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From Side to Side, and then a bit                RD August 1997        Back to Rides in 1997

It's difficult to know how to deal with this one.  On the one hand, there was a record broken, which I should be pleased about.  But, to be honest, the principal objective was not achieved.  Before I started, I stated that breaking the 1000 miles record was a serious aim, and not just an amusing add-on to the Pembroke to Great Yarmouth "Side to Side" record.  Indeed, it was clearly more than just an add-on, as it trebled the length of the ride.  However, things didn't work out as planned, and what could have been a dramatic (if arguably almost pointless) ride, fizzled out prematurely.

The Pembroke to Great Yarmouth route is the newest addition to the RRA's list of place-to-place rides, having been introduced in 1995.  Initially, I toyed with the idea of doing the ride on a bicycle;  I hadn't ever even attempted an RRA bicycle record, and this seemed a reasonable opportunity as there was only a modest standard of 17h 30m to beat. 

However, that particular ride didn't happen, and by 1997 my interest was back with the tricycle.  The reason for this was simple;  I was making my way through the list of RRA records, and it seemed likely to me that I could break all the existing tricycle records for the place-to-place routes.  Whilst I still feel that I could beat the standard set for riding a bicycle from Side to Side, the urge to hold all the tricycle records was overwhelming, and so the bike ride was shelved.

The story is, in a way, similar for the 1000 miles record.  Although I can't say that I have ever been confident that I could have beaten 58h 40m on a bicycle, it always seemed more of an interesting challenge than 69h 37m on a tricycle.  The trike record seemed to be "too long" to be out there - seeming to suggest that you would need a third night of riding.

The only answer, I figured, was to prepare a schedule which didn't require a third night!  Accordingly, I decided on a target time of 60 hours.  My choice of course featured the Pembroke to Yarmouth as the first 340 miles, with a period in Norfolk following it, and then the second 500 miles in the Fens.

The weather requirements were simple (I thought), being a westerley wind for the first day, followed by a period of nothing much.  This style of course was chosen following comments made after John Woodburn had attempted to break the bike 1000 in 1987.  He used a course which didn't rely on a strong and reliable wind from any particular direction; his view after the attempt had terminated was that the best way to start such a ride would be with a long period of tail wind.

As ever, the right conditions seemed determined not to materialise.  I rode the Norlond TT Combine 100 on 13th July, took the chance to do the London to Brighton & back record on 16th July, then decided to ride the Championship 100 on 20th July.  I then had a fairly easy week, which culminated in the chance to attempt the Side to Side and 1000.

I have since been advised that this build-up was probably a bit harsh, and the effects would still have been "with me" on 27th July.  But still, I didn't know in advance that the 1000 opportunity would crop up, and so I just went from race to race.

On the Thursday, the charts suggested to me that Sunday would feature suitable west winds, and that a ridge of high pressure would then impose itself over the south of England for a couple of days.  I decided to go for a start on Sunday.

Despite having made as many advance plans as I could, I still found myself needing someone to accompany Audrey Hughes for the first 200 miles.  After exhausting my initial list, a chance call to Reg Randall found a very willing volunteer.  Dick Poole and Glenn Longland would join the convoy after about 12 hours, and Martin Purser would bring a team in to handle the second half.

We made the lengthy trip to the start in fairly poor weather conditions.  As it happens, the wind on that day would probably have been favourable for me, but I would have received quite a soaking in the process.  The conditions expected for Sunday onwards had, it must be said, been steadily becoming less exciting.  By now, I was expecting quite light westerlies, quite high temperatures, and less than flat-calm days following.  However, at some point you have to be committed to the ride, and things could have been much worse.

There was a slight communications problem when I asked the Guest House manager where the best place to eat was.  I mentioned large portions and wholesome food, but he must have thought that I really meant classy surroundings and a pretentious menu.  It was a very nice restaurant, and we could have spent hours there.  However, we were on for an early start, and it was already 8 o'clock.

At 4am, my alarm sounded, and I sprang into action.  A quick breakfast, and we were busy making last-minute arrangements for the food and drink needed on the ride.  By half past five, we were outside loading the car, and at 5:45 we moved off to the start.

Well, that's what would have happened, if I had been organised.  In fact, I only had just over 5 minutes to go when I began the ride to the start.  Luckily it wasn't far, and I was riding at over 20 mph; when I finished grinding up the hill to the castle, I had three minutes left.  Fortunately, the trike was working properly, and so I set off on time.

The first hour was undertaken largely in mist.  However, conditions were quite acceptable when I reached the aptly named St Clears.  I was slightly behind schedule, but some sensible riding through Camarthen and past Llandeilo left me quite close to my target as I started the long climb away from Llandovery.  By Brecon, a fairly routine 80 miles had been covered, and I was happy with progress.  I was still one or two minutes behind my schedule, but in the context of a 60 hour ride, this was trivial.  I was not, after all, battling the Brighton road on this occasion!

I cruised along past Hay-on-Wye, and (excitement!) was actually running ahead of schedule at the Willersley checkpoint.  Onwards to Hereford, and I was competently marshalled at the concealed left turn at Swainshill, putting me onto the Roman Road towards Worcester.  Along this stretch, there was a moment of amusement when some pedestrians burst into an impromptu rendition of "I want to ride my tricycle", a hit song (almost) by a famous beat-combo.  I have sung it myself in the past, usually after a few beers.  It seems so funny at the time.

I was quite hot, and I indicated to Reg and Audrey that I would stop for a wash down at the top of the next big hill.  For those of you who know the route to Worcester, you won't have any difficulty in working out where I mean.  After several minutes of 1 in 6 gradient, I was greatly relieved to pull off the road for a few moments rest.  I removed a substantial amount of salt, applied copious sloppings of sun-block lotion, and was soon on my way again.

(Reg Randall supervises a wash down and clean up)

It was just after 1pm when I made my way through Worcester, and out along the London Road.  I swung off the main road at the Oak Apple Inn, and took Spetchley Road to its eastern end.  Nothing unusual in that, you might think, except for all the signs saying No Through Road and Road Closed.  However, despite appearances to the contrary, there is a gap in the fence at the end, allowing a cyclist to cut through and join the Ring Road in an unconventional manner.  This probably only saved a minute, but dodges like that amuse me, and I couldn't resist that one .... particularly as a vocal Worcester resident had earlier advised me (in no uncertain terms) that the short cut didn't exist (and he should know, because he lived in Worcester!).

Anyway, after that bit of fun, it was back to reality, and that reality was that I was wilting a bit.  I made heavy weather of the ride acrosss to Alcester, and at 160 miles I was only just inside 8 hours.  By the time I had hauled myself past Stratford to Warwick, I was about 5 minutes behind schedule, and wasn't feeling on top form.  I made my way through Warwick and Leamington, and along to the A45.  This was probably the hottest section, and I felt quite sloth-like as I pressed on to Rugby. 

I lost touch with Audrey and Reg for a while here, as (despite my efforts to explain the route in text and on maps) they demonstrated that there's no substitute for having been through a town beforehand.  You only have to find yourself in the wrong lane at one junction, and you have a major job to geet back onto the road you needed.  I made my way through the town, climbed to Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, then down to the A5, and across to the M1/M6/A14 junction near Catthorpe.

I was eight minutesdown as I moved onto the A14, and hoped that the improved road would help me redress the deficit.  I passed 200 miles in 10h 10m.

When I was past Kettering, I was starting to get stomach pains.  I requested, and received, some fizzy drink.  I made several stops to try to sort out my discomfort.  I didn't seem able to sort my insides out, and the period between 11 and 12 hours was not enjoyable at all.  Over this section, I was pleased to see Gary & Zena Dighton at the roadside.  I doubt that they were too impressed with my appearance, though, as I plodded past.

Glenn and Dick joined the convoy as I approached Huntingdon, and I tried to raise my enthusiasm.  My problems over the earlier few miles had more than used up any advantage from the fast nature of the A14, and I was about 15 minutes behind schedule as I crossed the A1.

George Arnot was beside the road, looking enthusiastic; I thought that I was perking up a bit, but he told me afterwards that he thought that I looked under the weather.  I kept things moving through St Ives, and onto the southern Fens.

It was a pleasant evening, with the low, bright, sun and little wind.  I did my very best to keep riding at 20 mph, but by the time I reached Mildenhall and the A11, a few more minutes had slipped away.

Extra clothes were forthcoming during the section leading to Thetford, and of course I took on some lights.  It was half past eight, and Great Yarmouth couldn't be far away.

When I was on the Thetford bypass, however, I got a nasty shock.  The first Great Yarmouth sign told me that there were 50 miles to go!  Suddenly, the picture had changed.  I had realised that I was losing time on my schedule, and that I wasn't going to make a tremendous impression on the Side to Side record.  However, it now seemed possible that I wouldn't even break it!  It didn't take much imagination to envisage the scenario where I could have either a mechanical or tiredness problem which could slow me sufficiently to make the trip to the coast a pointless waste.

I guess I panicked a bit; I started climbing hills out of the saddle, and probably ended up pushing too large a gear for lengthy periods.  I was about 30 minutes adrift when Ferg directed me from the Cringleford roundabout onto A47.

I didn't get much enjoyment from the ride along to Acle.  I was feeling a bit chilly, and the road seemed to be a sequence of small, irritating lumps.  I was also having a problem with my front light.  It was rattling and shaking around.  You would almost have thought that it was about to fall off.  After one particularly worrying spate of the jitters, I reached out and lifted it from its moorings.  One second later, and it would have been on the deck.  I continued, with the light in my hand;  it didn't make things any easier.

The Acle Straight is probably an interminable stretch of road in the daylight.  In the dark, the lights of Great Yarmouth never seem to get any closer.  I couldn't believe I'd ever get to the coast.

Eventually, eventually, the torture ended and I crossed a couple of junctions to approach the centre of the town.  A flick to the left, and I was soon beside the sea.  With tremendous relief, I passed the crowd at the pier, and climbed off my machine.  Luckily, the cars were soon on the scene, and I was soon laid out flat in the back of one of them.  I had finished just a few minutes before midnight, giving a time of 17h 54m 5s, which was 21 minutes quicker than Jim Hopper's previous record.

(Yarmouth photos by Ivan Jeckell)   (the arrival, and reception committee - Derek Evans, Martin Badham, and Evans family)

When I emerged, I drank some "Andrew's" (to help with my intestinal problems of earlier) and some coffee.

I then cocked my leg over the tricycle, and pulled away.

(the restart, featuring a poorly adjusted helmet)

Glenn had given me a replacement light, and I could only hope that this one wouldn't shake itself to bits like its predecessor.  I quietly commented to Reg that I would "keep pedalling, and see what happened"; maybe that was my first show of doubt about my ability to finish.

I left the town, and retraced along the Acle Straight.  After about 10 miles, I noticed that the front light wasn't working.  I checked the switch, but it was dead.  Unbelievable - both lights had been new, and both seemed to be defective.  As soon as I was past the Acle roundabout, I was looking for somewhere to stop.  At the first layby, I pulled over and laid on the grass.  Glenn and Dick were quickly trying to sort out another light.

Dick arrived with a spare 'Wonder' light; he wound the bracket onto the handlebars; and it broke.  Damn.

By now, Glenn had managed to put one working light from the two that had failed earlier.  I set off, half-heartedly, after agreeing with Dick that I would definitely carry on as far as Norwich.

I was actually trying to move quickly, but I seemed to have no strength.  The light undulations of the A47 were rather tiresome, and occasionally I was out of the saddle to negotiate them.  Rather poor.

Clearly, the ride was in trouble.  It is possible that a very aggressive and intimidating back-up team could have forced me to carry on.  However, whilst they obviously wanted me to continue, they didn't force me to.  I guess they could see that I was fading, and didn't know whethere it was 'terminal' or not.

It might have been the right thing to do, or it might have been a mistake.  The rider is probably not the best person to decide what to do.  At the junction with A11, I stopped.

It was depressing, and part of me said that I should continue.  However, even with "only" 640 miles left, and perhaps 2 days to do it in, ... I just felt that things weren't flowing as they should have done.

I realised that Martin and the rest of the team for the second half would be all packed and ready to set off at dawn.  It was going to be a difficult phonecall.

We set off for home at 2am.  By 4am we stopped for sleep.  At 6am I started phoning various people to let them know what had happened. 

When we arrived home, there was plenty of talk about what had happened and why.  Naturally, I was wondering whether I was wrong to have pulled the plug.  Would anyone be prepared to help again, if I had another go?

And that, of course, leads to the big question.  Before the ride had started, I would have gone for the approach that this was the only attempt that I would make on the 1000.  However, with the circumstances described above, suddenly another try without the tough first 100 miles, with some more sensible weather, and with some robust lights ..... seems almost inevitable.

I think that I will also avoid the long drive to the start, and will try to have the closing stages on familiar territory.  Over the next few months, I will be certain to think of a few more things to handle differently.

So that was that.  It will be record number 21.  Ahead of me stand the totals of 22 for Marguerite Wilson, 30 for Eileen Sheridan, and 32 for Monty Holbein.

Look forward to 1998!

Back to Rides in 1997

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