06:00, Cutty Sark départ, Greenwich, London. 0km.

Ivan from Audax Club Hackney hands us our brevet cards, for stamps and info control answers, from the boot of a car near the Cutty Sark. Tea and coffee are available around the corner from a trestle table in an underground car park, but we forego warm caffeine and follow blinking rear lights east towards Kent.

Three hundred kilometres. Four thousand five hundred metres of climbing. The usual fear lurks in the back of my mind. That’s a long way in one ride. Fortunately the route sheet is broken down into sections, bookended between the control stops, which can read as a series of perfectly manageable short rides shoved together.

We turn south for the coast, across every range of hills in the south east of England – the North and South Downs, and the Weald in between them. It starts to rain and George regrets forgetting to pick up his waterproof when he left home. My decision not to put the mudguards back on may have been a mistake. By the time we’re into the first hills of the day the rain has eased and shadows are fading in and out across the tarmac.

 

08:50, a car park in Edenbridge, Kent, 66km.

Audax Club Hackney have driven ahead of us with the trestle table to set up a guerrilla style control in a car park. There’s also a man dressed as a shark. We don’t ask why. I make a couple of cups of tea whilst our brevet cards are stamped. We bump into my friend Dan who is recently back from Paris-Brest-Paris (the mother of all audaxes) and our pair becomes a trio for the rest of the day.

12:07, Seaford. East Sussex, 132km.

We can almost see home from here. We try not to think about that as we turn around and head inland back to the hills. We’re not entirely sure we’ve gone the right way but these are home lanes and we can find our way to the next control. The route sheet is a suggestion, it doesn’t have to be followed. As long as you hit all the control points you can take whatever route you fancy between them, the controls are placed so shortcuts can’t be taken or hills avoided.

15:01, a shop in Wadhurst, East Sussex, 177km.

A can of coke is emptied into a bidon and a bag of jelly babies cracked open. The route sheet is turned to the next page and the sandwich bag re-taped to the stem. It’s time to return to the seaside. Back over the relentless hills that are starting to hurt now.

16:59, Bexhill seafront, East Sussex, 210km.

After demolishing a bacon sarnie George proceeds to eat Dan’s chips, “He did say help ourselves didn’t he?”

The sun is low and shadows long as we roll out of Bexhill. We’re on the final stint now. Admittedly it’s 100km back to London but psychologically we’re on the finishing straight. The views across the twilit weald are stunning, layers of muted green and blue hills stretching back towards the sea. We flick on our lights as darkness seeps into the sky.

19:48, Sainsbury Local in Crowborough, East Sussex, 254km.

More food is bought so we can tuck the receipts into our brevets as proof of passage. It’s not the right control, we should be at a petrol station up the road but we're tired, it's dark and I couldn't read the route sheet. Dan and I feel bad at depriving George of the classic audax experience of eating a packet of crisps on a petrol station forecourt at night.

Couldn’t say where we go next as it’s pitch black and we’re now following Dan’s Garmin. There’s something comforting about riding in a small group in the dark, in a puddle of light from each other’s headlights. Your world extends only a few metres around you, no real sense of where you are or what the road is doing. With the need for navigation negated, you don’t think, you just pedal.

Over the last hill and through the trees we can see East London lit up like a tiny toy town down below. We smash ourselves along the bus lane on the long drop into outer London. No matter the length of the ride when you can sense the finish you find extra energy from somewhere.

23:04 Arrivée, London. 312km

A bunch of us stand on a street in Blackheath whilst someone stares at Garmins and says, “Well, it says the finish is here”. This goes on for longer than it should before one of us notices there’s a big Audax Club Hackney banner strung across a house a few doors down. Ah, that’ll be it then. Can you tell we’ve been in the saddle for 17 hours? We knock on the door and wheel our bikes in. Someone takes my brevet card, another person asks if I’d like a cup of tea or beer, and yet another hands me a bowl of stew and cous cous and points me at a table full of other food. I like the audax scene.

“Does anyone want seconds?”

Correction. I love the audax scene.