Well what an interesting weekend that was! The church went away for a weekend, and as it was only 86 miles to where we were staying I cycled rather than drove.
I suppose the whole trip can be categorised onto 5 segments
- the ride
- the amazement
- the worry
- the ride home
This was easy. I used my normal trick of just asking one of the many computerised mapping programs to give me a route, but with my preferences set with a low desire for main roads and a higher desire for minor roads. I then reviewed this route to ensure it was sensible, and adjusted it to use some local roads I knew were even better. In hindsight this was 95% successful, but I couldn’t have known easily about that last 5% without physically checking it beforehand.
I then photocopied the OS maps for this route onto A3 paper and highlighted my route for easy reference whilst riding. This saved me having to take excess paper with me, whilst giving me a map I could use should I miss the directions slightly. See here for the route details
I was absolutely flabbergasted and amazed by this ride! The first hour was fine as it was one of my favourite traffic free on-road routes to Maldon. From there I travelled a main road to Colchester, which wasn’t as busy as feared. I bypassed Colchester via the outskirts and then was onto an amazingly quiet country road that was traffic free and a delight to ride. I lost time as I was admiring the view and my surroundings.
I stopped at a weir to both admire the view, eat a sandwich and phone my wife who was at work but would be following me. We were both amazed that I was halfway there after only 2.5 hours riding. I was also impressed at how quiet it was. In that 5 minute stop I only saw two cars!
For some time later my route was uneventful. I missed one turning but as I had a map on my bar bag for instant reference I was able to recover with hardly any extra distance. I then stopped to “water a hedge” just before hitting Ipswich, but spent longer there as I ended up watching a herd of wild deer.
Ipswich, my biggest fear, was a complete misnomer despite hitting it in the evening rush hour. As I entered the town I stopped at a supermarket petrol station for more sandwiches and a dark fizzy energy drink (no advertising on this website!). I ate and drank, turned my lights on and left. The traffic was gridlocked but nowhere near as bad as my daily commute into Southend. Even better, my route was closed for road works, so I walked down that short section of pavement and was on my way. No cars followed, despite my expectations, so I took my primary route of a main road, rather than the more minor road which I feared may be narrower and so harder for the commuters to get around me.
From here on my route was again uneventful, it was dark and I was riding. Then I hit the Suffolk cycle network. These roads were traffic free, but therefore the tarmac was covered in grit from the sandy soil from the fields as car tyres had not swept the surface clean. At one crossroads my route and my map said to go straight ahead. However the sign in the hedge said that the road was a dead end. I’d already covered 60 miles and was now faced with a choice. Stick to my planned route and hope I could get through, or turn off and find another route rather than the one that was 2 inches deep in sandy wet soil overlaid over the tar,
I turned off and found a better road. This is the advantage of carrying a proper map rather than relying on a specific route.
The last miles I wasn’t happy though as I could feel that that sandy soil and grit had got into the bike and all its components. All I could feel as I turned the pedals was the scrunching of the grit in the chain, however there was nothing I could do.
When I arrived, nobody could believe my achievement. I couldn’t understand this, all I had done was a pretty flat 86 mile ride in just over 6 hours (5 hours, 23 minutes riding) whilst enjoying myself and calming down after an extremely busy and bad week at work.
People thought my legs must be agony and that I must be desperately tired, but because I cycle so much this was easy and I wasn’t suffering. I will admit a little tiredness and trouble working out the floor-plan and where my room was, but a simple shower and another meal sorted that out.
Throughout the weekend it snowed. Everybody there (except my wife) was worrying about my return journey. She knows me, and in my mind there was no problem with yet another basic ride. In fact, to be honest, all we had was about an inch of snow on warm damp ground. The resultant slush should have given nobody any problems.
On the final day I put my sensible head on, checked the weather forecast and then phoned somebody at home for a local weather report. All was fine so I put my gear on and set off.
The Ride home
I had cleaned the bike as best as possible, re-lubricating the chain from the supplies I’d asked my wife to bring, and I hoped the grit I’d picked up on the journey there had been removed.
I had also re-planned my journey home to avoid that Suffolk cycle network section. As a result I was using a slightly more main road (the B1069 to be precise) but in my entire journey I think I counted only about 9 cars. The better road surface and view more than made up for having to share the road with an extra 7 cars!!!!
My problems started about 20 miles into the ride when it started to snow heavily. I stopped to put on a thin fleece between my base layer and waterproof coat, and also to put on some clear cycling glasses. The snow was beautiful, but cold; my gloves and socks started getting wet and cold started coming through.
I stopped again on the outskirts of Ipswich (30 miles into the ride) as I’d remembered some plastic bags I had in my luggage. I put these on between my socks and shoes, but my socks had already started getting wet.
I continued my journey and to be honest there was nothing major to mention about it. I stopped to look for the deer, but they weren't there; I did see a hare though. It was cold and snowy, but not too bad. Around the Higham area I came across a section of road that had deep slush, but rode through it ok. The worst thing was having to keep my speed down as the road surface was slushy and my glasses had water on them.
It was only when I got home and was cleaning the bike the next day that I found that I had almost completely worn out the brake blocks thanks to the gritty roads and having to keep my speed down. I don’t like to think about the wear to my wheel rims!
For the last half of the ride I found that my feet were cold, as were my hands. Whenever I stopped to warm my feet by stamping my torso then got cold through the wind chill on my sweaty clothing. The only answer was to stop for the shortest time, and then start off slowly until the under clothing with condensation started warming back up. It turned into a juggling act trying to stop the cold moving too far into my hands, feet or body.
In the end I was so cold and losing strength in my arms and hands that I decided to take the shortest and easiest route home for the last 6 miles, despite it being an 70mph dual carriageway with no hard shoulder.
Other than that discomfort I had a great ride. My birthday list for next November (only 9 months away as I write) is a pair of windproof winter gloves (and ones that don’t transfer the cold through to sweaty hands), as well as a pair of good quality socks that stay warm and prevent heat loss when wet and damp.
This trip is one I will have to repeat in the summer on a dry day to confirm how great a ride it really is.