Howard’s way

Your author about to make an unfortunate wrong turn

Your author facing the wrong way, halfway down the wrong hill after an unfortunate wrong turn

A ride had been arranged for early Sunday morning, until it became apparent that it was of course Mothering Sunday and lie-ins would, quite rightly, be expected. So the ride was re-arranged for Saturday. At 07:45 I rode down the gravel track at the farm to meet with Mike. It was freezing; there had been an unexpected (by me anyway) frost in the night and cold hung in the air, numbing my fingers as I rode downhill. Seconds after my arrival, Group Scout Leader, Howard arrived on his hybrid. He had sensibly put a coat on and had full finger gloves and long trousers. Mike was immediately out through the door, zipping up his bright jacket and putting on his helmet, deciding on the route as he mounted up. Up the track and left over the mill bridge, then we were out of the village and heading for Colliers Way and Radstock. We followed the same route I took last Sunday, albeit at a slightly quicker pace than my meandering speed. Howard was going to take us through the middle part of the ride as he knew the route well. Howard is a keen cyclist, often to be seen riding the Tellisford-Farleigh Hungerford hills just for fun, he has a great level of fitness and an observer taking note of our riding from a distance would be hard pressed to place his date of birth in the 1950s. Mike was riding at his usual pace off the front, a nice steady 15-17mph, I’ve heard Mike described as a Mountain Goat by more than one other person. I flitted between them both, sometimes riding up with Mike, sometimes dropping back to chat to Howard.

Pleasingly I can feel my level of fitness improving after just a couple of long rides. This time I was not dropped on the hills and could actually take the lead on some of the steeper efforts. It just goes to show that you can quickly return to form (or something like form) after a short time off the bike, even if, like me, you are carrying two stone more than you should be.

The cold was starting to evaporate in the morning sun. Even so, there was a haze on the horizon that the sun had not yet climbed out of, and the shadows still sparkled with a light frost. There was no wind save the chill we created when pushing through the air on the way downhill. There was little traffic around save the odd tractor here and there, easing out of farm gates or chugging gently along the narrow lanes. The Buzzards were out in force, finding pockets of warm air and spiraling up high above the trees, calling to each other across the landscape. By the time we reached the Colliers Way cycle path it was really warming up. This is a short but really pleasant stretch of railway path, oddly with much of the railway track still left behind. Howard, a bit of a railway buff, told us it was because the quarry railway is still in operation at the terminus. Apparently, the plan was to open the railway line alongside the cycle track and have it as a tourist attraction, but it never happened. Now trees have pushed their way through the sleepers and brambles have crawled over the tracks.

On the railway path

We stopped at the top of a rise where the path departed from the tracks and mused on the navvies and men who had physically built the line. In the days of great engineering feats, behind every great man, there were thousands of other blokes who did the actual work.

We followed the path into Radstock, then Howard led us over and round the roads until we pulled into what seemed to be a carpark, but at the last minute it turned into a tiny route through to a main road. A few yards on the tarmac then a sharp right and we were suddenly on a lovely straight lane in the quiet of the countryside again.

All went well, until we came to a crossroads where the cycle route was clearly marked as straight ahead. Howard insisted that our path lay down the hill to the right, and it was a steep hill. Upon our, quite reasonable questioning of the navigation, Howard explained that he was 100% certain it was down the hill. Mike and Howard then launched themselves down the slope, followed by a fat barking dog lolloping down the hill in a garden parallel to their descent. I was yet to be convinced that this was the correct route so I hung back a little, knowing full well that what goes down, in the event of a mis-navigation, would have to come up again, probably in the granny gear. I dropped gently down to the next crossroads, in time to gaze down the awful slope and see that Mike and Howard were turning around on the bridge at the bottom. Slowly, they climbed the hill back towards me, standing up out of the saddle and wrestling the reluctant bikes so that the handlebars pointed up the dreadful slope. I took the opportunity to have a break and swig from the water bottle. I took a picture of my reflection in a handy convex mirror used by residents to check the road is clear before pulling out, then leant over the handlebars to watch Mike and Howard draw level. I let them puff past me, before ambling up in their decidedly slow-motion wake. The lardy hound was still in the garden bouncing around and barking with what seemed like delight, but in retrospect could easily have been apoplectic rage.

Howard explained his mistake, it was of course the next turning right, and indeed that’s exactly where the cycle route sign was pointing when we arrived at the correct junction. Luckily we saw the funny side. Actually, no we didn’t, at least not until we had our breath back.

A few more wiggles of the road, and to Mike’s and my surprise we emerged right next to the house by Stoney Littleton Long Barrow with the pillbox in the garden. Howard pointed out that pillboxes are usually in pairs, and sure enough there was another one on the horizon that Mike and I had missed last time we rode through. We rode into Wellow and I raised my head to see if I could detect a whiff of bacon, for I had a craving for its heavenly taste. Just as I thought I had perhaps caught the faintest hint of frying procine goodness, Mike peeled off to the right and downhill to the ford. This time we took the left fork and avoided the endless grind of Baggin Hill, electing instead to cruise to Norton St Philip. The road was beautiful and free of traffic. Winding uphill through some woods, I saw a photocopy of a map on the ground and stopped to scoop it up. It was for the exact area we were riding through, which makes perfect sense really.

There was a final hill up to the main street in Norton. It was unexpected and painful. Even my bike seemed to be protesting as I weaved back and forth across the narrow steep lane behind Mike the mountain goat and Howard. Finally we headed for Tellisford. As we passed an enormous pile of brown stuff in a field to the left,there was a horrific miasma, a foul and noiseome acrid stench that tore the breath from our lungs. Mike explained it was poo, human poo from the sewage works that would be spread on the tilled ground as fertiliser. The fug seemed to stay with us so we upped the pace and attempted to finish the ride at great speed. Down the hill we sped, first a weasel darted over the road in front of us, and as we neared the village, a blur of movement exploded from the hedge and crossed the lane mere feet before Mike’s front wheel. Persistence of vision had imprinted the tell-tale shape of a running hare on my eyes.

Mike slipped to the post office to pick up a paper (and no doubt a free cup of coffee and cookie for that’s what you get if you go to the post office on a Saturday morning) while Howard and I sped on ahead to his house to ready the all important finale of the ride, the coup de grace, the dénouement.

Mike joined us just at the hallowed point when the bacon was coming out of the grill and onto the bread, the perfect end to a great ride.

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

Oranges and Lemons

Though the shop and post office in our village makes a manful effort to supply the needs of the village and surrounding environs, (homemade plum jam filled victoria sponge anyone?) there was a distinct lack of oranges and lemons to be had there today. I came away with a cucumber, some local lettuce and a very small lemon – but that wasn’t going to help me make elderflower cordial. So, having finished work, I took to the saddle of the Brompton and headed for The supermarket. I decided that I couldn’t face the Wingfield straight so I went via Tellisford and Farleigh Hungerford. It was very hilly indeed, but on a Brompton it doesn’t matter, a leisurely pace is all that can be managed so there is no need to sweat, strive and strain up hills. I crested the tallest hill at the point where I used a photograph I took to make the Highway Cycling Group poster:

Many people have asked how I did the painting of the landscape in the background, but I assure everyone that it is real. The only things that weren’t there in the original photo are the words and the clouds which I added from another photo.

Easing over this hill saw me take a fast descent via some sharp corners and a final climb to Farleigh Hungerford. I took a right onto the main road and passed the castle. Then on into Trowbridge – only to discover that the Tesco Express had neither oranges nor lemons. So it was down the cycle path to Bradford-on-Avon and the Sainsbury’s there. Soon I was departing the supermarket with a riding bag full to the brim with fruit and goodies, but that also meant an enormous amount of extra weight. Never mind, it sped me up on the downhills and gave me a work out on the uphills. I took the same route back again – stopping now and again to pick more elderflowers for the cordial. At the bend by the bridges at Farleigh Hungerford I stopped to read the rules of the Farleigh Swimming Club. This group own a field next to the river in a spot ideal for a bit of wild swimming – but it’s strictly members only.
Farleigh Swimming Club

I liked the texture underneath their information sign where the new poster had been stuck over the old, which was probably stuck over an even older poster.

Swimming club sign

The number to call for membership having been noted, I started the ascent of the hill by the castle. Oh this was a bad one, I could have done with the drop nose Wilderness Trail Bike saddle on my Mountain bike, the Brooks on the Brompton, although being a fine and beautiful saddle, does not give you much scope for sliding forward. I have also found that standing up a Brompton only really works if you’re going downhill. I struggled up and turned left into the village itself, another hill but out of the traffic and the heat it was fine. I carried on along the road, up and down up and down, broken up with sporadic forays into the hedge to pick elderflowers. My arms, slick with sweat, were now dusted with yellow pollen. The air itself was thick with it. As I sped down the final descent I passed a tandem going up the hill, a man and woman gave hearty if breathless hellos as we passed each other.

Back at the house – all goods were unloaded and once the kids were in bed, stage one of the cordial making commenced. Now the flowers are soaking overnight in the zesty water – the smell is delicious.

Today’s ride was gloriously warm and bathed in sunshine. The sights and smells were that of an English summer, lazy looking horses in fields, heavy pollen, fresh-mown grass and wildflowers gracing the verge. The sounds were the ticking of a sturmey archer hub, the distant drone of lawnmowers, the rich and lyrical singing of blackbirds in the hedge and the joyous shouts of children splashing in the river.

It was a perfect ride, and I dedicate it to the memory of Noah.

The Delivery Service: Too Posh for Post

Today I seized the opportunity to get a little cycling in despite the variable weather, sleet, sun and icy wind. My wife had printed out a pile of leaflets about the village preschool open day and had to deliver them in the nearby village of Telisford. We were down at her mother and father’s house using the cutter to chop the leaflets into shape, there was some debate as to who was going to go to do the leaflet drop. When getting the car out was mentioned I immediately stepped in with an environmentally friendly, two-wheeled, solution. The father-in-law was just starting a relay series of lunches for the various relatives gathered at the house and it looked like mine would be a while so I elected to do the leafleting before eating. I rushed back to our house, put on my waterproof and Hi-rez vest then broke out the Brompton. The Lemond was looking a bit dejected so I’m going to have to take it out soon, the Brompton has certainly been getting all my attention recently, its status slowly ballooning on the category cloud in the right hand column of The Highway Cycling Group blog. As I had my enormous trousers on, I clipped up to avoid chain snag, I looked like a cycling Cossack. With the leaflets in the bag on the front I set off down the road, a nice freewheel down to The Mill. Telisford is atop a steep hill, in fact the church and one house is at the summit, the rest of the village descends down a no-through road, culminating in a steep series of old and uneven steps down to Telisford Mill, recently converted to generate electricity. I quite enjoyed leaving the bike at the gates of these large houses and crunching over the gravel to the front doors. However I rapidly became annoyed by the distinct lack of letterboxes. Some of the houses had many converted outbuildings, stables, up to six cars, but not a letterbox in sight! Are they too posh to receive post? Do they have some secret means of receiving mail? The final stagger down the steps to the mill ended with me wandering hopelessly round someones garden until they came out and asked what I was up to. Ah, hand delivery, just like the old days. The Mill was churning out the Kilowatts, I could hear its whine fading as I puffed up to the Brompton waiting by Crabb Cottage (who do have a letterbox). Then up the hill and right towards Farleigh Hungerford, pausing to take a photo of a seriously ploughed field.

The Ploughlands

By now I was longing for that lunch, I wondered if it was ready yet. Just a few more houses to go, but quite spaced out (the houses, not me). The final house was about ten feet over the crest of the first hill towards Farleigh, the impossibly picturesque Lodge. It’s for sale, three bedrooms and splendidly isolated. Hooray, they had a letterbox though it was extremely small. Luckily, the leaflet I was delivering was also tiny.

The Lodge

Job done. Then it was almost downhill all the way until the in-laws’ house, where I tucked into a plate of eggs, bacon, chips and beans laced with HP sauce.

Now that’s good living!

Off Road on a Racer – Near Miss at Woolverton

Another lovely evening after a rainy day. I took the Lemond Etape up and down the hills past Telisford to Farleigh Hungerford. On to the B road, round past the castle and up a really tiny lane just after the bridges. No qualms about using the triple chainring, I didn’t fancy sweating it out. What I was looking for was a route my wife and I had ridden many years before that linked us up with the Canal Path. I knew there was a bridleway off that road somewhere, but when I reached Westwood Manor it was apparent that I had gone too far down the road. On seeing my bemused expression, an old chap cutting his hedge asked if I was lost. “No” I replied “I know where I am, I just wasn’t expecting to be here”. With that I turned back down the road searching the hedges for the opening. About half a mile down the road there it was, public bridleway. A sodden path that started off with a huge clay mudbath and a pool of brown water that covered the whole width of the track. The racer’s tyres clogged pretty quick so it went over my shoulder as I waded through. It didn’t get much better as the route descended into some light woods, rocks, loose soil, roots and mud, much more mud. In fact the route was so mucky I was half expecting a group of Belgian racers to come heaving past me at any minute. Beneath the tree canopy all was dark, the silence broken only by flutterings amongst the leaves and the bubbling of water. It was only about quarter to half a mile long, but I’m glad the Etape only weighs around 22lbs. I rode the last bit as it flattened, but not dried, out, exploding onto the road in a shower of mud. Hold on, this hill looked familiar, I was halfway down the scary 17% run into Iford, nothing for it but to point the front wheel down and go for it. Unfortunately there was a car coming up. I was amazed and relieved to discover there was just enough room on his right to get past without skidding or falling off, though I didn’t actually know that until I was past him, at least there was a tiny verge to bail onto if I’d got it wrong. A cheery wave to Britannia on the bridge at Iford, she was looking the other way and didn’t acknowledge me. Then up the nasty hill on the other side. Ha! John had fixed the triple chainring so I could get down into the granny gear, the hill, although long, was therefore possible to climb without stopping or vomiting. As far as I could see, that wasn’t the right bridleway I had carried the bike through, so I decided to call it an evening. Out onto the A36 which was full of traffic and heading back for the village.

By the Woolverton house hotel there is a staggered juncttion where I wanted to go left. Waiting on the other junction that goes off to Norton, was a silver estate. There was no other traffic around and I was hitting 27mph (in a 30mph area) when the driver just pulled out in front of me, I kind of guessed he might so I was already moving to the left and braking so I was right next to him when he got over the road and not slamming into his side. But then he slowed, turned left into my path as I was right next to him, THEN signalled! I braked harder, the back end of the bike slid out, but I controlled it, ending up just easing around his right side as he turned side on. I wasn’t angry, it was a middle-aged couple and to be honest I’ve got used to assuming someone is going to do something stupid like that so I was absolutely ready for it. The only thing was that I wasn’t even certain he had seen me at all, even though I was right next to his car at one point, then behind and finally on his right. He went on ahead and I carried on down the road. When I got to the Mill I could see them parking up so I wheeled into the car park and politely said “excuse me” I then went on to say he had cut me up very badly and had he not even seen me? the chap was very apologetic and said he HAD seen me, but didn’t realise bikes could go so fast so he thought he had lots of time to pull out in front of me and turn left. He admitted that he hadn’t checked his rear or side mirror when turning left and only signalled as an afterthought, it was only his wife saying “Watch the cyclist” that made him signal. I told him that a huge amount of accidents are caused by people overtaking cyclists and turning left suddenly, not to mention the lovely mess I would of made on the side of his car at 27mph if I hadn’t been ready. As I said, I was polite, and so was the chap, he asked if I was ok and said that it was a close shave and it would teach him to always check his left mirror before any left turn “I told him ‘you never check your mirror'” said his wife. Luckily it was a case of no harm done and we wished each other a pleasant evening.

Every time I approach a junction I’m looking out for a car doing something like that, even so, 27mph is a lot of speed to have to scrub off on a bike AND retain control over such a small distance. The moment of anger I had during the actual encounter had passed so quickly, I’ve found that’s happening a lot now. I used to shout something like “WATCH OUT YOU TWAT!” in a driver’s window when they did something like that, but there’s no point really. Do that and all you’ll get is a shocked look, the two-fingered-salute or worse. I’ve only ever been run off the road once, when I was a teenager on my way to my friend Nick’s house, someone forced me onto the verge where I crashed, I was too busy going head over heels to get even a make of car. It was white, that’s all I know. I have, however, had more than my fair share of drivers overtaking and turning left, sometimes signalling left AS they overtake, incredible, but after a while I’ve got used to it and have even come to expect it to happen.

Anyway, back at the ranch, the bike was hosed down, washed, degreased and re-lubed ready for the next ride. That’s another 10 miles, giving me 121 this week.

Folkin’ Hills

The weather started off in an appalling fashion this morning, a quick look at the rain gauge showed nearly quarter an inch of rain fell last night and it was still spitting, it looked like there was going to be nothing bikey going on today. Every year on the bank holiday weekend at the end of May, a Folk Festival takes over the centre of Chippenham, so the whole family went to have a look. I dressed in my moleskin trousers, braces and thick white cotton shirt so I would blend in with the crowds of Morrismen and folkies, I drew the line at clogs, though I do own a pair. By the food tent, someone had chained up an old Peugeot racer, seriously used. It still had suicide levers and some pretty tatty bartape.
racer chained to the fence

Not long after the children had gone to bed, the sun came out, so while my wife read her new Jodi Picoult, I sprinted off for a spot of hill climbing. By The Mill there’s a turn which takes me up an easy hill to Telisford, thereafter the hills get a little more interesting, a combination of short and steep and… long and err steep. Not long by mountain standards, but long enough and steep enough to steal the oxygen from my lungs, though anyone who races even a little would probably find them easy going. The last one up to the sign for Farleigh Hungerford is a struggle, though I’ve doing it for a few months now and it’s certainly easier than the first time I attempted it. I hadn’t ridden the road for two weeks so I was surprised to see a missing hedge and a new semi-surfaced road that goes I know not where. At the moment I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a new drive for Farleigh House so I’m not going to go racing down it until I have some idea where it goes.

I hadn’t changed into my cycling gear so I was pedalling in my trousers and shirt, complete with braces, my shoes didn’t fit into the clips too easily either.
climbing in braces
It was a lovely evening, not quite lighting up time, the corn on either side of the road glowed a rich golden colour as the low sunlight raked across the fields. The hedges were alive with blackbirds, sparrows, pipits and thrushes darting about, and a magnificent cock-pheasant seemed to be in no particular hurry to get across the road in front of me.

There is a point on a cycle ride where you think to yourself “if I go down this hill, then I have to come back up it on the way home”. If you have never travelled that route before, your enjoyment of a particularly fast downhill may suddenly be marred halfway through as the thought of struggling upwards in the opposite direction enters your mind. But once you are committed to a downhill, that’s it, you have to go. As soon as you’ve passed 25mph, you’re beyond the point of no return and you’d better hope you’ve got the legs, and the lungs to get back up again without walking. This little route has two hills like that; fun down, pain up. To make matters worse, the cable of the front mech on the LeMond has stretched slightly so downshifting was tricky. The granny ring was not an option, not because of some macho attempt to storm the hills, but because I couldn’t get onto the bloody thing, and not for the want of trying. Weaving all over the road, out of the saddle, gasping for breath, it’s a good thing I rarely see anyone on that road. Hurtling down the final hill to The Mill, I realised with sudden horror that my camera had come out of my pocket at some point. With the light fading I turned back to look for it. Of course it was right at the end of the final hill in Farleigh Hungerford, so I did the whole ride twice! I was in such a hurry to find the camera which I correctly imagined would be in the middle of the road, that I didn’t realise I had taken the first three hills in the big ring without finding it hard. That felt pretty good, it was almost worth the panic of losing the camera just to achieve that.

Published in: on May 28, 2007 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment