Steve Abraham, as I have mentioned in a previous post, is one of three men trying to break the Human Annual Mileage Record in 2015… and despite breaking his ankle in a traffic accident a few weeks ago he has decided to bravely continue his record attempt, riding a recumbent tricycle one legged as the break heals. I find this simply astounding. It has never been so easy to be inspired whilst sipping a cup of coffee of a morning. If you are keen on setting yourself personal challenges there is little excuse for not heading out into the world and giving it a good crack. Which is exactly why I had to see for myself if I could ride over 200 miles solo, in a single sitting…
Of course in the 24 hours prior to heading out on the Wrexham Wedding Wander I was not feeling quite so bold and inspired. Honestly it felt as though I was carrying around a well of nausea in the pit of my stomach. An almost crippling sensation of nervous anticipation, the kind that robs you of sleep and is only cured by take a deep breath and pedaling off into the early morning darkness a little after 5.30am. Next stop North Wales.
The first challenge on the menu was to traverse London, riding from the south east across to the north west just at the time the city awakes from it’s slumber. The obstacles on the menu included the col de Crystal Palace, the trash strewn streets of Streatham and the “I’m already running late” white van men. Not to mention the temptation to enter foolish commuter races with guys 2 miles from their desk’s, whilst I still had about 200 miles to clock up. I was already singing out loud to myself by the time I was cruising over Wandsworth bridge, never a good sign, and was so happy to escape suburbia on the north side of Uxbridge that I stopped to empty my bladder. What followed was a fear fuelled dash down the A40, before bearing right onto the relative tranquility and safety of the A413.
As the rush hour traffic receded, my legs finally began to find some much needed rhythm as I hit the rolling countryside of the Chilterns, and after what felt like no time at all I had reached Aylesbury. It was bliss to listen to my tires humming along the tarmac, with vast green postcard landscapes waiting around every bend and over every rise. The sun was high in the sky by this point and it was as though I was riding in a trance, trying to ignore the distance that still remained, and to push on as far as I could before it hit home. Just keep riding, legs turning.
I left the busy A41 to join what was little more than a farm track that approaches Marsh Gibbon from the south and let out a cry of delight as I approached the sign post at the entrance to the village. The infamous nexus point of many of Steve’s rides, it was a poignant moment on a ride very much inspired by his HAM’R attempt. It quickly became clear why he so often heads to those parts, the surrounding area seemed to be a glorious cycling hinterland, sheltered from traffic by the M40. I pressed on through quaint villages populated by rabbits with a laissez faire attitude to road safety, despite the road kill count that was already approaching double figures.
I necked a double espresso just south of Banbury and decided to push on at least as far as Stratford upon Avon before stopping for lunch. At some point it dawned on me that the road through Ettington and onto Stratford was one I had ridden before, in 2012 on day three of our LEJOG ride and sure enough it had remained a leg sapping false flat. For the uninitiated the false flat is among the most devious of things in cycling; a road which appears to be flat but is in fact climbing ever so gently. The road is gaining in elevation just enough to throw your rhythm totally out of the window, causing you to shift gears repeatedly, climbing in and out of the saddle, toiling away. Frustrated. The road seemed almost as endless as it had done 3 years earlier, but at least this time I knew I would hit Stratford eventually… and just in time to raid a street vendor for his remaining jacket potatoes. The kind gentlemen even watched my bike for me as I ran off to find a toilet, mildly concerned that I might not have a bicycle to return to, but even more concerned about the consequences of not finding a loo.
So having stuffed myself in Stratford is was time to crack on, straight onto the A46. This was not exactly a master stroke of route planning. In the middle of the afternoon the traffic was fairly streaming along there. and it wasn’t lacking in it’s “shit the bed” moments. I made the best of it, safe in the knowledge that some much more pleasant riding was to come as I skirted round the south western limits of Birmingham and headed towards Shropshire in the early evening sunshine. It was around this time that the mental game really became key. Knowing I still had a solid 60 miles before I would hit Shrewsbury, a decent length ride in itself, coupled with the fact that I already had over 100 miles in my legs. I drank as many fluids as I could and did my best to not focus either on the distance covered, or the distance remaining. Merely allowing myself to ponder the sensations in my legs, and concentrating on reaching the next bend in the road or brow of the next hill.
And oh what hills there were! The pretense of a flat ride had begun to end as I got north of Banbury, but the elevation profile between Kidderminster and Shrewsbury resembles the gnashers of a great white shark. This series of of endless undulations, each of them a potential leg breaker, prompted me to send out the text message ” Oh ma god, found all the hills”, as indeed I had. The relentless climbing was only interrupted as I raided a pub for coke and water just south of Shrewsbury. I had been on the road for a little of 12 hours at that point and it’s possible that I may have stuck out a little from the rest of the clientele. However, it is the duty of the long distance cyclist to remain as nonchalant as possible in such situations. Or at least to kid yourself that this is the case.
The caffeine rush from the coke hit just as I had to navigate the one way system through Shrewsbury, which consists of a sharp climb and some cobbled sectors. I think it’s fair to say I had hit a state of mild delirium at this point. Not entirely in full control of my faculties but still managing to grab a few snaps on the GoPro as I bounced along the road. I decided best course of action as delirium set in was to eat the last of my flapjack and try to hammer out the remaining 20 odd miles as fast as I could. What could go wrong?
Of course it transpired to be closer to 30 miles that remained, as the road to Ellesmere and then north to Wrexham meanders somewhat. It was no bother though as I was soothed by the stunning display of the setting sun away to my left, and the knowledge that I would imminently be crossing the border into Wales. It had been years since I had cycled from one country into the next in a single day, so I was buzzing when I finally made the crossing. All that then remained was the final blast into Wrexham under the cover of darkness, before running the gauntlet of Wrexham’s roundabouts which are helpfully patrolled by a flotilla of boy racers. Somehow I managed to punch a hole through Wrexham town centre and find myself stood hungry and bleary eyed outside what I thought was my friend Dan’s house. There was nothing else for it, so I knocked on the door.