Riding stupid

When I first started cycling seriously, after I had become a bicycle courier (or bicycle messenger, if you prefer), I really had no idea about how to ride longer distances successfully. One of my earliest excursions was an attempt to ride to York in a day. In January.

I had no idea how far it was, but I guessed that it was a little over 100 miles, maybe 120 or something. My route choice was not at all sophisticated. I had decided to ride up the A10 all the way to Royston, and then head up towards Peterborough, taking in a short section on A1, and then pick up the A14.

I left very early in the morning. As it was January, I rode for a couple of hours in the dark. Miraculously, I managed to negotiate the dual carriage-way section of the A10 in the darkness without incident.

Shortly after dawn, somewhere near Royston, I began to think that I had broken the rear axle, as the rear wheel of the bike was snaking around under me. A couple of more miles, and I suddenly found myself lying on the verge, partially submerged in freezing water. I hadn't realised that there was black ice around, and that the snaking around was the wheels hitting small patches. I had gone down on a larger section.

As I had hit the wet verge, I wasn't hurt. Not even after I fell over again when I tried to stand up on the black ice. (Despite the fall, I didn't notice the black ice until I slipped over on it for the 2nd time).

Muddied, but unbowed, I continued. Never having really ridden a bike outside of London, the experience was entirely novel. Market Deeping, Sleaford and those other small towns were unlike anything I had ever seen, never having visited eastern England before. There wasn't a lot going on, it seemed to me, unless you counted youths milling around the bus shelter.

As I progressed into Lincolnshire, I began to tire. Like the novice I was, I had started too fast, far too fast. And the wind picked up as I rode into the wide open spaces of Lincolnshire.

I had never before been exposed to what I know now is called a block headwind. It's not that you don't get wind in London, it's more that there aren't any really straight roads, and you are constantly turning into and away from the wind. The buildings also serve as wind-breaks, so one is generally not exposed to full force of the wind, apart from when one is passing a really tall building, which create a vortex around them.

The wind that I encountered riding up the A14 from Sleaford towards Lincoln was strong, and was blowing from the north east. The road goes almost exactly straight north mostly, with the odd tack to the right, or almost directly in the direction that the wind was coming from. It was strong enough to almost completely bring me and my bike to a complete stop.

I rode into this wind for some miles, getting more and more demoralised, riding slower and slower until finally I stopped by the side of the road and sat under a tree, feeling defeated and eating biscuits. I may have thrown my bike into a ditch, but I can't remember if I actually did or not.

Biscuits eaten, I decided that I would go no further than Lincoln. At Lincoln station, waiting for the train, I felt ashamed. I thought I was a weakling, beaten far too easily by a straight road and a bit of wind.

I looked up the mileage of that ride the other day. 130-odd miles more or less, from north London to Lincoln. That's a proper ride, not into the head-banging, arse-ripping category of long-distance, but well over 200 km, and therefore into Audax territory.

York? York is miles and miles further. At least 80 miles further. Google maps gives various alternatives and also offer the option to: 'take Public Transport'.

 

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2 comments
  1. Empircynic said:

    Maps are pretty useful things.

    Like

    • I probably could have measured the mileage using a pen and a piece of paper. I can’t remember what map I used, but it didn’t have distance marked like the Michelin maps I was used to using. I suspect it had one of those distance grids, where you along and down to find a number. I suspect this probably gave London to York as 180 via motorway network or something, and I would have guessed that my much more direct route would shave scores of miles off…

      What can I say? I was young and didn’t know any better.

      Like

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