Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Day we met Jeff

Location: Watchet, Somerset, UK
The first time Sophie and I went on a cycle adventure was in 2013 and we cycled from our home in Sheffield down to Lynton in North Devon.  We had two hybrid Specalized bikes and we either stayed at friends and family or with WarmShowers hosts.  The trip was a complete success and we loved our little adventure, but this was the trip when we met Jeff.

It was the last day of our trip and we were heading from Bridgwater (where we went to SJS Cycles for the first time to talk about our future Thorn bike purchase) to our final destination of Lynton, where Sophie's family was having a rather big get together.  So after a good start to the morning we decided to get cash in the, now infamous in our minds, town of Watchet, Devon.  We pulled over on the side of the road just across from the cash machine. Sophie went to get cash, I tended the bikes.

I was standing about 5 feet behind a parked car.  The parked car's break lights flashed on, then the reversing light. I thought that this was a little strange because there was nothing in front of the car to try to manoeuvre around and put it down to them accidentally picking the wrong gear.  But then the car started its slow movement towards me.  Since I was holding two bikes with bags I didn't have any manoeuvring options so just waved and tried to make myself more visible (it was a bright sunny day and I was wearing a high vis and like I said I was holding two fairly large bikes).  But still the car kept coming, so I knocked on the rear window.  Still the car rolled impressively slowly towards me.  So I knocked harder and started yelling.  CRASH.  After more banging and yelling the reversing lights disappeared and the car lurched forward.

"Don't just drive away!" I yelled.

The brake lights appeared at the same time as a passer-by moved towards the driver's door.  I was relieved that other people were around and getting involved so I didn't have to face this driver alone.  But that's when he showed his face, the driver got impressively slowly out the car (speed was not his strong suit) and looked at the passerby then to me then back to the passerby. The driver was an elderly gentleman. The following is not verbatim but it's pretty close:

Driver: "I'm sorry I didn't see them.  I didn't see you"
Passerby 1: "What have you done now Jeff?! I bet you scared him out of his wits.  Are you OK? Are your bikes OK?"
Tom: "I think so, let me check"

The bikes were fine, the car was moving very, very slowly.

Driver (Jeff): "I am sorry I didn't see you"
Passerby 2: "I saw them from the top of the hill, Jeff, how could you not have seen them?"

I am still not entirely sure where this new person appeared from but now Jeff was getting assaulted on two fronts by two very irate women.  Forever rooting for the underdog, I was starting to feel sorry for Jeff.

Passerby 1: "That really is the last straw Jeff, you shouldn't be driving, they should take your license away"
Driver (Jeff): "I'm sorry I didn't see them.  I didn't see you"
Passerby 2: "I saw them from the top of the hill!"

Then the first lady said it, the words that I couldn't believe that I'd hear at about 11 in the morning in a small town.

Passerby 1: "For God's sake Jeff, that is the second cyclist today!"

Wow!!! How?! Really!!

The rest of the conversation carried on the same way for a wee while. Sophie returned with the cash and we headed up a hill towards the coast road out and away from Watchet. I was feeling conflicted about the whole situation.  Jeff had hit two cyclists in a morning but I was fine and I'm sure Jeff wouldn't be driving around if he'd done any damage to the first, but those women were fierce and didn't give Jeff an inch.  I really did (and do, if I'm honest) feel sorry for Jeff.  But as we were climbing the hill out we saw a cyclist was heading into Watchet loving the descent and with a massive smile on her face.  Later Sophie and I commented on the similar thought we had.

"Watch out for Jeff!"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Last Leg Home

Location: Wisbech, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK
The challenges of cycle touring continued for the last few days of our little tour, testing our resolve and our stamina.  We left Southwold and wound our way up from sea level and along country lanes heading towards Thetford Forest again.  Didn't get to go along the same lovely roads we had done the previous week, but it was pretty good cycling.  We even had a lovely truck driver hold back to allow the truck behind us to pass us safely and then give us a massive cheesy grin and a thumbs up.  We arrived at Everetts Farm campsite near Foulden in good time, set up the tent and then squeezed into a single shower as we only had one 50pence piece required for said showers and with the timer ticking down from 6 minutes we lathered and rinsed as fast as we could!

The next morning we awoke to drizzle which turned into a downpour as we packed our stuff away and set off.  As the rain eased and the sun tried to come out I got a puncture.  We got it fixed up pretty promptly and continued a little wearily.  Then the wind kicked in.  Everyone talks about how flat this part of the country is, but they don't tell you that flat equals wind, lots of wind and that wind on a bike, if it is not a tailwind, can be much harder work than a hill.  We had about 65 miles to get to the final campsite of the trip and the only decent sized town we were going to pass through was Wisbech where we planned to have lunch.  Normally we'd been stopping for lunch after about 40 miles so we only had the last 20 miles to do on full tummies, but Wisbech was about 25 miles in so we still had the bulk of the ride to get through after our Morrisons Cafe lunch, but at least it dried us off and warmed us up after our damp start.  The next 40 miles were accompanied by a constant headwind or occasionally a gusting side wind which zapped our energy, caused our arms and hands to hurt from gripping the handlebars so tightly and dried our mouths out.  It was slow, hard going and soon enough our water bottles were almost empty. There was nothing but farmland and no obvious source of more water.  Thirst is horrible and I'd started eyeing up puddles, but then we came across a hand car wash and got our bottles refilled by the kind workers there.

Sadly we still had to endure hours more of cycling into the headwind.  We got grumpy, we got tired and while we didn’t have a falling out, we didn’t have our best times.  Still we made it to the campsite in the quaint village of Folkingham.  It was a great campsite and after a well-earned dinner of Stag chilli and rice we headed to the local pub for a couple of drinks and the chance to recharge our phones.  The following morning we awoke to sunshine and got packed up in good time, we were just about to mount up when Tom noticed he had a puncture.  We unloaded Tom’s bike and had to fix an inner tube before being able to get going.  Then only a couple of miles out of Folkingham he had another puncture.  We’d obviously done a bad job of fixing the inner tube so we sat at the side of the road patched up all 3 inner tubes and used the best looking one for Tom’s wheel.  We had a headwind again and our legs were a bit heavy after the previous day’s endeavours, but we only had 27 miles to Lincoln.  We’d planned to get to this lovely city we’d heard lots of good things about and then have a look around, but by the time we got in we just wanted to get on the train and get home.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Mental Side of Cycle Touring

Location: Southwold, Suffolk, UK
Sophie and I cycle fairly often and are both, I would say, both pretty competent, confident riders.  The first few days on the trip showed that we have planned well.  Our kit, for the most part, is good and we know how to use it.  However, setting off in the morning from the campsite near Isleham and other challenging of the aspects of the days ahead really showed that there is so much more to cycle touring than confidence and good kit; you need "Mental Toughness".

We awoke in Isleham to another dreary day and packed up our damp stuff in the drizzle.  A lot of our clothes were damp, our tent was soaked, our tarps were wet, our shoes were soggy and our solar chargers rendered useless so we were very low on battery for Nokia Lady.  Needless to say our hearts weren’t really in it as we headed off for our third 60 mile day in a row towards a village called Campsea Ashe.  We planned to stop in Stowmarket after about 40 miles, have lunch and find somewhere to charge phones.  Two miles from Stowmarket I got a puncture.  It was pretty painless, and all sorted out in less than 30 mins but I really find things that slow me down or get in the way of the cycling frustrating.  Sophie is much more measured and sees punctures, wind, rain and dangerous car drivers all part of the rich fabric of cycle touring.  I do not, but the colourful language I would use is probably not publishable here.

The people of Stowe Market that we came into contact with were brilliant and lifted my spirits after the annoying morning.  The library staff let us leave our bags in their office so we didn’t have to lug them around town, the nice staff in a cafĂ© let us charge our phones and the bike shop pumped up my tyre with his track pump.  We left Stowmaket rather lethargically and after a few more hilly hours of cycling arrived in Campsea Ashe.  The campsite was cute and had an indoor kitchen area so we enjoyed the novelty of eating at a table and set about looking for a hotel in Southwold.  We’d had enough of the dampness and needed a bit of comfort.  We got ourselves booked in for a dinner, bed & breakfast package at The Crown Hotel and hit the hay.

The 20 odd miles to Southwold were unexpectedly hard.  The weather kept changing, sunny one minute then raining the next so we were constantly taking our jackets on and off, we were really tired and Nokia Lady had a few frustrating little mishaps.  As an aside, shouting at a computer voice in your ear that is telling you to turn left for the sixth time in a row around a triangular field, might feel like it helps but in reality it just makes your cycling partner worried about your state of mind.  But I digress, we made it to Southwold, the sun came out, we ate delicious crab and crayfish sandwiches and drank refreshing Adnams beers and checked into our lovely, comfy hotel.  We spent the afternoon mooching about after handwashing some of our kit, had a delicious 3 course meal and melted into our bed.

The rest day was well earned and fantastic!  We walked down the beach and looked at the beach huts.  We drank cider at lunch time with fish and chips.  We just rested and chilled out.  In the late afternoon we checked out and headed down to the seafront campsite.  Once we set up camp, we cleaned the bikes and listened to the sea with a drop of whisky.

Some aspects of the previous week's cycling really undermined my mental toughness, but in the coming days it really became apparent that we (read me, Sophie is more mentally resilient) do need to be more laid back about timelines, destinations and mother nature.