Sunday, 8 March 2015


It has been a busy and somewhat frantic week. Lots of work on, squirrels in the loft and a couple of events on the bike planned for the weekend. Mad isn't it? Maybe I should start drinking again to cope. I somehow squeezed in a trip to watch West Ham lose to Chelsea as well. The last train home from London on Wednesday night had deposited me at Temple Meads at 1.30AM on Thursday morning, and a 6AM alarm call the next day meant I went into a long day of work with minimal sleep. Which left Friday.

The usual plan for a long day on the bike on a Saturday involves an early night on the Friday. But a series of complicated domestic and work logistics meant I didn't hit the bed in the glamorous Travelodge at Reading West (Eastbound) services until late. And it had been quite a rush to get there, usual boring stuff, what to pack, boring, boring, boring. Should have put it on Facebook. Just as I was leaving I did say to Mrs Mendip Rouleur that I had that strange feeling I'd forgotten something but couldn't remember what.

As I went to brush my teeth that night I realised that I'd forgotten dental floss. Not a huge disaster in the scheme of things, in fact, there will be people reading this who think that compared to their bomb-strewn lives I have little to moan about. Because someone in Ukraine reads this every week. And you'd be right. But humour me, blogs are after all a self-indulgent form of internal communication, generally filling a void in the writer's life for meaningful communication and self expression. Including this one.

Anyway, the floss thing was a bit irritating given my fastidiousness about teeth. But probably not hugely important.  If that was all I'd forgotten I thought I had got off quite lightly.

As I drifted off to sleep, I realised I had failed to pack my heart rate monitor. Now I'm quite compulsive when it comes to, umm, well I was going to say my exercise statistics. But actually I can be quite compulsive about a lot of things, and if you are still reading, you won't be if I listed them all. But I do like to be able to track how much effort I'm putting in, and in the absence of a power meter, my HRM is the best I have. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that it might be quite liberating not to have to worry about it, "ride on feel" and all that. I could always take the average of my last four 127 mile rides in windy conditions, on early Spring days and use that as a proxy figure.

But the real memory lapse was still to come, and come at me it did as I was drifting awake, in one of those moments when I wasn't quite sure what day it was, or where I was, that you get before you are properly awake. This woke me up. I had forgotten my chamois cream. Had I been a tough northerner with a leathery backside, this would not have been a problem. But I'm not. I'm a soft southern office-dwelling armchair-sitting idiot with soft, soft, skin. What's more, I had chosen this event to go back to shorts and leg warmers, meaning new parts of the area were going to be affected. Protection was needed.

Being a Travelodge there were none of those free moisturisers or anything similar in the hotel, and a trip to Smiths in the services, the only shop open at 6AM, yielded scant choice of anything that could do the job. Save two. The magazines aimed at a predominantly female demographic quite often have small giveaway tubes of cream or lotion attached. I had a choice.

The first was a large tube of lip-salve. It had potential, and given that it was designed to protect a delicate part of the body from the elements it was tempting. Except it was a bright red colour. Gloss-red, probably called something like "to die for red". Now I know that where I was going to put it, no-one would know. But there was something slightly disconcerting about putting women's bright red lip-salve where the sun doesn't shine in preparation for a cycling event.

So I opted for this instead.

As my good lady pointed out later that day, I could not have picked something so unsuited to the task, even though it purports to be dry-skin friendly. But at least I smelt nice. To begin with. I shouldn't have worried about the colour of the lip salve either, the end effect was the same, and I imagine a lot more painful. So much so that despite feeling OK this morning (not top of the world raring to go, but OK) I had to bail on my plan to ride down to North Petherton and do the Dunkery Dash Audax. I can barely sit in the afore-mentioned armchair, never mind a bike.

Instead of battling up to the top of Exmoor into a rainy headwind. I got to catch up on my sleep and my self-absorption. Go me, right? Nailed it. Or rather Stewart Lee has, that's the kind of thing I want to read.

The Kennet Valley Audax itself was a delight. Although I do sense a shift in the type of people doing Audax these days. Like me for a start, but I'm doing it for all the right reasons, not like these latest set of newcomers. I don't object to them being different to me, it's just that there's no room in the cafes and they should stick to their own events.

I am all for diversity in cycling. No I am. Some of my best friends and colleagues are triathletes, although I do find it a bit weird that they have huge thighs but stick-thin calf muscles. I was going to say calves, but then I thought some people might get confused and think I was talking about farming. But before long they will be bringing their families to Audax, and the whole character and culture will be destroyed.

And yes, it's a shame I have to point this out, but those last few paragraphs are satire, or what passes for it when I write.

As sportives continue to price themselves into the mainstream of capitalist society, with a few notable well-run and charity-supporting exceptions, then all the people who like a sociable day's cycling with like-minded civilised and unaggressive people, get drawn to Audax. I feel sorry for all the old-timers. I wonder if they feel their territory is being pinched, a bit like all the rabid old-school Tories see Nigel Farage camping on their lawns.

I was on old family territory myself, as my Mum was from Hungerford, and the route went past her childhood home as well as close to my grandparents last house.

In Hungerford itself we found the world's most miserable man. The café that was the control was having a bumper day, delighted to host hundreds of cyclists and sell them loads of stuff in the middle of early Spring, with sunshine and a top temperature of 16C, albeit not a mountain or pint of beer in sight.

But next door, at the Haberdashers, and despite his disposition, that is a wonderful thing to call your shop, one local spent the best part of a few hours of his Saturday prowling up and down the street, scowling and telling people not to lean their bikes up against the shops. Not just his, but any shop, including an empty and boarded up one.

As I said, a delightful day, and despite the headwind on the way out to Bratton, it was very enjoyable to be out in the warmth and the fresh air. I even got the opportunity to try out my new Heath-Robinson fix-your-broken saddlebag skills, which seemed to work admirably.

I'm sure all the newbies will be following my example, I am on the internet after all, and doing something similar next time.

And what better than a white horse to finish with, together with the wide open space of Wiltshire, and a selfie of the two most stylish riders on the event. Mainly because Jon didn't come.

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