Buns of glass, legs of jelly

26 Feb

So, time for a different adventure – having had my bike released from captivity, having been kidnapped by builders who said they would store it safely and bring it back the next day… three weeks ago… it’s time to get some exercise – and what better way to do that than by cycling over to see little brother (who is, by some genetic mismatch, bigger than his big brother). I’ve got his birthday presents to deliver – although it won’t actually be his birthday for four months. The last time I set out on this epic journey, my pedal fell off after two miles, so it’s with a bit of trepidation that I saddle off and ride off into the sunset. Perhaps a bit early for sunset, but I have a sneaky feeling that the ride back might be in the dark…

The first six or seven miles pass uneventfully enough, although I am convinced it’s mostly uphill – a sensation supported by the simple fact that I am climbing out of the Nene Valley. I’ve cycled this way before, and pass the familiar landmarks until I enter uncharted territory at Aldwincle.. and the gentle rolling slopes of the Nene Valley turn into the savagery that is Islip Hill – and the peace of the Northamptonshire countryside is punctuated by main road traffic. But this is half way, and piling on the pace I emerge triumphant at the top of the hill, ready for the drop down into Barton Seagrave. The road is pretty familiar, apart from one minor complication – the A14 has carved its way across the landscape, slicing across minor roads with gay abandon. The shortest distance between two points is the old railway line, but sanity takes me down the old roads and suddenly I am completely confused… convinced I’ve taken the wrong turning, I backtrack only to decide that I was right first time (regular readers will see a pattern emerging here – check back to a post from Thailand HERE).

Following the wind turbines proves a sensible navigational aid, and finally I sail, rather later than expected, into little brother’s driveway, with a sore rump and jelly legs, to find him spitting feathers at Liverpool’s performance against Cardiff in the Carling Cup (1-0 down at this point). Sustenance is on hand in the form of coffee with far more sugar than usual, and a Muller Corner yoghurt. 17.49 miles in 1h53 is a bit off my top score.. but I made it. A pity I have to get back as well.

Nr Atherstone (1)

So, leaving Liverpool 1-1 and in extra time, it’s back onto the bike, pulling on my London Marathon sweatshirt for warmth against the evening chill. The light is fading fast as I weave my way through the short cuts around Barton (got them right this time) and out into the Northamptonshire twilight. Over my shoulder, the thin sickle of a crescent moon looks over my shoulder from a hazy wintry setting, with Jupiter and Venus in attendance to add extra glamour to the scene. Rather than the detour, and with my heart in my mouth, I decide to brave the shortcut down the A14. I’ve had scarier rides on my bike, but it’s with relief that I pull off the A14 and head into the countryside. From the other direction, Islip hill is a whoop whoop exhilarating ride downhill, and the corresponding slow grind up the other side takes me steadily into the darkness. The moon and its acolytes still hovers over my shoulder, while around me the stars are coming out to play. I’m grateful for the extra layer of warmth against the chill – and for the reminder that I’ve overcome this kind of challenge before.

In the darkness, the landscape is eerily different. Skeletal trees loom large against a pale sky, and hedgerows form fantastical silhouettes against the skyline. Here and there small communities gather together against the darkness, while churches and the local stately home form way-points on the journey. All the cues to distance have changed – hills seem interminable with no indication of when the summit will appear, while sudden inclines spring up unexpectedly forcing a rapid gear change lest I fall off the bike.

A startled bunny ducks for cover. I apologise profusely, realising that I’ve missed my turn and driven into Aldwincle Playboy club. But the night is spookily dark and quiet, just the sound of the gear chain and the soft roar of rubber on tarmac to disturb the silence as mile after mile of country road falls beneath my wheels.

Landmarks come and go until the welcome sign for Stoke Doyle appears… the final village before home. Across the valley, the welcoming lights of the Oundle School houses beckon from the centre of town. After the challenges of the Northamptonshire contour map, Stoke Hill is of little consequence and I sail triumphantly into Oundle.

So, a total of 32.77 miles and 3 hours 31 minutes of cycling later… it’s time for a hot bath, and a very late breakfast….although whether I will be able to move very far tomorrow remains to be seen….


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