There are certain 'because they are there' challenges in cycling, one of which is a 'century': riding 100 miles in a day. (Some also count a 'metric Century' - 100km - but that's cheating!)

My longest day's ride to date had technically been 90 miles, but that was (a) totally flat, (b) often at walking-pace and (c) broken down into several chunks, lasting 15 hours in all. That aside, my longest day had been 77 miles. I still had some energy left at the end of it, so I felt that a Century had to be within sight.

I thus planned a 100-mile loop through Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. I organised it as a London Cycling Meetup ride, and seven fellow optimists joined me.

I knew that slow and steady was going to be the secret to the ride, both to conserve energy and to guard against knee problems (I have an old skiing injury that doesn't generally bother me cycling but can do so if I push too hard on a long ride). The idea, then, was to allow a full 12 hours for the ride, 8am to 8pm, and to do it in 20-mile chunks.

I can never eat a big breakfast first thing, but knew it was essential to get some food in me before setting off. On the LEJOG, I compromised with bananas and jam on toast. As that worked then, I did the same thing here.

We met at Wickford station at 8am. For me, that was two miles down, 98 to go ...

I'd had my usual word with the weather gods, who were kind enough to lay on a dry, sunny day for us.

As always, my planned route was almost entirely rural, mostly B-roads (though there was one unavoidable fast A-road to connect two sections).

Oh, and if you're wondering about the LEJOG sticker on my fairing on the top photo, I'm encouraging myself to do some longer rides by putting on stickers for the routes and ticking them off as they are done. :-) The next one will most likely be London to Amsterdam, though my work schedule is proving a little challenging, so I'm not yet able to book that in.

We were using the usual '2nd person drop-off' system to enable people to ride at different paces but still stay on track as a group. Every now and then, I pulled over to allow the group to reform.

The plan was to stop for refreshments approximately every 20 miles. However, I'm not a morning person, and most of my rides start at 11am-ish. I was thus unfamiliar with the concept of nothing being open before noon ...

The first pub we passed at around 19 miles was closed, as was a second and third one at 22 miles (despite one of them claiming to open at 10am). I decided that we'd stop for a rest at 25 miles regardless of whether we'd found anything open. Sure enough, the pub there was closed too.

Fortunately everyone had brought snacks with them, so we munched on bananas, flapjacks and energy bars while getting our breath back. There was also an outside tap to refill our water bottles. Everyone was good for another 20-ish miles after that, and we knew pubs would be open by then.

At around 43 miles, we hit upon this one. The board outside claimed that it offered good food, and this did indeed turn out to be the case. I've made a note of it to head there again sometime.

The main reason I formed the group in the first place was that I wasn't interested in joining a group full of hard-core roadies who just have their head down and their eyes fixed on the rear wheel of the bike in front of them. It's always great to see the variety of bikes we get, from titanium road bikes to old Dutch clunkers.

And a bike towards the latter category doesn't mean the rider has to be slow! Alina was one of the faster riders, on her 3-speed shopping bike. :-)

Things are always a little more sedate as we let our lunch settle, so I eased off and we rode more as a pack for a while.

More country lanes, picturesque villages and lovely scenery.

Including the kind of villages where the cottages are thatched ...

... and the locals play cricket on the village green on a Sunday afternoon:

The ride spread out again as people settled into different paces.

Some darker clouds loomed in the distance, but they stayed well away as per my arrangement with the weather gods.

More open road and pretty villages:

60-something miles rolled around, and I found a tea-shop in Thaxted:

We got there just in time, and afternoon teas and cakes were duly despatched.

Then more country lanes ...

And, of course, pretty villages.

I broke my previous record of 77 miles, and I think many of us were beginning to feel the strain to varying degrees. I again pulled over to allow the group to reform.

Gary was a great help to one of the riders, who was finding the going particularly hard, riding with her at the back and encouraging her along the way.

A final stop at around 80 miles.

By this time, the day was getting on, and the consensus view was to keep the stop brief then press on.

While you can plan routes exactly in Mapsource, only 50 representative points get transferred to the GPS, and the route is recalculated from those. The GPS will also sometimes end up doing some recalculations along the way. The mileage is thus never an exact science.

This usually doesn't matter: whether a 40-mile route ends up at 38 miles or 42 is neither here nor there. But on a 100-mile ride, where some are struggling, I was doing my best to make the mileage exact. At this point, we were looking like being 3-4 miles over, so I recalculated a more direct route. This would be more urban - going directly through Chelmsford rather than around it - but this was unlikely to be an issue for mostly London cyclists. especially on a Sunday evening.

A reasonable sunset was appearing.

Everyone had lights, so these were deployed as darkness fell.

My revised route was going to be 3-4 miles short, so I gathered everyone together as we exited Chelmsford to see whether to stretch the route a bit to make the full 100 miles. A few people were either struggling or keen to get home, so I set the GPS to take us to Billericay where those who wanted to bail out could get a direct train, while the rest of us headed on to Wickford. The diversion through Billericay would then get us up to our full 100 miles for those of us who were continuing.

We hit Billericay at 94 miles for me, and 92 miles from Wickford station. James had five miles at either end, so would be completing his 100. Most of the others decided that this was close enough for them.

I was very tired by then, which is why I forgot to increase the ISO on my camera and the parting photos I took didn't come out - ho hum.

Which left Helen, Gary and myself as the three intrepid souls committed to completing the ride. I had zero energy, and my leg muscles announced that they were done for the day, but I was absolutely determined to complete the 100 miles. I bought a Smoothie and a stick of fudge at the station and informed my body that I was doing this damn fool thing with or without its cooperation.

Helen cycles 40 miles a day, and has the appetite to match. Her Billericay calorie top-up was an all-day breakfast sandwich, a Yorkie and a bag of Wotsits. :-)

It is, I discovered, possible to cycle on pure willpower alone. As we turned into Station Road at Wickford, my trip meter hit 100 miles exactly 296 feet short of the station:

Gary had also had a two-mile ride at the start, so was there with his 100 miles too, but Helen had driven directly from home to Wickford so needed another 2-3 miles. They decided to ride home with me and then head back to the station. The ride from the station to my place is exactly two miles (2.01 if we're being technical), so my trip meter was at 102 miles as I rolled onto my drive:

Helen and Gary said their goodbyes and headed back to the station, while I struggled up my stairs.

And that was my Century. :-) You will note that I didn't say first Century: enjoyable as most of it was, I have absolutely no plans to repeat this piece of foolhardiness!

If you'd like to ride the route yourself, you can download the tracklog below. If you have a Garmin GPS with Mapsource, then the .gdb file is the one you want; for anything else, the .gpx file is the universal exchange format so any GPS worth its salt should be able to read that.

100miles.gdb | 100miles.gpx