Good to be back on the road….regenerated by a couple of weeks of alternative activities on the southern beaches of Spain: walking, yoga and swimming, it was good to feel renewed energy on the bike, and the (perhaps deceptive) lightness of the forward propulsion of pedalling.
But it was just my luck to have to stop mid-ride to help a young lady cyclist (this doesn’t often happen, believe me) who had fallen off her bike. Only a few days into learning to ride a bike, she had fallen on the grass verge and, unshaken by the experience, she had picked herself up, dusted herself off, but her bike needed a few adjustments before being able to re-mount. I raised the saddle a few inches for her, but she was nervous she wouldn’t be able to easily touch the ground with her feet. I straightened her handlebars and checked a few of the mechanicals to make sure they would work for her. A mile down the road, I stopped and looked back, and I could see her getting up to speed, so left her to it.
Most of us learn to ride a bike as children, but some don’t. As children, we are so used to the rough and tumble of childhood that falling off a bike is hardly novel or much more painful than any other fall. But learning as an adult is a different story. Having broken my femur on one occasion falling off my bike, I came to understand (somewhat painfully and late in life) that we no longer ‘bounce’ as we did as children. And that is the fear that deters many adult learners, just as it deterred my wife, Jenny……..but then she married someone who explored alternatives, like a tandem. For any non-bike rider who would dearly love to ride a bike, riding stoker on the back of a tandem is an (almost) perfect solution…….as it is for people who are sight-impaired, or have some other disability that keeps them from riding a bike.
If you know of anyone who is in this situation and would dearly love to ride stoker on the back of a tandem, then check out Charlotte’s Tandems, a charity that organises the loan of tandems to people with disabilities. They do a great job and have a network of volunteers around the country who can supply a tandem free of charge.
Well, Jenny and I were all primed and ready to head off on a ferry at midnight tonight, but those wretched ‘schemes o’ mice and men’ got in the way….. and I blame the hapless mice….
The tandem was ready, Jenny had nearly done the impossible and squeezed 10 days worth of clothing into one pannier bag, but I had decided to have just one last ride out to meet one of my cycling clubs, at a nice country tearoom…..but I tell you, these nice country tearooms are sometimes not all they seem, they can be dangerous places. No, I didn’t swallow a fork, or choke on a piece of cake….. all I did was step down onto some damp wooden decking that happened to be standing in for an ice rink……and before I could say ‘toast and marmalade’, I was ‘decked’ on the slippery decking, wondering how the heck I had gone from vertical to horizontal so quickly.
Having checked myself over and decided it was really only my pride that had taken a bashing, I informed the owners of their negligence (not so rudely of course), they whipped out the elf ‘n safety notices, and I set off to ride the 20 miles home, thinking nothing more about it.
It wasn’t till late that afternoon that I began to notice twinges in my wrist…..and the twinges turned into discomfort, and the discomfort turned into identifiable pain……..and to cut a long story short, after a late evening visit to A&E, and after several X-rays, they decided I had a fracture in the scaphoid bone….and I didn’t even know I had one of those…..😁
So the long and the short of it is…… tandeming the Rhine will have to wait for a more auspicious moment…….a time when I can steer, operate the gears and brakes with total confidence……because Jenny refuses to be captain…..🤔
Now where are those wretched mice……?
When you have a passionate interest in an activity, and you go out and share that passion with others, through a mysterious network of people and events, you come across exceptional people and moving stories. Sadly, sometimes you encounter only the memory of people whose existence on this planet was inopportunely cut off by tragic circumstances.
I never met Bas Clarke. He had died in a tragic road accident, aged 65, shortly before I had established firm links with one of the cycling groups that he had ridden with. That group is euphemistically known as the ‘Thursday group’ and, a couple of weeks ago, Jane Clarke (his widow) held her annual garden party in his memory, providing this hungry group of cyclists with cakes galore (my favourite was parsnip and chocolate cake), and providing a base in her beautiful house and garden for weary legs and empty stomachs.
Bas had been a noted time triallist in his time, principally during the 1980s when, as a vet, he had won championships and broken records. He had over 50 years of experience under the belt but, unfortunately, he had never broken the habit of doing his training up and down the A1. Sadly, one day in September 2009, he was struck by a lorry driven by a foreign driver. He died two days later in Peterborough Hospital. Bas had been a stonemason, and had designed and built the beautiful house that Jane still lives in. He had also been a notable duck breeder and keeper of wild fowl, for which he had designed and built a lake on the field that sweeps downhill from their back garden.
Though sad that I had never met the man, I am now delighted to have made his acquaintance in the spirit. And delighted also to see that his memory is preserved by those closest to him in the world of cycling.
We all love to hear of other people’s misfortunes. It’s what fuels village gossip and sells newspapers, after all. If ever you have been admitted to hospital for a ‘procedure’, when you discover there are others in a much worse condition than you, you suddenly feel so much better about your own circumstances. Gore Vidal once said: “It is not enough to succeed; others must fail”. ‘Schadenfreude’ is almost a sin of envy in reverse……and we are all guilty of it.
Yesterday, I tried to ford the ‘unfordable’. I was cycling back from Cambridge (where I had been attending a writer’s course at the Fitzwilliam Museum) and took a back road around Hail Weston, just 5 miles from home, where there is one of those picturesque little fords over the river Kym (an innocent little river that meanders lazily down towards the Great Ouse).
I would normally dismount and carry my bike over the footbridge but, stupidly, a split-second decision saw me heading into the ford, which was covered by a mere three inches of water………in other words, eminently ‘fordable’. Innocent though the water level looked, lurking beneath that shimmering sheen was a slimy green surface that was waiting patiently to catch unsuspecting cyclists like me. As I entered the water, too late to do otherwise, I knew I had made the wrong decision……….
Like the black ice that brought me off my bike three years ago (when I broke my femur) the slime took the bike from under me and left me sprawling on the deck, three inches of the River Kym happily lapping over my prostration and enveloping my bike in a malicious caress, intent on sweeping us both down to the confluence of the two rivers.
During the brief second it took to fall, I had an alarming flashback to the black ice incident that had put me out of action for several months, and I lay there cursing my own stupidity. Adrenalin immediately kicked in. I hauled myself out, climbed over the bridge, and before I set off, I saw a dog-walker about to enter the water in his wellington boots. I shouted to him: “Take care…..it’s treacherous underfoot”. Once he had uncoupled himself from his earphones, he shouted back: “I know……but most people don’t!”. As I cycled off, leaving a pool of water in my wake, I muttered to myself: “So why weren’t you there to tell me in my hour of need?”.
This time, I luckily escaped with a bruised hip and grazed elbow……………and, of course, a certain amount of damage to my pride!