This ride is the first anniversary of my longest ride ever, when I tackled the High Easter 200k. Then, the weather was dreadful and if the countryside was pleasant, it was lost on me. I covered 145 gruelling miles and I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it.
How different today was! The week leading up to the ride was not promising, as I had a cold, Jan had a cold, and the arthritis in my knees was so bad that on Tuesday I could only climb the stairs by going up on all fours. Gradually my cold improved, I had a steroid injection on Friday and this morning I awoke to a bit of pain in my hands but nowhere near enough for me to seriously consider staying at home, so I made for the 7.52 from Southend Vic and started riding from Chelmsford station at about 8.40. It surprised me that the train takes a mere 8 minutes to get from Shenfield to Chelmsford. In my imagination, they are much further apart than that.
The sun was quite warm when I set off along the Roxwell Road. I paid tribute to my first ever drinking establishment, the Black Bull, where most of my under-age drinking took place when I was in the Lower VI, from about 1970 onwards, and then took the right turn towards the Chignalls. I was on the Mercian, now boasting two wheels that I had built myself, and I seemed to be making pretty good progress. The roads were very quiet, there was plenty of wildlife about, and perhaps the most striking sighting I had was of a red-legged partridge which sat, totally docile, by the side of the road.
I reached High Easter Village Hall about five minutes before the start, so bought a bacon roll and a cup of tea. No-one I knew was riding today and the weather was good, so I had no particular desire for company. I resolved to start a few minutes after everyone else, so that I wasn’t constantly being overtaken, so it was 9.38 when I finally got on the bike and started pedalling.
There were one or two stragglers who rode past, with whom I exchanged “Good Morning”s, but for most of the time it was just Essex and me. And what a show the county put on for my benefit! Everything was green and fresh and bright, unless it was in flower, when it was mostly yellow, although there were a few whites and blues thrown into the mix. There were plenty of insects in the air and every so often I had to persuade something or other that my beard did not need pollinating, or had to duck my head quickly so that a fat bumblebee should thwack onto my Tilley had rather than hit me full in the face.
Progress was pleasingly rapid and my average speed gradually crept up. At one point I coughed just before passing a large oak tree, and I disturbed a little owl, which flew a quick loop over the rape flowers before returning to his slumber in the tree, although to be fair little owls tend to be more active during the day than most owl species. There was plenty of bird-song: chiff-chaffs, lots of whitethroats and a few yellow hammers, but no cuckoo, at least, not in the early part of the ride.
I rode through Ridley’s villages: past the defunct brewery, to which I doffed my hat, through Littley Green, where the Compasses still serves excellent gravity-drawn beer, although not at that time in the morning, White Notley, Cressing, Ranks Green, where the redundant pub-sign post still stands outside Pretty Lady House, and fairly rapidly Coggeshall came into view across a sea of yellow. It was just as well Jan was indisposed as all that rape would have finished her off.
Coffee and chocolate cake was on offer at the Dutch Nursery tea rooms, where I arrived some 25 minutes before the control closed, but was amongst the last to leave. After this I was on even more familiar territory as we approached Marks Tey, normally one of the most useful of stations for Pleasant Day Rides with Pubs, but not today: a replacement bus service was operating between Witham and Colchester. Now I had the sun at my back as the road took me due north for much of the time, heading for Wormingford and the first info control.
I had never crossed the Stour at this point before, and a very pretty little bridge it was. It was also around here that something unusual began to happen: I started to overtake other riders! Firstly it was a young couple who were looking at a map. I had been especially careful plotting my GPX this time, trying to anticipate where the computer might decide to do something I didn’t want it to, and say it myself as shouldn’t, I started to reap the rewards of a job well done.
Then there was a nice fast bit towards Bures, again familar territory, and I recalled the lumpy bits towards Lamarsh. There was the second info control and then the lovely little lane towards Twinstead. This was decidedly technical in places, as there was a goodly ridge of skog in the middle of the road and plenty of pot-holes as well. Then, just after the start of a fast descent, a sapling was leaning across the road and it was impossible to avoid riding through its twigs. Yet another moment to be thankful for a Tilley had as I put my head down and thwacked my way through.
There were more familiar roads through the Maplesteads and soon I arrived at the youth hostel in Castle Hedingham. One bowl of pasta, a cup of tea and a piece of fruit cake later and I was on my way once more, not the last to leave this time, although I was soon caught by one or two riders.
I have noticed that the post-lunch session is often the fastest and so it proved today, and for minutes on end I was maintaining speeds in excess of 25kph. Some time during the day, not far from Wormingford if I remember correctly, I heard some shouting behind and it was a peloton from the Shaftsbury club who went thundering past. However, they had clearly had a good lunch because some of them were still around at Castle Hedingham when I arrived and not long afterwards the whole troupe of them were stopped (I suppose, like geese, cyclists require a different collective noun when they are stopped?) as one of their number had punctured and everyone was milling around watching the fettlers. I thought it would have been a bit presumptuous to have offered help when there were so many hands to lighten the load, so I carried on.
On the climb towards Shalford, I caught up with a couple of blokes a fair bit older than me, and they were clearly struggling on the hill. I breezed past. Soon to the Felsted School water tower, into North End and across the A130 and I passed a few more stragglers. From that point back to the arrivée I was in a group of 6 or so, and we all arrived back exactly 6 hours after we left. I think my riding time was a little over 5 hours, and I had more than an hour to spare. Some minutes later the Shaftesbury arrived.
After a refreshing cup of tea and a few calories, I set off towards Chelmsford again, toying with the idea of cycling all the way back to Southend. I decided against: it is a testament to prednisolone acetate that I managed the ride at all so an extra 25 miles or so would definitely be tempting fate.
As I approached Chelmsford I was just congratulating myself on getting round a ride on the Mercian without suffering a mechanical when suddenly, just as I changed gear, there was an ominous crunch. I looked down to find that the front changer was caught at a rakish angle and a close inspection revealed that a vital component had sheared. That’s Campag for you: I reckon that gear changer was only 48 years old.
Total miles: 88
Time: 6h 58m 7s
Ave: 12.63 mph
Max: 31.7 mph