took me just under 2! The roads were unlit country lanes and my bike lights were more suited to being seen rather than allowing me to see the potholes in an unlit road. I then realised that my phone battery was running low and my battery pack had run out of juice, thus giving me a limited lifetime for navigating to where I needed to be. Without the clear skies and full moon I wouldn't have been able to see where I was going at all and I was totally alone on these dark country roads. The last thing I needed was a road closure but that's exactly what I got and needed to take a longer road around to get across to the other side of the M25. It seemed that everything was against me and the dwindling life of my phone had me very worried that I'd be stranded with no way of contacting anyone and no way to navigate. Then just to add another spanner in the works my bike light started showing it's battery life was dying. Panic was rising in my brain but I had to switch it off and concentrate on moving forward. Pleading with the world just to let me get to Uxbridge was the only way I could function. The final hurdle between me and civilisation was a route through Harefield Place Nature Reserve which I'm sure would have been rather nice in the daylight. Instead I was riding into a pitch black mudfest and I have to admit that I was a little scared. I wouldn't recommend riding with thin tyres in thick mud with a bike light that is fading rapidly but I was determined to get it done before my phone died. Cue calamity Jayne. Riding over a wooden bridge with mud and wet leaves and before I knew it I had hit the floor. Hot pain pulsed in my right shin but there was no time to stop. The relief at getting to the canal and finally seeing buildings and streetlight ten minutes later was just immense. Both me and the bike were covered in mud and as I rang my host to tell her that I wouldn't make it that night I just felt lucky that I'd made it to Uxbridge at all.

Mudfest

In hindsight should I have turned back to Amersham after realising that my phone battery was dying... it's a difficult call and I'm lucky that I didn't really hurt myself falling off the bike otherwise the night could have ended rather differently. I took the tube home back to Wimbledon and crawled into bed around midnight falling into a deep and dreamless slumber.

It's amazing what 5 hours of sleep can do to eradicate the memories of the day before and so I found myself starting again on my final day of the ride (Good Friday) at Boston Manor station.

FinalDay

Heading north towards Uxbridge I ticked off the stations one by one enjoying the quiet roads and dry weather. By noon I'd reached Heathrow Airport and although my attempts at reaching the tube station in terminals 1,2 & 3 had been thwarted by the closure of the pedestrian and cycling tunnels I was able to ride to T4 and T5, by which time of course it was raining heavily again.

T5

Knowing I had only one big last loop of south west and then central London to go was a relief but I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. 4 days of heavy rain had made the roads and the paths flooded and riding across the Thames at Richmond I could see that the river had broken its banks. I was in for another long afternoon of cold, wet, earphone-navigation and it wasn't long before I had gone through 3 pairs of wet gloves and had used my golden ticket of a spare jacket.

LastDayColdAndWet

At Bayswater station I needed a break to try and dry out a bit. 2 cups of tea and a piece of carrot cake later and I literally forced myself back out into the rain. This was it, the final stretch of stations and there was no way that I was quitting now. Posting messages to friends and family as the hours passed by and the number of stations remaining got into single figures, the adrenaline was pumping. The rain had stopped and I knew that I was going to make it, but would I get there before midnight? The last few stations seemed to go in slow motion as my legs kept pumping away at the pedals. Turning into my final tube station, Wimbledon at 11pm there wasn't anyone around. I was beaming and absolutely chuffed to have done it!

Wimbledon

Recording my last video for the Facebook page I was a bit dazed and speechless. It had taken a lot to finally make it and it all seemed a bit surreal. All I knew was that I was happy, so ridiculously happy and relieved! It was time for sleep.

It wasn't surprising that I felt a bit out of it when I'd finished as I'd actually ridden 104 miles on the final day and visited 70 stations in an epic feat of endurance! Waking Saturday morning and not having to get up and ride was odd but most welcome. My body needed rest and my battered shin was looking rather colourful.

Shin

I have to admit that this challenge pushed me to limits I don't think I've reached before. The sheer mental battering from the rain nearly broke me on several occasions. In contrast the physical side of it wasn't nearly so bad. I honestly think that if I hadn't have been raising money for Mind then I would have quit. Luckily I didn't and a big part of what kept me going was the amazing messages of support from friends, family and even strangers. That human element was so powerful and also receiving donations from people who I'd never met and who had heard about my challenge on social media or read about it in the Wimbledon Guardian article was truly wonderful.

After doing a final bit of number crunching I'm happy to say that I visited a total of 266 London Underground stations. The only station I knowingly missed out was Heathrow T1,2,3 and I don't know where the other 3 stations are that Wikipedia reckons exist as I seem to have scratched off all of the names on the tube map! My total mileage over the 5 days was an incredible 405 miles and you can see my daily rides from Strava here.

So, I can truly say that I've seen London now and it's a hell of a lot bigger than I thought, haha! The bustling high streets, the rushing commuters, the mouthwatering smells of food and the incredibly diverse cultures in different areas of the city are what makes it such an exciting city to live in. On the other hand if you go far enough out of central London you have winding country lanes, quaint small villages and green rolling hills. A contrast of two worlds in one capital city.

My final thought on what I know has been a super long blog post (well done if you made it this far!) is that adventure can be whatever you want it to be. I think at my furthest point I was still only 30 miles away from home. I was riding a bike that I bought from a crazy Italian that I used to work with for £20. I ate sandwiches, flapjacks and bagels and drank tea and water - not fancy energy drinks or electrolyte gels. I stayed with friends and people who are now no longer strangers. Adventure doesn't have to be expensive and you don't need expensive kit to do it, the most important thing is just getting out and give it a go.

I learnt a lot about myself in these 5 days and am so proud that I managed to reach my fundraising target and raise an eye watering £1,032 for a fantastic charity. A huge thank you from me to every person that donated, supported and followed my journey, this is a combined effort that will benefit many people who are in need of the much needed services and support that Mind provide.

Vital Statistics:

  • Day 1 - 80 miles and 49 stations
  • Day 2 - 72 miles and 50 stations
  • Day 3 - 57 miles and 52 stations
  • Day 4 - 92 miles and 45 stations
  • Day 5 - 104 miles and 70 stations