Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Season in Hull

I'm not sure I've ever seen Pub Dave's training regime in any of the magazines. Usually the glossies talk about complex carbs, intervals and power hubs but not PD. Instead he spends the winter drinking lager and smoking fags. He stands at the bar as we analyse what's wrong with Liverpool's back four and why Harry needs a proper holding midfielder. We wax rhapsodical about Philip Gilbert and Fabian Cancellera and we don't talk about work. Come the summer term, he wheels his bike out of the shed and rides to work - a round trip of 40 miles, 200 miles a week and he rides himself back to fitness.

In the pub, after the manangers have had their say on Sky, we'll start talking about potential trips on the bike. Mainly pipe dreams, they rarely get beyond slightly sizzled beer chatter but every now again one sticks - four years ago it was 'Wouldn't it be fun to ride to Paris to see the end of the Tour on the same day you turn 40?'

Another such chat explains why I was on the 4.27 with the early morning shift, watching the sun glint off the Coryton refinery. Our bikes laden. On another adventure.

We rode across a sleepy London and over to Kings Cross, a quick coffee and the bikes were strapped into the high speed train to the 'North'. I'd looked on the map the day before. I had thought Hull was not too far away, my map said Yorkshire, Dave corrected me and said Humberside. Either way, a bloody long way!

Decamping at Hull, stopping only for a belter of a breakfast as we consulted the maps one last time before heading off in search of National Cycle Route 1. The blue stickers soon to become deeply etched into my mind's eye, forever scanning road furniture for their life saving signs. Seemingly trapped in one dodgy council estate after another we spot our first destination - the Humber Bridge - Dave had been particularly pleased earlier in the month when the actual bridge sent him an email confirming that bikes could indeed travel over. And we rolled over, not quite believing we were really doing this. Not just the Guiness talking for a change

And then we hit Lincolnshire, a long county and really rather lovely; two hours of rolling hills as we got used to the full weight over our back wheels - panniers stuffed with sleeping bags and tents; mini stoves and woolly socks; energy bars and inner tubes. The Wolds opened up in front of us and much out of the seat stuff ensued, wheezing and clambering all over our steeds we were glad to see the sign for Market Rasen and the first of a series of lovely cafe owners, all willing to fill water bottles and indulge two idiots by stoking their egos and asking them why they were so far from home.

All these Viking place names - Wragby, Buslingthorpe, Fiskerton, the B1202, the rampage of the Danes down the east coast. We rolled into Woodhall Spa after riding the quiet of a converted railway line next to the River Whitham. The home of the Dambusters but even a bouncing bomb wouldn't have woken me as I slipped into a sleep so deep that the kids still playing in the late summer sun must have wondered what the strange men in the coffin tents were up to.

The next day we wake slowly and unsurely but the self inflating mattress had done its job and the titanium pocket stove gets us a coffee and the lady in the pitch next door took pity on the lycra fools and made us a bacon sarnie. Thr ritual repacking of all possessions complete we take our leave and follow the river out of town to Chapel Hill and on to the straightest road, a place where Romans marched out of civilization and into the great unknown through Brotherstoft and Hollands Fen.

As we turn a corner there is an old boy, his bike propped to one side of the path. He is sitting contemplating his small pocket of the world. He asks us where we're going and whether we're enjoying Lincolnshire, he then utters, as if from a novel 'South Lincolnshire was invented by God for cyclists' and all we could do was concur. That breakfast in Boston tasted just that bit better for the twenty miles already in our legs.

The next few hours have become a blur as slowly we lost the wind from behind us and found it in our faces. The flat fens replaced by the steep ups and downs of Norfolk. I felt like a sailor tacking his way forward, fighting the breeze, dragging the bike towards the north Norfolk coast, time slipping as we hit Kings Lynn too late for lunch and with the knowledge that Wells-next-the Sea was still a long way to go.

When we sat down for a pint, trying to get a phone signal, the bike computer told us what our legs already knew - over 100 miles on a bike in a day is a long way. Neither of us thinking straight we stared and tried to recall the 'good bits' - swooping through Holkham Hall with its manicured lawns and deer and geese. Ploughing on past Sandringham. Team timetrialling along the Nene. The rollercoaster roads teasing us with glimpses of the sea as we rose, only to take them away as we dipped back down again. But we just wanted to pitch our tents and stuff our gobs. Fish and chips at the seaside is redolent of family holidays but tonight it was fuel and could have been deep fried Wellington boots and we would have been none the unhappier.

As we pedalled past the shrine at Walsingham the next morning, I too felt like a primitive pilgrim, pushing body and soul beyond comfort, suffering to somehow lead to revelation. I didn't mention this to Dave. He doesn't do metaphysics. Certainly not before breakfast. and certainly not after a small breakfast - the greatest sin as we discovered to our cost in Fakenham.

Now on the cycle route 13 we headed south, small tracks and gentle rises, wheat fields and Constable greens, dappled sunlight and the slight mustiness.  The tone shifted, Suffolk softened and our legs settled into the regular rhythmic cadence of a third day on the bike.

Not even the vicious sting of a wasp, nor the only serious time we got lost - trapped in the Thompson triangle as we looped back on ourselves and could only escape by ploughing on down the A1075 racing lorries as lunchtime disappeared from view - could spoil a day which will keep us warm through the disappointing long nights of Premier League underachievement by both Spurs and Liverpool.

We arrived at Glemsford at teatime, the locals bustling round the bar of The Cherry Tree keen to quiz us on our journey. Treated like conquering heroes come home, we knew where our meal would be served tonight. They kept the restauarant open while we went and pitched the tents and washed in an office with just a kettle to complete our ablutions. From such unprepossessing situations do great evenings arise. A heaped plate and great pint led to PD being asked to join their darts' team - he even won a leg against top of the league and my money was refused at the bar as he was doing them all a good turn. Not a bad way to spend my final day of being 43.

Final day and weary legs. Away quickly from our campsite, we needed somewhere to find a birthday breakfast and CM9 in Braintree proved to be the winner of our east Coast breakfast competition - hash browns and chips! No more Sustrans, it was to be ingenuity and luck to get us on the road home. Yesterday's afternoon dash through Bury St Edmunds was replaced with today's slow and stately progress. The honeypot border towns of Yeldham and Pentlow let us know we weren't far from home and when we saw the sign for Terling instinct hit.

Just North Hill, the Danberg as Dowsett calls it, to negotiate and then it's no more than the return leg of a Saturday ride - with panniers. Granny gear fully locked and loaded, I grimaced to the top, my pulse throbbing through my forehead. Home was round the corner. The familiar litany of names rolled by- Hanningfield, Battlesbridge, Hullbridge, Rochford and up, up to the last hill before Southend hospital.

One last pint, appropriately in the place where the plan was hatched. Back just as the lunchtime drinkers were slipping away, we sat in the garden, pints in front of us, 330 miles behind us and we felt good.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like quite a ride Dan and through some terrain I know very well. I think I would have insisted on a support car for the luggage if it was me ;-)