Riverbank ride

Rain on the windscreen as I pull into the parking space. Cold as I get out of the car - an bleak wind, and clouds piling up ominously. I put on an extra sweater, put on my (still damp) windproof jacket, then warm myself by pumping more air into the 700c tyre.

A man and a young boy across the road stop to watch me. Father obviously wants son to see me ride the unicycle. I don’t normally ride the 20 metres to the gate, but I make the effort to please them. Must be getting soft in my old age.

A steady brisk ride along the usual route - riverbank, past the kayak club, past the football ground… burger stalls smell sickly… must be a football match later… past the rowing club, under the arch of Trent Bridge, then up the tarmac zigzag onto the embankment. Here I pass a bicyclist and a tricyclist together. On average, we make three bikes.

Up and over the suspension bridge as if I’ve been doing it all my life. One of the joys of unicycling is the constant realisation that what you take for granted now was your distant ambition only a short while ago. If only life were so simple.

I stay on the top path, which is tarmac, badly broken by emerging tree roots. The high pressure skinny tyre is exactly the wrong one for this! My hands are bitterly cold, but not yet numb. Soon I reach the old toll bridge, ride across that, stay on the road, and make my way back to the riverside path. Again, I can remember my first “long ride” on the 700c, when the toll bridge was my distant objective. I made it, but with countless UPDs, and much swearing. Then I was disappointed with the 700c; now it provides one of my favourite unicycling experiences.

As I ride back along the tarmac path at the top of the flood bank, I see a motorcycle lying burned out on the grass. There is a circle of melted tarmac. Whatever mistakes I make in life, I reflect that I will never sink to the depths of stupidity that lead to that sort of behaviour.

Back tot he suspension bridge, up and over, then a swoop down across the damp mown grass. The skinny tyre slips and slithers and for a moment I wish I had 125 mm cranks instead of the 110s. Then I’m back on tarmac, and weaving through a massive gaggle of geese, all angry honks and hisses - and they aren’t too pleased either.

Under the arch of the bridge, up the steep buzzy tarmac ramp and through the formal gardens, I pop out onto the top of the bridge and ride across on the footpath. I startle a man selling programmes for the football match. Then it’s the tricky tight left turn onto the narrow pavement with the steep camber, a drop off the low kerb, and a swoop back down towards the rowing club.

I then retrace my route past the football ground and along the river bank but instead of turning right towards the car, I carry straight on along the river bank. This is a rolled grit path and the wide lazy river is to my left, and there are big open fields to my right. I make good progress, and am now warm. The path is crowded with families and couples, but most of them give way when I ask, and soon I reach the sailing club where the traditional Boxing Day race is well under way. There’s a brisk wind, and the dinghies are heeling well.

I wiggle through the narrow path, crossing the two strips of raised concrete without a problem, and not tripping on the loose ballast either. Up and over the hump of the flood bank and a controlled slow down and turn onto the highway. Again, I revel in the ease with which I overcome things that used to be the defining obstacles of the route.

Soon I find myself powering up the zigzag ballast path (the most technically challenging part of the route on a hard narrow tyre) then I cross the wide apron of loose ballast, swoop down the ramp and I’m on the edge of the rowing course.

Unfortunately, so is everyone else! There are families and couples as far as the eye can see, all relaxed and ambling along, spreading out across the road with solipsistic stupidity. Sometimes a polite “Excuse me” works, sometimes someone shouts ahead to other members of their group. Sometimes my requests to be excused are completely ignored. A lemming would shake his head in disbelief at this lot.

There is an art to asking people to give way. Get it right and they will step to one side courteously; get it wrong and they will step into your path, or stop dead in your way, or scatter unpredictably. One family is taking up so much space I judge it is safer to say nothing and ride past on the grass. As I approach, some of them turn, and I hear the murmur of comment. They have clearly seen me, and there is a gap a metre wide at the edge of the tarmac. I aim for this, and with incredible stupidity, a woman who has already made eye contact with me just steps backwards into my path. I swerve at the last moment onto the grass, muttering.

A young boy in her party shouts, “Oi, where’s your other wheel mate?” Angry about the woman’s conduct, I overreact and give him two fingers. I immediately regret it and consider going back to apologise, but decide that would make it worse. And anyway, perhaps someone in the family will draw the inference that it is inappropriate to shout unsolicited cheeky comments to complete strangers. But perhaps not.

Half a kilometre later, I approach a father and son cycling together. Father hears my polite cough and shepherds his son to one side, then shouts ahead to mother and daughter. Daughter is riding a small mountain bike and taking up a strip of tarmac about two and a half metres wide as she weaves. I decide it is safer to say nothing than to provoke an unpredictable panic, so I time my approach to overtake on the left as she weaves tot he right. She changes rhythm, weaves tot he left… I see my gap narrowing, and swerve onto the grass to avoid her. It is soft and damp, and the tyre slows suddenly. I almost make it, but just as I overtake her I UPD. My fault, but still annoying.

Back on the uni, I overtake them all again, then I soon make it round the head of the lake and I’m on the quiet side where only the keener types go. The sun is out, and there is a window of blue sky. The green landscaped hills contrast nicely, and the ruffled surface of the lake sparkles. Suddenly, it’s a nice place to be.

Down the lake, and I pass two teenage girls in horse riding equipment. One says, “Like you’re soooooo clever” in a scornful tone. I feel slightly less guilty about my reaction to this one - she’s old enough to know better. But then again, so am I.

Round the bottom of the lake, down onto the pontoon, then back up the ramp. Soon I’m picking my way down the zigzag ballast path. This is even trickier in some ways than going up it. Spectators shout “Well done!” and I reveal my hypocrisy by thanking them for their unsolicited remarks, although with concentration levels so high, it is through gritted teeth!

Up onto the road and I decide to follow the highway back to the car. That’s about a mile of road, with junctions and traffic. I’m in a fluorescent cycling top and I give clear hand signals, and experience no problems. Soon I’m back at the car.

I forgot the trip counter, but my guess is that’s 10 miles (16 km) or so, with just the one UPD.
On my way home, I reflect on my bad temper. Thinks: can’t stop other people being rude and stupid; can stop self being rude and stupid. Must try harder.