From posting daily reports of epic rides, disasters and confrontations, I’ve slipped into obscurity over recent months, mainly because I’ve been too busy to ride. So when I saw the weather was reasonable today, I thought ‘Go for it’.
Preparation for the ride: a vigorous fencing lesson on Tuesday, a vigorous club night on Wednesday with about ten fights, Morris dancing all night Thursday, 11 tough fights on Friday, then an Open fencing tournament with 13 fights on Saturday. This morning, my legs were like two pieces of overcooked spaghetti, and my body felt like it had been beaten with sticks and metal bars… which, on reflection, I realised it had.
Add to that that what few rides I’ve managed recently have mainly been on the nice safe little 28, and today I was determined to ride the Coker. It was with some trepidation that I prepared to mount, conscious of surveillance by a group of skateboarders sitting on the quarter pipe. Here’s me: fluorescent green jacket, cycling leggings, wrist guards, full face helmet… I did NOT want to be seen failing to mount!
Old habits die hard, and the freemount was neat and controlled. I rode past the kids, veering onto the rough grass to pass two corpulent pedestrians. One of the kids shouted, “Cool!” I assume he meant me, but he might equally have been an admirer of the fuller figure; I didn’t stop to ask.
The wind was blowing the wrong way: up the river and into my face. I don’t know where it was coming from, but I know where it was going. My exposed finger tips were starting to go numb within minutes, and I noticed that I was out of breath, riding at a pace I would formerly have called “steady”.
I took the hard route - flat but rough, with hoof prints and ruts - along a narrow section of single track, rather than sticking to the well surfaced main track. I wiggled through the difficult narrow footpath with the loose ballast that so often trips my skinny 28, then I was out onto the road, and through the entrance to the Watersports Centre. I was determined to push myself hard witht he technical stuff, even if I hadn’t the legs for any speed work. The zig zag path up the hill was no problem, then the raked sand and ballast patch that leads tot he grassy slope… and the grassy slope was soft and spongy, slowing me down, stealing my momentum. It was a slog up the gentle slope, then I cruised along the skyline, one last slog up to the highest point, and a quick drop down towards the canoe slalom course. It was all coming back to me.
About now, I was feeling thirsty. Hmmmm. No Camelbak: earlier investigation had revealed that it contained a thriving community of fungal life forms, and I had chosen to bring my waist pack and a cyclist’s drinks bottle… so just how does one drink from a cyclist’s drinks bottle when wearing a full face helmet? Hey? Hey? Answer me that one! (“Stop and remove the helmet,” is not an option!)
I followed all my old routes along simgle track and double track, swooped through the tricky little down hill between the trees, over the small but slippery roots, and I was out on the lake side.
Now I had the wind on my back (should chew my food properly) and I cruised down the lake side before diverting UP a path which I had only ridden DOWN before. It was tricky, and the last little climb and turn was one of those “Yes!” moments, and I permitted myself a low key clenched fist gesture in the style of Tim Henman getting through to the second round of anything at all.
By now, I was well into my stride, riding almost on autopilot except for the tricky bits. I added a loop with a short section I’d not ridden in that direction before, and nearly earned a UPD for my pains. From there it was an easy cruise back along the river bank, with the wind at my back. Did I have the will power to add another loop? It was cold, it was getting dark, and my legs were on fumes, so I rode back towards the car.
I saw that the quarter pipes were empty, and I cut across the rough ground to the tarmac area nearby, half planning to do a token bit of idling practice. I nearly tripped on a low kerb, and realised how fatigued I was. Two kids were hiding under the quarter pipe, and laughed derisively. That was enough, I had kept a clean sheet for about 7 miles, and I didn’t want my first UPD to be in front of an audience. With my last reserves of energy and dignity, I swooped nonchalantly over the grassy bank and up the slope to the gate and dismounted neatly.
7.27 recorded miles (11.7 km), 51 minutes 30. That’s including the short walks to and from the car. Say 7.25 miles in 51 minutes would give an average speed of 8.53 mph (13.7 kmh). Top recorded speed 11 mph (17.7 kmh) - there was no time when I tried to ride fast.
So I’d ridden about six miles of muddy cross country in white trainers, and not a mark on the soles because they never touched the ground.
There’s life in the old dog yet.