Friday started not with a cycling commute but with a quick-fire trip to the Toyota garage to get a lightbulb fixed. I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere, but there was no time, because I was on a deadline at the office to get some work finished before heading off to Cirencester for the annual work five-a-side football tournament. This was being held in a couple of indoor pitches, in a nice humid, plastic covered sports hall, also known as the Cirencester Arena.
I wished I had taken a picture of this, but you'll have to take my word for it. Emblazoned on the side of the wall, behind one of the goals, were these words:
"The Cirecncester Arena - Where dreams become reality!"
In our case this proved all too true as despite managing to win a couple of matches, we somehow contrived to be the bottom team in the tournament. Or it may be that someone has a sense of humour, or maybe a complete lack of one. It is possible that young kids dream of one day stepping out onto the hallowed rubber and synthetic grass of the Cirencester Arena, who knows. Although I harboured misplaced footballing dreams when I was under ten, they soon transformed into the more usual dreams of teenage boys.
Later on Friday night we were treated to a musical display of our own from a band entirley drawn from the organisation's workforce. Quite a polished disply it was too, full of technical proficency and lots pf gusto. Not sure it would have touched the 13 year-old Mendip Rouleur, but that wasn't the point, they got up on the stage and put themselves out there. I busied myself with a few beers and the occasional conversation, but for the most part I did was I'm best at, observing from a distance. Wall to wall extroverts, and the walls themselves had people like me stuck to them, taking it all in.
There was a certain method behind all my madness because on Saturday night I had a date with the moon, or at least a 100 km night-ride. I had a vague plan to make myself tired on the Friday, enabling some proper daytime sleeping on the Saturday and arrive at Blaise Castle, fresh as a daisy ready to start riding at 11PM.
It didn't quite turn out as planned. The Tour prologue was so exciting that it kept me awake all afternoon. First, Bradley is just where he wants to be, a nice marker put down in front of Cuddles and the rest, without the pressure of having to defend the yellow jersey for the first week or so. And of course the return of Fabian, after a very serious broken collar-bone, four pieces and a 10 inch plate no less. Where some may puff and grunt, Spartacus just gets on with being a winner. Six weeks later he's back and kicking every other rider all over Liege, and looking absolutely gorgeous to boot. That is what I call a comeback. My hero.
I tried going to bed and listening to Green Day on my ipod but that didn't work either, so in the end I decided to kill time fretting about the weather and faffing over my kit. I decided that despite the inclemency of the rain and wind, the forecast looked good enough to go with light socks, a gilet and shorts.
Bristol's night ride is the sponsored ride I am doing this year for Above and Beyond charities. I'm doing another sponsored ride later in the summer, but more on that another time. If you haven't sponsored me yet, keep your powder dry for that one please. About 40 brave souls had assembled in the car park of the Blaise Castle estate in west Bristol, intent on raising money and doing something a bit different. A quick look around the car park at the various lighting rigs and hi-vis jackets together with the feel of the cold wind whistling up the Bristol Channel convinced me it might be prudent to go for leg warmers and the thicker socks. Later on I was to be very glad of that.
Unlike a sportive, it was difficult to guage what the other riders would be like. The tandem couple from Bristol to Land's End 2010 were then again, but other than that it was all new faces. Except I couldn't see any faces as it was now pitch dark, apart from the blinding lights and refective tape from all the riders clothes. After a very quick safety briefing, including a route change brought on by flooded roads near Keynsham, we were let out onto the streets of Bristol.
A quick blast down the Portway saw us speeding past the harbour and into the chaos of the Centre. 11.30PM, Saturday night, last weekend of university term. Carnage, and we somehow didn't quite fit in. In any case the massed start was already beginning to fragment and splinter into all kinds of groups. Partly this would have been because of the varying abilities, but more pertinently it was because of the near impossibility of navigating the route unless you knew where you were going.
The signs were too small for an urban environment, at night, and did not stand out in the street-lights and amidst all the other clutter of an signs and lamp-posts. Fortunately I had downloaded the original route on Charlie, and managed to stick to it for all but one small diversion, and the re-routed bit where I could follow the signs. But the tandem kept taking wrong turns, and I'm sure others will have got lost on a regular basis.
Eventually we headed up through Clifton, and after an ominous heavy shower, we sped through Henleaze, Southmead and Filton, before crossing under the M5 on our way to Almondsbury. The suburban roads were incredibly quiet and empty, with just an occasional taxi or fox crossing our path. I was now riding with R, a pretty fit road cyclist, who would have dropped me, were it not for the fact that I had Charlie with me, and he was unsure of the route. Eventually we two found ourselves alone and way out in front, and that's the way it stayed for most of the way until near the end.
The ride became much more interesting as we turned right towards Iron Acton and into the dark of the night. A bit of tranquility developed and although not particulalry high-up, we could see the lights of Bristol spread below us, and the occasional glimpse of the moon. All too soon we turned south again, back into the urban sprawl, Winterbourne and the first checkpoint. I think the organisers were more concerened about counting everyone rather than feeding us, but I grabbed a banana in any case, and we were joined by another rider for the next few miles.
There were still plenty of people about, mostly walking home from their Saturday night, and Kingswood seemed to have a colection of nightclubs attracting revellers. There was also plenty of abuse from the passengers of the few cars that passed us, alcohol being an amazing motivator for the inane and the stupid behaviour, that the occupants obviously found tremendously funny. At one point it seemed that every car that passed us was intent on telling us that our wheels were going round.
We headed down into Downend and Kingswood, and yet again it started to rain, this time a lot more heavily. And in a more prolonged fashion, as by the time we reached the outskirts of Keynsham I could barely see through the inside fog or the outside rain on my clear plastic glasses. There were a few lumps and bumps around this point and by now we had dropped our collegue rider. R and I pressed on out into the countrside again, heading for the hills around Pensford and then into the Chew Valley.
The rain eased off and the moon really came out properly, enough to illuminate the whole of the surrounding dreamscape of hills, fields, hedgerows and deep purple sky. A quick stop at the second checkpoint and we were off again through Chew Magna, nearly colliding with a marauding badger, and then up the drag to Winford before dropping over the shoulder of a hill towards Barrow Gurney. R had left me for dead, and I'd not seen him for about 20 minutes when I found him in a lay-by on the A38, with an inability to switch between his big and small chainring except by hand.
He continued to do this, leapfrogging me and then dropping back, before finally deciding to take a shortcut back to the HQ. After the last big climb of the night, up Belmont Hill, it started to rain again. This time it was biblical. By the time I got to Failand, it was heavy. By Redwood Lodge it was torrential, by Abbotts Leigh the road had been replaced by a small river, and by the time I got to the Supsension Bridge I was soaked to the skin and just intent on getting back as soon as my legs could make me.
Back across the Downs, then through more suburban streets and a short up and over and I was back, in a total time of about 4 hours, 3-47 riding time for the 60 miles. Charlie has done a sterling job, but the poor satellite reception caused by the conditions means not all the route got recorded, but it should give you a good idea. There was a surprising amount of climbing too.
On arrival back at Blaise, the first to do so by following all of the route, I found the organisers had only just got back from the first checkpoint, suggesting some riders were in for a long and hard night. I would think that some would have arrived back in daylight, if not sunshine. I made a quick change and drove home, watching the sky start to brighten, amidst further torrential downpours.
I think it would make a lovely ride in the Summer, but at this time of the year it was just a bit too cold and too wet to really enjoy it fully. That said, there were moments when the moon came out and the whole experience was magical, and as my lighting set-up proves I can ride for 4 hours or more in the dark, I would certainly like to do some more night riding.
My big block of training from mid-May to end of June is now done. Close on 1300 miles in six weeks, and I'm really looking forward to a couple of weeks when I don't ride very much, before one or two more events in July and August. Then it's off to the Pyrenees. I can't wait, I just hope it's Summer there, and that this kind of scene can be repeated every day for a week. In all senses. Or will I wake up and find it was all a dream?