Will you go to Flanders: Days two to four

Day Two

The next morning came not with a bang but a whimper, a foggy, cold and damp whimper. We packed down the sopping wet tents, chugged down the horrific, thick porridge and rolled out of the campsite into the mist. The Menin gate was just down the road, there was barely a soul there. The sleeping town was silent as we found the name of our missing soldier, took the wreath and solemnly placed it inside the left arch with the many other tributes. To see the gate is humbling, it is a huge structure, yet every vertical surface is covered in the names of the commonwealth dead whose bodies were never identified. Walking through the archways gives no respite from the procession of names, for the stairway is lined with them, as is the reverse of the monument. And there was still not enough room for all the missing soldiers to be represented. It is harrowing and moving. The pithy notion that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’ is here revealed as the nonsense it truly is, war is the complete and utter failure of politics.

Menin Gate Ypres

Howard explained to the explorers how the troops had been made to go ‘over the top’ in repeated waves, only to be mowed down in the machine gun fire, how this went on and on and on… at the end of his explanation he muttered the well known phrase “Lions led by donkeys”.

Disquieted, we left the gate and rode the short distance along the cobbles into the town. We locked the bikes up in the main square and partook of waffles and pastries. Our hunger sated we then went into the Flanders Fields museum which is in the restored cloth hall. The museum itself is incredible, really well put together and filled with sound clips, art, dioramas and artifacts. For me the most compelling part was the audio reading of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est.

…Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues…

The exhibition was more than a military museum, here we learned of the impact on the townspeople, the families back home, the german soldiers. Individual stories were told and, as with the Menin Gate, the soldiers and civilians ceased to be casualty numbers, and became once again names, distinct and unique souls whose lives ended brutally in Ypres.

Away from the Cloth Hall, we rode out of the town through the Menin Gate and turned towards the Somme. We followed the route out of the town taken by the allied soldiers and rode paralell to the famous ridge. Here and there, we passed the cemetaries, white grave stones beneath the shadow of a tall cross. Memories rode with us on the quiet straight roads, but they did not belong to us. Ninety or so years had not removed the war to end all wars from Flanders, it leached out of shrapnel spattered walls and into the fog that surrounded us.

Slowly and surely the ground started to rise a little, as we crested the first hill of the ride that day, the fog eased off. Above us the skylarks sang, and Mike remembered John McCrae’s poem…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

What is curious about this poem is that the last verse, which is often left out due to its seemingly war-like rhetoric, could be read as an entreaty to the living to never forget the dead soldiers. The poem was written upon a scrap of paper upon the back of a medical field ambulance, just after the death, and burial of McCrae’s friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer.

We took a short stop in a field by a motorway. and Mike was seriously considering taking some purple sprouting broccoli to cook up later. Thankfully I convinced him that this would not be a good idea…

Mike considers the broccoli

We passed into France, the sun was blazing down and we were achieving some great speeds, 19-20mph on some stretches. Mike and I overtook a man on a racer in full racing gear, thrashing him into the town. We pulled onto the pavement to wait for the others, and four minutes later racer man was at the junction waiting for the lights, he refused to acknowledge our bonjours, whether it was because we had thrashed his lycra-clad ass while carrying tents and full panniers, we couldn’t say.

We boiled up some soup beneath the shadow of another war memorial in a sleepy town where nothing was open and ate it on the green. Continuing on, we quickly realised that we were going to not be where we wanted to be when night fell, we’d dallied too long in Ypres and lost a mornings ride. So we stopped off at Lillers, pitched camp in daylight to allow the tents to dry off and headed into town for some nosebag. Our peloton was briefly joined by a teenage couple sharing a bike, the girl was sittting on the handlebars as her young man pedalled hard to keep up with us. We attempted a conversation, but got nowhere apart from a lot of laughter. Gradually we pulled away as he was barely in control of the bike and had to keep putting his foot down. They waved “Goodbye English”…

Day Three

The morning of day three was clear and sharp, and pretty warm. Once more we saddled up and rode out of town. Unfortunately we quickly found ourselves back in town as Mike took us in a circle. This quickly established the style of the day, ride a mile or so, look at the map, try to fix someone’s ailing bike, repeat. It was slow going, and one hour in we were frustratingly nowhere near where we should have been. We seemed to be getting slower and slower, this did not bode well, because we had to be in Amiens to catch the train by 18:20. To make matters worse, the ground was not behaving; long rolling hills started rising out of the french earth. The ups were so much longer than the downs. It got hotter, and we were getting through a lot of water.

Howard musters the troops

Howard musters the troops

A market stall provided us with roast chicken and herbed potatos. We jammed two sticks of bread onto Howard’s rack and tried to find our way. In the end we had to rely on some local knowledge:

Mike and Howard pretend to understand directions

Mike and Howard pretend to understand directions

There then followed a pastoral idyll as we sat by the roadside on a half forgotten lane and consumed bread, chicken and potatoes. In amidst the bucollic haze and chirruping of crickets, we sat and worked out that we still had a pretty good chance of making it to Amiens as long as we rode like the wind. With but the merest hint of further ado, we climbed back into the saddles and prepared for an epic ride…

Your author, checking his watch and about to saddle up - dynamic!

Your author, checking his watch and about to saddle up - dynamic!

…or at least that was the plan. We started off well, with the explorers grasping the concept of drafting and taking turns on the front we started making good headway. Two things counted against us, we were riding into a headwind and it was so drying and hot, we kept running out of water. Then Howard got a puncture. About mile forty I was starting to wonder if we’d make it, we perhaps shouldn’t have stopped cycling so early the day before, we still had a long, long way to go. It was apparent that riding on the big main roads would be suicidal, so we needed to get across country to a slower road. We pulled hard into a valley, riding with the wind at our side and making excellent time by drafting each other. But when we turned onto the road, it was more of those undulating hills, and the youngest explorers were feeling the pace and the heat, often being reduced to walking the hills. At mile sixty we still had a chance of making it, but we couldn’t continue the pace and at mile sixty five we found ourselves lying on a verge in a village looking up at swallows in the sky for twenty minutes. Mike, Howard and I pulled as hard as we could, and we made good time on the level and descents, but two of the explorers were walking every hill. The eldest explorer and myself scouted out the only bar that seemed to be open and got the cokes lined up for when the others arrived. The Tv was showing a history of the Paris-Roubaix bike race and a dog loped lazilly around between the table. To us it was a paradise.

Roadside bar oasis

The youngest explorer downed five Oranginas. We raced off with a new sense of purpose, gliding downhills and hurtling uphills. It was going so well, until one of the explorers came off. He was ok, bar a knocked arm and some scrapes, but his helmet was smashed, so we had to get him into a hospital to be on the safe side. We rode slowly towards Amiens, then suddenly, out of nothing, the city appeared, no suburbs, just straight into the big residential flats. We made it to the centre, looked for a hotel as our injured explorer couldn’t spend a night under canvas and transferred our train tickets to the morning. The hotel manager called us a paramedic and the explorer went off to the hospital with Mike for check up. Howard and I went with the remaining two explorers for a meal before heading back to the hotel. Mike got back not long after midnight, the explorer was fine, though we wouldn’t be cycling tomorrow.

Day Four

It was raining in Amiens as we wheeled the bikes down to the train station. There were no lifts down to the platform, so we had to use the ramps that were running down the stairs. This was a little hairy to say the least. Getting the bikes on the train was a bit of a nightmare too, it would have been fine if we didn’t have so much stuff. Eventually we managed it with about thirty seconds to spare, and my bike left forlornly in the corridor.

sdc16502
We had eight minutes to change trains at Boulonge Sur Mer, we did it in four. By the time we got to Callais we were experts at getting the bikes up the steep ramps. We wheeled our way to a likely looking cafe and sat down for some lunch. Finally we got on the ferry and headed back to the UK. In all we had completed 156 miles, with 74 of those done on day three. A memorable and eventful trip.

Your author on Belgian Cobbles - Ypres

Your author on Belgian Cobbles - Ypres

* * *Fin* * *

* * *Fin* * *

A Curse on all Hedgecutters

On Saturday night, the wind had howled and hammered around the houses in the village, probing at the gaps under the doors, rattling the windows and throwing rain and hail at the glass, the eight o’clock morning ride local smallholder Mike and I had planned was looking unlikely to go ahead.  Yet on Sunday morning there I was pulling into the driveway of Mike’s farm then knocking on his door. It was cold, and a gentle but sharp wind edged over the hedges in the village, yet the sun had managed to lift itself over the horizon and seemed as surprised as us to find the sky was blue and clear with just a gentle smattering of whispy cloud.

Mike was eager to head out towards Wellow and Mells so we eased over the A36 and into that delightful tangle of backlanes and tracks that weave around the villages and fields on that side of the main road. Mud and water soaked the lanes, and dropping down to Wellow we found we couldn’t cross the ford as the river was in spate. Luckily for us there’s a narrow bridge next to the ford which we could stand on and gather our strength for the climb up the hill on the other side. A car arrived at the flooded crossing, nosed up to the water like a wary wildebeest at an African watering hole, thought better of it, then backed slowly up the hill and out of sight again.

Mike on the bridge at Wellow

The Ford at Wellow

The hill was painful, especially as I couldn’t find the granny gear, the chain slipping uselessly and clicking pathetically against the deraileur as I wove my way up the hill. Then up and down the various gradients of this part of Somerset. Mike likes to ride at a steady 17mph and maintains a strong even cadence even on hills, he spent much of the time off the front, pulling easily away from me. I was not as unfit as I have been, but I struggled a bit on the slopes. Heading down the hill at Radstock, my back tyre went flat. I called out to Mike only for the wind to whip my voice away, he dropped down the steep slope and round the corner out of sight. Mike purposfully doesn’t carry a phone, so with no means of getting in contact with him, I hoped he would eventually realise I wasn’t behind him and wait somewhere. It was a good five minutes before Mike inched up the hill and round that corner again, to find me with the bike upside down and with the tube hanging out. Next problem, the patches I had were for mountainbike tyres so were a little too large, the only spare tyre I was carrying was the layer of fat around my middle. Luckily Mike’s puncture kit had some smaller patches and soon we were heading down the hill again.

Mike’s unerring ability to sniff out a teashop would have paid off, had the teashop he found actually been open. Never mind, we made our way to the cycle track at Colliers Way (as featured on the excellent and always interesting Biking Brits blog http://bikingbrits.blogspot.com). As reported on that blog, there has been some fresh tarmac laid down, which always deeply pleasant a surface to ride.

As we rode along, we surmised that there might be some merit in selling off the railways sleepers and rails to raise more money for the cycle path, but then we both agreed that there was something pretty neat about riding next to a railway line that has trees growing out of it:

Colliers Way cycle path

About a half a mile after leaving the cycle path, we hit an enormous patch of hedge clippings strewn across the road, my front tyre started looking a little soft. Before I could make an assessment we rode into a river where the road should have been:

River where roads were

Once back on dry land we passed some horses, then over more hedge trimmings and, yet again as Mike shot off down the hill, I suffered a flat, this time on that front tyre. Sighing heavily, I turned the bike over again and set about locating the puncture. Mike drifted back, drafting a woman on a hybrid. Now it felt very cold indeed as with oily fingers I felt my way around the tube. Eventually I located a snakebite puncture and Mike whipped out the patches again:

A curse on all hedgetrimmers

The tube was stuffed back in, the tyre reset and pumped up, but then, the tell tale hiss of escaping air. Gaah! Off with the tyre and the other puncture was located, this time a thorn. Of course I should have realised that the thorn would have caused the tube to collapse leading to the snakebite. So that was a grand total of three punctures in one ride. As the final patch was applied, Mike told me that his tyres have never suffered a puncture in all the years he has been riding. I pumped the tube up to the distant sound of a hunt meet over the fields somewhere. Why one needs to shout so much when hunting is beyond me, with all the yelling, horns, cheers, clip-clopping and revving of four-by-fours it would be a wonder if anything were caught, were it actually still legal to hunt with dogs.

Now with much time wasted we headed for home. A final annoyance was my chain coming off on a hill, necessitating a short stop and more grimy fingers. We skirted through Mells, then touched on the main road into Frome before taking the hill into the back of Beckington and home to the village.

A mere 24 miles, but a masterclass in puncture repair. I think some new tubes may well be in order.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 11:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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Of railway cats, cycle paths, ancient mariners, cancelled trains, films and rock n roll

Way way back in October I rode to Bristol for a great evenings entertainment courtesy of the Cube Cinema and my chum Tom Stubbs. I advertised the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on bicycle) event a while back, but I didn’t mention that I was going to cycle there. I thought it would be poetic to arrive at a showing of a bicycle film by bike. Having set off a little later than planned, I realised that I would have to cycle considerably quickly to get to Bristol on time. Not a problem, despite barely cycling at all recently, I made good time on the road between the village and Bradford on Avon, before turning onto the canal path. It’s difficult to get speed up on the towpath, not least because of the danger to pedestrians, other cyclists and wildlife. There’s no reason to go fast on a towpath anyway and I knew I could make time up on the Bath/Bristol cycle path, so I just spun the cranks at a nice even pace and enjoyed the ride. Particularly pleasing was the scent of woodsmoke from the various barges and narrowboats. I was on the Lemond Etape, which provided a none too smooth ride over the various surfaces, cobbles, gravel, dirt, broken tarmac. Suffice to say that on arrival in Bath town centre I was wishing I’d decided to wear padded shorts. I had a change of clothes in my panniers (and a change of shoes), but had elected to leave the padding at home. Bath town centre proved easy to navigate, mainly because the cycle route is so clearly and regularly signposted. Quicker than I expected I was riding along the smooth tarmac of the Bristol to Path cycle way. For a long time this was (and may well still be) the jewel in the crown of Sustrans, a beautiful route following one of the old railway lines, dipping through meadows, woodland, over valleys and rivers, very picturesque in any season. The weather was good and the riding very pleasant. Leaves lay in drifts over the path and crunched pleasingly beneath the tyres. Here are two cats I saw en route:

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All the way along, the route was busy with cyclists and walkers. As I arrived at Staple Hill Tunnel, a postman slotted in behind me and began drafting close on my wheel. I yanked out my cronky ol’ camera, which was giving up the ghost the screen had malfunctioned, and took a bit of poor-quality video footage:

Music provided by My Two Toms, who I was to see playing later on that very evening.

I approached Bristol deep in the gloaming, necessitating the use of my lights. Many, many cyclists were using the path and in places it became quite congested, but unlike being in a car, it felt great. Everyone was all smiles and ‘after you’ ‘no after you’. Hipsters with messenger bags mixed with grannies on Pashleys.

It took me a while to understand Tom’s directions, but soon I was ensconced in The Cube cinema, enjoying some terrific films, chatting to people about cycling and listening to some splendid tunes courtesy of My Two Toms and Bucky. The film maker and artist Michael Smith stole the show with his introduction to the film he and Tom made, and also his drawing along live to My Two Toms music. It was a great evening, and nice to find out afterwards that a Highway Cycling Group reader, Mair had turned up and enjoyed herself.

Back at Tom and Katherine’s, we stayed up until three, drinking and talking. During an attempt to take a picture of Tom and Katherine’s bikes I dropped my ailing camera on the stone floor and destroyed it. Ah well, goodbye old friend. A few hours sleep, then we were out on a visit to the famous Bristol Sweetmart, then on to Tom’s studio. Finally, I cycled to the station envisioning a nice sit down on the train, only to find trains on that line were cancelled due to engineering works. Buses were supplied but they wouldn’t let my Lemond Etape on. Wearily I cycled the thirty two miles home. A great weekend.

Why, here are some pictures:

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Cafe Kino Bristol

Cafe Kino Bristol

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Tom with bikes my smashed camera in his hand

Tom with bikes, my smashed camera in his hand

Street scene - Bristol

Street scene - Bristol

The menu at the old station halt cafe

The menu at the old station halt cafe

Heavy Spillage on the Birthday Ride

Bear with me, for I’m still blogging about September, now we’re up to the 21st. One of my eldest son’s friends was so proud of his new bike that he wanted to have a ride with his chums to celebrate his birthday. His father being the avid cyclist that he is, was naturally delighted with that idea, and when he explained the idea to me I volunteered to help out with haste – even though I had not been asked. My eldest son, is by a long way the youngest child in his year – in fact his pal who’s birthday it was is almost a full year older than him. You may recall that he had only learned to ride a few weeks ago, and at that time was not yet tall, or confident enough to ride his BMX. Consequently I found myself helping load his bike onto the top of the minibus and suddenly realising his wheels were half the size of his peer-group’s.

We drove down narrow country lanes – heading out towards radstock to join up with the Collier’s Way. This is an old railway line that has been given over to a cycle and walking path. The minibus duly crushed as far into the hedge as we could get it, we unloaded kids and bikes and set about the perilous task of managing a group of overexcited 5-7 year olds as they prepared to race off into the distance. It was a truly lovely day weatherwise, unseasonably warm, blissful after the wet and windy summer the U.K. has endured.

It quickly became apparent that all three adults were needed as the group became strung out. Like the old drovers or a group of cowboys, we needed one at the back to round up the stragglers, one in the middle with the bulk of the group, and one off the front with the young steers who have broken away from the herd. Within minutes one lad was off his bike, a black BMX, and in tears by the side of the path. He was more shocked than injured and he quickly recovered. My son rode at the rear, his tiny wheels held him back and it was rapidly made clear to him that his helmet was cool, but his bike, most certainly was not, at least not in the eyes of his contemporaries. I remembered how delighted he was with the bike when he got it for his birthday two years ago, but now I could sense his frustration and dismay as the others waited for him to catch up. I felt bad that his confidence was being knocked so hard.

We rode on at a gentle pace, stopping briefly for juice and biscuits. One little chap slipped off the saddle and onto the crossbar – as he put it ‘squashing my woodpeckers!’ in the process. More tears, and a much slower pace. In the meantime, my son had realised that if he pedaled twice as hard as the others he could keep up with them, and soon he was making his way up the field.

3.5 miles in, we turned around and headed back for the mini-bus and the prospect of a roast chicken dinner. Now many members of the group started to tire, especially the little chap with the squashed woodpeckers. My son was pedaling so fast he looked like he was on fast-forward. We stopped again, this time for blackberries and the remainder of the jaffa cakes. The three adults gathered round the thermos and supped tea tinged with plastic. With everyone rested and stained with blackberry juice we set off again. Even though he was keeping up, some of the other boys continued to make mock of my son’s bike. This spurred him on into ever more bouts of furious crank-spinning, hunched over the bars he gave it a Merckx-esque effort, drawing from something deep inside inside of him. I was impressed by his stamina and his sheer determination. He barely noticed the derelict guard’s van on the rusted tracks as we passed it, he overtook leisure cyclists – tinging the tiny bell. I let him go a little way ahead with the others in his wake, wondering when he was going to tire and have to fall back, It didn’t happen. Our breakaway group of five (including myself) raced on ahead, taking turns on the front, knowing nothing of drafting, but each of them would force his way to the front then get a few cranks ahead before the others increased the pace and reeled him back in. The sprint, when it came was brief and difficult, being as how it was up the ramp to the road. My son was pleased with his second place, and as the lads stood astride their machines, panting, it was clear we had managed to ride a long way ahead of everyone else.

But then, disaster!

My son decided he would ride down the path and see if he could see them coming. Before I could react or turn my bike round he had launched himself down the ramp and cranked the bike up to a ridiculous speed down the steep hill. I could see the tiny wheels skittering around, see the speed wobble, and got my mouth open and the breath ready to shout “brakes!” when the bike just fell to the ground underneath him with appalling suddenness, catapulting him over the handlebars. He flew through the air and landed horizontally, skidding down the tarmac with the bike following him, until they both came to rest a good three meters ahead of the actual crash site.

There was a moments silence, and I was acutely aware that my heart had stopped beating. I threw my own bike down and ran down the path. His right hand came up feebly and a high keening wail came out of him. I chucked the bike off him and looked him over. A big scratch on the mouth guard of his full-face helmet, a scrape on his elbow, but he seemed ok. I stood him up, got him to wiggle his feet and his fingers as I held his skinny body. He wrapped his spidery arms round my neck and cried that his side hurt. Gently I lifted up his t-shirt to reveal a huge, angry, red patch of missing skin. As I lifted him he collapsed his whole body into me and held on as he cried his eyes out. The others arrived, and soon I was surrounded by concerned children. Luckily the birthday boy’s mum works for the NHS, so my son, happy with her qualifications, let her see the injury. The first aid kit didn’t have a big enough plaster, so he ended up with his shirt off, and a bandage wrapped round his middle holding on a pad. The others were all on the bus as he was bandaged up, and between sobs he said:

“It’s been the worst day, first everyone laughed at my bike and then I fell off and hurt myself!”

My heart felt heavy, and I felt so sad for him. I had spent a lot of my childhood feeling like I was less than my friends, knowing that my toys and clothes were secondhand, or second-rate compared to theirs. Feeling that everything went wrong for me, or that even the most wonderful experience had the potential to turn sour in a moment. This wasn’t what I wanted for him, it wasn’t how wanted him to feel.

I took a deep breath, and told him that he had proved himself as good as or better than the others because he had smaller wheels, he had had to pedal twice as hard. Imagine what he could do when he got on his BMX! And the reason he was hurting, was because he had rode so hard, and without fear, that the crash was enormous! No one else had dared to ride like that today! No one else would have tried to ride down the ramp that fast! No way!

He looked down, no longer crying, but his breath came in shudders.

“No” he said “It all went wrong, it’s the worst day”.

We got on the bus, immediately his friends were wide-eyed asking him questions, now that he could speak again.

“How fast do you reckon you were going?”

“How much did it hurt?”

“Can I see the injury!”

“Woah look at the bandage, awesome!”

“How did you get your bike to go so fast”

It suddenly dawned on him that he was the centre of attention, and he was getting some serious respect and concern from his friends. By the time we arrived back in the village, he was beaming from ear to ear and enjoying his new found status as the daredevil speedmeister of the group.

That roast dinner tasted pretty good.

A few days later he learned to ride the BMX, now at last he has a bike that looks like it’s the right size.

daredevil speedmeister

Daredevil speedmeister

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 8:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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Cheesy Riders: In which we meet dogs that hated John, are shadowed by a mystery rider, eat two full english breakfasts and ride a three mile climb out of a gorge

On Sunday the 17th of August I joined John and Andy on a ride to Cheddar. John had the map, Andy had some sort of electronic mapping device/speedometer/cadence/heartrate doo-dad, and I had an enormous flask of tea. In a fit of actually attempting to be a proper cyclist, I had mixed up a ‘sports drink’ and was taking regular sips. Needless to say it was absolutely revolting, but oddly compelling and as I didn’t feel tired on the ride, I guess it must have worked. We paused briefly at Farleigh Castle for a departure photograph.

Rarely has there been a more mismatched group of cyclists

The Cheesy Riders: Rarely has there been a more mismatched group of cyclists

A chap slowly overtook us on his bike as we prepared to set off again, we were to see him again and again throughout the ride seemingly defying all laws of physics and logic as he continuously appeared in front and behind of us, emerging from side junctions or turning off the road we were on.

We settled into a pace of sorts, well below Andy’s expectations for average apeed, he was off the front for a lot of the way waiting for us to catch him up. Every now and again John would stop to get the map out or I would call for a photograph, affording us a nice break. The weather looked moody and unpredictable with the threat of a soaking ever present, a ying yang sky, half black clouds, half deep azure blue. A few miles in and I’m sure we saw the chap on the bike turn off left some way ahead of us on one of the straights.

We rode through Faulkland, past the enigmatic standing stones that were probably once part of a circle. Past the Lavender Farm, but the heavy bovine stench of muck-spreading quickly masked and canceled out the faintly perfumed air before we could get a good lung full. There was plenty of up and down, giving some cause for concern as to how I would get back up the hill after forty or fifty miles of riding.

Some of the ups - John crests a Somerset hill

Some of the ups - John crests a Somerset hill

At a crossroads on the main road we stopped to consider whether we should continue on the main road (very busy) or turn left towards Priddy along a much quieter, but longer route. John took the map out again, some dogs in the garden of a house at the crossroads were going berserk, throwing themselves at the fence, barking furiously. I snapped a pic of the chaps considering the route, and didn’t notice until later that the mysterious rider was in there.

The mystery rider about to hang a left as the chaps look the other way

The mystery rider about to hang a right as the chaps look the other way

John rode a little way back the way we came in order to check that the sign pointed to Priddy, immediately the dogs ceased their cacophony. Andy and I moved forward, they could see us, but just panted and stared. The rabid barking started again, announcing John’s return. Curious.

We turned left towards Priddy along open heath while buzzards called and circled overhead. To the East we could see rain clouds brewing up so we upped the pace a little. At Priddy itself, there was some sort of sheep fair being set up, hazel hurdles were being unloaded from the backs of farm trailers, and sheep dogs skulked panting in the shadows of landrovers. We passed them all and rejoined the main road, but not before we saw the mystery rider appear from a junction ahead of us.

Flood waters, Priddy

Flood waters, Priddy

Now we began the long descent into Cheddar Gorge, it went by so quickly. Everywhere there were cyclists coming up the hill, walkers on the steep sides, buses labouring up, engines straining. We shot into the gorge itself, the steep sides and rocky outcrops were awe-inspiring. John and Andy shot on ahead, with John nearly ending up on the bonnet of an ascending car after he swung out a little wide on one of the switchbacks. Down, down, down we went, and all the way one thought stayed with me… “How the hell will I climb out of this?”. The spectacular scenery gave way to the worst kind of tourist tat as we hit Cheddar itself. garish shop fronts, tacky souvenirs, cheese, ‘authentic olde english’ cafes, the very worst that British tourism could produce, lining the narrow streets as we glided in looking for safe haven.

We parked up outside a wasp-struck tearoom, replete with white plastic garden furniture and laminated menus. Ensconced safely by the congested road, but with the calm of the river to our side, we set about ordering our victuals. Andy elected merely to have a coffee, but John and I decided on the full English breakfast, with extra toast and jam. It was too much for Andy, combined with the enormous flask of tea in my panniers and John’s musings on where to purchase the best souvenir cheese, it overloaded his senses. It was not cycling as he understood it, he could only watch in dismay as two full Englishes arrived and an unholy display of consumption took place.

At this juncture, I must point out that like Andy, my body is a temple. However whereas his temple is tended by enlightened priests of restraint and quiet contemplation that ensures a body at the height of its power is kept in fine fettle, my temple is an atavistic bloodbath where constant animal sacrifice is the norm. Behold the libations!

A full english breakfast about to be sacrificed to my cavernous maw. Andy can't watch.

A full english breakfast about to be sacrificed to my cavernous maw.

Quite appalling. Andy had to get back to his wife, who it transpired was not well, so with a hearty farewell he eased up the road slipping in behind a tourist double decker bus. There was little doubt in our minds that he would be home before John and I had wheezed our way out of the gorge.

It was a long time and a lot of toast before John and I decided to make a move, wheeling the bikes 500 yds up the hill to a purveyor of cheeses to buy three different types of cheddar (saving the cave aged one for myself), then we wearily turned the bikes up the hill and headed out of the gorge. John led out and I’ll spare you the lung-searing details of the switchbacks, save to say that we miraculously found time for a photo opportunity on the way out:

The author pauses to admire the gorge (catch his breath)

The author pauses to 'admire the gorge' (catch his breath lest he perish)

It was deemed to early in the return trip for a cup of tea (having only gone about a mile of the thirty ahead of us) which meant I had to lug the full flask up the hill. Away from the switchbacks it wasn’t too bad, it was just long, I would say that the main hill was about 3.5 miles, if you take the full gradient it was probably five, but once the switchbacks were out of the way it made everything else feel like a gentle slope. That said, we were dropped on the way up by a woman wearing jeans and crocs and riding a mountain bike. We kept her in sight though, much to the distress of our stomachs, struggling with the full english breakfasts. She turned around at the top and went back down again… local.

At the top of the hill we stayed on the main road, passing a large temporary gypsy camp. Old 4x4s mingled with traditional caravans and groups of horses stood chewing grass, many of them untethered, content to wander the verge.

In the distance, could I see a solitary rider ahead of us, could it be..?

On we rode, up and down the rolling landscape, back the way we came earlier in the day. We paused only briefly to drink the tea and lighten the flask, I am sure John only did this as he felt sorry for me hauling the full flask four fifty miles, before continuing on our way. Strangely the hills didn’t seem as bad as we thought they might on the way back. At Farleigh Hungerford we said goodbye, I rode back through Tellisford, three hills to deal with and then I was home, sharing the cave-aged cheddar with the family.

John later told me that the mystery rider was last seen at the Wingfield crossroads drafting in his slipstream…

Andy’s electronic doo-dad recorded the route, here it is:

The route according to Andy's electronic thingamajig

The route according to Andy

Wednesday Ride III – against the zephyrs

I was pushed all the way to John’s house in Trowbridge by an insistent tailwind, this did not bode well for this week’s Wednesday Ride. I dismounted and pushed the bike past the wheelie bin in the narrow alley leading to John’s secret garden. Not long after I arrived, the sound of someone squeezing past that same bin announced Brad’s arrival. He had been suffering from a ‘dodgy tum’ for the whole week, it was my secret hope that this would scrub some speed from the super-fit whippet, of course I would barely notice any dip in performance as his form is lightyears ahead of mine.

We set off in a row into some fierce winds, but on turning towards Melksham the wind moved behind us and sent us speeding down the road with considerable urgency. Then into Melksham itself, via the bikes and buses only route, which as it was devoid of traffic, saw us cycling three abreast. This fine stretch of tarmac is crying out for some bike activities under the cover of darkness, something like Sprint Club in Richmond Virginia.

Past the Waney Edge Cafe and over the roundabout, we hurtled through the outer edge of Melksham, until we pulled over to await another of John’s friends, Damian, who arrived almost as soon as we pulled up. The new addition duly linked into the chain, we set off again towards Seend and Devizes. I led off the front, pulling 21mph into a headwind. This proved to be utterly foolish, I was expecting Brad to come hurtling past and take over pulling at any second, but he never came. Then, even worse, we hung a right and smacked straight into a hell of a hill. I sat on the back behind John and just pushed and pulled my way through it, coming up a long time after the others. From then on in, it was a war of attrition with the wind. Damian was proving that he could keep up with Brad no trouble, and as usual it was up to John and myself to keep nightwatchman on the rear of the group. Then we turned directly into the headwind and the group started to break up. Brad was on the front and I hung onto his wheel for a few minutes, then fell off, unable to sustain 19-20mph uphill and into the wind (even with the shelter Brad was providing as I drafted him). I sat up to take a drink and Damian shot past, I watched them disappear around the first of many torturous switchbacks and double bends, before clamping down and digging in. My concentration was split between two things, maintaining an even, steady cadence and keeping breathing. The road got narrower and narrower, winding it’s way through tiny hamlets and villages. The verges became grassy, unfenced areas of common land, strewn with wildflowers, single cottages with beautifully looked after gardens unfolded from around blind corners. Eventually I stopped seeing glimpses of the two out front in the distance, and I was left alone with the roar of the wind and the sound of my own ragged panting.

The final straw came as the rain spattered down and I met a bus in the lane, the compulsory sudden stop as it squeezed past me, left my legs shocked into paralysis and I could barely turn the cranks. Luckily there was a junction for the main road and Brad and Damian were waiting there. Also luckily, John was a way behind and experiencing an enforced stop of his own with the bus, a white van and an old lady who had to reverse down the lane to allow the bus past.

All of this gave me time to recover and watch a Eurofighter screaming repeatedly overhead. John soon arrived, and we all took a bit of a rest and had a chat before stringing out again on the road into Westbury. One more stop at Westbury and I was wrongfooted, or wrongwheeled. When John caught up he just sailed past and the others shot off in hot pursuit. As I was the only one without clipless pedals, it took me a while to get clipped up, then there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic. By the time I got onto the road I had lost sight of them and took a wrong turn towards the Trowbridge road. Immediately I knew I had gone the wrong way as there was a long straight stretch down which I couldn’t see any cyclists. Cursing, I spun back round the mini roundabout and headed towards Westbury Leigh. This time they were waiting for me.

Finally, we got some tailwind as we turned towards Brokerswood at Dilton Marsh, the going became much easier from then on in, but the rain was starting to become a little more serious. Up through Rudge, I managed to bounce my foot out of a clip during a too fast gear change, leaving me pedalling slowly up the hill, with the odd scraping of metal on tarmac as the inverted clip hit the road. I was off the back again, and only caught up as we turned towards the village.

We bid each other farewell and I rode back to the house, the others rode the tailwind back to Trowbridge and Melksham. Total mileage 32 miles, soaked up the back, and legs pummeled into jelly. Now, in retrospect at 23:54, I say it was a good ride. It didn’t feel that way at first.

wet roads

Into the Valley of The Wylye

t shirt one t shirt two

Many years ago, while I worked for Ottakar’s books, all the staff took part in a company wide effort to raise money for the children of Deogarh in India. One of things I did was a sixty mile cycle ride to our head office in Salisbury from Trowbridge, and back again. Considering how unfit I was at the time, it was an epic undertaking. John (who I still ride with on the Wednesday rides) was our guide, taking us into Salisbury via the beautiful Wylye Valley, rather than the hell that would have been the A36. At the top of this post you can see the front and rear of the T-shirt I made for the ride. I made one for everyone with the rider’s name on the back and their number, 1-4 on the front and sleeve. Below are some more pics from the ride.

warminster-no-casualtieshalfway-point-carefully-arranged-shot-of-spire-ruined-by-claridgeheroic-cyclists-at-head-officestart-of-phase-2-james-sees-the-troops-off

On Saturday I took a ride out from the village and ended up retracing some of the route we took on the sponsored cycle ride. We had been promised foul weather, but although it was very gusty, there was no rain in the air. I headed for Dilton Marsh, then took the road up The Hollow. This was the steep hill that saw one member of the group simply exclaim “Oh F*** off!” and dismounting to walk up as soon as he saw the gradient. I remember cycling up behind John, but being unable to breathe at the top as we waited for the other two to walk it. This time I took it with ease, crossed over the road and headed for Upton Scudamore. On the way I passed the layby and bridge where in April I had seen a seriously filthy amount of flytipped rubbish. I’m happy to say that someone has tidied it up. here’s a before and after for you:

Rubbish! Little or no rubbish!

Through Upton and over the main road to another ghost road. A fragmented old stretch of tarmac overgrown and crow-haunted, it deposited me almost by the Warminster sign, next to a crab apple tree by the side of the road. The back roads of Warminster saw me wondering if I was taking the right route. It seemed to me that in retrospect, the sponsored riders appeared to have stopped off at every grocery shop on the way. I crossed Imber Road and sped down long stretches of tarmac dotted with speed bumps, still not 100% sure of where I was going, sat up in the saddle with one hand on the handlebars I drifted towards Bishopstrow with the vague recollection that we had at some point crossed the A36 via a bridge. The only way that could have happened was if we had gone over the Warminster bypass. So I headed that way, tacking my back a little like a sail to allow the tail wind to push me through Bishopstrow village and, yes, over the A36. There was little traffic on the road and I crossed the bubbling Wylye river in peace. Here on the backroads I simply turned the cranks and enjoyed bicycling, cow parsley brushed my shins as I rode close to the verge. A myriad range of birds, swallows, buntings, finches and sparrows, dipped and sped across the road at head height. Sometimes they stalled into the wind, flapping wildly but unable to make headway as the gusts rose and fell. Across the tall grass in the field, the wind blew in eddies and currents; where the evening sun struck the seedheads the ripples of light moved over the surface of the field, tracking the path of the zephyrs like waves on water.

Rather like when fishing, cycling connects you intimately to the movements of the breeze. On the banks of a pool or lake, with the bait in the water, you notice that the wind rarely moves in one direction. You will see your float drift one way, then another. After a while you learn the subtle changes that signal a change of wind direction. So it is on the bike, the wind is moving around you all the time, a gust will almost stop you in your tracks, but then as it dies it creates a sort of patch of pressure where the wind seems to be sucked back the other way, suddenly driving you forwards. On such days it can feel as though you are being pushed and pulled along, you can ride on the drops when the wind is against you, but sit up tall to take advantage of a sudden tailwind. When the sun is out, it can be quite enjoyable, so much more than sheer, baking heat and still air.

At Sutton Veny I decided I had gone far enough and turned towards the Warminster bypass roundabout. It was a brief ride into the wind, then left, leaving the wind mainly on my right. By the time I got to the lead up to the crest of Black Dog Hill, I was glad of the lorries and using them to draft up the gradient. I arrived back at the house having notched up twenty six miles. Leaving me only twenty to thirty miles in order to rack up 1000 miles on the Lemond Etape since Feb 2007.

The Tuesday Ride is Dead, Long live the Wednesday Ride!

Yes, it’s official, having sent an email to John after months without contact (“The days are getting longer, I’m not getting any thinner. Let’s ride!”) we were on the open road again. Occasionally Brad kept us company, but a lot of the time he was off the front, a mere speck in the distance that John and I worked in a chain gang to try and catch up with. Tuesdays are now off the menu, so it looks like we’ll be going out Wednesdays, and probably a little earlier than we have been. This will allow me to put in 25-30 miles and still get back to the house to help put the kids to bed.

This week, John and Brad led me all over the backroads around Trowbridge, Devizes and Melksham. We paused only to watch a Hercules fly slowly over Keevil airfield and drop a box onto the runway. One thing was made absolutely clear to me, I am still not that fit yet. Hopefully, with the discipline of a regular ride in company, that will change. Last year the Tuesday rides started to improve my metabolism and my breathing – especially when we went out with the human greyhound that is Brad.

John (foreground) and Brad (in front) sign at speed, West Wilts

It felt great to be out on the bike in company again, for me it’s a lot of what cycling is all about. We varied the pace, sometimes gliding along chatting away, other times drafting and pedaling hard (usually to try and catch up with Brad), sometimes we’d just be merrily trundling along, then suddenly someone would change up a gear and start sprinting, provoking a sudden burst of speed in us all, then we’d wind down again and go back to the chat. That lovely melodic sound of three chainsets whirring in unison was a pleasure to hear, as was the drone of three pairs of tyres over the tarmac.

Left John and Brad in Trowbridge and cycled back to the village solo, no energy by the time I hit the Wingfield straight, on the verge of The Bonk. Arrived back at the house with 33 miles on the clock for the evening.

Hopefully there will be many rides like this throughout the coming summer.

Tuesday Ride VII: of black cats, back lanes and cycling through the dark

It was 19:20 and I was supposed to be meeting John at that most evil of road junction types, the crossroads. However my youngest son was playing up and not going to sleep, so I sent a text to John telling him to ride round to the back of my house and I would put the kettle on while the kids settled down. John pulled into the garden with Bradley and his friend Simon. Simon looked like another super-fit chap, apparently Brad said he’d be slow because he was on a mountainbike, naturally this turned out not to be true. With the children finally in bed and the group fuelled up on fine teas, we set off up the hill, John muttered that when I had left them on the last Tuesday Ride, Brad had amused himself by sprinting after cars in Trowbridge “The thing was” said John “he was catching up with them”, I could well believe it.

Then it became apparent that I was truly messing things up as I had forgotten my bidons. I told everyone to go on ahead while I went back for the bottles, promising to catch up with them on the Wingfield Straight. With the two water bottles filled up I set off after the others, turns out Bradley and Simon’s definition of ‘slow’ is not the same as mine and John’s. I could see them in the distance but it took a sustained sprint of 24-26mph over about a mile or so before I finally caught up with them. Thereafter I was content to sit at the back all the way to Bradford-on-Avon in order to recover. John attempted to get a bit of a chain gang going, but every time Bradley moved to the front he pulled away, leaving John battling the headwind again. Through the centre of Bradford, up past the Moulton place and out towards Holt. These are fast roads with little room for cars to pass and I was glad when we turned left towards Chalisford. By then I was starting to get lost, last time I had cycled past Chalisford Manor I nearly ran over a swan, no swans in sight on Tuesday, but plenty of old folk taking an evening constitutional, all looking startled to see four cyclists hurtle into view, but ready with a nod nonetheless. On the trafficless backroads it was pleasant to hear the whirr of four chainsets working together, the different pitches of the chains on the various sprockets created a droning chord as we raced through the narrow lanes. Suffice to say that despite Simon’s 26″ wheels he was having no problems matching Bradley’s impressive speed, they kept shooting on ahead leaving John and myself to carry on at our own pace. At least John’s Brooks saddle was starting to break in. The route John had chosen was undulating to say the least and we were going very fast, pretty soon I had completely lost my bearings and given up all hope of even knowing which direction I was pointing. Various discussions ensued as to how far we were going to ride and it transpired that earlier in the week Bradley had cycled to Chippenham, Calne and then on to Avebury, impressive work. We decided to carry on to Chippenham and ride back via Melksham, John seemed confident we could get back by 22:00 and we all had lights, except Simon who only had a rear LED.

We crossed main roads, back-roads, lanes, we cycled up cats-eyed roads, singletrack hills with gravel strewn across the tarmac. We climbed short, steep rises, hidden dips and long dull gradients, we swooped down wide lanes with wildflower strewn verges, and I sat at the back on nailbitingly narrow descents taken at 27mph with no hope of avoiding oncoming vehicles (had there been any). Finally we dropped down onto a larger lane that actually seemed to be going somewhere. I was at the back so I got a good view as Brad and Simon’s descent terrified a black cat which shot off just missing John’s front tyre in its haste to be away from the wheeled steeds hurtling down the normally quiet lane. The light was fading, it was time for the flashing LEDs on the seatposts to come into play, I was glad I had changed the batteries in my front lamp at the same time as replacing my blown inner-tube that morning. With the Hi-Viz vest on, the reflective wrist bands and my customised helmet it was highly probable that I could be seen from space. Through a short tunnel by some traffic lights, a very weird and confusing junction where we just “went”, well everyone stopped for us so we assumed it was our right of way, no one beeped anyway. We were then on some main roads, bg roundabouts, orange streetlight glow and concrete bridges spanned by massive pylons whispering their electric songs into the gathering dusk. Here the crickets had stopped, the wildflowers given way to harsh cut back grass on the verge, the hot reek of diesel working through thundering engines; serious roads. Not for us though, we spun away from Chippenham having grazed its flank and made for Lacock. Ahead on the main road I could see the flashing red LED of Bradley’s bike, we struck out for it, reaching him just as we turned off onto more lanes. By now the dark had gathered all around us, loud laughter in the clear air as revellers stepped out of a pub, momentarily framed in the golden light spilling from the doorway, gone in an instant. Some gentle but insistant gradients saw us on our way into Melksham, all four of us spread out across the road standing on the pedals and racing over the speed bumps. The centre of town was quiet, but then I suppose it was a Tuesday, past the betting shop where only two weeks ago a fight had spilled out onto the road stopping the traffic, then out to the new road. Brown tourist signs promise there is refreshment on this route during the day, it’s a greasy spoon called “The Waney Edge Cafe”, closed at this time of night a small, unassuming building with net curtains and a seventies block-font for the sign, decaying tarmac carpark, pummelled by decades of HGVs and builders’ vans, it looks excellent.

Now we were on the home straight, split into two groups, Bradley and Simon just in view ahead of John and myself. John and I chatting as he wound down, we were near to the street he and Bradley live in and they would be home soon. For myself and Simon there was a little further to go. A needless beep from a car-full of twats saw John wishing out loud that for once the wankers would stop to make their point and he could debate their imbecilic behaviour in a way they would clearly understand. It was a good thing they didn’t because the next car was a police car. Everyone gave us a wide berth when I was at the back, no doubt because I was glowing as though I was a special effects reject from TRON.

We pulled into the carpark of a local pub to discuss the evening and make plans with each other for the next rides. I took the obligatory group portrait:

the end of the ride, I glow like TRON

Then as Bradley and John peeled off for their homes, I rode directly in front of Simon so his lack of front light wouldn’t be a problem. We shot through town at 25mph arriving at his street in time for him not to get into trouble. It was then left to me to make the ride back to the village, the legs felt good and even Rode Hill was no bother. John had designed the ride so that we all got 35 miles in. It was excellent, again I hope Bradley and Simon weren’t too bored having to wait for me and John all the time, it’s good for us to ride woth them as our pace is picking up dramatically.

Tuesday Ride VI: of energy bars, super-fit riding companions and Brooks Saddles

Hooray, the Tuesday Rides are back on. John was almost recovered from his illness, so at 1930 I was waiting on the kerb by the Bell Inn, hoping my food had gone down enough to allow me to ride without chucking it all back up. John turned up with one of his neighbours, Bradley. Bradley claimed to be unfit, but he was dressed in some pretty sporty gear, his legs looked strong and his bike was silky, a slightly under-sized black aluminium Cannondale with carbon forks and some tasty looking wheels. He looked like a pro, and actually it turns out he’s an excellent mountain biker. John was already on the Asthma inhaler and hadn’t ridden for two weeks, but as usual he was game and up for the ride. I started off at the front, pulling through the crosswind as we hit the A36, we took it easy to begin with, chatting, enjoying the dry weather and the bright evening. I pulled us to Black Dog Hill and started up at what I thought was a reasonable pace, then Bradley just flew past me. I was completely dropped by Black Dog Farm and I could only watch as he powered up the hill. I kept him in view, but it was little consolation. Looking behind I couldn’t see John at all. Then, oh the the shame, Bradley stopped and waited for us at the bridge. I slowed right down so I wouldn’t be wheezing as I arrived at the crest, as it happens I was only panting and not much good for conversation. John wasn’t too far behind, he’d taken it at a sensible pace, sensible chap. I don’t think John saw me get dropped, but I’m sure it would have looked impressive, it was an excellent burst of acceleration from Bradley and I had nothing to answer it with.

John cycles up

I pulled through the headwind to the Warminster roundabout that starts the bypass, I considered that I had therefore done my work for a few miles so was quite happy to sit on the others’ wheels for a while. Having three people riding was great, drafting in third place meant I was putting in around 40% less effort than whoever was in front at the time. It was going well until we slowed down and started chatting, I clipped John’s back wheel, luckily only at seven miles an hour, but it was embarrassing none-the-less.

Then as we passed Cley Hill Roundabout with me at the back, I realised a Range Rover had slowed right down and was driving at the same speed I was riding. It was a little worrying, especially as the window started to wind down. Then a guy lent out and handed me an energy bar! Apparently these guys were working for, or ran, the company, Mule Bar that produces them and wanted us to try them. They drove on and passed a bar each to John and Bradley too. Cool! I got the opportunity to try mine a little further up the road when John’s new Brooks saddle (unbroken in and bashing his buttocks about like a meat tenderiser) worked lose when he hit a pothole. We pulled into a layby so John could affect an immediate repair, and I tried the bar, Hunza Nut flavour. It was very tasty, more so than the normal energy bars you get. Pleasingly the bars are also Fairtrade, full of natural ingredients and a logo proclaims that 1% of the company’s sales goes to environmental work. It was quite moist too so I didn’t have to drain my bidon to rehydrate as you do with some very dry bars. Nice! Visit the Mule Bar website here for more details of their products. I don’t know if those guys were actively out looking for cyclists to hand the bars to, or if they just happened to be passing us and thought “hey those guys look like top racing athletes, let’s give ’em some bars” or more likely “that guy on the Lemond etape at the back looks a bit fat and sickly let’s have mercy on him and give him a bar, also that chap coughing who’s obviously recovering from being ill. That bloke with the ponytail isn’t having any trouble but let’s give him a bar so he doesn’t get jealous”. Whatever the reason it was a pretty cool thing to happen.

When we set off again I thought I might try a sneaky breakaway by shooting down the left of the others on a layby, I powered out ahead of them, chuckling to myself, but on hearing some gears changing up, I looked over my shoulder there was Bradley, he said “left at the roundabout?” then he was away again. As John and I approached the roundabout he cycled back down the road to see where we’d gone, drat!

Thereafter we picked up the pace around Warminster, maybe it was the energy bars, or maybe it was the tailwind, but either way John was fully warmed up and his cadence was high, although he hadn’t ridden for two weeeks his recovery time was excellent. Out of Warminster up the hill towards Westbury. A beep from a twat in a car because we were riding in the dominant position, Bradley gave him the time-honoured signal for “there is plenty of room here good sir” (a hand held out to the right). Westbury was fast, damn fast! We entered the back pushing 40mph off the hill, then kept the speed high all the way through, leaning into the corners and pushing hard out of the bends. Riding in a group of three really increases the confidence, it’s like a mini-crtical mass in traffic and it was easier to control the road and keep things safe, fewer cars tried to squeeze past, knowing they’d have to get beyond all three of us at 26-28mph before moving back over. There was a bit too much chat for my liking on the approach to Yarnbrook, I like to be going about 23-26mph on that bit of road so I took to the front and on seeing me move off, the others didn’t hang around either. As we came up to the traffic lights they hit amber, Bradley urged me on and John, slightly behind us, raced across the garage forecourt and over the closed junction to avoid the lights all together. A nice move, well executed.

Again, maybe it was the energy bar, but I had plenty of legs left so I followed the chaps into Trowbridge itself, stupidly taking the bike lane. What a rubbish surface! Honestly! I quickly got back onto the road, shouted bye, and headed back for the village. Rode Hill was no trouble and by the time I put the bike away I saw I had put thirty miles on the clock, that makes 111 miles so far this week. I think I’ll have a day off from riding tomorrow.

The next time Someone tells John they are unfit I think he should ask for a BMI reading and a heart-rate! Having said that it was excellent having Brad along, he varied the pace, showed how far I have to go to get fit and wow it made the drafting easier. Basically it was harder work with someone pushing the pace higher, but there was more opportunity for resting by riding third in the group every now and again. I hope he wasn’t too bored with having to go easy on us and wait for us all the time as it would be great if he came out with us next week. Maybe we can work on becoming a proper chain gang, we may have to, John is threatening to bring some serious roadies along soon!