I have the week off work and no clear plans. I get up late. It’s overcast, warm and muggy. Which uni to take? I choose the Coker.
I set off from Trent Fields, near the half pipes, and receive the customary cat calls from the skater kids. However, uniquely, I do see one of them land a trick! Instead of turning right and heading across the field and down river, I turn left and, with the river to my right, I ride up past the City Ground (Nottingham Forest F.C.), under Trent Bridge, and along the embankment to the suspension bridge. All of this is fairly standard stuff and passes without incident. There’s some sort of waterways festival on the river, and there are more boats than usual. Boaters are generally a decent lot, and I get a bit of friendly encouragement.
The Suspension Bridge is the first appreciable obstacle. I reckon to ride across it without a UPD about 95% of the time, but the risk is there. Half way across, I’m distracted by the sight of Police divers (“frogmen” as we used to call them) on the river bank. Murder hunt? It looks more like they’re trying to retrieve a sunken car or something. A few kids are watching, and one shouts some mildly amusing abuse at me. Fortunately, I make it across the bridge, down the ramp, between the iron bollards and make the tricky sharp turn left without incident.
Then it’s an easy cruise over broken tarmac, and a short dash over wet grass, and I’m on the cycle track alongside the main road.
Here, I see a dead badger on the verge. Presumably it’s roadkill, although the corpse seems pretty intact. It’s so rare to see one in the wild but this one had been run over on a very urban main road.
About now, I start to think of the possibility of reaching Beeston Marina without a single UPD. The distance isn’t that great (about 5.5 miles / 9 km) but there are a few obstacles on the way. I start to contemplate the maths. If I have a 95% chance of success on each of 5 obstacles, then I have about a ¾ chance of making the distance with no UPDs. But some of those obstacles are trickier than that, because I have to time the traffic lights, and make tight turns. I decide to go for it.
I ride under the underpass, which is a down, up, down, up, down, up, route, clapping my wristguards together at the turns to warn people that I’m on my way. I make the tight turn at the exit, time the road junction just right, then I’m on cycle track again. I relax a little, but maintain concentration. Last time, I did a dynamic UPD a mile short of the marina, for no good reason at all.
Down onto the canal towpath, I watch out for the overhanging briars, contemplate picking some blackberries, but ride on regardless. All that’s in the way now is the rough bit of cobblestone near the hump backed bridge, then the footbridge. The first is no problem; the second takes extreme care, with tight corners in the lead in and the exit. I’m always nervous around safety rails that are at knee level as I’m riding… but I make it, and soon I arrive at the marina. Here, a closed gate forces me to stop.
5.65 miles in 35 minutes. That’s an average of 9.7 mph (15.5 kmh). The computer shows a maximum recorded speed of 11 mph (17.6 kmh), showing a steady and consistent ride. And I feel fresh.
From here, I ride through Attenborough Nature Reserve, which is where I did most of my early unicycling in the late 1980s. The path is crushed limestone chippings, rolled flat, so the riding is easy, except for two steep bridges. After exactly 2 miles, I reach the far side of the reserve, and dismount for a gate.
The next challenging section is single track, hard baked, and corrugated. There’s nothing difficult, but it requires constant concentration. I UPD twice in the space of a mile or two. I could have done better, but it is a numbers game on this type of surface.
I soon reach the next canal towpath and make good time as far as Trent Lock, where there are two pubs and a tea room. I resist the temptation to stop, and ride along the path atop the flood bank, the river now to my left, and a golf course to the right. It’s hot and I’m starting to get hungry and thirsty.
Then it’s the Worst Footbridge Of All! The approach is under the arch of the railway bridge, then there’s a sharp left turn on a gritty surface, onto a steep concrete ramp with safety rails about 30 inches apart. (75 cm.) I fluff the turn and UPD. I walk back, remount and try again. I make the turn, but never quite get the momentum right for the steep climb. I stall and UPD.
I return to the start, and this time I make the turn, make the climb, ride over the bridge, then start the descent of the steep ramp.
Ha ha! The ramp slopes down, then there’s a small landing and a 90 degree turn to the right and a second slope down. Half way down the ramp, I see my future unfold: I see the steady acceleration, I hear the cry of despair, the thud of kneebone on barrier, the whistling of air past my helmet, the splash, the faint cry for help, and I see the vile green waters of the Trent closing over me… Time to bail out. I walk the second part of the ramp.
At the bottom, I have a pleasant conversation with an elderly female bicyclist, who asks sensible questions about the Coker. Her grand daughter listens with horror, clearly ashamed that grandmother could speak to such a weirdo.
It’s a lovely ride from here, past the narrowboats and cruisers at Sawley Marina. There’s a nicely restored little Dutch barge moored by the towpath, with its leeboards displayed like the fins of a giant carp. Then I pop up the ramp onto the pavement, and it’s a mile or so along the side of the busy main road to the cafe, where I stop for a veggie breakfast and coffee. It’s a year since I’ve been here, but the proprietor seems to remember me. Two or three of the customers express jocular interest in the Coker. It’s not a posh cafe, but it’s a nice place to stop.
By now, it is overcast and very muggy, threatening to rain. There is one obvious reason for this: I am at the furthest point from the car that I will reach all day.
I set off through The Warren - a network of narrow country lanes - and I’m steaming along when suddenly my heel catches the crank. Before I know it, I’m running down the road, Cokerless. This is my first Coker UPD on smooth tarmac for months.
A little while later, I pass the traveller’s caravan. A very unsociable traveller keeps his scruffy, lichen-roofed caravan on a bend in the lane. There’s only ever the one van there, one man, and two big dogs. His Ford Transit is marked, unconvincingly, Specialist Roofing Services.
By now, I’ve done about 17 miles, and the Viscount seat is starting to make itself known to me. I start to fidget, and I place the heel of my hand on the front of the seat and lean on it. This makes my hand hurt instead - or as well.
About two or three painful miles later, I pull onto the frontage of The Star at West Leake - a fantastic traditional English pub, in a 17th century building. I buy a pint of Caledonian Deuchar’s IPA and go outside to read my paper. The rain starts to fall, so I retreat into the pub. It’s only a shower, so it won’t last long… oh, it’s getting heavier… much heavier, in fact.
Eventually, I decide I must set off, rain or no rain. The drinkers in the pub are treated to the ridiculous sight of me putting a waterproof jacket on over a shirt that is saturated with sweat. The landlady comes over to ask if I’m on the “monocycle”, then sees the full face helmet and says, “Oh, of course not. You’re on a motorbike.”
I explain that I am in fact on the unicycle, and she leads all of her customers out into the rain to watch me ride off. Don’t you just love freemounting a Coker when you’re tired and you have a big audience?