Tour de March: Day 2.
Date: Sunday 15th March, 2015
Distance: 162.9km | Elevation: 1,403m
Destinations: Milton — Lavenham — Blo Norton — Thundenhall — Norfolk
Start kms: 1,197.0km | Finish kms: 1,359.9km | % complete: 13.6%
It may have been the excessively indulgent dinner of the previous night. It might have been the beige breakfast of colourless sausage, chewy french roll and butter. It may have just been general tiredness.
Whatever it was, the first 60km of the day were, without a doubt, the most difficult for me.
As my legs went through their familiar orbits around my chain ring, I stared at the back wheel of Sams bike and wondered why the sandwich that the pub staff had kindly made for us the night before and stowed in an old cracker tub with some ice packs refused to move anywhere close to below my diaphragm.
Having just described the storage methods, though, perhaps I have finally answered my own question.
Today was the day that 4 became 3, as Hendo would be heading home for some much-needed rest after a fortnight of 18-hour working days that hadn’t relented until the Friday before we were due to leave. The fact that he found the energy and enthusiasm to still be involved, let alone hammer through the routes with ease, is beyond me.
Before his departure, there were some serious flat and open roads for us to enjoy. Whilst we were headed directly into the wind blowing in from the east coast, we were also remaining dry — something none of us, and Gorrod in particular, expected to happen. You see, all of us get excited in the run-up to a ride like this and each of us expresses his excitement (or, more accurately, over-exictement) in different ways. I’ll take too may photos of my prep and throughout the ride. Sam, it would seem, bulk buys CLIF bars and aims to bring as many as he can with him. Hendo will remain level-headed, but the text messages will come through at a faster pace and in greater volumes than they would on a regular weekday, generally containing more exclamation marks than they would otherwise.
Meanwhile, Gorrod becomes our self-appointed weatherman. Providing daily updates, he not only gives us a current status, but how that has changed since the last time he checked (along with a screenshot of a grey cloud icon spitting our ominous drops of rain). For this ride, it was only getting worse the closer it came and, in some deeply sadistic way, he seemed to like that. I suppose that, in his defence, it did mean that we packed accordingly.
We’d never admit that to him prior to the event, though. It would only encourage him.
Back on the road, as the chaps stopped to de-layer, I plodded on ahead, turning a sharp bend that took me into a fast-paced descent of a hill. As I began to climb my way out of this mini trough, Gorrod sprinted up alongside me to break the news that this wasn’t the right way — we were supposed to have taken a turn at the top of the hill.
It’s only when you find yourself climbing an unnecessary hill that you realise you’ve been taking your route guides — Gorrod and his Garmin — for granted and how good a job they do on getting you from point to point. That said, it didn’t stop me cursing him under my breath as I continued to taste the grey, suspicious sausage from earlier that morning.
As Hendo continued on to get the train back to London, we sat down for a restorative cup of coffee at The Lavenham Greyhound.
And then another.
It’s amazing what a couple of cappuccinos can do. As we put our helmets back on and our feet back into our pedals, I felt comparatively unstoppable — that is until the effects of drinking somewhere in the region of a pint of warm, frothy milk kicked in.
Not that it mattered. By then, we’d formed a 3-man chain gang and were powering through the headwind, leaving Cambridgeshire well behind us.
As I was sat between Gorrod and Sam, I felt good and capable of taking on the days 100-mile route. There are many benefits of finding yourself in the middle of a peloton (even if it is only made up of 3 people). There’s the decreased wind resistance, the reduced energy required to maintain a higher speed and the lack of responsibility for directing the group.
However, it also comes with some inherent risks. There’s a chance you could lose concentration for a moment and find yourself brushing wheels with the bike in front before meeting the tarmac quickly after. There’s also the possibility you pay for the mistake of the person in front as they break to hard or swerve too late.
But there is a risk that is far, far greater. It involves the habit that is prevalent amongst numerous cyclists known as snot rocketing. As disgusting as the name might suggest, it involves the removal of nasal mucus build-up (i.e. bogies) from the nostril through an aggressive exhalation and the strategic placement of an index finger. Whilst I choose not to partake, the same cannot be said to Gorrod.
As still-warm beads of his snot hit me square in the face, I informed him his technique required practice and lacked basic etiquette (although those may not have been the exact words I used).
Continually wiping at my face, knowing full well it wouldn’t be properly clean until I’d bathed it in scalding hot water, we stopped for some much-needed lunch. Whilst The Dutch Barn sounds like a questionable club somewhere in the middle of Amsterdams red light district, it is in fact a garden centre in the middle of nowhere that has a cafe attached. As well as a purveyor of warm toasties and cake, it also boasts one of the more bizarre selection of clientele I’ve come into contact with recently.
We watched with morbid fascination as a father and son sat silently at a table. They stared at it until their drinks were placed in front of them, at which point they started staring at those. Their silence was broken by only two things. The first was the sound of the elder of the two stirring his tea so aggressively that the tea spoon bounced loudly from one side of the porcelain cup to the other. The second was a request for the bill.
It was a bleak thing to observe, but watching Gorrods reaction as the last slice of his desired cake being ordered by someone else helped take the edge of. So did watching him eat his second-rate option.
As we ventured further into deepest, darkest Norfolk, where every which way you turned it felt as though you were looking at a Turner painting (one of his moodier-skied ones), I did something I rarely do unless climbing a hill: I slipped out of my chains big ring. I didn’t look back for the rest of the day (or for the rest of the trip, for that matter).
Our plan was to take one more stop before Norwich, in the superbly named Thundenhall. Upon getting there though, we decided to power on through to the finish — partly because it was nowhere near being the Bond villain-type lair of a town we imagine it to be, but partly because we were all still feeling half-decent.
Waiting at the end of what is my furthest ride to-date were a cold Adnams beer, an egg custard and an Indian takeaway menu. Same grandparents had really delivered and these spoils lasted little to no time whatsoever (excluding the takeaway menu. Here, I practiced a level of self control and chose not to consume it).
After what was not just a reviving, but a life-affirming shower and donning what was either Sams mum or dads rather fetching fleece, I was ready to forget everything I’d learnt the previous evening and eat far too much food. Through the enabling of Sam — who not was not only kind enough to drive us all to pick up our dinner, but left some of his on his plate for Gorrod and I to divide between us — I felt the same stitch creeping up on me as I ploughed through what remained in the tub of Daim ice cream.
The whisky digestif didn’t seem to help, either.
Still, it was a solid and fantastic day of cycling and, overall, we all seemed in pretty good shape.