Part 2: Mum and Dads
I have the bike and I have sold the car. So it is down to business, how hard can this be? I have tried a couple of journeys. One to the Ministry of Yoga (truly a spiritual haven nestled amongst Crewe’s terraces) two miles away from home. Also a journey to work at Community Recycle Cycles three and a half miles away. Both trips went surprisingly well. Admittedly, I was a little puffed when I reached the destination but nothing serious. So I planned to visit my parents in Whitchurch that very weekend.
My goodness! What a storm that announcement made. I mean, Crewe to Whitchurch is merely a 17-mile journey each way. And I know I can manage up to three and a half miles without problems and I had already successfully completed two whole journeys. I fielded all the well-meaning concerns from family, friends and neighbours stoically yet firmly. Their well-constructed arguments about how I needed more practice before such a long journey; the less than flattering remarks about my belly girth I took with (relatively) good grace. I remained firm and committed to my plan for a Sunday dinner of my Mum’s, duly earned by a gentle cycle ride over to see them.
Over the years I have (nearly) learned to take notice of well-meaning people who offer suggestions, especially if they have no other considerations except my welfare. However, a small summer’s cycle journey should hardly cause such brouhaha! These well-meaning people were seriously over estimating the problems and massively under estimating my ability and prowess! However, I did listen and the Friday before I went I put in an extra training run. Another three mile journey (six miles round trip) to the retail estate in Crewe and I bought some cycling gloves and shorts.
It turns out there is a nerve, close to the surface of the palm, that commonly reacts to cycling by giving the whole palm pins and needles within a couple of miles from the start of the journey. Cycling gloves have this nerve well padded and they help considerably with avoiding this aggravation. Over time this reaction reduces as the palm gets used to the rattling of the handlebars.
It was also necessary to get some proper cycling shorts … no not those lycra monstrosities! But shorts for cycling, the weather is warm and cycling shorts are necessary. I had already clocked up 16 miles on the bicycle and it turned out, despite my best efforts, the saddle was not large enough, I needed some shorts with some serious extra padding!
One final point and I was quite proud of this! If you are cycling over 5 miles then the chances are that you will need to take on some liquids. You can go for those sports promoted, isotonic, electrolyte replacing, fruity energy drinks which I am sure are brilliant only I cannot afford those! I opted for water. My bicycle has a water holder, of course, but the water bottle I chose to use has a screw top. This means I cannot possibly use it “on the move”; to get a drink I will have to stop and rest up while I open my water bottle; always thinking, me! Every drink is also a little rest!
The day arrived warm and clear. With my water bottle filled and my extra padded shorts on I launched myself off to Whitchurch. The first couple of miles went past quite smoothly. Well, it was a minor source of irritation that at the top of the road, where it joins the main road, I pulled up next to a very elderly lady cyclist also waiting for a gap in the traffic. A few moments later the gap appeared and we both pulled out. Only she pulled out much quicker and, to my dismay, cycled much faster than I could manage down the road. The last thing I saw was the cheerful bouncing of the pink woollen bobbles on her panniers as she disappeared, ever further ahead, around a bend in the road. Sometimes the reliable warmth of my grand belly cannot smother the freezing lance of ice-cold shame my lack of fitness delivers.
With the challenge still ahead and a resolute frame of mind I continued onwards. It was hot and my thighs started to burn a mere two miles from home, but I was prepared for this and continued. I opted to go through Acton, I don’t really know the back roads very well and the main drag from Nantwich to Whitchurch is both fast and narrow and dangerous. I preferred the quieter route, perhaps slightly longer, but quieter, slower and safer. You have to think of these things if you are cycling. I pushed on until the 6 mile mark and decided, as it was a hot day, that I had earned a sip of water. I pulled over and got off the bike to unscrew my water bottle for a drink. I took a long moment to enjoy the village green at Brindley, take a few sips of water and also surreptitiously stretching out my now much abused thighs. Six miles is twice as far as their longest run! Still feeling quite chipper I launched myself back into the saddle and I scurried onwards.
Can I just make a comment here about the friendliness of fellow cyclists. Without fail every cyclist I met on that journey offered me a cheery “Good morning” or similar as they sped past me. I would like to say that they inched past me over a few hundred yards but no! They zipped past in their twos and threes at what I could only assume was a foolhardy and dangerous speed. Chatting to each other as they enjoyed their ride and giving me a little wave along with their happy greeting. I answered none of them. Not because I am unsociable and nor because I was jealous of their prowess. I answered none because I was concentrating on breathing and I needed all of my airways for breathing and there was no space left for talking! I apologise to you if you are one of those who passed.
The next stop happened only a further four miles along the road. The good news was that I had successfully reached the ten mile mark, the bad news was that my thighs were burning! The next stop was only two miles further on. The next was only after one mile. It was at this point that things started going wrong. It was quite apparent that my legs were fading at ever shorter distances and I did the maths, it wasn’t looking good! Calculating the expected number of stops at the current rate meant that I had to start rationing my water! Still, I was new to cycling; I was not daunted.
A further three quarters of a mile further along, and yet another stop, sip and stretch, I had my next shock. Admittedly I had now got as far as the A49 and I was on the home stretch but as I tried to remount the bicycle there was a dangerous tearing sensation from the groin area. My body was clearly indicating that it had had quite enough. It needed rest and I was starting to stiffen up, so much so that from this point onwards I was now unable to lift my leg high enough to get it over the saddle.
The next half an hour was really quite miserable. I had gone too far to turn back as I was well over halfway. Stopping every half mile, or maybe even quarter mile for a rest. The truth was I was stopping for a break everywhere I could find a curb, I was still in the countryside and there were few curbs; and I needed a curb because I needed the extra height to get my leg over the saddle when remounting.
I remember one stretch of dead straight road that I was cycling down. My breath coming in short ragged gasps and my thighs were burning so badly I kept on having to check to see if my new shorts were on fire. It was a long slow slog, the wind seemed to be against me and I didn’t have a lower gear. I was in the depths of misery pushing first one leg down and then the next. I started to believe that the headwind was actually pushing me backwards I was travelling so slowly. There were no curbs so I could not stop or I would never be able to get back on the bicycle. It became a test of my will power. Left leg, right leg. “Keep going, don’t stop.” Left leg, right leg. “It is all up hill. That’s what it is.” Left leg, right leg. “Deceptive but draining, you can beat this, don’t stop.” Left leg, right leg. “Your head is down, take a look around, enjoy the countryside. Left leg, right leg. “What the …..” Looking around was a mistake! This straight stretch was that bit of the A49 that runs along the Shropshire Union canal. Uphill my arse! It was dead level – water level. I was now the cyclist who didn’t have the strength to cycle along a dead level road. It was for exactly these situations that the word “pathetic” was invented for. Fortunately there were no curbs, so I could not stop. This was fortunate because if I stopped I would have cried, I would have cried big, fat, big-girls-blouse tears. Even as the thought crossed my mind I realised that even that would have been too butch for me at that moment, I didn’t even have the strength left for big-girls-blouse tears!
I kept on a few hundred yards further. I was not aware that I was within a mile of my destination so there was no comfort to be found there. A little later (and a very short distance) I was saved. I was saved by the steepest hill of the journey so far. It was a respectable slope and I felt that there would be no shame in dismounting and pushing the bicycle up the hill. I also noticed that the road up this hill had been resurfaced recently and there was a load of loose stones and grit at the edge of the road, it would be like cycling through soft sand, impossible. I didn’t have a choice about it anyway! I dismounted and with my head held high and my back proudly straight I started my ascent.
You may not be aware but cycling and walking seems to use different muscles. It was a surprise to me but pushing the bicycle uphill turned out, at this time, to be easier than cycling along the flat! I started to have a little spring in my step. Yes I knew I was pushing my bicycle, but it was a steep hill with many stone chippings around; I felt I could blag the excuse with ease. Gently and slowly my confidence began to return and I felt my chin lifting and hope returning, after all it had to be downhill from the top! Sometimes I have a self-sabotaging turn of mind. Just as my thoughts started to pick up and I felt that I could, maybe sometime soon, feel happy again, obviously not today, but sometime; my brain kicked in with a needle-like thought to burst this sort of upbeat thinking. I started to realise that my new shorts, my new cycling shorts, my new extra padded cycling shorts were swinging gently back and forth across my buttocks. My gait along with the huge weight of padding in the gusset had set up a curious pendulum-like movement around my bum that would have to look very odd. I started to imagine the conversations that were happening inside the passing cars:
“Daddy, why is that man pushing his bicycle?”
“Well son, it is because he is weak and pathetic, we should call him a big-girls-blouse.”
“Oh, OK. But what is wrong with his bum?”
“That, son is his big cissy padding swinging side to side because his bum is not strong enough to support that huge belly of his on the saddle…”
I felt the prickle of the big-girls-blouse tears start to return!
I did get to the top of that hill and everything began to come back together. It was all down hill. The turning for Whitchurch was in sight and there was even a curb, so I could remount the bicycle. I went zipping down the hill and rolled with very little effort up to my parents house. They came straight out to see how I was on the grounds that my journey had taken two and a half hours and dinner was ready!
I had been wittering on for the last few weeks about building the bike and how great it all was that they felt obliged to say some complimentary things about my new acquisition.
“You had best take it around the back.” Said my mother. “You wouldn’t want anyone stealing it.”
“I was thinking of leaving it at the front.” I told my mum. “And I will be sellotaping a tenner to the saddle, that should sweeten the deal enough!”
Of course the saddest part of the day came an hour later when I begged my 75 year old father to give me and my bicycle a lift home!