Monday, May 4, 2009

Bonking to Colchester

In cycle touring parlance, "bonking" means hitting the point where you have absolutely no energy left to continue.

After my recent travels, the last thing I wanted to do was another trip. I wanted to stay home, do laundry, and buy some groceries. But it was a bank holiday this weekend, and we only get a couple of those so I couldn't waste it. On Saturday, I saddled up my bike and headed for a town not too far from Colchester called Gosfield. I wanted to go to Colchester because it's the oldest recorded English town.

I measure it in a direct line with Google Earth and it looked like being about 60km. I was taking National Cycle Network 11 south to Stansted and then turning east along Route 16 (the Flitch Way) to Braintree. Then north-east a little way to Gosfield. So I figured it would be a little more than 60km. Imagine my almost terminal surprise as I staggered into Gosfield in the dusk at 110.9km (my first metric century).

It was poor planning on my part, but to an extent I also need to criticise the National Cycle Network. Apparently, the Flitch Way use to run in an unbroken line from Stansted to Braintree, but a couple of years ago they built a town called Dumnow over the middle of it. There are no signs or directions of any sort; you're just plonked into this town. I ended up dragging my heavily loaded bike around a farm with scattered concrete machine gun bunkers, completely lost. A couple who had come from the other direction tried to direct me, but since they had gotten lost and had to drag their mountain bikes up a brush-clad slope, their advice was not particularly useful. Even though I was careful, I got lost in Dumnow again on the way back and ended up on something called "the Saffron Way". That part of the network is really a disgrace. The area around Stansted airport is pretty bad too, as the route just kind of petered out with planes taking off just over my head and on the slipway onto the A120 motorway.

Anyway, the camping went well, my bike suffered a bit and I limped back into Cambridge at 215km over 2 days. By the time I got home, only 2 of my front gears were working and the rear derailleur wouldn't shift at all. What idiot built this bike? I was totally bonked, alternately walking 100m and then biking a bit. Just before home, a taxi went through a roundabout in front of me, the driver looking the wrong way, and I had to throw on the brakes and jump off my bike to avoid being hit. I unleashed a torrent of abuse at him, and I guess it was loud enough for him to hear because he pulled up and asked me to repeat it. I kept screaming at him and he looked pretty shocked at the frothing psychopath outside his window. I immediately regretted it, but I was just so exhausted and stressed.

I took a picture of some pretty bluebells during the ride, but my camera phone didn't save it and if you think I'm redoing the ride to get you that photo, you're way off base.

One weird thing: As I rode through one of the little lanes south of Cambridge, there was a fawn standing in the middle of the road. It waited until I was quite close before it ran off into the fields. When I got to the point where it was standing, there was a dead rabbit. Thumper?

Monday, I continued to not rest by catching the bus to London to explore Kew Gardens (after the cycling, I can walk okay, I just can't climb stairs). It was a cold, rainy day in London, which detracted from the trip a bit. It's quite expensive to get in, and you have to pay extra to get into Kew Palace. I went today because the giant Titan Arum flowered on Saturday. I hoped it would still be in bloom, but it was already into the decline. Missed it by that much.

Titan arum

As I got close to the flower, I overheard the family in front have the following conversation:

Mother: And the flower smells really bad.
Child: (Unintelligible squeeking noises).
Mother: Yes, even worse than daddy's pillow.

So, I never made it to Colchester.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi James!

That flower conversation is so funny - did you have to suppress a snigger?

G. x