I have been building up slowly in anticipation of the New Year and the epic miles to come. Today I managed 34 miles and was just nudging 14mph for the totality of the ride. It was a blustery and damp morning and a visit to the Mendips was in order. The sun emerged at one point, startling the landscape and animals queuing up for paired tickets into the big wooden boat moored at Dundry.
There was a staggering amount of water cascading down from the hills, forming torrents across the roads and pouring out of hedgerows and eddying in newly formed plunge pools in the tarmac. The road surface of many of the narrower lanes had been scoured by the abrasive action of endless rainfall, taking away the topping and leaving instead silty gravel traps at the bottom of hills. The damage seems far worse than any winter I can remember, with the edges of the roads being eaten away at an alarming rate and pot-holes forming everywhere. Several roads were closed.
The random and infinitely strange world of the early Sunday morning bike ride made its presence felt on a narrow road near Butcombe. I was descending gingerly, trying to find a line between the run-off and the gravel and not doing a very good job, when I came across 5 ponies happily chewing the hedges. My training as an agricultural farmhand at Truro cattle market back in the late 1980s suddenly came good (truefact). I helped a lady (who seemed to be on first name terms with the herd) to get them back in the field. I used my Mercian as an impromptu gate across the road (might have been better using a Baines) whilst she somehow snuck past them further down to drive them back up. The exercise took about half an hour. We were going well until some utter schmuck drove up the hill and scattered the wild beasts all about, rather than stopping and offering to help or even blocking off the road to stop them from heading straight into the Augean gloom of Blagdon and eating the locals. Maybe the dumbass in the massive silver car presumed I was some kind of livery expert, what with my horseherd’s uniform of lycra, red jacket and Mercian bicycle.
One thing i noticed is that Horses descend steep, damp, tarmacked hills about as gracefully as I do, which was strangely comforting. Their hooves skittered and skidded across the surface and they looked really jittery.
After the unscheduled pet rescue I opted to head straight up Blagdon hill. I regretted this immediately but pressed on, breaking into the 27t sprocket I save for very special occasions. After about 15 minutes of pain and suffering I made it to the main road where I stopped for a banana. A couple of gents came up Burrington and stopped to chat for a while. They asked me if I knew the climb, said it was a tough one. All humility went out the window and I told them I knew it quite well having won the open hill climb on there riding a 65″ gear a few months back. I would be hard pushed to get up it in under 10 minutes at the moment, such is my wheezy, corpulent and christmassy form. One of the other chaps rode for the Clevedon and we talked about Argos bicycles. I mentioned that the Argos was a popular choice amongst the South, to which he replied, ‘I do believe Ernie Janes’ young lad rides a nice low pro’. I’m sure Allen will be flattered.
My chance encounters weren’t quite finished for the day; descending Harptree Hill I came across the Severn Club Run. They are attracting big numbers at this time of year; there were two of them. One of them was the National Hill Climb Champion, Neil Blessitt. The other one was John. I imagine there might have been some waiting at the top of hills.
Maybe, just maybe I might break the 40 mile barrier before the holiday period ends.