Thursday, 19 June 2014

2010 - Cambridge Calling

2010 almost slipped away from us as a group, as if the disaster of the Cutty to Castle trip attempted to put a nail in the coffin of our annual adventures before even having a chance to bed in to a firm tradition.  I started the year in Gambia, soaking up both the sunshine and drink, chilling out with giant crocodiles named Charlie and suffering the Gambian phrase “it’s nice to be nice” that was always thrown out in conjunction with a raised palm.

We returned from Gambia to find Britain thoroughly frozen over so my mind moved to boarding rather than cycling and the Heathland behind the house proved a cracking venue.  A quick trip to Cardigan Bay led to an increase in the Elliott family size with the inclusion of Taffy the Cockerpoo and the cold snap endured until the end of March.

This was not to say that the transition had not moved on though.  As soon as Mark had the use of his knees again he entered the world of road bikes with gusto, treating himself to a bike that cost enough in the mond of a Scotsman to force him to ride it.  Dan also treated himself to a new bike which meant even though I had banished the heavy and useless Black Hawk, the GT Avalanche that Dan had ridden on the Coast to Coast was sitting there in his garage waiting for me.

It did not have to wait long.  Mark, keen to explore his new prowess on the bike, encouraged both me and Dan to join him on the relatively flat route from his house in Olney to the beautiful city of Cambridge and back.  This was not to be done in a day, but instead spread over two days with a bedding down overnight in the University dorms.  Against all wisdom and forgetting all lessons learned on Cutty to Castles, we said yes.

Despite the frozen start to the year, May turned out to be a scorcher.  Armed with the black Bell helmet from my days with the Black Hawk, I hoped into the car on a Friday night and was driven up to Mark’s house by my wife Anna, with Taffy in my lap.  Dan drove over on the Saturday morning with his two bikes on the roof of his car and that is where the easy ride began.

Much had changed, even if not in terms of me, because Mark was no longer the 18st drinker and smoker he had been on the coast to coast.  Six months of riding had seen his weight plummet and he had started to wear actual cycling apparel.  Not Lycra yet; that would follow later, but a jersey and clip in shoes.  He looked the part as he clipped his Garman onto his handlebars to lead us to Cambridge.  Unfortunately me and Dan didn’t.

This was a frustrating day for Mark.  We set off from Olney and within minutes he was waiting at the top of a small hill while me and Dan pushed our bikes up to join him.  His plans for us to achieve a 13 mph average were shattered very quickly and rather than lunching in Cambridge at the end of our first 50 miles we found ourselves eating in a pub beside the river at St Neots, less than half way to Cambridge with an average speed of 6 mph so far achieved.

It was a rushed lunch as Mark was worrying about our timings; something he had not even dreamed would be a problem when he cooked up the idea of the trip.  It was also a highly inappropriate lunch on my part, being a bowl of dirty chilli on cheesy chips which sat in my gut like a lead bar as we set out.  To put a real shine on things, coinciding with our return to the route was the emptying of all the water the heavens had to offer.  This was a storm that was brief and yet brutal.  Rain drops the size of ping-pong balls slammed into us and bounced up from the road into our faces, drenching everything and even penetrated the hastily donned waterproofs.  It was such a deluge, even the water resistant Garman fizzed and blinked out of action and the well planned route, much like the considered average miles per hour pace Mark had envisaged at the start, swirled with the rain water down the drain.

We arrived in Cambridge over three hours later, dry from the roasting sun that followed the storm, but embarrassingly defeated despite the non-existent challenge of the terrain.  Of course this sense of defeat and exhaustion only related to myself and Dan, but we were blue enough to bring Mark's spirits down too.

We had pizza in Zizzi and a couple of beers, but I could not convince the other two to turn the night into a real  beer-fest.  Dan wasn’t much of a drinker and also in a rather dark place personally due to heath issues.  As for Mark, he  was concerned about us even making it home the next day and encouraged an early end to the day for an early start the next.  Considering our performance that day, who could blame him for worrying?

The next day dawned bright and hot and we had a hasty breakfast before collecting our bikes from the cavernous bike shed beneath the university.  We set off at a good pace despite me wincing at the touch of the saddle against an already raw behind.  This was all before I discovered the genius of technical clothing and more importantly, the padded pant.

After a couple of hours Mark was surprised to report that we were averaging close to 12 mph.  His fears of the night before seemed almost unfounded and we pressed on towards Olney.  We had a brief stop to turn Dan’s bike upside down to inspect a clicking noise; fears of bearings seizing and resulting in absolute carnage seemed very real to us in those days before actually understanding how the bikes we were riding worked.  I also flipped my bike and turned the front wheel only to find it stopping almost instantly, revealing that I had cycled the day before with the brakes so badly adjusted that they were effectively permanently on.

Mechanicals resolved and our average speed seriously depleted, we carried on towards Olney without much drama until 10 miles out from the finish.  Dan had received a call from his wife insisting he get back home promptly.  Our planned route had many more miles left to go and with the absence of a working Garmen we thought we were in trouble until Dan explored the power of a smart phone.  Nowadays this isn't too amazing, but back then it was like a miracle device, plotting a route for us that shaved many miles off the day.  Yet despite the marvel of technology and the shortening of the route, there was still an injection in pace which simply destroyed me.  The last two miles for me, regardless of it being flat and the weather divine, took me into a pain cave I will not quickly forget, but I finished the job and took some pride from it.

Of course, in reality the trip had proven I was still awfully out of shape, technically inept and lacking in prowess, but internally I was euphoric at such an achievement.  Mark also took pride from the journey, despite it having been far from dynamic, so at last we had a success with which to banish the Cutty to Castle memories. 

That was however it for lads adventures in 2010.  A wedding in September followed by a very poorly wife; an oddity for a woman that could hold her own when it came to drinking, led to the surprise revelation of a child on its way for us and it was this very significant piece of news that would trigger what would be for me the most dramatic change of all; the need to regain my true former self.

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