With apologies first to Chapman Pincher.
It’s very easy to become ambivalent towards your home town or country, even if, like me, you live a long way from it nowadays. A three day bike ride around the area of my birth was a great way to see countryside I’d never really seen before, as I’d left the area well before my first birthday.
Just a quick three days pedalling around Somerset, Devon and Dorset, each day over 100 miles and a fair bit of climbing. Nothing too strenuous then. The day before the event started I had booked into my hotel just outside Yeovil and had a gentle ride around, even seeing the hospital where my little nose first saw the light of day.
Myself and three friends were all signed up to do the long routes on each day, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but was looking forward to it being finished. I had come all the way from France to do this, to suffer with like minded friends and to “enjoy” forcing my aged body up impossibly steep hills for around six hours a day.
Day one dawned nice and bright, little wind with the promise of a dry day. As the four of us lined up alongside the 1200+ other riders I didn’t realise just how hard this was going to be, but any three day sportive that pretty much begins with the Cheddar Gorge climb can’t be a bad thing. Can it?
The night before, three of our merry band had eaten in a local pub and were joined by another cyclist who regaled us with tales of how he’d not yet finished the full three days because of various misadventures and how Cheddar Gorge was a hideous thing, so when, after a few miles we rolled into the bottom of the climb to say trepidation was in the air was akin to saying the Hindenberg suffered a minor incident.
To be honest, after “that” hairpin, the rest of the ascent was just a drag. A long drag but not one that was overly difficult. So not hard in fact that I was able to admire the stunning scenery on my way up. I’d never been up here before but I shall definitely come back again, it really was beautiful. I was smiling on the inside, thinking to myself that “if thats as bad as it gets, I’m in for an easy three days.” Oh my days, how wrong I was to be proved. By the time we reached the top of the gorge our band of 4 had already dwindled to two pairs of two, the front pair waited a while.
The course was fairly well marshalled and signposted, with feed stations every 30 miles or so, toilet breaks and food taken on board the front pair waited a while for the second pair but as they didnt turn up they headed on. Turns out that one of them had taken a tumble at the start of the gorge which meant they had to wait whilst he repaired his bike.
The day continued in our two’s, at one point we were stopped as cows crossed the road to be milked and another time we rode down a hill, turned left and saw this:
Wells Cathedral as my knowledgable partner informed me. A stunning building.
Over the three days there was a lot of fairly empty roads, moorland, stunning views
and bonhommie amongs the fat lads at the back, which I was firmly a part of.
Between us I think we managed four falls, one of them right at the end of day two as we entered back into the arena, various bits of flesh were scraped and showers were a little sore back in the hotel.
The four of us at the end of day 2 I think.
It may have been day one, or day two. I KNOW it wasn’t day three though, and I’ll tell you how I know. Day three was a Monday, this being a bank holiday weekend event. I had a ferry booked to go back home on the Tuesday, with the hotel still booked for the Monday night. I had planned to finish the event then recount our tales of derring do over a few beers on the Monday evening.
But no. My plan was rent asunder. Unbeknownst to me, my three partners in crime had cruelly made plans to abandon me. If they had decided to leave for home straight after the event I could understand that. People have jobs and families etc, I get this.
BUT NAY, NAY AND THRICE NAY. Monday morning dawned a little grey, but warm enough and with not too much wind. Monday is the longest, hardest day of the three and I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’d already had over 220 miles in my legs, with lots of climbing, but today promised to be an hour longer in time due to the climbing involved. We assembled at the start line, ready to tackle The Longest Day.
The four of us left the start line together and headed into the unknown, legs a little heavy, sore bums and various cuts and bruises after the falls, but in good spirits. It was at this point that I began to hear conversations that worried me. There was talk, amongst the three traitors, of only going to the first feed station and then turning left, heading back to the finish and leaving early to avoid the traffic. WHAT?
WHAT HERESY IS THIS?
I’d been sold the deal by my cycling buddies for a THREE DAY RIDE, not two and a few km’s. What on earth? Well, we rode on, the first feed station arrived after around 30 miles. By now I was looking very suspiciously at my comrades. Still not a word had been officially directed to me as to their cowardly departure. We stopped, as was our want, partook of some of the goodies offered up in the feed station and … well, I partook of some of the goodies and put a few things in my pockets. The band of losers I was with just filled a water bottle and then told me they were heading off. I didnt remind them (not that much anyway) that I had come all the way from France to do this, whilst they only had a couple of hours to drive home!
Right then. I bade them farewell and wished them all punctures and made the decision to continue on my own.
Which turned out to be a very bad decision. It was rightly billed as the hardest of the three days. I have long known it to be harder to ride alone, and today was no exception. From feed station one to feed station two I rode up and down, up and down, probably never more than a mile that was flat, it really was lumpy. And I rode the 30 miles alone. Hard. Mentally and physically it was hard. Feed station two came, I ate an egg sandwich, sat on a grassy bank looking over at the beautiful azure blue sea cursing the band of deserters that had abandoned me to my fate.
I set off towards feed station three, straight up a very steep hill. Luckily I saw another person just in front, a man a few years older than me it would have appeared at first view. I caught him and then stayed with him for the next 30 miles, I dont remember his name but I remember him being a dentist from Manchester, a very competent rider who dragged me up most of the hills and a thoroughly nice chap.
And somebody who hadn’t decided to stop riding.
The last 30 miles were again started alone, the dentist was happy to feed a little longer, I was worried about getting in before the deadline, so set off. At one stage I was tucked in behind two girls who were riding at a good pace before they stopped to repair a puncture and I finally arrived, mentally and physically very tired, at the finish line where they were about to start taking down the barriers and the electronic timing. Just made it.
The prize, after nearly 350 miles on the bike was this. The medal. Sat on my own (as my partners had left me, I may have mentioned this before), with a bacon butty and a coffee, medal round my neck, I had a sense of achievement, a sore backside and a hatred of this particular event, but I´ve mellowed and may even do it again in 2018 as training for other things.
It was a really good event, I thought it was well organised, well signposted and marshalled although we did go slightly wrong on day two somewhere but only by a few minutes. It was great to share the first two days with friends and I learned a lot about how stubborn I am on day three.
I have of course forgiven the three of them, I’ve seen a couple of them since and not mentioned it. Well, not that much anyway.