Sunday, 17 March 2013

Rain almost stops the ride...

0600hrs: it seems like a nice day, but the birdbath tells a different story. Rain. I was tired, so the idea of sending an 'abort' text had some appeal, but I sent it with a question mark to leave the door open, so to speak. "It's raining. Abort?" A while later a text came back along the lines of 'is it still raining where you are?" I texted back, "no, let's see what it's like at 7am" and the rain stopped. "I'm going to make the tea and then I'll be on my way". And sure enough, I was on my way. My first ride in two weeks and I was feeling a little sluggish.

I swung the bike from side to side going up Church Way to give myself some traction and once I reached the plateau I crossed the road and cycled through the churchyard and across the so-called Gruffy, past the pond where the ducks were here, there and everywhere. I powered along the Limpsfield Road en route to Warlingham Green and then the heavens opened, yards from my destination.

Taking cover from the rain under the Village Cafe's awning
As I approached the green I saw Andy taking cover underneath the awning of the Village Café and I joined him there. We weren't going any further. It was early so I took out the tea and hot water and we settled in for a chat about this and that – mainly One Man & His Bike by Mike Carter, which I promised Andy I would lend him once I'd finished.

It goes without saying that Andy and I both felt slightly envious of Carter and his ability to simply up sticks and ride around the coast of Great Britain. How, we both wondered, was he able to do this? The book's cover makes out that he was cycling to work, one spring day, and decided not to stop. This, of course, simply can't be true. Carter works as a freelance journalist on The Guardian Newspaper in London. He must have told them he was going away for a while. Then there's the issue of money. How would he make ends meet while away from work. Either he had savings that he could rely upon or he had some other arrangement. Having already written a travel book about riding a motorcycle through various countries, he must, I assumed, have approached his publisher, told him (or her) of his intentions (to write a book about cycling around the coast of Great Britain) and they then offered him an advance and with that he survived. Remember, he was away for a few months, not just a few weeks. He spent money on food, B&Bs, hotels and campsites, not to mention bike repairs, so the very notion that he simply decided, on a whim, to cycle past the office and off on a big adventure around coastal Britain, is far from the reality of the situation.

This, of course, got us on to Top Gear, which often throws in contrived scenes that simply couldn't have happened by pure accident – there are many, believe me – but Andy said the latest adventure of Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May, in which they search for the source of the Nile, was, fortunately, without such contrivances (or there weren't as many as usual). That's good, but of course, I'd missed the two programmes of Top Gear because I was in the USA (see previous posts).

I must stress that Carter's excellent book is not in anyway conning anybody. The bit about cycling past the office rather than stopping is on the book's back cover, something along the lines of 'imagine cycling to work and then deciding to just keep going'...but, as I say, this can't be what happened. As Carter himself writes, he was thinking about going to Buenos Aires, but then, one day, while cycling to work, he decides instead to embark upon a ride around the coast of Great Britain. He doesn't just cycle off into the sunset leaving his work colleagues wondering for days what has happened to him.

In fact, sticking with this theme, the only other thing that slightly annoys me about the book – and believe me, this is minor as it is easily one of the best, most enthralling and entertaining books I've ever read – is that Carter, when asked (frequently) why he is cycling around the coast of Great Britain, answers along the lines of 'just for the sheer hell of it'. This is not strictly true: he's doing it because he's managed to secure a book deal and that deal has enabled him to be able to take the time off work to do the ride and probably get paid for doing it through the mechanism of an advance. And even if he didn't get that advance then his publisher must have known about the adventure and must have been approached by Carter. Likewise, The Guardian must been approached by Carter too. Surely Carter wasn't so irresponsible that he simply upped sticks and did the ride – although, let's face it, that would have been the rock 'n' roll thing to do and it would have given some edge to the book – not that it needed it. We'd all be thinking as he describes his journey south from the tip of Scotland towards Wales and then home: now he's got to face the stoney-faced reception committee – his irate employer, friends and family – and hey, what if he doesn't get that book deal? Then what?. But no, life is rarely so exciting.

Andy and I debated Carter's ongoing problem: that of carrying too much stuff on the bike (he has wheel problems on a couple of occasions as a result). Throughout the early parts of the book he sends some of his stuff back via post to his house in South West London (I'm guessing Richmond) to lighten the load. I told Andy that if I was going to embark upon such a journey, I'd travel light from the beginning. A rucksack full of, say, clothes for seven days – perhaps one extra pair of trousers and another pair of shoes being part of the load. Andy said that when he cycled to Paris, he didn't rely upon a rucksack, but a rack on the back of his bike. We talked about how we would have to pay weekly visits to launderettes.

We also said we wouldn't camp, but rely entirely upon bed & breakfasts, based on the fact that after a hard day in the saddle – and especially if we were soaked through by rain – the very thought of erecting a tent in a field on a stormy day would not appeal.

The rain stopped and started while we stood under the Village Café's awning and we savoured our second and last cup of tea before heading back down the Limpsfield Road towards home. The rain had stopped. Andy turned left into Tithepit Shaw Lane en route to Caterham and I carried on towards Sanderstead.

Rain had stopped play yesterday and it almost cancelled today's ride, but it was good to get out, even to Warlingham Green (an eight-mile round trip) so all was not lost. The rain continued throughout the day, just like the TV weathermen had predicted and now, as I gaze out of the conservatory window, the garden looks very damp. Tears of rain hang from shrubs and bushes, the sky is grey and all is generally still. It's time to make dinner, which today is spaghetti bolognaise, made by yours truly. I'm off, so until next week, goodbye.

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