Monday, 4 June 2012

Jubilee ride.....

Pity about the weather for this 60th jubilee celebration. Our village is thoroughly decked out and resplendent with an array of red white and blue bunting, flags, banners, posters and royal paraphernalia. We braved the rain and walked to the church to look at the display of royal memorabilia and various historic photographs and bric-a-brac. There was a particularly interesting scrapbook that was made by the local WI in 1965, a collection of press cuttings, photographs and handwritten notes together with various pieces of old packaging, wallpaper, soft furnishing fabrics and other bits and pieces. It was very....English.

We watched on TV as the flotilla moved slowly up the Thames, the pageant laid out for the world to see - we are good at this sort of occassion - and despite the bad weather I thought the event was a great success.

But with France and The Ventoux looming up fast, I needed to get some miles in on the bike. I decided one last long ride would be in order, and then I will ease off for the rest of the week and get my kit and bikes in order ready for the journey. This morning was much brighter than yesterday, plenty of blue in the sky, easily enough to make a pair of trousers for a sailor as my Grandma used to say. I headed out towards Ashby de la Zouch via the hardest route I could think of. Steepish hills to Odstone and Newton Burgoland, then up to Swepstone and the main road from there to the Ashby turn. Underneath the busy A42 and up past the golf club into Ashby town centre, the main road is closed for a fair, part of the Jubilee celebrations I guess. Just then my attention is grabbed by something stirring in the car park; next to the recycling bins. They are releasing the beast. The Morris Men.

They trot like ponies, bells on their black clogs, wearing hanging baskets of flowers and feathers on their heads. They are led by a meaty man with a whip, they have a muscular, purposeful swagger and a physical, masculine dance. For all its promise of seed planting, fertility and harvest, morris dancing is indisputably the least sexy jigging in the world. Nobody could accuse these men of overt displays of vanity or showmanship. Their vast stomachs held in by sweaty nylon shirts like warm mozzarellas. They have all the stamina and grace of a concrete breeze block, with beards that look like badly eaten shredded wheat.

I press on, heading out towards Ticknall via Smisby. Suddenly I am faced with a  beguilingly, bucolic scene, the lane climbs gently upwards and the road is dry but the verge to the right is damp, ferns flourish and the grass is lush - there are dog violets and probably frogs - these lanes seem untroubled by traffic, apart from a distant tractor it is birdsong that keeps me company. I traverse a series of rises and dips, pedalling steadily into a slight headwind. I'm in no rush - I'm on my own, I don't have to push myself to keep up with Gary today, he's having a lie-in, but he'll be out on these same roads later.

There's a violent drop now, steep and harsh, twisting and turning towards Ticknall village. the bike shakes and rattles over the rough tarmac as my speed quickly reaches 35mph and more. As I pass through the village I notice a great beer tent and bacon-butty get together of the families of round-vowelled, clotted faced ruralists. There's no recession in Ticknall - it is the sort of place that carries on unhindered by any downturns, the vicar posts the mowing rota onto the church notice board - the grass rolls smoothly over the verges - there's a display of potted plants for sale with an honesty box alongside. All around is another sacred space, the place where all who have prayed within the walls of the church, over many centuries, have been laid to rest.  There is a feeling of peace, a silence. This is an unpolluted space - there are many mosses and lichens attached to long weather worn gravestones - their lovingly chiselled remembrances can no longer be read, a place where all those who have longed and doubted, rejoiced and feared, now rest bodily in sure and certain hope of resurrection.

Now I'm heading towards the feared Pistern Hills - a steep little lane that rises from nothing up through the trees and disappears into darkness. The lower slopes look like nothing if you're in a car, but on a bike the gradient quickly saps strength from the legs. I pedal a low gear, steady and slowly, as the gradient ramps upwards I change into the easiest gear I have - nothing else left after this - I spin the pedals slowly and consistently, trying to keep an even tempo. It works. I gradually crawl up the hill, round the right hand turn and further up to the farm. The road flattens slightly, enough for me to change up and pick up speed. I'm up, it's done - not too bad really - but I can't help thinking how I will cope when it keeps going up.... and up..... and up for 15 miles or so.

I'm heading for home now - and it's mostly downhill, with a tailwind. I'm flying along at 25mph and feeling good. Back through Ashby, then a slight detour through Donisthorpe, Measham and up the long drag to Snarestone. From there a left turn and another hill up towards Newton Burgoland before the right turn onto Derby Lane and the quiet lane through to Shakerstone. This is where I was attacked.

I didn't see or hear him. He came out of nowhere, a silent, stealthy man dressed all in black and red. He overtook me just as I was meandering slowly along. He said nothing. No acknowledgement. I caught a glimpse of the side of his face - he looked older than me I thought? - surely i could catch him?  I let him go about 20 yards in front and then decided to try. Up on the pedals for the first time today, gathering speed, it's uphill though, quickly I'm breathing heavily and my legs begin to burn. He seems to be getting further away - I push harder still, I'm moving at 25mph, surely I'll catch up soon? - But no, he's getting away. 100 yards now, maybe more. As the road moves uphill again I think he might be slowing, I push harder still, I'm catching him now, gradually clawing him back - then he glances over his shoulder - he's seen me - he's off again.

I follow him all the way back - never managing to get closer that about 20 yards - in the end there's the final hill from Congerstone up to Barton in the Beans - I've ridden this road many, many times - I know it intimately - the steep bits, the bits where it is possible to pick up speed. No matter; it seems he knows it too - he's pulling away again. By now i'm a lather of sweat - I can't go any more - I'm done - beaten. I ease off and watch him as he pedals strong and steady into the distance and around the corner. Then I wonder.... what route was Gary doing???

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