It seems ages since I last rode the Coker any distance, but it’s probably only a fortnight. My unicycling activites in the last few days have been restricted to a short but enjoyable ride with Phil Donaldson a week or so ago, a bit of skills practice on the 20, and the purchase of a monkey-metal-framed toy giraffe.
So this evening, I took the Coker down to my usual starting place, deliberately leaving the stopwatch at home. Tonight was to be a ride just for the sheer pleasure of riding.
A good start: hardly any abuse or mockery from the kids on the half pipe. Then I rode across the angle of the field - an easy section of single track, but just bumpy enough to catch me out at the start of a ride. No embarrassing UPDs tonight. Half a mile in and my legs are starting to ache! Fitness is earned slowly and hard, and lost quickly and easily.
To reinforce the idea that I’m not out to break any records, I divert from the crushed grit path and take a much trickier section of narrow single track which runs more or less parallel. Where the two paths meet ahead, I can see nettles reaching high enough to be a problem. Am I to weave through the narrow gap between the nettles, or to take the easy wide gap to the left?
Knowing the next obstacle to be only a couple of pedal strokes later, and very tricky, I opt for the wide gap… and notice at the last second that it isn’t an gap: there are three narrow strands of wire strung across it. I narrowly avoid becoming chips (US = “freedom fries”, so I’m told).
I take the high route around the first quarter of the rowing lake, swooping up onto the big mown grass bank, ducking under the sculpture, and then riding the skyline for a couple of hundred yards. Always ride the skyline at every opportunity - it looks ten times more dramatic.
A horse rider must have had the same idea, as on my next raised section my wheel discovers the distinctive droppings of a horse with vertigo.
Then I follow the river bank, swooping beneath the canopy of trees, relishing the shade… and I meet a jolly fisherman (or, more likely, a morose angler) driving his van in the other direction. You never see a fit angler round here. If they sold silent fish whistles which made the fish jump straight out of the river and into the back of the van, the Nottingham franchise would make millions. I smile merrily and divert onto a more challenging track.
Finally to Nemesis Hill - the gradual grassy gradient where I famously hurt my hand and wrist. I know it’s easy to ride, but the though is always there. A psychologist would call it “Situation Specific Anxiety” and charge me £300 for the diagnosis. I make it up the first section, and find that the second section has badly overgrown in the recent hot spell. The track is barely visible. I hit a big tussock of grass and UPD. 3.5 miles covered to my first UPD.
For the last mile or so, the little plastic bit on the end of my shoelace has been ticking against the fork leg as I pedal. I bend over to tie it, and I am brutally clubbed to the ground by an assailant! Nope… I had forgotten to do up two of the straps on my Camelbak. The top flap with a pocket containing my mobile phone, car keys, house keys and watch had fallen open as I bent over, and the flap was just the right length to deposit the heaviest items on the back of my skull. Always wear your helmet!
Remounting here is difficult: it’s slightly uphill, the track is narrow, and the ground is uneven. 3 times I try, 3 times I nearly succeed. I mount facing downhill, ride down to the next plateau, turn and ride back up… and UPD on the same tussock! But it IS a big tussock, I tell you!
I repeat the process, and this time I avoid the offending tussock, and make it to the top of the hill, then turn and drop down the steep mown grass slope to the waterski lake. Someone on the skiboat shouts a comment. I toy with, “Where’s your spinnaker?” but decide it’s too obscure.
Soon after the ski lodge, I have the option to ride over a narrow bridge. Nothing spectacular, it’s just a single railway sleeper over a ditch about 4 feet (1.3 metres) wide, and slightly deeper than that. It’s not difficult, but the consequences of failure would be immense. I go for it and sail across effortlessly. I ride on, confidently expecting to receive fan mail from Kris Holm tomorrow morning.
From here, I decide to take the private lane through to the next village: Radcliffe on Trent. Cricket fans (US = “Crazy Limeys”) may know of the Radcliffe Road Stand at Trent Bridge where the test match is being played… well it’s that Radcliffe.
25 years ago, I used to ride this lane on my two wheeler. The lane is privately owned, and has a broken and uneven surface. I remember it having potholes and puddles deep enough to soak the feet of the unwary cyclist. Of course now it’s dry. We’ve had the hottest longest heatwave since the last one, and everything’s dry. Also, disappointingly, most of the potholes have been filled with ballast, and one section has been Tarmaced. (Tarmacked? Tarmac’d?)
Ahead, I see young female joggers strung out 5 abreast across the road. They’re jogging at about 8mph, I’m riding at 10mph, giving a closing speed of 2mph, which allows plenty of time for me to observe and assess… :0)
Summer is coming to a close already. I see rose hips turning red, elderberries hanging ripe, and the leaves starting to look slightly browned. Shoulder high thistles line the fields, crowned with white fluffy seed heads. With the sun sinking low, some of them are backlit, so that the seed heads make haloes. An orchard to the right has apples starting to ripen on the trees. In the hedgerow, a few plump blackberries act as bait for the ravenous nettles… Oh to be in England.
Why the lyrical detail? Because I know I wouldn’t be seeing this unless I had a Coker. The route is too long and plain for an evening’s walk, too short and easy for a bicycle ride, and too far to be comfortable on a 26 or 20. In the last year or so, the Coker has taken me to places too close to home for me to consider visiting by any other means, and shown me my local area in a way that nothing else could have. It’s not just about the technical feat of riding it, or the physical benefits of exercise; the Coker uniquely fills a gap for an interesting and enjoyable way of exploring footpaths and bridle paths in that 10 - 20 odd mile range.
All through this ride, there has been an irritating clicking. A couple of times I’ve stopped and checked the cranks, the pedals, the seat, the handle… and it’s still there. I move the magnet on the computer. No luck. Eventually I decide that it might be something serious, and I must investigate properly. I have a sudden idea, and check the bolts in the bearing clamps. one is loose enough to wiggle with firm finger pressure. Of course! I removed and replaced the wheel a few days ago, when I had it trued. I tighten the bolts. The clicking is no more. Listen to your uni. Learn its many noises. Prevention is better than cure.
I’m nearly back now. It’s been an easy-paced ride, with a few fast sections, and a few challenging ones, but mainly it’s been a stroll in the park. I return to the car after a riding time of 1:05.41, and a distance of 10.09 miles (16 km). That’s an average of 9.22 mph (14.8 kmh) with a maximum speed of 14mph. And I’m fresh enough to ride as far again, except it’s getting dark. You know you want a Coker… :0)