I was dropped off about 4km from the start of the event by my girlfriend Amanda and son Vinnie as there was no parking there and I took a very easy ride down to meet all the other riders. I was filled with nerves and excitement and just wanted to get on with it. We were set off in groups of 8, 2 minutes apart at 10:00 (I was in the 4th out of 5 groups due to my lack of experience). I was told the best pacing strategy was to start slow and get slower and that is pretty much what happened. We rolled off and soon started to split up and found myself pulling clear of the group, I felt good and wasn't that concerned.
During the next 4 hours I found myself picking off riders from the groups ahead until we formed into a group of 4 that was working well together. One of the other riders checked on our tracking and he said we were in 6th place! At that point I thought I had got my pacing very wrong, I must be going too hard but I still felt good and I thought it was better to stay with the group - although I say stay with the group, it was quite elastic, we were all on a similar point of the road and were joining up then splitting up over the next couple of hours.
The terrain in the morning started out rolling with a nice mix of on but mainly off road along the North Downs, through Bedgebury and skirting round Bewl Water, this then turned really quite dark for me. I was on my own, riders were all over the place with quite big gaps between us by this stage and the next 40km section to Heathfield was horrible with 70% on-road but it was unrelenting, steep climb after steep climb, there was no rest and it had started to rain - I just put my head down and ground my way through it.
I was getting low on water as I pulled into Heathfield, Harry, a rider I was with earlier was just pulling out of Waitrose as I pulled in (it will turn out that he will be the rider that I ride with the most during the event). I restocked with food and drink and bought myself what I thought was a yogurt drink...it wasn't... it was some kind of lumpy cheese drink which was revolting and almost came up as quickly as it went down.
Setting off again down the track I was pleasantly surprised to be met by a cycle track that used to be a train track and slowly went down for about 25km, which was a massive relief to my whole body and allowed me to pull myself back together.
This path took you almost all the way down to the end of section one in Jevington, 151 km completed so far, and with just a climb to go to start the South Downs way.
There was a church at the start of the section 2 and I knew there was a tap there to refill my water bottles, but after several laps of the church yard trying to find it I gave up, picked up my bike and I had basically lent my bike on it and hidden it! The GPS got a little confused and sent me back down the hill round the block and back to where I was 10 minutes before! A few swear words later I made my way up onto the top of the rolling South Downs, where I was met by an amazing setting sun.
With daylight fading fast I started to turn my attention to where I was going to sleep, it would be the first time I had bivvyed in an event and it was all a big learning curve, I wasn't really sure what was and wasn't a good place to stop and I continued for another 26km. The South Downs are very exposed with little cover but I eventually stopped in a small thicket of scrub land fenced off from the sheep to try and shield myself from the wind.
Suddenly, in the dark you realise what seemed logical and easy to find/pack when at home certainly wasn't so when in the middle of nowhere and you are fatigued. My wet wipes were in one pocket, the toothbrush another and I was pulling my sleeping bag out and dropping things in the long grass in the process! I just wanted to get some sleep and decided to rearrange things in the morning when there was light and I could see better.
HAND BUILT TITANIUM FRAMES.