Every so often, something happens that takes my breath away. The fantastic generosity of those who sponsored me for the Essex Countryside Bike Ride is one of those things. Together we raised a fantastic total of £630 to which the tax man gave a further £156 through gift aid bringing the total to a staggering £786 for Little Havens Children’s Hospice.
As for the ride itself, I was up with the sparrows at six in the morning as the ride was due to start at 7.30. A quick shower and it was time to eat my way through a large bowl of yummy porridge. I checked the weather forecast for the 100th time to see what I might be in for – possible light showers at 10 a.m. and strong winds from the south with gusts at 30 mph. Ok so it look like I’ll get a bit wet but I should dry out ok. Not happy about the wind though – boy did that ever turn out to be an understatement!
As is often the way, I messed about with my bike and ending up leaving the house later than intended, realised I had forgotten something, returned home and ended up 30 minutes late for the start. Still I wasn’t the only one as quite a few people were still there and others were still arriving – the start time was between 7.30 and 9.00. And at least this meant there was no queue to register.
And so I was off.
It was a bright and sunny start, if a little cold – arm warmers were the right decision. As usual I allowed the first 10 minutes for warming up as I got into my stride. There was quite a nasty hill before I was fully warmed-up but I coped with it ok and was happily passing other cyclists (I thought I had better make the most of it while I could). Once the route had turned off from the main roads and headed into what the name of the ride promised, the Essex Countryside, this really looked like it was going to be a great ride.
I caught up with a pack of about 10 others who seemed to be travelling at roughly the same speed and joined up with them. Not just pack instinct – it is actually much easier riding in a bunch like that and has the added advantage of giving me someone to talk too. Mind you, there was a moment when I was totally unsure of the correct etiquette, when I noticed the seam in the back of the lycra shorts of a woman I was riding behind was starting to spilt. Should I say anything or not? Deciding silence was the better part of valour I said nothing. Later Tatia confirmed this had been a good call. “Was there anything she could do about?” “No.” “Then there is no way you should say anything. It would have embarrassed the hell out of her and she had 40 more miles to ride”.
Finally the pack and I went our separate ways when I decided that I really shouldn’t pull out in from of a car just to keep with them. Still that was only about 5 miles short of a refreshment stop at the Jolly Sailor pub in Malden where I saw some of them again so I would have split up with them there – did I mention that once into a ride I have this insane drive to keep going and not have a break?
Up to that point I had been making really good time. A third of the way through the ride and my speed was an average 16 mph which I was very pleased with to say the least.
And then the fun started.
For the next 3 miles it was one long up-hill slog. It may not look much on the elevation profile, and a 2% gradient doesn’t sound like much at all (and probably isn’t to be honest) but I find a long steady climb like that is draining beyond belief – especially as I hate hills with a vengeance. Coming to the top of a hill, or rounding a bend, only to see yet another climb waiting is just so demoralising. But then, wheeeeeee, what goes up must come down, and 30 mph on a bike has to be experienced to be believed (I might have been able to increase that but was too knackered by this point and took advantage of having a rest)
And then the fun really started. Going around the outskirts of Chelmsford was something of a joke. The route went off road, across a footbridge so narrow that I had to dismount and push my biker, and then went across unsurfaced car parks and round the back of shopping centres and multi-storey car parks.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get much worse, the rain started. And it wasn’t the light shower as forecast. It was a torrential downpour that lasted at least an hour. So at the end of 35 miles, I was cold, wet, tired and started to feeling demoralised. Oh and wishing now that I had brought my water-proof with me. But if wishes were fishes…
And then finally, just when I thought I had enough, the route turned south and into those promised 30 mph winds (although I noticed afterwards tha they had only been recorded at 18.4 mph). Riding into a head-wind and rain when already cold and wet and I was soon ready to give up. I think if there was someway I could have given up I would have. But there wasn’t, so I didn’t.
The rest, as they say is history, as from that point on it was head down and grind. I remember one point, about 5 miles from the finish, I had to stop at traffic lights and, not feeling up to doing a track stand, I put my foot to the floor, only to feel that my leg had turned to jelly and could hardly support me!
Still, finish I did, and very proud of myself I was for doing so. It was not the fantastic time I had thought it would be at that 20 mile point in Malden. But still, I did finish in 4 hours 38 minutes and averaged 13.3 mph which was a miniscule bit faster than last year’s 13.2 mph. And it was 61.7 miles against the advertised 60.
So now it is decision time. Do I do the 40 mile or 75 mile route when I do the Orchid Cycle Essex ride on 14 June. I really can’t say at the moment, but I do know if the weather forecast is for rain or wind, it will be 40 miles without a shadow of a doubt.
And will I do the Essex Countryside Ride next year? At the end of this year’s ride it would have been a firm no-way. But now? Yeah, I probably will!