Nothing wakes you up like the racist on the table in the B&B in Taunton sat across from you. It happened at 8am with a mouthful of muesli. What began as a perfectly straightforward conversation regarding the make of cars on the road descended into casual xenophobia. “These days they’re all made by the Japs aren’t they?” quipped the elderly American man to a nearby couple. Rafe Watson and I exchanged wary looks as the uninformed bigotry continued.
Taunton to Plymouth had been pitched as a difficult day and we had anticipated an ordeal from the outset. What we hadn’t expected, were the devastating ascents just past Ide and Dunchideock. The first segment of our journey, traversing Taunton to Exeter passed easily enough. We lunched early outside Exeter cathedral discussing the lively topics of mortality and wider existentialism, but not before a brisk stroll down the worlds narrowest street which hung heavy with stench of Ammonia.
As we left Exeter seeking the hills of Ide and Dunchideock, we were not expecting the rapid fire punches we were about to stomach. We rose over agonisingly steep climbs for extended periods, interspersed by insignificant recovery periods of 20-30 seconds, followed rapidly by a succeeding ascent. Our clothes were drenched, our bikes refused to cooperate and we were forcefully exhaling so hard our cries could be heard for miles. At the top (eventually) we paused to debrief. “Endurance sports are a metaphor for life,” I ventured. Rafe Watson acquiesced and continued. “Will Smith put it best..” and paraphrased the following:
“The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.”
He paused at the end and added – “Except I tell my students it’s about cycling and cinema. It’s pretty much the same thing.”
The ride from there onwards was something of a blur. We rode hard on the A38 for longer than perhaps was necessary but made our way into Plymouth in good time, some 80 miles later. Some manner of warship heaved itself painfully across the port and the docile English Channel and looking at its creaking metal frame in the distance, I empathised exactly with what it must feel.