“Spoke to Andrew at TiC who wants to know when we’re going up to say hello?”
Within a few minutes we’ve planned to ride to Cambridge and back in a weekend. Two hundred and twenty odd kilometres each way. The idea to enter the 2017 Transcontinental race as a team means it doesn’t take much for talk of a ride to rapidly (instantaneously) escalate into talk of a stupid ride these days.
Routes are plotted, tweaked, replotted, a weekend chosen, and then routes submitted as DIY by GPS audaxes for the points and this season’s SR attempt. Jo isn’t bothered about the audax stuff, this is #transcontraining. The points mean badges though and I like badges.
We realise that the weekend chosen is a year on from when a friend passed away. A 450km round trip in two days seems as good a way as any to remember.
Over the familiar hills and along friendly lanes as far as Pooh Corner before entering that lesser known corner of the county, the bit up in the north-east that borders Kent, not quite close enough to ride regularly.
A pretty triangle enclosed by motorways and those in a rush, a quiet slow space surrounded by noise and speed. Trying not to get caught up in the garish club runs and failing. Looking to Essex across the river. Raspberries and sticky buns on the ferry.
Running out of tarmac across the scruffy hinterland of the Thames estuary, past the fruit pickers under the pylons and tower blocks and a Constable sky, a clunking shuffle in the metal shed and the glowering eyes of the security guard. We might be in the right county for Constable but The Haywain this isn’t. A while later an emergency tea stop at a pick your own fruit farm. A glance at the map to work out where we might be and how far is left.
Landmarks and views start make sense, a familiarity embedded from previous rides. However darkness falls quickly and then does the rain. The red lights of Addenbrooke’s cranes shine red in the sky visible from miles away guiding us to our quarry. Except I routed us hither and dither so the target keeps moving. Past the airfield in the pitch black and the rain gets heavier, senses of humour are starting to be lost. We just want to get there now. DNA and railway lines.
We arrive dripping and bedraggled at This Is Cambridge HQ. We are handed tea and red wine and food and our kit is cleaned and dried. Wine and chat lasts into the night. Thank you Andrew and Daf.
A damp dullness hangs low over the flatlands and we grind into the drizzle laden headwind – flashbacks to this road and that audax when 25 kilometres was done in silent through and off with the fixie riders, heads low trying to avoid the wind. Big skies and vast fields, a dissolving horizon, washed out browns and greys, muted tones flattening that which is already flat.
A fried breakfast as early lunch is utilised to avoid an impending very dark very grey cloudbank. It’s well timed as rain starts to fall heavily outside as mugs of tea are placed in front of us. Back out under blue skies and we cheer. Then we turn back into the headwind.
An American Airlines plane skims overhead with wheels down, indicating that we must be near Luton. The hills get bigger and steeper, lanes get more enclosed, some respite from the wind. A few miles on a big fast road are endured before we escape back into the narrow lanes.
Into the unknown. Is this the Chilterns? Where is this? Are we still in Hertfordshire? Routing a ride on the smallest roads you can find means county boundaries are unmarked and blurred, back into the realm of the places between places. The rain must have fallen heavily here because we often find ourselves riding through floods, unclipping shoes to hold then above splash and wake. We are grateful to have missed this deluge.
“Oh hang on, isn’t this bit from the St Crispin’s Night Ride?”
Big houses and royal residencies, greenbelt and the fancier suburbs. Roads known to my teenage self but only faint recollections now.
Roads better known to my teenage self and bits of the audaxes that run out of south London. Darkness falls as a full moon rises. Canary Wharf is visible over the hedges from the ridge but then suddenly we drop into the narrow lanes and droveways of the downland. Mist lies low in the fields and we feel the chill when we drop into the dips between hills. Barthatch Lane is way more fun going down than up.
Crossing this border always feels like being home again no matter how far is left. Autopilot can be switched on, or it would be if a dense fatigue wasn’t starting to envelop me. Onto the disused railway and the legs instantly feel heavier as the drag on the tyres increases. Scrambling past back fences and a dog’s bark carried on the wind. After what seems an eternity (sorry Jo) we end up on the same flood plain as the end of the ride to and from Wales, the last big ride that finished in the dark – this time fewer kilometres but the tiredness is the same.
Get up and eat.
Lie down again.