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An evening ride in Essex
At one CTC club night I was chatting to Stefan about our dynamo lights and we came up with the great idea of a night ride to enjoy using them. We both agreed that there was not much of a better ride than one late at night after a full day of summer sun. A ride where we could enjoy the evening smells, the fresh air, the silhouettes of trees against the skyline and the overall beautiful atmosphere. I checked the weather forecast and selected a Wednesday that was the hottest day of the week, following a couple of other hot days. I felt that that night would be the best for our ride.

I met Stefan at the prescribed time of half seven, reviewed our route and we set off. At first the ride was nothing out of the ordinary, we had to get out of the congested and populated area we started from. Then, quite soon, we got onto the quiet roads and started getting that great evening atmosphere we were after.

The day hadn’t been as hot as forecast, in fact it was relatively cool and there had been some drizzle earlier on in the day. Despite this, we started getting pockets of different temperatures as we passed under trees or through small dips in the road. The smells that we both enjoyed were also building up. As we passed through one sunken tree lined lane, where it was gloomy, quiet, and damp, the almost overpowering smell of leaf mould, moisture and woodland hit us. “It’s just like being at home” said Stefan in his strong German accent. I could agree with him, we could have been anywhere at that point rather than in the overcrowded urban area of Essex.

As we went around the next corner, where the view opened up to a gentle hillside with sheep grazing amongst the individual trees, Stefan again spoke up, “this is just like being in the Alps”. I was surprised and amazed, the actual topography was nothing compared to the Alps, but the atmosphere and impression it gave off could well have been. Until that point I thought I was the only person who sees the beauty of each individual place rather than just the scenery that the location has to offer. I have lost count of the number of times that I have asked my wife why we have driven miles to a foreign holiday when there is something that looks the same on our doorstep, only to be told I am being stupid. I wish she had been there that night when somebody who grew up in the beauty of our holiday destinations regarded our doorstep as being just the same.

Then it was time to start interacting with nature. It was, in hindsight, very comical. A badger cub, almost fully grown, ran across the road in front of us. The second cub, following, ran across the road and into the side of Stefan’s front wheel. Obviously it fell over, snarled, started fighting for its life against this horrible beast that was attacking it. Amusingly, all that was happening was it was rolling down the road at the same speed as Stefan, who couldn’t speed up or stop. Eventually the pair of them broke apart and the badger ran off unharmed, an advantage of us being on bicycles rather than in a heavy car. The third cub, seeing that the road was now clear, crossed safely behind us. The whole experience left us laughing at the way it had developed and the cub's antics.

Once we had made it to Boreham we could see that the weather forecast had indeed been very wrong. Although we were dry we were now watching a nearby thunderstorm with many strong lightning strikes. These forked tongues were a pleasure to watch, and as the storm appeared to be running parallel to us we had no major concerns. Five miles later though and it was a different story, the rain had hit us.

We stopped to shelter and don waterproofs. As soon as we did though it was obvious there was no point riding for a short while, the falling water was similar to buckets being thrown over us and the visibility was the same as in thick fog. Despite being under the best shelter we could find, a densely leafed tree (although not the highest in the area), we were getting saturated. The waterproofs were completely ineffective and the road we were standing on was turning into a river.

By now the lightning was immediately overhead and the situation was a delight to watch, despite our discomfort and possible risk of a strike. Then the door of the only house we were near opened and an umbrella came out. The kind gentleman beneath this said how sorry he felt for us and wondered if we fancied popping in for a cup of tea and shelter whilst the storm passed. Of course my instinctive reaction, thanks to the negative comments in the press and the media fear that they drum up, was to decline the offer rather than be attacked. I find that a shame really, the fact that there is now so much distrust in the world. However, my mind quickly overcame this initial reaction, assessed the situation, and accepted the offer. We spent a very pleasant short while with steaming mugs and light conversation before the storm passed and we were able to set off again. As we rode away we both commented on how our faith in human nature had been greatly restored.

The passing storm had added to the atmospheric pleasure we had set out to find. As we rode through White Notley the roads had started to steam and we were riding through a layer of mist that was just a foot deep. The effect of our lights on this mist gave an ethereal aspect to the ride. It was a shame though that not everybody was enjoying this, or even realising what it meant. As we approached a junction on our left we saw the car approaching at speed. The silly woman behind the wheel appeared not to have noticed that it had rained, so when she got to the junction and hit the brakes she was scared to find that nothing happened other than all four wheels slid and the car lost no speed at all. Why is it that so many drivers don’t realise that the road is slippery when wet? Fortunately both us cyclists had realised what would happen and so had already taken avoiding action before the car started sliding.

It was shortly after this point that the evening smells started to return. They had been dampened down by the rain, but were now springing up again from the fields we were riding between. We had started to properly dry out and the ride was just getting better and better.

Then, and oh the sheer embarrassment of it, I fell off. It was one of those stupid mistakes that I thought I had got out of my system. We had just stopped to look at the map and had seen a cross roads up ahead, we thought we had to go left at the junction and so set off again. As we got there and started to go left I saw that the signpost actually said we were to go straight ahead and so called out to Stefan. He stopped, and his dynamo lights went out. I braked hard and swerved right to avoid running into him. As I came to a halt, and my lights also dimmed out, I saw in the final dying glimmer that there was a kerb across my path. I swerved left to avoid it, but by then had lost all forward momentum. The bike started falling over, and in a moment of confusion I forgot to unclip my foot from the pedal. I swore and then burst out laughing. It is years since I last spent time lying on the grass verge with a bike clipped to me.

As we continued home we passed through a town we often pass through, but which I know slightly better than Stefan so I took us on a short cut. It is amazing how different everything looks at night, despite us very soon being back on the roads that Stefan knows well he had no idea where he was and he remained disorientated for some considerable time. It is something to learn if you ride often at night, trust your map and don’t worry too much about being on the correct track, if you do spend time worrying or continually map checking it detracts from the enjoyment of the ride. If you think you are lost, wait until a clear and obvious signpost, junction or town/village before getting the map out. If you just check it at the side of the road and try to remember the junctions you have gone through you may well make a mistake.

Then, as we neared the completion of the ride there was a situation that rounded off the night and gave a neat ending. A badger stepped out in front of us and ran along the road in the light of our dynamos. It took us back full circle to the start of the night and the badger that had stepped out then. We had a good laugh and rode for the next few miles recounting all that had happened that night. Then it was time to drop back into the urban areas where we were, at gone one in the morning, subjected to drunken singing of ”I want to ride my bicycle”, which I suppose was predictable and an experience; but not one as good as riding those quiet roads we had enjoyed all night.

All in all a great night out, and a route that I have no doubt we will ride again many times.
    Rides - Evening ride - Page 1 of 1    
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