Thorn Audax tackles foul weather in the East
Bank holiday weather in Britain is of course known as the most unpredictable element in existence. Yet it isn’t really, is it? You know how it is; we have a few warm-ish days in April, and by the time Mayday comes round, we’re all ready to dig out those shorts that were put in the bottom drawer last autumn and expose our pale flesh to the sun’s warming rays. But every time, without exception, we as a nation are taken seemingly by surprise as the spring climate turns typically chilly, wet and breezy. Then we moan about it, as if it’s never happened before.
Yesterday, therefore, I bypassed the pretence of balmy weather and got wrapped up in long tights, waterproof jacket and trousers and overshoes. Stepping out of the front door, I was appraised immediately of a fairly lively north-easterly breeze blowing angry looking clouds and cold rain in from the North Sea. In other words, a perfect day for a long ride.
I am, you see, acclimatising myself for a sportive ride of 100 miles next weekend and was making some final adjustments to hydration, feeding and speed tactics. Therefore, my train of thought went, if I rode in these conditions, nothing can be a shock next weekend – unless of course we get snow…..
My ride was designed hastily to take a brave tack into the headwind for the first 35 or so miles, the logic being that the wind would be behind me all the way home. This is a tactic I use a lot now I am riding further. It’s an investment really, and unless the wind changes during the ride, you’re unlikely to be red-faced at any point in the ride.
At 17 miles, I arrived in Debenham, a village which would, in any other conditions, have been a nice place to call and have a sandwich. As it was, the residents seemed to have decided to stay indoors and it was deserted. Saddened by this lack of potential interaction, I decided to ride north towards Eye, from where I would cross into Norfolk and pass through Diss. This was a hard ride, all the way facing the aformentioned headwind. But this stretch was punctuated by a couple of interesting things – the first being orchards which heralded the Aspall cider factory. A strong smell of cider permeated the air and I hurried onwards.
I slogged on, the rain now falling in a steady and soul-destroying haze that was further whipped into action by the strong winds. I rose higher up and felt nothing but misery. Some respite was available to me in Eye, where I stopped and had a packet of crisps and a sandwich – 25 miles now showing on the computer. Again, few people seemed inclined to brave the rain, and those who did seemed to view me with some suspicion as I stood picnicing on my own in the rain.
I moved on again, making the next part of the route up as I went along. I passed 30 miles as I approached Diss, and realised that the only way to get there was to take a dip into the fearsome A140 trunk road for a few hundred metres. Now this road is scary in a car, let alone on a bike. My luck appeared to be in, however, because as I cycled with a sudden urgency towards the first roundabout, I realised that like most roads in the area, the A140 was subject to roadworks and this meant that one of the two carriageways was actually coned off for the weekend. This meant I had my own personal bike lane, which I enjoyed with the degree of smugness that is possible when you are riding a bike in strong winds and rain and everybody else is warm and dry indoors.
Riding through Diss is an exceedingly unpleasant experience. I have never seen a town with so much traffic relative to its size. This phenomenon also seemed to inspire its pleasure-starved inhabitants to play dodgems with the cyclist, and I was relieved to get out on Shelfanger Road, past Madgetts bike shop, and onto a fast road.
With its luggage, the bike feels quite different and yet inherently stable. I was pondering the effect of the poor road surface on the bike’s handling when I was shocked out of my reverie by the unmistakably urgent sound of screeching tyres uncomfortably close to my rear wheel. A small car passed, the driver waving apologetically at me – he had clearly been chatting to his passenger and had not noticed me on my red bike with my florescent hi viz jacket on. This really shook me up, and also provoked me to issue forth a volley of language whose qualities were lavishly rude and biblically abusive; quite inappropriate, in fact, for a Sunday morning in rural Norfolk.
Chastened by my brush with death, I cut off to the west at the earliest opportunity, following quiet roads through villages that looked so lost in backwardness that I felt I had gone back 50 years in time.
This part of the county offers a vista punctuated by those smallholding type dwellings with overgrown gardens filled with old cars, rusting farm machinery, dead animals and rotting planks of wood. The houses themselves uniformly creak under tumbledown roofs, with rotting, peeling window frames surrounding those old grey net curtains that hide all manner of imaginary horrors within.
However, not wishing to provoke the ire of the Norfolk Tourist Board, I shall move on; by Fersfield I had reached the zenith (or was it the nexus?) of my ride and from this point I would be going south, which had an important connotation in that the wind, having been my bitter adversary for some 2 1/2 hours, would now become my friend.
After another bleak lunch stop, I built up speed and was soon on my way through Redgrave, and then into Botesdale which is another normally pleasant village whose roads were now swimming in water.
I was now on the home run, as it were, and I slogged on, the rain now coming down persistently again. The route home is largely flattish, and with the wind behind me I was picking up time and flying along, albeit in a tired kind of way.
The only real problem with my current set up is my shoes. They aren’t really built for long rides, and I am getting a terrible numbness in my right foot, which may be either too-tight-shoes, or the toe clip strap needing adjustment. I shall have to sort this out before my big ride next weekend.
So, on reaching home, the stats were 68.5 miles, 14.1mph average, and 4 hours 45 minutes time elapsed. Roll on the 100 next weekend!!!!