A frantic week at work, a busy Saturday morning, and a fairly relaxed afternoon listening to the one day cricket final makes a fine recipe for subsiding into dazed lethargy. But the last couple of overs of the final were pretty exciting, and had me pacing up and down… and Giles scrambled the last two runs and the result was a tie - but England will have felt like they’d won, and Australia like they’d lost.
Such excitement is too much at my time of life - I’m 42 you know - and I had to do something to burn off the adrenaline, so I forced myself to get my riding clothes on and chuck the 28 in the boot of the car.
Soon, I am at the car park - the same place as I used for a base for my last ride, but this time, I’ll be riding upriver. That puts the river Trent on my left as I cruise along the narrow tarmac track about 20 metres or so back from the riverbank.
A little bit of nice weather brings out the people, so I have to put up with a certain amount of commentary from the less imaginative, or less well mannered, people. But soon I’m more than 500 metres from the car park, and thus guaranteed to be out of range of all but the hardiest walkers. I reach the cattle grid - the very one that nearly broke my ankle a year or two back. The bars are round in section, widely spaced and shiny. I decide not to risk it, and I dismount and walk across.
There’s a short section of riverbank past a deep wide lock, with a few working barges moored nearby, then I pass through a gate into the wilderness. The next kilometre or so is winding single track with a slight slope down to my left. The grass and undergrowth to each side is shoulder high or even higher, and sometimes reaches across to bar my way. The track itself is sun baked clay soil, with unpredictable humps, bumps and dips. All this would be fine on the Coker (I’ve ridden it many times) but it’s a challenge on the 28 with its narrow tyre. I UPD a couple of times.
Somewhere along this section, I see the bright yellow flash of a pair of goldfinches as they fly away from my approach. They perch in a small willow and turn towards me with their scarlet faces.
To my right is an embankment, about 5 metres or so high, and I know from experience that there is a track that runs along the top of it, allowing a complete lap of a lake. I turn right along the rough trail that leads to the access ramp. Something smells fishy - probably fish from the nearby pet food plant, I suppose. It’s not nice, and I try to keep the speed up to get to fresh air.
A couple of times, I wince as the wheel rim bottoms out on a pebble or piece of ballast, and it’s a sort of relief when I finally UPD and can take the opportunity to put some more air into the tyre. Is it just me, or does everyone count the pump strokes, and only stop at a nice round number?
Soon after this, I ride up the long ramp onto the top of the embankment, and spin my way around the lake. There are in fact two lakes, separated by a straight embankment that cuts across the diameter of the circular main embankment. In the days when I was training hard, I used to ride the various loops flat out on the Coker - clockwise around each lake, anticlockwise around each lake, clockwise around the outer embankment, and so on. This time, I decide only to do about ¾ of a lap and to drop down the steep “unofficial” ramp to the riverbank again. This ramp used to be a real challenge on the 26 with 150s, and later on the Coker with 150s. Now it just requires care and control on the 28 with 110s. Either I’m improving or the ramp’s getting shallower!
I continue upriver. The next big obstacle is unique on my regular routes. It’s a slope with a variable incline. It is covered with concrete tiles, each about 30 centimetres by about 20 centimetres, set badly into concrete. These have all sunk and tipped to slightly different angles so that there is no continuous route up. At any moment, you could meet an unexpected exposed edge of tile and “trip”. Also, the route is diagonal, so that the tyre is constantly crabbing.
Does that make it sound difficult? It was meant to. What makes it more difficult is that, for the first time, I have an audience: a young couple out for an evening (st)roll. The slope is at about the limit of what I can achieve on the 28, but I make it, and am pleased and impressed that I receive no comment at all from the audience - no daft remarks, no patronising “Well done”. They just step to one side, let me pass, don’t interrupt my concentration, and then let me carry on my way.
It’s a year or so since I’ve ridden this route, and it has changed enormously. I’m on the top of the flood bank (Why, eye, steak and kidney pie, I took my uni to the levy but the levy was dry…) and it now has a proper crushed and rolled grit path, with signposts every few yards advertising it as a cycle route. Last time I rode it, it was muddy or grassy single track, and a dead end. There are rabbits in the long grass to each side, which is nice, and there are slugs all over the cycle track, which is er… less nice.
The “cycle track” takes me down the side of an industrial unit, where it rapidly becomes clear that only a few cyclists ever us it. Brambles and bindweed are growing through the fence and encroaching onto the path.
From here, there’s a mile or so of public road through an industrial estate, and then I’m at the entrance to Colwick Country Park, where I’ve ridden many miles over the last few years. On a whim, I turn down a short steep slope into woodland next to one of the lakes. This is a route that I can usually ride “in one” on the MUni. Can I do it on the 28? Almost… I reach a section where there are overhanging willow trees. I duck under the first, then there’s a moment of hesitation as I try to decide which way to go and I UPD, rolling full length in the dirt.
I manage the rest of this section with one other UPD, and make it up the steepish little slope back onto the main path. I’m pretty pleased with that - I’ve been known to struggle up the slope on the MUni.
My route around the country park varies, but I aim to follow well-known paths through the woods. How I laugh when I find that my intended route is closed and I’m diverted in a totally different direction. This is Nottingham all over - we’ve had this nonsense on the city’s streets for a couple of years now as they’ve ripped the guts out of “the queen of the midlands” and made it look like a bombsite. Now they’re messing about with the bridle paths through the woods! To me, “diversion” should mean “an alternative route to the same place”, not, “another direction where you are allowed to go if you want”.
Hmmm… I try to find an unofficial way through the woods on narrow single track paths. This is unwise. It is just starting to become dusk, and the woods are dark. The 28 is that bit taller than the MUni, and the tyre that bit less suitable for riding over roots.
I come to a place where there are two low overhanging branches. I jack-knife in the middle, ducking low under the first branch. Then my wheel hits a root. The uni stands up straight, I rise on my pedals slightly, to convert the forward momentum into upwards movement to keep my balance… my helmet hits the second overhanging branch… I fall one way, the uni falls the other. The uni doesn’t swear. No doubt there is much muffled merriment amongst the woodland folk.
A while later, I find myself riding across mown grass. A drunkard lies twitching under a tree, sleeping it off. I fail to find the expected gate at the far side of the lawn, and turn back. My wheel falls into a “wheeltrap” - a steep sided hole concealed by longer grass - and I fall full length and roll, swearing. If the drunkard had woken, the unexpected sight of a flying unicyclist might have made him swear off the booze for life.
I continue round the main lake of the country park, and take a few side trails which used to be a real challenge on the MUni. I ride them with disconcerting ease. Soon, I’m back on the road, then retracing my route along the cycle path, down the tiled slope, and along the single track of the riverbank. I UPD a few times here, and even miss the odd mount. I’m getting very tired and my concentration is starting to wander.
I see a heron take off from the opposite bank of the river. It flies low over the water, its wing beats noticeably shallower than when they fly high. It is in “ground effect” mode.
For the last section, I divert through the woods. To my surprise, I ride all of the most difficult sections, but I fall off on all the easy ones. I think it’s fatigue reducing my attention span. I’ll be glad to be back at the car now. The last kilometre or so of tarmac is easy, although I completely miss my mount after the cattle grid. I can’t remember when I last missed a mount on smooth tarmac. I must be on the point of collapse!
As I arrive at the car, I practise a little bit of idling, and ride backwards for a few revolutions, just to prove I can still do it.
I guess that’s about 12 miles, maybe a little more.
The 28 is a strangely satisfying unicycle to ride. It lacks the unstoppable rollover factor of the Coker, or the grip and cushioning of a MUni tyre. The short (110 mm) cranks give me lots of feedback, but I have to plan carefully for slopes and tight turns. It is light and elegant, but I need to nurse it every step of the way when riding on uneven surfaces. I think riding the 28/110 on and off road is making me a better rider.