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The Trouble with Cold, Wet Days ....                    Oct 2004    Back to Rides in 2003 and 2004

And so it came to pass that it was October.  For the last couple of years, this has meant that Marina Bloom and Ralph Dadswell would be seen coaxing a tandem tricycle along a piece of road that most sensible people would normally avoid travelling along.

This year was no exception, and the chosen route for 2004 was the Bath Road.  Classically, the London to Bath and back would only really be untaken in the high summer, when the early start wouldn't mean needing lights, and there was a fair chance of reasonable weather.  However, in real life, other priorities meant that we could only think about doing the ride from mid-September onwards.  And a further set of circumstances saw us reach our "last possible" weekend.  The weather forecast wasn't fabulous, but what wind there was wouldn't be adverse for the last few hours, and so Saturday 16th was our selected day.

As we drove to the start it was raining, but mercifully it was dry as we did last minute preparations.  So at 5am we set off on our 211 mile odyssey, brightly lit, splashing through the puddles.   We had a very modest target of 11h 30m set by the Road Records Association, but for scheduling purposes I had guessed that we would actually clock around 10h 10m.  It turned out that I was a bit optimistic, although some of our losses were caused by mechanical problems, rather than lack of fitness.

We had chosen to start and finish near Slough, with Hyde Park Corner being our first turn point.  We had lost a minute to schedule as we approached the London turn, but were making fair progress through the various obstacles.  And then we hit the pothole, causing a rear wheel puncture.  We rode on, with Marina looking around (in the darkness) for our following car.  After a bit, she shouted at me to stop, and the car pulled in as well.  I guess we lost a couple of minutes, but a replacement wheel was soon fitted and we were only three minutes down as we were witnessed at "The Corner".

We emerged from the darkness unscathed, but found ourselves about eight minutes down at the 50 mile point in Maidenhead.  Not great, and I'd obviously been drinking too much cold water, so we stopped after a few more miles for me to deal with the excessive pressure.  When we reached Reading, we were nine minutes down, but held that deficit through the town and along to Newbury.  Despite a slow climb out of the town, we managed to hold the nine minute loss through to Hungerford.

And then the terrain gets tougher.  There are London residents who wonder why anyone grizzles about how hard the "flat and smooth" Bath Road is.  My message to them is that they ought to drive to the Savernake Forest and then ride the 65 miles to Bath and back.  We struggled up the wet roads to the summit just before Marlborough, with the back wheels slipping under us.  And then you take about 2 minutes to throw away all that effort with a 40 mph descent into the town.

Alarmingly, we then saw the signs diverting traffic away from the town centre.  Oh dear, let's hope it's nothing serious!  As it happens, the main street was filled with a fun fair.  We picked our way through, eleven minutes down.

It's difficult to be certain exactly when it had happened, but it had definitely stopped raining by this time.  I say this with some confidence, because I remember the rain suddenly hitting us as we approached Beckhampton, and the long descent past Cherhill to Calne was performed in abysmal conditions.  We had lost another minute at Calne, as we moved onto a section that I think of as my bete noire.  It's bad enough in good weather, but we were slipping around as we crept along towards Chippenham.  Despite the schedule being incredibly generous, we still lost another minute.

With 12 miles until the Bath turn, I needed another stop.  And so we pulled over for me to lose another litre. Mike Bloom started rambling on about incontinence or something ....  but we were soon on our way again, towards a brief chance to take in the magnificent view from the top of Box Hill.  And then we plunged down yet another giant incline which would need to be conquered on our return.  Am I being too dramatic?

Approaching Bath, there was a lengthy queue of traffic for us to weave our way past.  Once done, conditions were tolerable (almost enjoyable) as we nipped along the sunny spa-town streets to receive acclamation from a giant crowd near the Head Post Office (thanks Paul & Reg).  Back to the traffic jam, our car had just reached the front of it as we returned, so they were soon on our tail again as we positively sped along with a mere 80 miles to go.  We had been 15 minutes down at Bath, but hard times were ahead.

There's no getting away from it ... it was sunny, and there seemed to be a bit of wind-assistance.  However, such things are but trivia compared with a couple of miles of climbing out of Box.  We could see a rider ahead of us, but we never caught him up, despite the likelihood that he was just out for a weekend amble.

Approaching Chippenham we had to stop briefly to untangle the chain following a careless gear change.  It's always good to get oil all over your hands, because it adds a certain tang to any food you subsequently consume ....

The hills, the hills.  We gracelessly slithered our way up the inclines, followed each time by brief freezing precipitous descents.  More time lost by Calne, and then the slog of Labour in Vain Hill.  After a couple of false endings, we really did reach the top, and then had the pleasures of the lumpy section past Silbury Hill to Marlborough.  The fair was still there, and a few dozen people stared at us as we passed.  Probably thought we were part of one of the novelty acts.  Twenty minutes down, and just one big hill to go before we could rejoice at being less than 50 miles from the finish.  Joy, oh joy.

Surprisingly, we held a 23 minute deficit through Hungerford, Newbury and to the outskirts of Reading.  We were probably almost upbeat about swiftly polishing off the last 20 miles and finishing with beaming countenances.

Suddenly, with little warning, it was raining again.  Heavily, making visibility poor.  Put those smiles on hold please, let's have the serious faces again.  Gridlock in the town centre caused yet more low speed manoeuvres.  All the traffic seemed to be going to the Oracle Car Park, and so once we were past there, we were on empty roads for a mile or so, which seemed quite bizarre.  Bizarre or not, however, we'd lost another 5 minutes to schedule. 

This was getting serious, and I was getting very uncomfortable again.  But we only had 14 miles to go, so we tried to wind up the pace as we pressed on through the murk.  In the last mile a motorist brilliantly blocked the carriageway as he waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic, which caused us to stop.  Obviously, we saluted him when he eventually moved off, allowing us to grind our way along the closing stages.  I was a picture of agony as we finally crossed the line nearly 30 minutes behind schedule, but crucially over 50 minutes ahead of the lowest Record Standard set by the RRA. 

All things considered, we should probably be fairly happy with the end result, it's just a pity that I'd guessed we would be quite a bit faster.  But once over the line, I had more pressing concerns than such idle reflections of what might have been.  As soon as we had retraced to the finish point I was off the machine and making a dash.  When I finally had some privacy it took 2 minutes 8 seconds for me to return to normality.  That's the trouble with cold, wet days ....

RD Oct 2004

Back to Rides in 2003 and 2004

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