A Ride borne out of Frustration

I was really fed up yesterday. The weather was gorgeous for the first time after a week or more of seemingly incessant wind and rain, and I had a whole load of family duties to perform. There was my daughter’s wedding practice, in which we drove over 100 miles so that we could practice walking arm-in-arm up an imaginary aisle in time to a piece of music which the pianist (my son) hasn’t learnt properly yet. We got back to Southend just in time for me to have a short ride (18 miles or so) and then we had to go to Huntingdon (180 mile round trip) to celebrate the first anniversary of my nephew’s wedding. We arrived home at aboout 1 in the morning.

The forecast for today had not been good, so when I logged on the the Met Office’s recently revamped, and I think superb, website, to find that Sunday was not going to be so bad after all, I determined to put a few miles in.

The day dawned bright and frosty, so after a quick breakfast I was on my way, leaving a house full of slumbering relatives. There was hardly any traffic about so I thought I would use roads I normally treat as out of bounds, but when I reached Rochford I absent-mindedly executed a right turn where I had intended to go straight on, and found myself using the scenic route after all. I was glad I did, because the gravel pit at Doggetts Farm was beautiful on a frosty morning.

After taking the photo, I noticed something not quite right with the bike, and when I lifted the back wheel off the ground and turned the pedals, there was that depressing sound of rim on brake block as the wheel had gone out of true – I had broken a spoke! My Thorn Raven is still in its first 100 days’ use and is therefore subject to a full money back guarantee if I’m not absolutely delighted. Well, I wasn’t delighted that I had a broken spoke and a wheel that wasn’t true, but for some reason when I rode, there was less friction between block and rim than I expected, so I won’t be asking for my money back. I considered going back home and changing bikes, but instead I decided to carry on and see how it went.

As I approached Hullbridge it occurred to me that there was a bike shop there. I’d never been inside and it always looked a bit tacky from the outside, with a couple of mannequins wearing some ancient fluorescent cycling gear. However, I pulled up and tried the door – it was open! Bicycle Repair Man greeted me (no, not Michael Palin) and he agreed to try to fix my spoke.

Ten minutes later and £5 lighter, my day’s ride was back on track, my wheel was true, and I was heading for the Dengie Peninsula.

I used the old road to Woodham Ferrers, and then headed towards East Hanningfield, but took the first right turn, along the wonderfully-named Workhouse Road. I crossed the B-whatever-it-is into Edwins Hall Road and climbed and climbed from not much above sea level to a little further above sea level. I was admiring the view that was spreading out to my right when suddenly I was awoken from my reverie by a decided loss of friction as a sheet of black ice took my back wheel away. Many of us have had clipless moments, but this was a bikeless moment, and how I did it I don’t know, but my left foot was unclipped in an instant and on the ground, thereby avoiding by a nanosecond or so my second spill in a week. I dismounted, but even then found wheeling the bike up the hill quite a problem, my feet trying to slide in one direction while the bike went in the other.

When the road levelled out again, I rode once more, but keeping my left foot unclipped in case of emergencies. The Flambirds Farm Track came and went, I visited Cock Clarks, where I should have had my lunch last Thursday but for a mishap in the storm, up Purleigh Hill and past the church, noticing for the first time that the weather vane is in the shape of a fish, possibly a zander, judging by the double dorsal fin. I wonder why? Then there was the lovely downhill section as I headed for the Round Bush, a pub that doubles up as a café. I was ravenous by this time, having covered 24 miles (that’s 12 miles to the shredded wheat) and selected Breakfast Number 1 from the menu, but my Breakfast Number 2, a light meal consisting of egg, bacon, sausage, beans, fried bread, bread & butter, chips and a mug of tea. Just like Winnie-the-Pooh, I took it into a corner and went with it, so that nobody should disturb it.

Half an hour later Winnie-the-Pooh wiped his mouth with the back of his glove, got back on his bicycle, and pedalled towards Bradwell.

On the way to Bradwell, there is a conundrum in the form of
St. Lawrence Hill
. Should this hill have a chevron or not? It depends upon the age of your ordnance map. The old 1-inch (1:63360) maps give it a chevron. The modern 1:50000 don’t. Anyway, it’s well over 20 years since I last attempted to ride up it, so today I gave it a go even though there is an easy alternative.

My opinion is that it is at least 1 in 7, and therefore should have a chevron – it seems to me that it is steeper than the hill near Kingston Lisle that we climbed on the Oxford Ice Cream Ride. I got into bottom gear and kept churning away, and was met by a cyclist coming in the opposite direction, a woman with a lovely smile, some pretty decent gear and a perfectly respectable bike. She smiled – or possible sniggered – at me as she went past, and I said, between gasps, “Just don’t ask!” She didn’t, but sped down the hill and on her way.

After a stop for a few photographs, I carried on to Bradwell, then Tillingham, but this time decided to avoid Southminster and Burnham because the wind had risen, just as the forecast had said it would, and I wanted to avoid riding in the dark. There are one or two quite irksome hills, including a long, tedious slog through Cold Norton along a road with a narrow bridge over a disused railway. Here, lights allow vehicles through from one direction at a time, and that is a pain. I can’t manage more than 8 mph along this stretch, cars overtake and then stop in a queue.

The further I went, the stronger the wind became, and all I was thinking about was pedalling. Even on the downhills, my speed remained low, and when I returned to the Old Woodham Road, it was time for a Small Smackerel of Something, so I went into the “Butterfly World” restaurant. Tea and flapjack worked a treat, and then it was the final 15 miles, all of it with a head- or cross-wind, home again. I arrived just before the final bit of the weather forecast materialised and the rain started.

Total distance: 70.95 miles

Total cycling time: 6 hrs 26 min 25 sec

Total time out of house: 8 hours.


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