Monday, June 22, 2009

Rolling to the Stones 2009

As Trepid Explorer takes a day-out to recover.

On Saturday we did sweet FA which was needed despite the impending stones ride. A busy week working with the Romania office made for a tired and grumpy Trep. We went back to bed about 12.55pm, lunched at 2 then set off for the station at 5 to arrive in London for pastie and beans at Paddington at 7 followed by an hour and a half of sitting around in the breeze at Speakers' corner. By 9pm most of the following had amassed for our ride.

Jason, TSK, fixie man, Darren, Dutch guy, Sam, Roger, George (sorry if I didn't get your names). There was also another lady named Nicki and her boyf and a nice older bloke who met us along the way and kept hanging with me at the back.

As well as the usual suspects from London Fixed Gear Forum were riders from Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire who had headed down on the train too. Most of the fixed wheel riders were heading out on gears and freaking out about the process of freewheeling and spinning gears. One guy ploughed on with his fixie and, I have to admit, did bloody well to hold a reasonable pace on the downhills without spinning-out too obviously.

We hammered out quite the pace through the city streets. Jumping lights and cheeky manoevres are not normally in my portfolio of riding techniques but as I promised myself 50-lashes later, prissy law abidingness was set to one-side in favour of good old-fashioned peer pressure and keeping up with the group for the next 89miles of riding. I have to say that with the average speed of motors in the city being around 15-20 mph, illegal manoevres take on less importance and my fellow riders did start to adhere to the law more as we made it out into the burbs.

Back to the quick pace - while 25kph is hardly race speed, it is my fast-riding speed and I was starting to doubt if I could hold it up for much longer. I hoped desperately that the pace would ease as the couriers found that long distance, more sustained riding was hard to maintain at 25kph. Sadly, not so and as I started to get tired and settled into my normal audax pace, they continued at speed, offsetting with more rest stops which TSK and I found hard to bear. Having got warm and endured fast pace, we then found ourselves chilling down to shivering before getting back on the bike and trying to force our muscles back into the 25kph pace.

By the time we reached Hartley Whitney we were all getting in need of a warm drink and spent the time hugging A-roads and scanning for open coffee shops, petrol stations selling coffee or even Kebab shops selling coffee. We found the worst kebab caravan in the world... well, he sold no coffee.

At about 1.45am we stopped at a petrol station in Basingstoke for some food and energy drink and for an emergency spoke repair on a bike which hadn't been ridden in ages. I took off my shoes to warm my feet on the tarmac and we all tried not to snigger as a lad pulled up in a taxi to the night-serve counter buy condoms for a successful end to his night out on the pull.

My consistent getting-dropped got me lost only once and I phoned TSK soon for directions to put me back on route. Our priority was to avoid slowing down the group too much so as they stopped to rest or wait for repairs and weary sprinters, we trundled along like the fairytale tortoise, pushing a less respectable 22kph average. I was saving myself on the climbs and freewheeling the downhills. By the time we hit the dual carriageways of the A303 we stuck our heads down and bolted for Amesbury, all thought of coffee gone from our minds - short of taking a leak in a lay by in emergency circumstances.

Arrival at the stones was profound but only in the sheer volume of people present. All roads were closed and we rode on through on our bikes, ignoring any geers or yells for it was difficult to tell if they were coming from flourescent clad cops or pissed people.

One chap said,

"Oi you're on a bike that's cheating".

He seemed incapable of processing,

"I left London at 8pm. Still think it's cheating?",

and gave up. There is no respect to be won from a drunk at 4am.

We weaved through the groups - families, drunks, witches, teenage girls out to flaunt their stuff, teenage boys out to look threatening or just cold and hiding behind hoodies, men in camo and cowboy hats, people carrying tambourines, drums, flutes and pennywhistles, more blankets than I thought remained in existence, people carrying staffs or big sticks that they once came across on a beach.

At the top of the dual carriageway (half set aside for people and half set aside for official vehicles) we dismounted and pushed our bikes alongside the masses of walkers. Dogs ran around in the long grass, possibly oblivious to the intrigue and weirdness going on around them. We still had a half mile to go to the stones but the cheering and singing and drum beat could be heard. Apparently this was it, this was the sunrise but short of the lightness of the sky, the sun itself was hidden from view by a thick blank of fluffy white and grey. Silver Lining was not even there. At the top of the path we locked our bikes to the fence as they weren't allowed in to the stones enclosure itself. Our bags were searched prior to entry, TSK confirming to the steward that he had in fact eaten everything that was in his bag.

TSK's first priority was to find his friends. Mine was to see stones, eat food. I'm amazed I got to the stones before the food but frankly, if there was any solstice revelry left over from the post-coital after-glow of the sunrise orgasm, I was going to get me a piece of it before the revelry rolled over and went to sleep. I'd been in the saddle for the last 6.5 hours to get there I was damn well going to get me some revelry. We made our way through the pissed, the tired, the rude, the ugly and the beautiful to get to the more determined outer ring of revelers - those that could still stand in a group without falling over or pissing off the people around them.

There was still dancing going on inside the circle, singing, whooping, drumming. Yada yada. A bit like being at a bad gig, I just lacked the motivation to get near the front and to be honest, was not sure I could walk upright enough to avoid pissing off the people around me so, I got the picture and regressed to the relative comfort of the queue for the crepes.

In the absense of good crockery or co-ordination, I spread chocolate sauce all over my chin before heading off to meet TSK's mates (what an intro - I am sure they remember the chocolate on my face, not my name) then sat in the grass for a bit feeling smug. Oliver and co couldn't get in to the stones enclosure since they'd not brought a bike lock. Thinking back, we should've volunteered to bike-sit whilst they went to sample the experience but I never thought to ask and to be fair neither did they. They were more consciously deciding to leave to ride to someone's mum's house and get driven to the station to go back to London.

TSK and I left the stones to ride back home. The path back to the road, still filled with pissed people was highly amusing including the woman who just couldn't walk without falling over and was most disgruntled there was no 4 am bus to take her home and about 6 people joking "that they wished they had their bikes". Is it impossible to say that pissed without sounding sarcastically spiteful or is it just me?

Back on the road I was happier. Looking through the fog of exhaustion it was a beautiful day for a ride as the skies cleared and we looked out across the Barrows and downs of wheat, corn shoots and oil seed rape. Every so often there was a lone person standing on a hill-top looking out across the countryside and I resolved that this is where I will spend next solstice. We
I joked (joked or fantasised?) about walking into camp-sites with a shotgun and tent-jacking sleeping bags whilst families ate breakfast. (Sorry TSK, this joke was in my head).

Eventually, though, exhaustion got the better of me and 25kph through London started to take its toll. Stopping for a comfort break, TSK took a pee whilst I dropped Lovely in the dirt and lay down on the soft dry chalk to briefly cry myself into sleep which came mercifully quickly. TSK lay beside me briefly before righting me, sticking me back on the bike which I could hardly balance and setting me back on up the hill to my next target, Avebury's Western Avenue. The keepers at Avebury had allowed the grass to grow long and amongst the grass, people slept, rested and read books. I have seen it busier with tourists on an ugly day but on Sunday morning, it seemed peaceful and graceful. Partygoers sat in the pub beergarden, giving us hope they had opened early for breakfast (it was still only 7:30 am) but sadly, there was no food to be had in Avebury.

What did keep me going was the stream of triathletes on the Malborough Triathlon, cycling the opposite direction to us. TSK even stopped to help one lady back on her bike after she crashed into the verge whilst trying to tighten her shoe.

We left them at the turn off to Broad Town and our spirits went sky-high when we saw a lady walking with a newspaper in her arms. Praise! the post office was open and we indulged in fig rolls and coconut macaroons. Sitting outside in the sun, the proprietor popped out to see if we wanted a lift home in his van but by that point we were refuelled and eager to make it all the way.

I flung the fastest descent ever down Broadtown hill (50kmph), landing in Wootton Bassett on a roll until the temporary traffic lights left me wondering if I'd get going again. However, approximately 12 hours after we'd left London we finally arrived back at the Mead to a very happy cat.

2 minutes later, the thought of my sweet, comfy bed made me whimper as I pealed of the layers of sticky clothing whilst walking up the stairs. Leaving my shoes and helmet by the toilet, were I'd removed them, I then fell into bed for 3 hours of close-to-death sleep. At 12:30 I was woken by my stomach so ate toast, showered then went back to bed from 2pm till 8pm. Having spent the afternoon dreaming about food I had an ambitious plot to grill steaks and serve them with new potatoes, mashed carrots and steamed pea plants but I was foiled by sore knees and an untidy kitchen so the nice folks at the pub obliged and made my tum very happy.

A wise woman once said to me, "try everything once and if you don't like it, try it again - just to make sure." In wisdom, I declare my overnight riding experience exhausted. Remind me of this for I fear the endorphins might argue their case in a day or so's time.


Aperitif said...

Hello Trepid,
I was the 'older guy' (Sad, but true ha ha)
I really enjoyed reading your report - spot on!
Best wishes to you and your partner - many miles under the sun I hope.
I didn't stay too long with the bizarre exposition of oddity and digeridoos, but headed back UP (a big up) the A303 to Andover, thence to Heathrow again - got home about midday.Solo.
Here's what I wrote on the (comparitively tame compared to LFGSS!) CycleChat pages.
Kind regards,
Martin - the old guy! "Aperitif"

Trepid Explorer said...

"Older" was used as a reference point. "Old" is a state of mind - something I wouldn't dare accuse you of - nor anyone crazy enough to take on that ride.