Finally, a description of what actually happened.
Having fought my way through Blur fans departing the concert in Hyde Park it became increasingly easy to see where the FNRttC participants were. A beacon of flashing red and white lights grew steadily at Hyde Park Corner and I decided to saunter over. I'd spent many minutes deciding whether the power ranger tights were too much, but on arrival it was clear I was among friends.
CC arrived shortly afterwards and we were given a safety briefing. I's a CTC ride so we were told to signal and communicate clearly on turns, stop for red lights/old ladies in the road and generally behave ourselves. All our names were taken and we had given our mobile numbers in when registering. We were also required to have the leader's number in our phones, it became apparent why later on.
We set off just after midnight and it was like cycling through London at any other time apart from the absence of sunlight. There were lorries, lots of black cabs and rolling wayfinders directing the group through the tangled web of streets. As we came through Croydon it became more raucous. It was club chucking out time and we got many a shout and/or giggle from drunken revellers. They were mainly in good fun and it ws a bit like being on a tipsy Tour de France wth crowds cheering us on.
We then had to climb a massive hill. Fairly shallow but it went on forever and then for a bit more. It was here that the first disaster struck. CC and I both commented at the next rest stop that a chap on a mountain bike looked like he was in trouble. His back wheel was wobbling and there was a regular hiss as his brake hit the tire on each revolution. Our worst fears were confirmed when an organiser swept down to tell us that what looked like a tire split was holding the group up. One of the leaders actually cycled home for a replacement tire and we all waited for news. After a while we were sent up the next hill to wait. It was horribly steep and it was here that I realised the advantage of group riding. I would've normally given up, but stubborn pride kept me climbing.
We then waited a bit more while several male weenies disappeared into the woods for what I hope was some nocturnal weeing. We then carried on until it became clear that some weenies had gone the wrong way! A few phone calls brought them back to us and we continued.
We swept on and eventually found ourselves in dark and misty country lanes. The streetlights became fewer and more far between until they ended completely. CC and I stuck together and admitted to only each other that it was a bit weird and spooky. The wayfinders stand on corners and wait for the last person before moving so even when we spread out we knew to stay on the same road unless directed. Good job too as we were alone for a good half an hour at one point. It was pitch black and mist left us with about six feet of visibility. It was bizarrely liberating not to know whether you were climbing or descending. I looked at one side, CC looked at the other and we followed the road's line markings to know when to turn.
You'd think it would be scary but knowing how well organised it all was we felt completely safe. We started off giggling but it was wonderful to see the red lights emerge at the next rest stop. We had another hang around as a lady had lost her spoke light and jammed her front wheel and then began heading to Gatwick.
Once there we carried our bikes into the departure lounge and the Costa staff were overwhelmed by hungry and thirsty bikers. Several tourists and passengers asked what on earth we were doing there. The rest in the warmth brought the sleep demons with it but massive amounts of caffeine helped, as did a much needed wee stop. The guy with the split tire was forced onto a train home at this point as his wheel had completely buckled. The rest of us climbed back into the saddle and prepared for the second leg..........