Let's cut to the chase - the weather... awful, loathesome, ridiculous bastard dreadful. Call it what you will you won't meet a cyclist this spring who has a good word to say about the Met Office, supposed global warming and the fucking weather. All of us whining about being off the pace, not having enough miles in our legs, having to spend Saturday mornings with the wife and kids because it's been a) wet, b) cold, c) treacherous or, d) all of the above. Every Friday I look at the forecast with a sinking heart as once again I see that the meteorologists are laughing up their sleeves at me, personally.
So, when PC said that we should all slope away to his place in Norfolk at the end of March, we all said yes expecting that the elements would have the final say. All week furious text messages circled Essex as we attempted to keep our spirits up with forecasts of torrential rain and whipping winds from Siberia. Eventually we all agreed, we're going, come what may.
Of course, that immediately led to the next crisis - just what to pack. Non-cycling clothes took all of 60 seconds to sort but, what shoe covers? Gloves with rain proofing or not? Lightweight stowaway macs or full blown rain jackets? In the end I had 3 bags full and then I remembered my shoes! And then I remembered my helmet. In fact all Thursady evening I remembered yet one more thing after another - water bottles, sunglasses, inner tubes. Quite how I ever get out of the house on a Sturday in just forty minutes, I'll never know.
We drove up on the Friday, unpacked and ate a healthy pasta dinner. These boys really are atheltes, I thought as I sneaked a third beer while no-one was looking. Then the Calvados was opened and one by one we fell asleep in front of the dvd. The next thing I knew was it was 7.30 and bleary eyed cyclists stumbled out of bed, grabbing Nurofen and guzzling water into their dehydrated bodies. A solemn breakfast of porridge, toast and coffee only merely delayed the inevitable - an all day ride in the wind and rain where PC had already warned us of the myth of 'flat' Norfolk.
A cyclist can futz about with his bike for hours given half a chance - inflating tyres, lubing chains, fiddling with mudguards, listening for imperceptible sounds from headset and bottom bracket but in then end you have just got to get on to the blasted thing and ride.
The ride was all that it had promised to be, mile after mile of empty roads, just rolling through slowly returning Spring. The odd blossom here and there, an occasional blush of bluebells in a shaded dell. Life, it felt, was finally on the rise. We carved through the Sandringham estate with the Johnny Rotten's best lines in my head 'we're the flowers in the dustbin...there is no future in England's dreaming.' Didn't stop us parking up and having a very fine cuppa and sandwich though.
The ride progressed past classic East Anglian flint churches and estates with impressive stags just staring mournfully at us as we swished past - our chains thick with the sludge and mud known by the hard men of the road as 'Belgian toothpaste' - the grime that you see on the faces of the unlucky losers at Flanders, Roubaix and De Panne. Legs loosened, the peleton settled into quiet contemplation, the nervous chatter of the ride disappeared and instead a silent determination and pleasant solitude took its place. Riding in a group can give some of the greatest peace and quiet on god's great earth as there is no requirement to talk if necessary, sometimes all you need to do is just keep turning those wheels.
Late lunch in Castle Acre and we found the platonic ideal of a rest stop - understanding proprieters who knew just what to serve up to six hungry cyclists - the loo even had a picture of a Tornado and a photo of Colditz prisoners on parade - perfect for The General and WingCo who both have more than a penchant for planes. And then the chat began, 'Did you see that lovely..' and the enjoyment came in the telling and reliving of a pleasure shared.
The final stretch home, PC assured us, no more than an hour, my legs finally acknowledging that the crap winter had left me with nothing left to give. As I set my teeth firmly into the wind, all I could think was that I didn't know where his place was, what the name of the nearest town was or which direction I should be headed. With this fear in mind I stuck doggedly to his wheel. My prayers to the cycling voodoo gods must have worked as just as the lactic acid really began to bite one of 'The Diesel's' spokes went in his rear wheel. A well needed break while the boys all consulted how to get him home without any further disaster. The only word I heard was 'slowly' and my heart sang.
I don't remember the last ten miles, I was just glad to recognise turning back to the house and wearily, yet with a huge smile, I got off my bike. For this day only we had tasted spring. And we knew we had another ride just like this one prepared for tomorrow and we'd already made a reservation at the tea shop in Castle Acre - we could have our showers safe in the knowledge of more country pleasures to come.