I decided, purist that I am, that I would not take the car to this 200k. I worked out that I could catch a train at 6.18 a.m. in Southend and that the connection from Shenfield would give me 45 minutes to cycle the 8 or so miles from Chelmsford to High Easter, so I could just get in before everyone set off. Except the train was late and the peloton was about half a mile down the road as I met them coming the other way.
I was pretty much resigned to another day talking to myself when, after 10k or so, another cyclist pulled alongside and we rode around together. I expected him at any moment to say “So long then!” and disappear over the horizon, but he didn’t. He waited at the tops of hills (there weren’t many) and at important junctions. This was a fantastic help because, having used up my good weather quota for the year when we did LEJOG, it peed down all morning and a good deal of the afternoon as well. Under such conditions my glasses are useless.
In the same way as the Inuit have about 3 dozen different words for “snow” so there are at least 35 different types of wet. I had them all. There’s seeping up from the saddle, oozing up the sleeves, dripping off the eyebrows into the eyes. The night before, I even woke myself up when a drip of sweat plummeted down my ear-hole and landed on my ear-drum. But the worst of these is the glasses. You cannot read a map or a route sheet when your glasses are wet or steamed up, so my companion did all the hard work for me. We missed our way somewhere near Great Bardfield, so out came the maps and we sorted it out again, and while we were off piste, we saw a cuckoo calling from the branches of a dead oak tree. My pal got a puncture (he was using really skinny tyres) and told me to go on ahead while he mended it. All the lube was washed off his chain, so I could hear him coming up behind me every time I had gone on.
We got to all the controls in time, and on each occasion we left slightly earlier in relation to the maximum time allowed. I exchanged a few words with Redsnapper at the Castle Hedingham youth hostel, and then we were on our way again. At the final control, the Three Horseshoes in East Hanningfield (the second best pub in the village, sadly), I had my pint of orange juice and lemonade and a bag of nuts, leaving my man to finish his sandwiches and catch me up. He did, but he had another puncture.
After we answered the question about Stapleford Tawney church services, it was hell-for-leather for High Easter. Except I had neither hell nor leather. My legs had turned to jelly and the slightest gradient felt like the north face of the Eiger. We still had about 20 miles to do, so I ate another cereal bar and scoffed a handful of jelly babies and on we slogged. It took a very long time for my legs to respond, but just as I thought there was not enough time to finish, suddenly I was bowling along the flat at 27kph and we only had about 8k more to do with half an hour left.
The he punctured again. I got my head torch out and could read the route sheet: right turn to Bird’s Green, then follow the signs to Berners Roding, then Good Easter, then High Easter and I was back. I carried on for quite some time, but the puncture-plagued one was with me again eventually. We remarked that we hadn’t come across a helpful sign for a long time, but we definitely hadn’t missed any so we must be on the right road… mustn’t we? The we found a road sign, and we were something like 8 miles away from our destination with only 15 minutes left to go.
When I was about 16 I began to fish for pike. This was a Good Idea, because I could get the free tickets for Abberton, one of the best pike fisheries in Britain at the time (1970) as my brother worked for the Essex Water Company. One day, I hooked, played and had close to the bank the biggest pike I had ever seen. It was so big that we had no way of landing it – our net was far too small. My brother dashed across the road to ask a well-known angling writer if we could borrow his landing net for this massive creature. He sauntered over, put the net in the water for me to pull the fish over it, and as I did so, the hook came out. Not surprising really, as my fishing tackle consisted of a 50p reel, a £2 rod and hooks of commensurate quality and it had straightened under the pressure of me playing the fish. I watched with tears in my eyes as The Biggest Pike in the World pointed its bows away from me, and with a dismissive wave of its tail, was gone. To this day, this remains one of the greatest disappointments of my life.
DNFing in this Audax was in the same league. With a massive effort of will I had dragged my complaining body around the course, aided by one who would have finished hours ago had it not been for me, a millstone round his neck. The legs could do it, just. The wrists were complaining, but they kept going. At the end of the day, my big handicap, and one which I cannot overcome, is that I cannot see a route sheet or a map if it’s raining or dark. Ergo, I depend upon someone else for vital information and because of me, that someone else DNFed as well. His name was Darren and he was a primary school teacher from Dagenham, having given up a highly paid law job a couple of years ago because he couldn’t stand it any more. Darren, if you read this, thanks mate. I couldn’t have got close to finishing without you.
I arrived home to a beautiful nourishing bean stew and told the rest of the family that if I ever talk about doing another 200k they have full permission to lock my bike and hide the key until I come to my senses. Then I solemnly logged 145 miles on bikejournal.
145: more than gross. How appropriate.