Brilliantine Mortality (It’s a boy)
First of all: we are exhausted. Waking up at 0605 as hazy sunlight floods into the living room, I was sleeping as my mind wandered back over the trip so far. 15 days on a bike. One on a train to Thurso. One in Glasgow. Two in Pontypridd. It has been almost 3 weeks that we have been consumed with the task of cycling the length of the country. Last night saw us sat in a first floor flat overlooking Perranporth beach eating risotto generously prepared by an old friend of Aldercy Manning and walking back through pitch black unravelling country roads to bed down in a beautiful cottage owned by another friend. Once again we are at risk of taking the exceptional hospitality we have seen throughout Scotland, the North of England, South Wales and now the South West for granted. It really would not have been possible for us to get this far without the encouragement and belief of a few key people. You know who you are (TEAM CHAINLUBE FOR LIFE).
As I lie there looking to the days and months ahead, I am filled with a strange anxiety. It has been 19 days of heaving our heavy limbs out of bed, to climb back onto our bicycles and push on relentlessly towards our new destination. Now that we are closing in on Land’s End – I wonder what happens the morning after we arrive, and the morning after that. The joy and the relief of reaching our goal is twinned with a melancholic nostalgia. Luckily Reuben Merriweather and Lucius Harvey soon appear, dog walked and begin preparing a hearty breakfast of tea and porridge to distract from such thoughts.
Brushing aside the news of a Royal baby, we clamber back upon our bikes and head determinedly towards our final destination. Reuben Merriweather leads us along 20 miles of stunning coastal roads towards Hayley but we pay a price for such beautiful views, climbing some of the steepest and taxing hills along the way. Here, feeling somewhat the worse for wear and with my bicycle’s front derailleur once again refusing to shift into the little ring, we rejoin our old friend the A30 for the final jaunt. Before the day is out, we will see an unlucky cyclist slumped by the side of the road, having collided with one of the many seemingly reckless cars; which come careering around the unaccomodating corners at eye watering speeds. It is a stark reminder of just how lucky we have been to escape the trip with only a few near misses, rather than full blown accidents.
There has been a constant balancing act on our trip between “avoiding highways” picking smaller more serene scenic roads and a simple need to get to where we are going. On the whole, we have been successful albeit several long hot shifts on the sides of unforgiving and precarious dual carriageways which would have been much better avoided. While we have enjoyed the success of the Sustrans routes in Scotland, they are unaccountably unsatisfactory in England and we have more often than not, neglected them for the pure reasons of efficiency.
As we spin towards Land’s End however, these thoughts are pardoned and we are triumphant. Some 5 miles from the coastal precipice and abrupt ending of England it suddenly becomes very clear that we may well indeed complete the pilgrimage after all. A bunch sprint is in process on the final flats into the theme park that is Land’s End and instead of the Atlantic, we see the Arc De Triomphe. Instead of the call of the tides, we hear the roar of crowds. There is no sun, only bright lights and music. It is 1pm when Team ChainLUBE assuredly arrive. The milometer reads 1109 miles. Reuben Merriweather wanders into a local cafe to order us 3 cream teas and is charged £24. We are home.
In the wake of Chris Froome’s triumphant victoire. I was eager to commence my mini tour. Invitee to ‘Le Jog’ and team ChainLUBE, a reunion of old friends and significantly my first big ride since a Toyota MR2 sent me from bicycle to a spinal board three months earlier… time to get back on the steel horse. *clenches bum.
0930 down town Plymouth meeting with the grey Atlantic sea fret. A welcome haar by all accounts. After a heavy session the previous day, odometers now boasting four digits, the boys were in a bad place, the John Wayne stance said it all.
Fuelled up on pasties we got going…the Shimano symphony sung in unison as the tamar bridge expelled us from the back passage of Devon. Kernow a’gas dynergh. Welcome to Cornwall.
Respectfully I slotted into le derrière of le peleton, full of ‘big ring’ gusto. This was to be my undoing as after a couple of ventures to ‘la tête de la course’ I noticed my legs seemed to be generating significantly less wattage than the finely chiseled hams of Aldercy Manning and Rafe Watson. I was pleased I even made it to Liskeard. Team ChainLUBE’s collective pride took a battering however, during a brief traffic light encounter with a fellow cyclist, who casually dropped into conversation that he had done Le Jog four times. In fact he had done it there in three days, and back also in three; a truly absurdly ridiculous statement. We later agreed that it was possible if he did 300miles/day. Unanimously we decided he was clearly a man of great integrity and more significantly you should have seen his legs. Ridiculous. Calves of truth.
After a quick pitstop and a hunt for flapjacks we skilfully negotiated our steeds between scally’s and mobility scooters and locked onto the A38. It’s funny how a road you think you know so well becomes a complete fuck on a bike. A route I fondly associate with a run to the sun…holidays, trips to the beach and parties…became a bleak relentless burning bastard of despair. That said we beasted through Bodmin at a rate of knots following onto the bowel inducing A30; a stretch of road that has taken many a cyclist’s life.
The hard shoulder’s white line became my God as we continued to the north coast, rush hour traffic backed up by the dozen thanks to our pothole slalom. 61 miles later we made it to the beautiful village of Rose, greeted by Larry the black lab who was expecting far more energy than we had left to give.
We were later collected by Rosamund Marcellus who whisked us to Trevose in the beamer. We ate in the flat overlooking the evening haze of Droskyn, Perranporth. Weary legs replenished with risotto seasoned by Rosamund Marcellus’ phallic mill. Finally we visited the local ale house. After deep discussions on eldercare, the monarchy and Chad Kroeger it was time for to say goodbye to today, and replenish for Le Jog’s closing chapter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I feel a bit of a fraud swanning in on the champagne final days of the tour, but glad to share some of the experience with this great team. Cheers for getting me back on the bike boys!!!
Many thanks to Lady and Lord Grantham for putting us up this night. Pints (were) waiting for you at the tavern xxx
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.
0600 and the alarm bell rings. An early start is the name of the game as I prepare to meet up with the chainlube lejoggers for their Bristol to Taunton leg, bolstering the team compliment to a grand total of three. Parker Johnson is not in attendance as he is away on a 2 week training camp in Mallorca, getting in some much needed altitude training. He will be missed for his powerful locomotive engine on the flats but there will be other days when team chainlube is able to ride at full strength.
A train journey is required before our scheduled rendzvous can take place. Arriving at the platform with plenty of time, I find that the train’s bike spaces are already fully booked. This comes as no surprise as my own efforts to reserve a bike space the day previously had resulted in the same outcome as I spoke to the First Great Western call centre operative somewhere in India. A nervous fifteen minutes are spent waiting on the platform to see if the bike reservists show their face and more importantly, their wheels. A Helen Wyman lookalike shows up. Also a large Australian man with a spesh allez (the TCL official bike as it happens)…none of us bookings. Things aren’t looking good but at least I have the element of first come first served in my favour. I briefly comtemplate whether it is possible to cycle to Bristol but before I can seriously entertain the thought, the train manager decides that the reservists are a no show and so grants us access to the hallowed bike compartment. Relief all round. “I’ll be in Coach A if you need me” I say to the train manager as I head to my seat. He looks somewhat nonplussed and I then realise it is probably because he won’t have much trouble finding me given my lavish choice of cycling attire today. And by lavish I mean a garish mixture of unco-ordinated team kits.
Our route today looks easy on paper: 55 miles. A few minor climbs. A town called Westonzoyland. In theory it should be a doddle. However, it remains to be seen how the ravages of the previous two weeks have taken their toll on young Rafe Watson and Aldercy Manning. Do they have anything left in the tank? And will they be saving themselves for the last few ardous days through Devon & Cornwall, renowned for their energy sapping nature. Only time will tell.
In my bag I bring copious amounts of gold bullion aka homemade flapjack which I hope will see them through the next few days (though it later arises that Aldercy eats his all in one day). I dish out the rations on arrival as we are greeted by the charming Beatrice Charity and it goes down a treat. After a brief catch up over a coffee we get the TCL show on the road.
We set off fairly cautiously, following the shared cycle path out of Bristol and into the surrounding countryside. Before long we are barelling along at a heady rate of knots. Not quite full gas but close. Some big turns are put in on the flat sections although the peloton becomes more fragmented during the day’s climbs as we each climb at our own pace. Two of the climbs in particular stand out as being particularly challenging; one at the start of the ride and another near the end, forming the ride into some sort of hill sandwich.
During the last climb through Enmore, the sun and humidity increases creating a claustrophobic atmosphere on the narrow roads. The flies seem to sense our weakness and begin to circle and hum like vultures around our head which only serves to exacerbate the difficulty of the conditions. Aldercy in particular was troubled by these insect tormentors and looks rather flustered as he crests the top of the hill.
We happily leave the ascent behind us and then enjoy a fast and decent descent down into Taunton, allowing our sweat soaked clothes to gain much needed ventilation.
Reaching Taunton, we immediately set about locating the nearest beer serving, bike friendly establishment with outdoor seating. Not the most demanding list of requirements but it does take some time. After relaxing for a few minutes I realise that its actually taken quite a lot out of me today. Perhaps my showboating at times wasn’t the most energy conservative way to ride but if I feel like this after one day how must my felow team members be coping? Granted, I could quite happily get on the bike again tomorrow but the day after that? And the day after that? I’m not so sure. A chapeau is definitely in order.
Post dinner, I make my way to the train station and board the world’s quietest train back to London. Not a single bike in the bike compartment this time. Just as well that I actually have a reservation this time then.