It’s funny how things escalate. I arranged to meet Steve Douchebag for our first ride together since the Tour De France in Yorkshire, which was some years ago. Initial plans were for me to drive down, then do a nice little spin around the levels. Steve was keen on doing a maximum of 30 miles, on account of his slight ring-rustiness. Therefore, thought I may as well ride down, get the miles in, you know. After all, it was only 20 miles there and back. What’s the worst that could happen?
When you’re out of shape the spectre of hubris haunts every ride. It was freezing cold. The road to Wells was paved with gert hills. I left late and felt rough as a tramp’s gusset. I made it, we drank coffee and Steve took me out on the Levels. I haven’t done much riding down that way, it’s the wrong side of the Mendips and a bit of a trek. I went to Wedmore recently, but didn’t get in amongst the really flat stuff.
I have been missing out. It’s an amazing landscape of rhynes and roads that trace the edge of the watercourse at right angles. The sedge and wetland hold hidden secrets and the topography seems somehow untouched, primitive and inchoate. The sweet track runs across, and neolithic echoes chime across the fog and hang in the air; a reverberation and ripple caused by the hands of time and history.
Steve’s route had me confused. It looped around and turned, I thought we were going east when we were going west. My sense of direction was awry. We rolled along the path near Shapwick and Ham Wall, where Giant White Egrets stalked the shallows and then laboured into the air on our approach, each one a billowing white sheet caught in the breathless air. Buzzards sulked silently in the trees, waiting and waiting until impelled to move because we rode too near. Swans stalked the fields like livestock, and swooped across the sky, wings beating to a whistling sound.
The roads were filthy and I had to stop to clear the gunk from my mudguards. Tight Belgian clearances are not good for tracks and trails. We parted company at Wedmore and I made my way back into the headwind, limping towards Bristol. I opted for the Strawberry Line, trying to extend the off-road experience and avoid the Mendips. It was closed, with a diversion through a wood and a farmer’s sump. I nearly drowned in the mud. I ran out of food and had to do an emergency stop for a garage flapjack and bottle of lucozade, just for the privelege of limping on a bit further towards home, 6 hours and 78 miles later. Still alive, but just.
It was amazing.