Date: Monday 16th March, 2015
Distance: 136.6km | Elevation: 979m
Destinations: Norfolk — Holt — Kings Lynn
Start kms: 1,359.9km | Finish kms: 1,496.5km | % complete: 15.0%
One of us — and I don’t know who — must have pissed off Gorrod the night before, as he seemed hell-bent on giving one or both of us at best a puncture and at worst some form of frame damage.
The beginnings of the route for our final day took us down towards a river and onto some questionable terrain. At first it was fun taking on the dips and mounds, with the tarmac becoming compressed dirt. It made for some decent photos, too.
But when the compressed dirt became loose gravel and boggy grassland for circa 5km, my phone was firmly put away and both hands were back on the handlebars to maintain some level of control whilst we all waited for something to go wrong for someone.
Unbelievably, it didn’t and we managed to make it back onto the streets of Norwich, a little muddier than we’d of liked and having taken in some of the local highlights that included the sewage treatment plant — a treat not only for the eyes, but for the nose as well.
Cyclocross excursion aside, we were on for a day of motoring. We had one rest stop planned mid-morning and would be straight back into i, heading for the invisible finish line we’d created for ourselves at Kings Lynn station.
Sam had been spending a lof of time down his TT bars for the previous two days and I was impressed to see him back in them today. With no experience riding on them, I can’t imagine it being the most comfortable of riding positions — especially for upward of 400km — but he was making it look like light work.
As the day wore on, I actually found myself longing for a set of my own TT bars. My backside had become very familiar with my saddle over the past 3 days and the 2 of them had stopped getting along somewhere on the approach to Norfolk. In a show of solidarity, my back, shoulders and arms had all chosen to do the same to the point where there was no new position for me to move to that wasn’t either as uncomfortable or worse than the previous.
Upright on the handlebar straight: done. Down in the drops: over. Hands on the hoods: long gone. There was a short period where sitting up straight, hands off the handlebars and leaning myself as far back as I possibly could provided a bit of respite, but that too eventually became as good or bad as the rest of them.
Gorrod had failed to learn anything from yesterday’s snot rocket incident (or maybe he had and really did have it in for Sam and I today) as he continued to fire them out intermittently as we approached Holt.
Thankfully, one of us had, and I chose to ride outside of his direct line. This was made infinitely easier by the fact that we’d finally planted ourselves on the side of the easterly wind as we headed westward. If there was any form of breeze blowing, it certainly wasn’t against us.
It was that and the previous nights curry that propelled us into what Sam informed us is known locally as ‘Chelsea on Sea’ and the best cafe stop of the tour: Black Apollo.
Having consumed gallons of milk since setting out on Saturday morning, I couldn’t face another cappuccino in a mug the size of a bucket and had the luxury of having a black Costa Rican filter to accompany my muffin. Delightful and precisely what I needed.
Only sticking around for a quarter of an hour, we were off again and making a b-line for the finish. Sam was back in his drops as we rounded a bend to be confronted by a very large tractor. He was up and onto his breaks quickly and there was never any real threat, but I’m not sure I’d have had the quick-wittedness this late on in the trip to have avoided a front-on collision with its shiny grill.
Major incident avoided, we had our first and only minor incident of the trip.
With our focus on the finish (and no doubt compounded by a little fatigue), it’s probably fair to say our camaraderie had slipped slightly. Conversation was certainly less free-flowing than it had been, as we all pedalled away furiously, fading in and out of our own worlds.
It therefore wasn’t until a car pulled-up alongside Gorrod and told us our friend was “experiencing a bit of trouble back there” that we noticed we’d dropped Sam. A quick u-turn was made as we hurried back in the direction we’d just come. A few hundred metres away, we found him down on one knee with his bike on its back whilst he removed the back wheel.
40km from a clean sheet and we were witnessing our first puncture.
With the speed and precision of a Formula 1 engineer, the wheel was off, the tube was out, replaced and pumped up and we were as good as new (perhaps lacking a few PSI thanks to the inefficiency of a roadside pump).
As we traced the perimeter of Samdringham, we were joined by the sun, which didn’t leave us for the rest of the ride. We all craned our necks, expectantly surveyed our surroundings for a slither of sea, but — surprisingly — didn’t end up with so much as a glimpse.
That was more than made up for by reaching Kings Lynn station and discovering it had Morrisons alongside it.
The fact we found majesty in a purpose-built, industrial-sized supermarket, viewing it as an oasis in a tarmacced desert full of parked cars, probably says more than enough about where we were at both mentally and physically.
However, watching Gorrod pull his post-ride meal from its carrier bag as the train departed for London, I became convinced that some of us were a little more out of sorts than others.
I feel I’d chosen well: a sandwich, an apple, a bag of cookies, a flapjack. All easy, unfussy and, at the time, unbelievably delicious. Meanwhile, in lieu of a knife, Gorrod tore apart a role with his hands, before using the same ‘utensil’ to remove the meat from a still-warm rotisserie chicken leg. This was piled into said roll and topped with the best part of an entire bag of reduced-price rocket.
Who buys a deconstructed sandwich?
Some how, I feel as though that sandwich somehow epitomises the Tour de March. Haphazard, completely off kilter, not entirely thought through, somewhat disturbing to watch, but ultimately very, very enjoyable.