Barling, Wakering and Shopping

I had intended to stay at home, being under the weather and all, but when the sun threatened to break through, and I was fed up with my knees seizing up every time I stood up because I’d been sitting still for too long, the Mercian kept on telling me it wanted to go to the sea front. We armed ourselves with a small batch of yesterday’s Welsh cakes to drop off at Aunty Phyllis’s and off we went.

Phyllis appreciated the Welsh cakes, but I declined the offered cup of tea, not wishing to give her my cold, and then it was down Lifstan Way, not quite reaching 30 mph, and on to the cycle path. The promenade was fairly crowded with both pedestrians and cyclists, and I adopted a leisurely Sunday afternoon speed, but even so I found myself catching up with other cyclists who, when they realised I was there, invited me to overtake. I wound my way round Gunners Park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the swallow which was allegedly there a couple of days ago, but it had gone and taken summer with it.

The wind turbines were clearly visible from East Beach, white fingers against a leaden sky, but this time I avoided Wakering Stairs, making straight for the Co-op where a bottle of white was selected to accompany this evening’s lamb. Not the ideal combination, but my younger daughter won’t drink red.

I had scarcely left the Co-op when a cyclist, looking very serious on his Scott road bike and sporting his Discovery Channel top, went past far too close for comfort and, having established a gap of about 30 yards, seemed to slow down. I’ve read many a report about “I wound up a roadie last night” or some such, and I had the feeling that his burst of speed to get past me was for mere bravado, so I pushed the pedals a little harder.

My friend did not get away. Indeed, I gained the impression that his physique was such that the lycra was bulging in the wrong places for a true athete, and for the next two or three miles I kept comfortably a few seconds behind him, despite being weighed down by my saddle bag of purchases in the form of wine, grapes, bananas and a toothbrush, and each time he looked over his shoulder, there I was.

As we reached Mucking Hall Road and the headwind, so he gradually dropped me, but I had another trick which I thought amusing: I would take the bridleway, which, although inevitably slower than the road, was about a mile shorter. My plan was to come out ahead of him, let him overtake me again, and then follow him back to Southend.

The plan was about half-way towards its execution when two dog-walkers came in view. I slowed down and then spotted that one of the pooches was a red setter.

“Snap!”, said I, and then it dawned on me that the dog was none other than Freddie, whom I had met only the previous morning whilst walking Morphy in the park. Freddie’s owner and I chatted for a while and then we parted company. When I reached the road, my Discovery Channel man was long gone but I timed my homecoming to perfection, just as Jan was pouring the boiling water on the teabags.

Maidstone, Barming and the North Pole.

Well, that was a lovely little ride, marginally shorter than our normal “Barling Loop” in Southend, this “Barming Loop” from Maidstone involved some serious hills either side of the Medway. Just after we had climbed out of East Farleigh the weather was so lovely that I got me legs out and stayed at just one layer for the rest of the ride. We exceeded 37 mph descending Hunton Hill.

We heard a chiff-chaff on the Lughorse Lane and from Yalding we took the B road to Wateringbury, where we watch last year’s Tour de France. The A26 was closed west of Wateringbury, but we headed norht along Red Hill Road. We found the North Pole but sadly there was no food on offer. There was Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, though, so we had some of that and were about to leave when another pair of tandemistas appeared and we nattered our way through a second drink. This pair were unusual in that he was the stoker, being partially sighted, and their steed was specially built for a six-footer on the back and a five-footer on the front.

It was only another 4 miles back to Maidstone and we kept up 25+ mph along the last mile or so of the A26.

Essex Lanes Audax

I decided to take the Thorn, with resealed Rohloff hub (no cracks yet…). I set off with Liz. & Charlotte but after a few miles the hills took their toll and I was riding alone. I was quite pleased with my pace, though, and to begin with the wind was not too troublesome.

Somewhere near Gosfield, I spied a buzzard soaring away to the left, and then spotted a lonely cyclist, all in black, mobile phone in her ear. ‘Twas Liz. Where was Charlotte? Apparently the dear gal had suffered a fairy bite, told Liz, who had been under the weather for much of the week and was struggling a little for speed (not surprising really since they rode up from London to the ‘Uts in the traditional style, although without their racing wheels strapped to the front) to carry on and then Charlotte had missed a turning and was half-way to Chelmsford. Liz & I rode together to the Coggeshall cafĂ©. Just before we got there, we had to execute a tricky right turn from the fast and nasty A120 and as I was signalling and pulling out two motons chose to overtake, using the right-turn lane to do so. My right signal turned elegantly into a two-fingered salute, which the BMW driver acknowledged with a flash of his hazard warning lights. Why are BMWs’ hazard lights fitted with an off switch?

Cake and coffee was had, but still no Charlotte. We had arrived at this control about 35 minutes before it was due to close, and I knew the wind would be more troublesome on the return to the ‘Ut, so I sought Liz’s permission to make a move. Just as I left, Charlotte arrived, not in the sunniest mood I had seen on her. I think her wheel required some more attention.

I carried on, taking a break by the Felsted School cricket ground, where quite a few England cricketers cut their teeth, but where I ate a marmite sandwich, and not long afterwards, somewhere near Lindsell, I detected a presence. On looking over my shoulder, there was Charlotte, closely followed by Liz, having caught me about 20 miles after the coffee stop. From that point we three rode more or less together, although when the hills began again I dropped back. For the last 10 miles the wind was almost entirely unhelpful, and I was really hoping that Charlotte was in agreement with Liz’s suggestion of missing out the last 32 miles and having a pub lunch instead.

It was an excellent decision, and I had just settled down with my pint when I discovered my daughter’s gleeful text message with the result from Croke Park. I was warm, dry and out of the wind, with good company, Wales had won the Triple Crown and the beer was having an analgesic effect on my knees. Bliss!