Well, that was a day to remember.
Everything was meticulously planned. Sarnies made the night before, bags packed, trial run with the tandem on the bike rack – fitted perfectly, so we set off, admittedly a little later than I intended – only to realise, 5 minutes down the road, that we had left the computer at home. Rushed home, picked it up and got to the start about 10 minutes late. That was what we didn’t need: I reckon that I can possibly afford a 10 minute delay over 100k these days, which shows some improvement from last October when I did the Golden Tints with a lot of help from my friends, but Jan was on her first Audax, it was only our second decent ride on the new tandem, and I knew we would need every minute.
Off we went, eventually, through the Rickling and Wicken Bonhunt stretch of the ride (did they really have a good hunt for witches before they named that village?) and into Newport, where I had a ridiculous rush of blood to the head and turned left instead of right. Fortunately, I realised before we had gone very far and, after a wait for the gap in the traffic, we were on course again.
The stretch around Debden is hilly. OK, I can hear the odd snigger from the north-of-Watford brigade, but in my book a hill is something which starts at one level and finishes at another and these do exactly that. In addition, since the Essex hills all start lower than the North of England ones, gravity is a lot stronger so they are harder to climb. We churned away and used our gears (all 14 of them) and I pointed out to Jan all the places where I had had my lunch in the years during which I spent my Thursdays teaching chess to the denizens of Saffron Walden and in between times watching herds of fallow deer make mincemeat of farmers’ fields.
We saw a few ACFers going out as we were coming in, as it were, and Juliet and pals suffering from the faeries. We waved, checked that they were OK (I would have been most miffed if anyone had actually asked for help!) and carried on through steady gentle rain and not much wind, accompanied briefly by Manotea on his fixie. However, after Radwinter, we turned the corner and realised exactly how much help the wind had been lending us. It exacted a swingeing rate of interest as we headed south-west, pushing the pedals hard as we sought Thaxted and its magnificent church (not the largest in Essex though – that belongs to Saffron Walden) and eventually we saw it. Down the high street we fled, looking for the right turn which I almost missed in our haste, saw it at the last minute, and then we enjoyed a cycled re-run of a lovely walk we took on Jan’s sometieth birthday a few years ago, along the Chelmer valley where the river is still small enough to jump over, a mere babe compared to the mighty torrent it becomes as it heads towards the idle marshy bits around Maldon.
We arrived back at the ‘Ut about a minute after we ought to have done, but were really feeling the effects of the morning’s efforts. Soup, wonderful fruit cake and a cup of tea later and we were on our way again, somewhat behind the clock but with 56k to do in 3 hours 15 minutes. This was going to be a challenge, but when the first hour of the second leg yielded 18 valuable kilometres, I felt we were in with a fighting chance. The worst point of the ride occurred around the airport, as the noise from the planes coupled with a strong smell of aviation fuel made us realise exactly what the locals have to put up with. However, after Takeley we were out in the country again and this was decidedly flatter than was the morning’s work. We kept up a respectable speed, found the name of the Councillor who opened High Easter post office, made mental notes of two house names after Aythorpe Roding, and then whittled away at the remaining kms. Jan was hampered for the last 20 kilometres or so by back pain, so we freewheeled as often as we could, but I was aware that we still had a good deal of work to do.
We arrived in Takeley again with about 15 minutes left, and kept up as high a speed as Jan could put up with, and I did my best to avoid the pot-holes (to be fair, most of the roads were in good condition) and finally we rounded the bend under the bridge and trudged along the quagmire back to the hut. 4.04 p.m. – right on time!
It was a great ride.
We did take a camera with us but didn’t use it until we got home. This one says it all…
One final point puzzles me: what is the most refreshing reward after a long ride?
Is it a) Tea and cake; b) A pint of beer; c) Watching England get absolutely smashed by the Irish at rugby?
It puzzled me so much I had to enjoy all three.