Here we go again
Playing the fool again
Only three weeks ago, somewhere in Wales during the middle of the night, my stomach was cold and I was struggling to stay awake. ‘Enjoyment’ was not a word I would associate with how I was feeling, and I distinctly remember telling myself I was quitting audax.
Here we go again
Acting hard again
But I had finished the Bryan Chapman audax on a high note, and overcoming a very difficult ride like that really boosts the confidence.
Some people work very hard
But still they never get it right
So here I was, setting off on another 600km audax, smiling and singing along to The Velvet Underground. I was convinced Mike Wigley’s ‘Pair of Kirtons‘ route was going to be a walk in the park.
Well I’m beginning to see the light
With a predominantly flat ride ahead, and with only 340km to my overnight stop I thought I would take it easy and enjoy a couple of pub / cafe stops along the route. A puncture within the first hour, from broken glass on a cycle path near the Humber Bridge deflated my spirits a little bit, and I set my mind to making up the lost time.
Mike’s route is absolutely brilliant: a few fast A roads, a fair amount of quiet B roads and a smattering of country lanes were mixed together to take me away from Yorkshire and south into Lincolnshire. I rode along the Ancholme valley and then through Brigg and into the first of the eponymous ‘Kirtons’ of the ride. The road undulated comfortably through fields and woodland, but for the most part I was listening to music and trying to make up time. Dreadzone sang to me:
You ain’t going to be happy until you are free,
And the only way you’re going to get free is to get loose,
And the only way you’re going to get loose is to dance!
I thought I could hear Phil Liggett telling me to ‘dance on the pedals’, so I was singing and smiling to myself as I arrived in Gainsborough to collect a receipt as proof of passing through. I decided that with another 45km I’d be in Wragby and could stop for some lunch at a nice cafe. In my mind Wragby had some good cafes. On the way there I was entertained by the Red Arrows who train from RAF Scampton they were flying in a mixture of formations and spreading their famous red, white and blue vapour trails in the sky. It was inspirational to watch them working together so accurately and at such high speed.
As cafe’s go, this was fast and efficient. Beans and egg on toast with a glass of milk and a black coffee but sitting beside the kerb on a busy street wasn’t much fun, so I set off again straight after eating; the flatlands beckoned and I was delighted to be making really good time. I’d averaged well above my normal pace for a long ride, instead of a 14mph pace, I was keeping closer to 17mph which I put down to flatter roads and a tailwind.
One of the highlights of this ride was the ‘Water Rail Way‘ alongside the River Witham between Southrey and Chapel Hill. I loved the way the pavement rolled gently up and down, and wiggled slightly while being essentially flat and straight. The grasses and flowers were flourishing in the warmth and overcrowding the edges of the path, which wasn’t a problem as I was the only person cycling along here today. A sign pointed to my next destination, Boston in Lincolnshire, and with only 21 miles to go on flat roads I believed I’d easily get there in an hour.
The Water Rail Way doesn’t go all the way to Boston though, the route I was following used very isolated lanes which were dead straight and dead flat. This was Holland Fen and the last time I’d been here was on LEL with a headwind. That experience of the fens had been immensely difficult, but today I was scooting along nicely. The Grateful Dead sang to me of endless rivers, rolling on…
Black muddy river, roll on forever,
I don’t care how deep or wide, if you’ve got another side,
Roll muddy river, roll muddy river, black muddy river, roll.
Although Boston was only 50km further on than Wragby, I was still feeling hungry. While the cycling was wonderful, the cafe stops were a bit disappointing: this Asda cafe wasn’t a particularly restful place for a middle aged man dressed in lycra – I wanted to keep going as soon as I’d eaten. Mike’s route now turned west and I was riding into Leicestershire. King Creosote sang about Scottish fishermen 110 miles east of Aberdeen:
A dozen men, thirty days
With twenty-four hours in each
Of shattered boyhood dreams
And not much sleep
As he sings, “I’d much rather be me”, and as I cycled on I felt a nodding agreement – here I was enjoying my hobby of long distance cycling and although I was starting to feel tired I was happy to be here. I knew that later on I’d be experiencing ‘not much sleep‘, but as I passed through the second ‘Kirton’ of the ‘Pair of Kirtons’ I sang:
I’d much rather be me
With about 180km covered the road started to rise gently. I didn’t notice at first and thought that I was slowing down because of tiredness, but as I passed a crest of a hill and swooped down the otherside I realised I’d found some hills. I put concerns about my dropping energy levels to one side and wondered if Colsterworth would have a good pub I could have a proper rest at, somewhere for a pint and a meal.
My disappointment was magnificent. I approached the cluster of petrol stations where the route crossed the A15 and felt nothing but dismay about the choices before me. One smoothie and one coffee later I just wanted to leave.
When this ride is run as a calendar event it passes a really nice pub for lunch near my house in Welton, then reaches these 24 hour garages at night time, just when you really need them. For me I seemed to be experiencing the dreary controls when what I wanted was something friendly and nice. The contrast between the route and these controls was quite marked. I now hoped to find a decent pub anywhere on the next section before I reached Donnington… any pub would do!
In the hills I became more aware of the trees, the birdsong, the flowers and the scenery. I passed through copse and along hedgerows. Wildlife darted in and out; a squirrel sat and looked as me as I quietly passed. Cats sat in gardens, seemingly annoyed that I’d disturbed the birds they were stalking. Sometimes I listened to music, sometimes I listened to the world. Occasionally I was on a busy stretch of road, and at other times I was isolated and alone as I passed from Leicestershire into Lincolnshire and back again; the county boundary weaving across my path.
My stomach made itself heard, when I passed the sign to Melton: “Home of Stilton Cheese and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies”. The prospect of a fantastic meal and a decent real ale at a quality pub was urging me onwards with anticipation. I had no idea of what awaited in Melton.
It would have been funny if I wasn’t so hungry, but “town centre pubs don’t do food on a Friday night” one Landlord told me. Pub after pub had stopped serving, and the streets were starting to be populated with scantily dressed young people. My choice of sports clothes wasn’t in keeping with everyone else’s. I spotted a Wetherspoons – the salvation of the long distance rider but it only took one step inside to see the chaos and realise I wasn’t going to be successful in foraging for food here.
I left Melton having wasted 30 minutes riding round and looking for a pub… I was starting to feel very low and simply now wanted to stop and eat. Anywhere. Anything.
I had drifted off the audax route when I spotted The Crown at Asfordby, it was a huge relief to hear they were still doing food! I order a pint of beer, a coffee, and following the advice I had from another audaxer – I ordered dessert first. Apple crumble and ice-cream. I sat in the early evening sunshine and began to relax a little. This was going to be okay. I sipped my beer and stretched out my legs thinking it would be okay to stay for a while here. The pub was quite pretty but the garden was small, so when a couple of blokes came out to listen to a Radio One podcast on a mobile phone… and started smoking… I became slightly ill-at-ease. The beer wasn’t capturing my taste-buds and I had second thoughts about finishing it. The crumble came out and I found I could only nibble at it. I drank the coffee okay, but I struggled with the dessert. The smoking was bothering me and I emptied my beer onto the ground. I cycled away feeling that I couldn’t have eaten anything else anyway and not drinking the beer had probably been a good idea. Anyway, Donnington Services was my next stop and I would be able to fill up from the food places there.
The early evening was beautiful – the clouds of the day had cleared and blue skies were overhead. The world had a golden sunshine feel to it. I was thinking about the differences between villages here and in Yorkshire. I had begun to spot that villages here in the south just didn’t have pubs. In Yorkshire, villages have pubs. Here the pubs seemed to have been removed – there didn’t even appear to be the remnants of pub buildings. Still, despite feeling weaker and looking forward to trying to eat properly in Donnington.
When I reached Donnington I realised I was in trouble. It was 9pm and I was feeling really tired and weak, and I just couldn’t eat. I tried several things – fruit, yoghurt, sweets and sandwiches. I could barely nibble my food and I felt unwell. I managed a coffee. I looked at the Travelodge behind me, knowing that it was going to be £200 this evening. Considering it was warm outside I just rested as long as I felt comfortable. The Travelodge at Stone Services was £40 tonight, and only 75km away… 46 miles. Surely I could make it that far by 1am. Surely I would feel better after a good few hours sleep and some breakfast. I remembered how I’d felt leaving Menai Bridge on the Bryan Chapman with a huge hill to climb before bed… and I said to myself – how hard can this be? If I stopped at Stone Services I would sleep well and have only 260km for Saturday. If I stopped here it would be five times more expensive and I would have 315km to ride starting in the very early hours. It made sense to carry on.
In your mind
Nothing but fear
You can’t face life
Or believe death’s near
Napalm Death were on the lineup for the Download Festival on Friday night and as I cycled past I thought about the friends I knew who would be there. The site was immense and the traffic was extremely busy, there were coaches dropping people off and motorists trying to get in and out of the car parks. I felt small and vulnerable on my bicycle amidst the roar of the festival and the crush of the heavy traffic, even this late in the night. It made me laugh to see the quiet camping area… “R.I.P Camping”… (rest in peace). How on earth anyone could consider the atmosphere to be peaceful is beyond me. There was a huge glowing pyramid structure which seemed to be rotating in the middle of the festival and lights were strobing up into the sky… it was impressive to say the least.
As the bright lights of Download faded behind me, the world had darkened significantly: the sun had set and the world was in shadow now. There wasn’t much to see in the dark, I kept one eye on my route and the other on the road, not wanting to miss a turn in the night. I wasn’t paying much attention to the places I was passing through anymore, all I wanted to do was reach my hotel. I drew hope from my Bryan Chapman experience. I knew I’d felt bad that night, but that the following day had been wonderful, so I put my mind to just pushing on and not getting lost. During the daytime I’m sure this would have been much more scenic than the Lincolnshire section as there were hills and twisty country lanes to follow now.
With 35km to go, halfway to Stone, I missed a cyclepath turning and found myself at a dead end. Not so bad I thought, but my heart sank when I realised I was now on crunching broken glass. I may have the energy to get to the hotel but I doubted I had extra to fix another puncture – and if there was glass embedded in my tyres how would I find it in by torch light. My spirit became weak and I felt so low I just wanted to stop. But stopping wasn’t going to make anything better… the best solution was 20 miles away. Bed. Just get to Stone. That was all I had to do.
I began to pray. Please God don’t let me get a puncture. Please God.
Sleepiness was attacking me. I felt I had nothing left as I crawled along the lanes, just pushing one pedal after the other. Please God help. I just had to get to the end.
I could see them by my bike lights and was having to take considerable care to miss them.
My stomach felt cold.
I was exhausted.
With 5 miles to go I crested a hill and could see the night lights of Staffordshire laid out ahead of me. If I had more strength I might have been able to see the M6. I suddenly felt like I could make it.
And then I threw up. From nowhere I was being sick beside the road at 1am and struggling to understand why – where did all these stomach contents come from? I thought I was running on empty.
Those last 5 miles to the hotel were much easier after being sick – but inside my head I had given up. I had no idea what had gone wrong or why I was being sick. I checked in and showered. I went to bed and fought off cramp. I was sick twice more until there was nothing in my stomach.
I woke up at 5am and wondered whether I should get some breakfast and carry on. Then my right thigh and my left quad muscles cramped simultaneously… I rubbed them down and went back to sleep.