At 06.00hrs on 13 July a cyclist left Ealing to head north west guided solely by the power of Garmin. At the same time, another cyclist left the Cambridgeshire/Essex border to head west also glued to nothing but a Garmin. The plan was simple – they would meet at the little village of Clifton (Hertfordshire), and ride home to Redland.
Johnatan Williams & Russell Crofts’ ride in search of home went a little like this…
Mother nature chucked in an early reminder that this wasn’t going to be a breeze, with a sharp rain shower soaking both of us to the bone before we’d even really started.
We met at 08.00hrs – cold, wet, and a little grumpy about the punctures already endured – and the prospect of what lay ahead. We’d found a corner shop that offered little in the way of hot drinks, and a further chilling from their air-conditioning. This was feeling harder than it should be?
So as a team of two, it was time to collect as many counties as possible on a jaunt across the country.
The morning passed relatively quickly, with most of the riding done off the main roads. The terrain was mainly flat, and had the appearance of Northern France. Straight roads, no hedges, not a farm animal in site. The wind was light, and the rain came and went. Spirits were good, and the puncture count only increased by one. The ride past Woburn offered sight of the true beauty of Buckinghamshire, which sharply contrasted in short order against Milton Keynes, with her glut of HGVs to dice with. No dramas.
By midday, the ride had taken us through Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and into Oxfordshire.
A late coffee stop in Winslow (vanilla flavoured coke anyone?) fuelled us through the next couple of hours. The sun had risen high, and the temperature soared into the high 20’s. The Carradices were starting the feel a little heavy, and the mudguards had become somewhat of a luxury. But the roads were kind. Quiet, picturesque, and most importantly…flat. So flat in fact that there were hardly any points on the ride where freewheeling was an option. Before long that was starting to take its toll on our backsides! Both of us were dutifully supported by our “Brooks”, but we had ridden almost 6 hours seated and there was still plenty to go.
We passed Thrupp Airport which was packed with private jets, some of which would have made very good alternative options for the route home. We had covered about 130km by now and were teeing up a proper lunch. A diet of flapjacks and energy drinks wasn’t going to be sufficient for a day of this length.
But unfortunately our planning had gone a little awry, and we had missed final servings for lunch.
As we considered our options, we thought What would Barry do? So we found the next boozer on the route and rejoiced as it offered food on the sign outside. “Oh, food you say?” said the landlord. “Hmm, the chef doesn’t start until next week”. Oh, bugger.
Luckily the small Post Office opposite did a fine line in those sandwiches with a brand you have never heard of, and are Best Before dated for the next century. That’ll do nicely. Well, it’ll do…
And then we hit the road again. It was about 17.00hrs. The locals we had met in the pub thought we were just plain stupid. We tried to explain that it was an adventure, but it was just too much to compute. It prompted a good conversation between us about what normal people do with their evenings, if they’ve never had the great fortune to grace the ranks of the mighty LVIS. Maybe that’s one for another post?
There must be a good number of famous places to ride where the roads are flat and the winds are merciless (Northern France? Southern France? Anywhere on one of those awful early season pro races in the middle east), but we weren’t expecting this of Wiltshire? Fortunately the landscape had changed a little and started to offer some protection from hedges, but as we started to get onto the occasional road we recognised, the route was unforgiving. We were travelling broadly in a due west direction. The wind was in our faces, had strengthened a little, and the roads went on and on… 3km straight; 30 degree bend; 2.5km straight; 40 degree bend; 3.5km straight; 60 degree bend – this was getting a little tedious. For about 30km.
Eventually the tedium broke as we got to the beautiful town of Lechlade. Onwards.
As we got towards Fairford, we became aware that it was the Air Tattoo in the next few days (due to the innumerable signs). But then a real stroke of luck – our route took us past the end of the runway, where we found a few hundred plane spotters watching the planes arrive. We met Jean-Claude and his mate (over here because “France ‘as nussing like dis”), and had to duck as something from Boeing took us by surprise a few hundred feet over our heads.
The stop was timely. I was feeling pretty ropey. 175km done, and still over a hundred to go. It was 19.00hrs, and the sun was starting to set. I needed to get myself in shape, so we agreed to stop for something “proper” to eat.
We cracked on for another 20-25km and stopped in a pub over looking a lake in the Cotswold Water Park. It was a beautiful scene. The wind rippling across the lake; the occasional flurry of bird flight; two men in lycra; terrible chat; and two bikes lurking in the corner reminding us what still had to be done.
After inhaling a decent chunk of the menu we headed for Malmesbury. Any previous riders of the Flapjack, the Windrush, and the Performance Cycles mini-sportives would have been on familiar roads. Various pubs signalled that we were in the Vale of the White Horse. And stunning it was too. Flat led to hills a-plenty (which were a novelty by now), and the route headed towards Tetbury, Sherston, Luckington and on to Tormarton. We had not long lost the sun, and as it was approaching 23.00 we hit the A46 just north of the M4 at Bath. We knew we were about 1.5hrs from home, but yet again the hunger pangs were knocking. Turns out we had been getting rather over-excited over the last hour or so, and the joy of hills combined with familiar roads had meant we had been pushing much harder than we should have been.
Options for more food at that time were slim. We opted for a mad dash down the A46 into Bath. Straight down the dual carriageway to London Rd gave us our first taste of a proper downhill in over 11hrs of riding. A mixture of joy and trepidation exuded as we flew down that rapid decent in the dark!
And so, we found ourselves in McDonalds on the Lower Bristol Road drinking coffee and sharing a heady combo of chicken strippers and fillet o’fish. #athletes.
The “roll” home from there was familiar, and we both felt pretty chipper. We had fuelled well since Fairford, and we were in good spirits. There isn’t a “but” here, but there could have been. The grand collective of badgers had decided that the Cycle Path belongs to them after everyone goes to bed. If we nearly hit one, we nearly hit five or six, each. Each one proved to be a sharp jolt to the concentration. We were both tiring (in heads, if not so much in legs), and this new test of bike handling skills was not particularly welcome!
We had planned to ride straight through the heart of the city, and then home. But we had had a beautiful ride, with amazing scenery and a good deal of calm. The idea of pitching our skills against some unwanted youths lurking in the tunnel at Fishponds (or anywhere else for that matter) didn’t really appeal. So we ducked off at Staple Hill, and rode the rest of the way on empty roads.
We got home at about 00.45. We had made it. One Garmin read 305km; and the other 285km and two very happy riders headed off to creep into their marital beds without waking anyone…