hello (from the other side)

If it were an Olympic sport, I would be the English champion of the world when it comes to sleeping.

When I was a young boy, I’m told I slept through Concord flying overhead at an air show. And every time my dad took us out on the boat, I’d find a spot up front and nap as the waves lapped at the hull; the mackerel obligining climbed onto the line, and later under the grill.

As a grumpy teenager, I would sleep until midday; often later.

As a crabby adult, I’d stay in bed all day, if I was allowed. Karen often jokes about me being a hermit.

Did you know Hermit Crabs are nocturnal? Coincidence? I think not.

Days one, two, and three of our trip across Northern England via the Way of the Roses under our belts, Matt and I were finally camping in our new favourite place, Pocklington. ‘Pocky’ to those in the know.

Not long ago, we’d somehow found our way back to our campsite along the darkest road ever, with only my headtorch to guide us. I’d drunkenly brushed my teeth by my tent, not wanting to try my luck searching for the toilet block in the darkness.

The awkwardness of taking my shoes off, removing just the right amount of clothes, and getting into my sleeping bag without pulling my tent down or making enough noise to wake the dead made me smile to myself. A few feet away, Matt was doing something with his crisp packet Thermarest; zips were being unzipped, zips were being zipped up again.

Zip. Zip. Ziiiiip.

My one Achilles’ Heel when it comes to my normally super-human ability to sleep is camping. I’ve never been good at it, even as a boy scout. The last time I’d camped (again in early Spring, again with Matt), I had the world’s most useless sleeping bag, and it was COLD. This time, I had my expensive new hydrophobic down filled bag (which is AMAZING), and it was pretty mild out. But I prepared myself for a sleepless night all the same.

18118862_10155216036832930_8875673534852747995_nIn the morning, I complained to Matt about having not slept at all; convincing myself I’d laid awake for hours listening to Claudia Winkleman on the radio. My vision was blurred, and it felt like someone had been stood on one side of my head all night.

If Matt is to be believed, I was snoring within minutes of all the fumbling and zipping. Loud enough to bother the horses in the neighbouring field, so legend has it. Maybe one of them came and kicked me in the head. It was either that, or we really had drunk that much beer the night before.

The morning had dawned bright, but quickly changed to grey, and we knew from the forecast it was going to be a wet day. Our luck had run out. Still, there was only the ‘Col du Pocklington’ left before a quick bimble into Bridlington, and then the train home.

We packed up, our collective tents disappearing back onto the bikes (I’m always amazed by that somehow) and we headed back into Pocky for breakfast. We spent altogether too long in a lovely cafe, watching the rain fall on our bikes.

What we’d laughingly named the ‘Col du Pocklington’ lived up to a reputation we didn’t give it respect for. Those first few miles were particularly tough; made moreso by my choice to wear full waterproof gear, and Matt’s choice of pain au chocolat for breakfast.

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18157542_10155218382632930_9202975677471055433_nAt the side of an amazing road, I cursed my waterproof trousers and slipped them off, giving the local sheep a great show. I felt much more free, and the going was much easier. The rain wasn’t too bad, and we eased into our old routine of riding side by side on deserted roads through pretty village after pretty village; right up until we took a wrong turn (totally my fault this time) and ended up on the main A166.

Our next target was Driffield, and it was only 9 miles or so on what looked to be a relatively quiet road. Matt reluctantly agreed not to backtrack and we mixed with the traffic. The road surface was good, and the terrain was a mix of false flats and long rollers. I was loving it, but as we traded places at 30mph, I could tell Matt wasn’t. He tore past me and we caught up sometime later in Driffield, trading stories of HGV near misses.

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Nafferton was up next, and we were getting close.

I was getting tired; my mind having convinced itself we were practically home after taking care of the Col. We were close, but not that close.

The roads were still great, and the weather wasn’t bad. We even encountered a considerate BMW driver who made an effort to pull off the road and let us ride through. Miracles do happen.

Finally, we were into the outskirts of Bridlington, and the finish line was (almost) in sight. The final streets seemingly taking us through every single part of Bridlington just kept coming. We caught a glimpse of the sea. We were achingly close, and I was running on a mixture of adrenalin and lemon flavour energy drink.

Matt, the consummate gentleman, waved me ahead to the finish line on the promenade, as old people strolled by in their scarves and hats, looking at us like we must be mad.

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The Garmin said we’d done 181 miles in total, a little over the advertised 170.

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We wanted to sit and look at the sea we’d come so far for. We wanted time to reflect, to tell stories. We wanted to remember the descent into Malham, the Contadoring, the laughing, the freedom, the noises the bikes made.

We wanted fish and chips, dammit.

We also wanted to ride home; either the way we’d come, or down to Hornsea and back via the Trans Pennine Trail.

But we both knew the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. We needed to find the train station, sharpish. Somehow, we managed to get there, buy tickets, and sweet talk the train guards into letting us take the bikes on without reservations with moments to spare.

The scenery that had been our constant companion flashed by through the rain-streaked windows, and we were once again glum. We feasted on a pork pie I’d bought in Pocky, and a packet of fig rolls I’d carried from Manchester.

We said our goodbyes and returned to stupid real life.

Oh, and I still have that Ashima brake disc on the Troll. It got me 10 miles. It got me to the end. It got me home. Much love Moonglu, much love.

Until the next time, my friend.

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kiss from a rose

I’m sure I’ve previously written about those little moments of pure nirvana I sometimes experience when I’m on the bike. I had more than a few of those moments when I rode the Way of the Roses with Matt in April 2017.

Day 3 of our trip was, somehow, even better than the previous two days. And, hey, they weren’t too shabby!

In the eerie deserted pool room of our pub / B&B, I flipped the Troll over and finally swapped out my front brake disc. Slotting a new set of pads in, Matt and I remarked on how much meat was still left on the old pads, and the apparently relatively good condition of the disc. On closer inspection, we discovered the friction material on the pads had crazed, which was presumably what was causing the shuddering. How close I was to disaster, we’ll thankfully never know.

Our enthusiastic host (and an equally excitable dog) appeared, and soon we were destroying the biggest breakfast in the world. Truly, it was something else.

Setting off, the wet roads told of the overnight wintery downpours we’d staggered home in. The skies were looking kind, and the sun tentatively poked out, taking the chill off the morning air as we headed South-West towards York.

18056943_10155215346127930_1830839744906454301_nQuickly back onto amazing country lanes, we were back to riding side by side, listening to my gratis brake disc chirruping away, and sharing fond memories of friends and loved ones we’d lost.

We barrelled across a surprisingly bumpy toll bridge (yet another freebie), and before too long, we found ourselves entering yet another grand park which turned out to be home to Beningbrough Hall. I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

18056833_10155215345892930_769371148642452733_nThe sun was shining down on us in these beautiful surroundings, the birds were singing, our spirits were high, and it’d been a good couple of hours since breakfast. Time for coffee and cake with the rich people.

As we sat sipping our overpriced coffees, pinkies in the air, Matt regaled me the tale of an eccentric old woman he’d scared half to death when she ran into him by the loos.

“She took one look at me, said ‘BAH!’, and then walked off!”

I suppose you had to be there, but that had us in stitches for ages.

18157180_10155215346207930_6979333652444242334_nWe resumed course for York, ticking off seemingly endless picture-postcard villages. The two attractive women sat outside the pub caught my attention, but I rode on regardless. Matt was weaker than I, and stopped to talk to them. By the time I’d turned around, he’d whipped his camera out and was taking pictures of them.

“DUDE! What the hell are you doing? You can’t go around taking pictures of random girls!”

He seemed strangely unconcerned, and we pedalled away with him complaining about their lack of response to his ‘epic’ chat-up lines.

18157120_10155215345362930_207835168746500000_n17990835_10155215345252930_5913759468794490133_nIn York, we stopped for a quick bit of bike-balancing magic, some sightseeing, and a few handfuls of Matt’s Special Trailmix.

Now, the last time we’d cycled out of York, we got horribly lost, having taken a wrong turn down one of the tiny winding streets. This time was no different, and we were spat out onto a 3 lane roundabout, heading in completely the wrong direction. Probably had too many blue M&M’s.

The going had been good, the terrain having flattened out, and the temperature had risen several degress on the previous couple of days. We ate up the miles, and drank in the views as the route took a rare off-road diversion. Talk moved to our objective for the day as we did the maths on the remaining miles.

18058060_10155216036472930_3610454733578781470_nWe’d left the return trip open, with plenty of work-free days still ahead of us. I think we both would’ve liked to ride back home, but the weather forecast for the following several days was solid rain, so we reluctantly planned on getting the train back from Bridlington.

Arriving in the delightful little town of Pocklington, we enjoyed a leisurely late lunch and debated next steps. Matt wanted to push on to Driffield, leaving us a handful of wet miles to Bridlington, and the train home. I was tiring however, and the ‘Col du Pocklington’ stood between us and Driffield; no matter how innocuous the map made it look.

The cafe owners told us about a local campsite that had recently opened. I bought 2 gigantic scotch eggs and a pork pie for the road, and we searched it out.

We were shown around the basic, but perfectly good, ameneties, and charged a full fiver each to pitch our tents on the field we had almost to ourselves. I sheltered my tent out of the strong winds behind an unoccupied caravan, and we deposited the bikes in what our fabulous Yorkshireman of a host described as his ‘shed’. It was actually one of the biggest barns I’ve ever seen, and was filled with everything from a mobility scooter to a 50 foot trailer covered in hay bales.

We listened with pure delight as he talked about Pocky ‘igh stree’, with its collection of pubs and restaurants.

“We’ve got TWO chinese restaurants in Pocky…”

<dramatic pause>

“…and they’re BOTH rubbish.”

Forgetting the name of the indian restaurant he actually did recommend, he drew us a map with his finger on a scrap piece of plywood he found on the floor. Because, without that, we wouldn’t have been able to find the place.

We decided against taking the map with us, and found our way into several pubs where we laughed our heads off before eventually finally finding our way to the indian.

We ate too much. We drank too much. We stumbled back to the campsite in the utter darkness you only get in the countryside. We almost tripped on the map, and no doubt annoyed the miserable guy in the camper whose peace we had shattered by daring to share the field.

I slithered into my excellent sleeping bag and tried to get off to sleep.

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That day was perfect.

Everything about it was perfect.

Somebody was looking after us that day.

A kiss from a rose, indeed.