Saturday, 9 October 2010

A midsummer's night ride

Wallie and myself.   Belas Knapp, Gloucestershire June 2010 - about 3.00am and just before dawn
Wallie and I had promised ourselves a bike ride in May 2010 and had a date arranged for quite some time.  With various things at work taking place it meant I had to call it off.  Try as we might, we just couldn't find another date that suited us and it was then we hit on the idea of a night ride, when it wouldn't matter what was going on at work, providing we decided on a particular Friday in June.

ON the day it went to plan; we met 10.15pm ish in the usual car park at Burford, had a cup of tea and then set off into the night with the last of a few raindrops falling.  Wallie had a route planned, around 50 miles mostly through backroads.  Quite a magical experience seeing the last glow from the sun fade almost to nothing on the horizon - interestingly it was always there, very faint but nonetheless it was there as a dull glow different from the occasional glimpse of sodium flavoured light pollution from a distant town.

We pedalled along, sometimes chatting, sometimes just listening to the whir of our wheels and the countryside at night.  Occasionally we'd see a cat, or perhaps a badger come out onto the road, clock us coming and then run for it.  From time to time a car may pass but before too long there were no car s around and any bedroom lights were gradually being turned off one by one.  We felt like burglars, gliding almost silently around at night, albeit with hi-viz clothing and bright LED lights.  It must have been at around 2.00am when I suddenly felt tired; I'd been fine before.  Suddenly it was really hard to concentrate on what I was seeing and having to make a conscious decision to go a little slower on some of the downhill sweeps.  I think Wallie was just the same, though he didn't say.  After a little more, we seemed to have a second wind, another burst of energy and we got to Belas Knapp, an ancient burial mound.  Wallie had been there before, commentating that "...we'll need to push our bikes a little when we got off the road but only for a couple of minutes".  Well, that was an understatment as we plodded through a few fields, woods etc.

When we got to the mound it was suddenly like being on top of the world.  We walked around and over it to get our bearings.  Then, standing there on the top at 3.10am I said to Wallie "look it's getting lighter".  That faint glow on the horizon, just a shade brighter.  A second later, a bird woke up with the start of the dawn chorus, or maybe a false start prompted by us stirring the night.

Soon we were on our way through the same - but drastically different - landscape.  Roads that we'd cycled on an hour before were taking on a misty quality and it was wonderful seeing the surrounding hills, hedges, trees all appear in a misty faint light.  Looking down into the valleys I remember wondering whether I was witnessing a new fairly tale lake but there we were up above the mist in the gloomy valleys.

I remember feeling incredibly cold at around 4.00am and time to stop for a snack and to put on an extra layer.  Neither of us were talking too much, a combination of feeling utterly tired and also through being in awe of those beautiful surroundings.  Wallie broke the silence by reminding me how he will avoid a main road like the plague.  No matter how remote or quiet, main roads and Wallie do not mix well.

Wallie and his Claud Butler cycle and my Dawes Galaxy cycle
"There's a green lane we can take, look here it is on the map, you can see in runs parallel to the A40 and straight back to Burford".  OK, deal done.  At first it was ok, we could both manage it alright although after a little while it was more hybrid bike territory rather than a skinny wheel tourer.  A little further on it was then more MTB land followed by 4WD and a tractor.  It was hilarious!  We got soaked and became even colder through pushing along through the tall wet grass and Wallie continuously apologising, which of course I milked it for all I could.  A few miles later Wallie hit the "wall" and suddenly started to really struggle saying how it was really the first ride he'd done since last year.  No problem, it's ok in trying to offer a bit of commoradary.  What kept us both going so well in those last few miles was the prospect of a fry-up breakfast.

In my car I'd packed the camping stove with the usual sausages, bacon, eggs etc (all healthy, h'emmmm) but I could smell those mushrooms even before I started cooking!  Absolutely fantastic!  Breakfast and two gallons of tea later, we each set off in our opposite directions.  I drove in a kind-of sleepy autopilot way back home, revelling in what we'd just done.  Marvellous.

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