Staff rider and regular contributor to the LoveCycling Blog Mark C talks about this memorable Autumn bike ride that departed in Stamford and went as far as Hunstanton before making the return journey! - Mark reminisces about how the 4 of them took a wrong turn and ended up riding through someone's garden, Dan burnt one side of his face and they all played 'whack a meerkat' in Hunstanton!
A jolly boy's outing had been on the cards for some time now. Every time Myself, Dan Murtagh and The Legend Mickey Watts would catch up with each other, we would mention that just riding bikes was getting a bit repetitive and wouldn't it be nice to actually travel somewhere. My own love of cycling was kick started by a three day cycle ride along Hadrian's Wall. I discovered that riding a bike, caring only about food and where I was going to sleep while the rest of life's problems melted away, was the way I wanted to be. I also learned that Scottish people around 128 AD must have been really short to have been stopped in their tracks by a 3 foot high wall. The mention of a group bike ride somewhere would always be met with a nod and a 'yeah, we should do that sometime,' but never any actual planning.
That was until a barrage of texts started arriving from Dan, demanding answers as to when we were going to make it happen. Slowly and surely plans were drawn up and, on a September morning, we found ourselves outside Dan's house examining each other's touring machines. I had opted to equip the Tonk (my steel road bike) with a proper pannier rack and bags, while Dan had equipped his Tonk (his steel road bike) with a seat mounted 5-litre post pack (which I grudgingly had to admit was a nice lightweight luggage option for a weekend tour). Adie had elected to ride his steel fixie. Adie is 10ft tall, which meant that his steel head tube and steel steer tube were as long as his top tube, making his bike the heaviest. The Legend Mickey Watts was on his Specialized Allez with a seat mounted pannier rack that he had bought from Lidl. We expressed our scepticism at his purchase but he assured us that it would be ok - after all, the only problem was that it kept sliding down the seat post and that had been remedied with a tube of superglue.
The route, which Dan had planned, was going to take us 85 miles from King's Cliffe near Stamford, through the centre of Peterborough, across the Fens, through Wisbech, Kings Lynn and the Norfolk countryside until we reached Hunstanton, a faraway land of sun, sea and kiss-me-quick hats. I lurched my +20 kilogram bike up the first hill and got out of the saddle. The bike began to sway side to side, the weight of the panniers causing an upside down pendulum movement. I sat back down and resigned myself to a day of in-the-seat pedalling. Within no time we arrived on the edge of Peterborough and began to weave with the morning traffic around roundabouts and bends with a brief respite as Dan led us through the town centre underpass. Angry looking people in tracksuits glared as we weaved in and out among pushchairs, and barriers that are designed to make sure idiots on bikes don't ride through.
"Are we allowed to come through here?"
"Yeah we'll be fine," said Dan, who has a fantastic talent for convincing himself.
I know that for some people, cycling with traffic can be a horrifying experience but I actually enjoy it. I like fighting for my space on the road and making sure motorists get a good look at the Lycra stretched over my behind. We emerged unscathed on the other side of Peterborough and headed out into the Fens. With the Fens being a large network of little back roads and drainage ditches, it wasn't long before we sat at the side of the road with Dan pondering over which direction to take. The sun was getting fierce and it was beginning to bake my sweat into a salty crust over my skin, then burn it.We wonder why there is a 'Children crossing sign' in the middle of absolutely nowhere as Dan watches the directions written on his hand melt away with the sweat.
"You know where we are, right?"
"Yeah, we just need to go down the road that the truck is going down."
We looked down the way to see a truck turn left and disappear.
"Ok. Nice one. Let's go. I'm getting cooked here."
We pedalled onwards and there was momentarily confusion as Dan turned left early.
"Where are you going?"
"But the truck went down the next turning."
"Yeah, but you can go this way as well."
We rode behind him as TLMW expressed his concerns.
"Isn't this somebody's drive way?"
"Nah, it goes straight through to the road on the other side," said Dan with unswerving confidence.
Dan was right, it did go straight through. Through someone's garden. We pedalled on through open iron gateways and I gave a cursory glance through what I suspect was a kitchen window to see if were under surveillance. The garden turned into a track consisting mainly of gravel, which wasn't the best surface under our road tyres. We plugged on and rode the grassy mound that appeared and started to run the centre of the track, which clogged my rear mech with grass nicely. Up ahead a pickup truck was approaching. It was dirty enough to be a farmer's vehicle. We were heading for a head to head down the track, so we moved over to the side of the road to allow the pickup to pass. Although we all knew it wouldn't.
Oh Crikey. Was that blood I saw on the walls through the kitchen window? If he was going to eat us that was bad news as I was definitely carrying more meat, although he could use Dan or Adie to floss with. The Pickup stopped and an elderly gent smoking a pipe (it was a churchwarden for all you pipe spotters out there) wound the window down. Dan put on his best greeting-a-customer voice.
The man stared back as his pipe tobacco glowed.
He was clearly very adept at using pauses for dramatic effect.
"Oh. Erm. Sorry."
"It's ok.............you can.........ride through."
The Pickup drove on and I breathed a sigh of relief. We gathered ourselves and rode on towards the road.
The Fens are flat. I've never spent much time there, let alone ride there, and when I heard people say in the past that they were pan flat I took it as a gross exaggeration. They were right. At first I enthused about our surroundings. It was easy cycling and we were making good time. Not long after I was eating my words. As we rolled through a place that was laughably called Gedney Hill, the boredom of pedalling nothing but flat ground for the next 40 or so miles was beginning to frustrate me.The profile shows just how flat it was. Ignore the bump at the end, it's where Adie fell off and we just rode over him.
A food stop at a cafe outside of the bike unfriendly town of Wisbech saw Adie, Dan and TLMW put away a three course meal, while I decided on a tuna fish sandwich. (I had decided to diet since the threat of being first in line to be eaten by a mad farmer had presented itself.) The road rolled flatly along until we reached the other side of Kings Lynn. The scenery and terrain changed instantly from flat nothing to meandering tree-lined hills. And as we rode the track road through Castle Rising, we remarked on how pretty it was. Soon the road began to arc around and turn from east to north. Spying a gate up ahead, Adie spoke up.
"I'm not sure that's the way."
"This is definitely the way," said Dan.
Dan and TLMW rode on as Adie and I stopped and waited. They had ridden some distance ahead before Adie's phone rang. Dan and Mickey began to open the wooden gate that blocked their way as Adie answered.
"Hello? ......How are you? .......No, I'm not in the office at the moment....... Yeah, I've got a couple of days off. I'm riding to Hunstanton actually.....what?.......... Yeah, it's great except the wally* who planned the route keeps getting lost."
An animated conversation with a lady who had come out of her house was happening up ahead and as Adie finished up his phone call Dan and TLMW began to ride back.
"Well, the Lady described the route across the field as Terrible**. But she did say there's another route."
Dan set off and as I was reaching down to sort out my bidon, they all took a sharp left. I looked up and wondered how they could have vanished into thin air. Feeling like a toddler in a supermarket separated from its mother, I traced the route back to the main road and headed in what I supposed was the right direction to find them standing outside a pub. The following mile's riding took place on a beautiful tree-lined track that gradually rolled downhill and delivered us to a main road which we crossed and moved into the Norfolk countryside that surrounds the Sandringham estate. The changing gradients were not always easy on a steel bike with a standard race chainset (I made a mental note to fit a compact when we got home) but were a welcome change to the pancake riding we had been doing. We were clearly looking forward to getting to our destination as the pace lifted and premature turns by riders required waiting at the roadside for the strays to retrace their paths back to catch up, proving that it wasn't only Dan going the wrong way.
We glided into Hunstanton and after an ice cream/can of coke overlooking the sea, we headed off to the B&B. The proprietress answered the door and while her husband saw to getting our bikes secure at the side of the house, she prepared a welcome mug of tea and cakes before seeing us to our rooms. Dan and I were first behind her into a comfortable looking en suite room with two single beds. We dropped our things before going to check out Adie and TLMW's room. We entered the room to see Adie sprawling out on a double bed, which was fair enough as he was so tall he had to duck under most doors and had pedalled a single speed to get here. TLMW was confined to a smaller adjoining box room with a cot. We agreed to get showered and changed before hitting the town. The absence of glaring sun in the room made seeing easier and as I looked at Dan I noticed that in addition to his Lycra sun burn lines he had one down the middle of his face.
"The right side of your face is burnt."
"What? Just the right?" he replied with some puzzlement.
"Yeah. There's a line down the middle."
Dan walked with purpose to the en suite and flicked on the light above the mirror.
"Oh God. I look ridiculous."
I reasoned that it must have been because we had ridden east and the sun was always on the right. It was logical but not correct as no one else had the same tan line. A study of post ride pics revealed the answer.Me & Adie with our backs to the sun and TLMW in the shade. Dan gets burnt. On one side of his face.
I showered after Dan and walked out of the bathroom to find Harvey 'Two Face' Dent drying his testicles with the hairdryer. He reasoned that we were in a hurry and needed to dry quickly. I reminded him not to burn those as well. We headed out and walked around town. Shops of note were Britain's biggest joke shop, which was the staple of my junior school trips here and a hardware shop that seemed to have every conceivable offensive weapon on display in its window. It clearly trod the line between legal and illegal the way a drunk motorist walks in a straight line during a roadside police test. I reasoned that most of the items, even the crossbow, could be used for hunting or pest control but I pitied the rabbit that was on the receiving end of the baseball bat that took centre place in the display. We walked into the only place that it appeared you could eat in and ordered food and drinks. Afterwards we hit the arcade as it was the only avenue of entertainment around. The rounds of air hockey ended thus:
Dan & TLMW 3 - 1 Ade & Mark
Whilst TLWM and Dan had displayed feats of amazing dexterity and athleticism on the air table it was only a matter of time before the J20s and mineral waters took their toll on Murtagh and he was unable to better my score on whack a meerkat (the spell checker just suggested 'market').
After failing to win a giant cuddly toy to strap to TLMW for the journey home, we walked into another pub which was mid quiz. After giving a nearby table some answers we walked back to the B&B as we discussed riding to somewhere a bit more lively next time. We had gone out to hit the town and the town had just curled into a ball and nodded off. As I climbed into bed I warned Dan that my girlfriend often complained of my snoring.
I passed out and awoke to find Dan already awake. He had apparently had trouble sleeping due to the sound of a NASA thruster test occurring somewhere in the bedroom. He couldn't be sure where in the room it had come from but hadn't checked my bed out of politeness. We breakfasted and climbed onto the bikes, myself more reluctantly than the others I think, and began to head home.Outside the tradesman's at Sandringham estate. HRH was kind enough to take the picture.
The journey home consisted mainly of everyone just plugging away to get back. A food stop at the same cafe saw us assume the same seating positions as the previous day. Had I known what I know now, I would have swapped places with Dan so he could even up his face tan. Mentally ticking off landmarks that we had passed on the way out helped me to get some bearing on how much further we had to go and it was a relief to be on the west side of Peterborough knowing that we were now on the home straight. The home straight turned out to be a lot longer than I remember and the hills that had seemed so easy on the way out were now being treated as alpine climbs by my legs. On the road into Nassington we began to reel in a roadie couple who were riding up ahead. This was aided by the lady getting a puncture and having to stop. Under normal circumstances I'm sure all of us would have stopped to assist her but I am ashamed to say we just rode past her pretending to look at our watches or an interesting cloud, which is incidentally also what her husband did. On the final hill into Kings Cliffe, TLMW looked over to a field on the right.
"Oooh look. A giraffe."
I stopped; keen to get a look at a zoological and Geographical anomaly. I can't believe I fell for it. TLMW rode up the hill giggling as I struggled to build my heavy bike's momentum up a hill. Finally I caught up and we rounded the corner and rode up to Dan's house and promptly collapsed on the front lawn. After pouring lemonade and biscuits, provided by Dan's mum, down our necks we forced ourselves off the floor to load our bikes into our respective cars. We shook hands and all remarked on what a good time we had had and that even though Dan had got us on the wrong road a couple of times, he had done well planning the route, and there's nothing wrong with a bit of adventure anyway. Even at our lowest ebb we were still laughing and taking the mickey out of each other, which is a testament to what a nice bunch I ride with. I would choose to do it over a sportive any day. Now the dust has settled and feeling has returned to my calves, murmurs are passing between us about another trip. Watch out Skeggie.
Thanks to Adie for the pictures.
*Not the word actually used.
**Again, not the word actually used.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Rutland Cycling Ltd
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Mark writes regularly on our LoveCycling Blog! Read more of Mark's posts here.