The Great Escape

June 2, 2015

[April’s Dodecaudax wasn’t interesting from a writing point of view, as I repeated the same route as February to Eastbourne and back via Brighton. I found a way of cutting out the unpleasant footpath section and all was well.]

Riding out of London through Epping Forest on a Sunday morning in a huge pack of riders is about as big as it gets in Audax terms, short of the ‘big one’ itself, Paris-Brest-Paris. That this was ‘just’ a run-of-the-mill 200km indicates how big a thing cycling is becoming in London these days, and we could take that for granted if we forgot that it wasn’t always this way. When I started cycling here in 2005 there were nothing like so many cyclists on the roads, I think it’s going in the right direction now but when you visit some continental European cities you see that it could still be so much bigger.

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A bike on a train in the early morning. Must be an event somewhere. Actually, I was in good company on this particular Sunday morning, mildly hung-over and distinctly underslept thanks to a very badly-timed clock change. On the platform at Stevenage it turned out there were half a dozen of us on this particular train, heading for this particular brevet. To say nothing of two racers who got on at Finsbury Park and off again for their event in Welwyn. And this despite the fact that this is the one Sunday of the year when daylight saving robs you of an hour’s sleep. Not to mention the weather. “Heavy drizzle” is the best description I can come up with. It wasn’t hard rain, but it made up for in persistence what it lacked in commitment.

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Eastbourne of Eden

March 19, 2015

I have often said that the thing I like most about road cycling as opposed to any other form of sport is that your ride starts and ends at your own front door. After travelling to South Wales for the first leg of my attempted Dodecaudax, I was happy to make my house the start point for the second part. The advantages were: not having to get up at 5 a.m., having a luggage-free bike, and having pre-ride breakfast in my own kitchen after feeding my own cat.

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“Dr. Foster’s Winter Warmer” was the official name of the ride I’d signed up for. But quite a lot of things that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Somehow I didn’t care too much.

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Weekday Evening

February 2, 2015

Written in November 2014. Times have been busy.

There has been a change in circumstances. I am no longer exiled from my native Croydon, and the Surrey Hills from which this blog takes its name are now once more an easily accessible stamping-ground rather than a distant and formative memory. So why no posts? Why no pictures?

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I could tell you about the few days that we spent in Islay, places we visited, meals we ate, whiskies we drank, and so on. This is, however, meant to be a cycling blog. And since this series of posts is meant to be a description of my first foray into cycle-touring, I think I should simply wrap up the account with a description of the journey back. Read the rest of this entry »

We woke up in the Inverary Hostel and prepared ourselves for the day ahead. The ever-helpful J gave me some extremely strong painkillers from his own supply. He has certain chronic joint and muscle problems and working through ‘discomfort’ is a road he’s been down. His advice and support, as well as his painkillers, were most welcome.

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When I left off, we were camping in Dunblane. We could say that we were the victims of our success here. Beforehand, it had been said that you are usually so uncomfortable where you sleep that getting up in the morning and riding on towards your destination seems the more appealing option. Well, not here. It was comfortable, it wasn’t cold, we had an awesome slide to play with (yes), a river, plenty of food for breakfast – and so we didn’t leave until about 11 in the morning. Given that our objective for the evening was Glen Croe, about 60-70 miles away, this seemed alright. However, we needed to make rendez-vous with other riders further up the road, and this meant time needed to be made. A joint decision was reached that B and D, the two less experienced riders in the group, would take a train part of the way, while the intrepid S, the vastly experienced C and the foolhardy yours truly would make the first leg of the journey to Balloch at donkey-transporting pace*.

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So here’s the thing; I’ve always wanted to go cycle touring. As soon as I knew I liked cycling I liked the idea of exploring, covering ground and visiting new places with the autonomy provided by the bicycle. Somehow, though, until a couple of weeks ago, it had never quite happened. I’ve done thousands of miles on all kinds of bikes, mass-participation events, road races, and time trials, but it was all supposed to be in aid of training and gaining experience to be able to go touring. So why haven’t I?

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August? Really?

There’s been lots of cycling and bike building in between then and now that I really should have written about, but, y’know, didn’t. At least my camera works now. There was even a ride in Surrey back in December, but that was such an overload of sensory information that I didn’t know how to start writing about it.

On the same bike featured in the post below, albeit with a couple of slight modifications,  I went for my first solitary,  somewhat exercise-focused ride out into Aberdeenshire for 2014.  Everyone I know, including me, has been talking about how mild the winter has been, how we haven’t had snow and the resulting ice, and wondering “when it’s going to get cold”. Well, I have the answer: just go up the hill.  As soon as you get out of Aberdeen, there is heavy frost everywhere, and bits of ice by the side of the road. Ungritted side roads look much icier, and make me question my planned route, but I press on. I have two specific places in mind.

The first is a boat parked by the side of the road. A back road, mind. In rural Aberdeenshire, twenty miles from the sea, in a bit of forest that seperates a cow park from a sheep park.  I should add that this road is one we use for road race training in the summer, and it’s from then that I remember the boat, because there is something quite hallucinatory about it when you’re riding flat-out. You go over a brow, turn to the right and if you’re riding in a fast bunch you just about have time to see it there, surrounded by bracken, catching the light of the setting sun. The effect isn’t the same when you’re riding along at modest, out-of-season pace, on your own, looking for it. It’s more a case of, “it’s after this corner…isn’t it?”, interrupted on this particular evening by a number of 7.5 tonne lorries which are the same width as the road, whose drivers seem to have decided that it is a good idea to shuttle back and forth along here, forcing passing cyclists to take to the verge. I hope they meet a car coming the other way and have to stop. Or another truck, now that would be funny.

And on to my destination, which is what I believe to be the world’s most isolated bus stop. I’ve included a picture, but what I can’t show you is the wind in this place. It was fairly calm this evening, but often it howls in from the West, buffeting the so-called “shelter” and whipping the grass and trees around, nothing you would want to be standing waiting in. I have never seen anyone waiting for a bus here, although the sheep in the park behind might be interested in a bid for freedom.