Today was much, much better. I had a little lie in – getting up at 6.30am for an 8am start. Jo Bray, one of LLR’s Trustees, joined me for the first few miles and it was a great way to start the day. I hadn’t spoken to anyone I knew, in person at least, for a while and there were some pretty dark moments in between. She’s got an awesome challenge next year – cycling the Great Wall of China to raise £5000. Judging by how she was going this morning, she’ll do it in style. We chatted about LLR and our respective campaigns, and where we want them to go.
She bowed out about 6 miles south of Gloucester and I was away, back on the dreaded A38 that had caused me so much strife yesterday. Not so today – it was plain sailing through Gloucester, Tewksbury and into Worcester. The sun was beating down, and there was a bit of traffic around which meant that I was going quicker than cars. Yes, they were basically stationary but it’s still a nice feeling! I got through Worcester without much trouble – other than the roads being the worst cycling surfaces I’ve ever come across. There is nowhere safe to ride – cracks in the pavement, jaunty grids, cars pressing you into the curb. Every revolution of the wheels shakes your bones and there’s only so much of that you can take. I found myself swearing pretty loud a few times – the pedestrians must have thought I was pretty odd (then again my friends think that too). But in that situation you just remind yourself that there will be a better road ahead, so stay patient and persevere. It’s nowhere near as bad as yesterday.
Shuffle was on good form too – the iPod was giving me some great stuff. Uplifting stuff when I needed it, euphoric stuff at moments of joy, and a nice bit of folk when the roads were clear and calm. My target for lunch was Bridgnorth – about 12 miles north of Kidderminster. I was tired when I left Kidd – I’d gone 58 miles already that morning and still had a few left, but with a packet of Skittles and a bottle of water on board, I began to climb the hills in between along the A442. They were the best 12 miles of my cycling life – tough climbs, yet incredible rewarding. You’d climb under a blanket of trees reaching over the road, and suddenly at each summit the trees would part and reveal the most beautiful views – rolling hills and gorgeous countryside. Then a steady mile of downhill each time, allowing enough time to get streamlined and pick up some serious speed. There are two speed cameras on that road that will have a picture of me with my thumb up!
Lunch was buy one get one free on main meals, so I had two and made a few phonecalls before getting back on my way – a gentle 45 mile trip up to Malpas, via Telford and Whitchurch. It was mainly on quiet B roads; genuine countryside and genuine peace. After what I’d endured the day before, the only way I can describe my day today is ‘free’. Free of a headwind, free to ride at my own pace, under my own steam. Free to look around and soak it up, to listen and to think. All the things that cyclists love about cycling - I’m not really a cyclist (believe it or not), but I’m really starting to see the appeal. The roads were straight in places and winding in others, never boring and always challenging but doable. You could grind some high gears with low cadence (which means your legs aren’t turning round as fast but as long as you ride with power, you go quicker).
The only downer was my hip. It’s in a pretty bad way – it’s always been dodgy and it's likely an aggravation of an old injury but the crash can’t have helped, and every few minutes I get a 30 second burst of shooting pains that reach round and down through my hamstring and into my calf. It’s completely disabling and you actually end up yelping a bit. With mountains looming in each of the next four days, I’m going to have to be careful.
At the end of the day, when I turned off onto the country lanes for Malpas, the sun was beginning to fall and I started to ease off and really enjoy it. The music kept on coming – some real highlights (see below). When I arrived at my brother’s house, in true Tour de France style, I let go of my handlebars and punched the air, satisfied with a job well done. I’ve come about 340miles in three days. I’ve got close to 600 left in four. There are no misconceptions: the next four days will take absolutely every ounce of physical, mental and emotional strength I’ve got. But with people like you supporting me, a rendezvous with Steven’s Dad for a good 30 miles at least tomorrow, and a few moments to pause at my friend’s grave, there will be plenty of reasons to keep pushing on.
I had hoped to write this earlier, but I’ve spent the evening busy catching up with my brother and sister in law Sooz, scoffing record amounts of pasta and talking about football. Good for the soul. And to cap it all off, Sooz is pregnant and I’ve just felt the little Sproggins kick.
Big day tomorrow. 126 miles, ending in the mountains of the Lake District with nearly 10 miles of climbing. But this is what I’ve trained for.
Sleep well folks
Stats: 112.6 miles, no idea how long but around 10 hours on the bike, maybe 8 hours of actual cycling.
Best moment: A442 between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth. Cycling bliss. Tip of the cap to you, Shropshire.
Soundtrack Top 5: Sailing to Philadelphia (Mark Knopfler) – my favourite song, real train track rhythm was perfect for a steady ride through the countryside. Incredibly calming, and with James Taylor’s silk voice in duet too. Teardrop (Massive Attack) – bit clichéd, but it came on during a pretty steep climb and the whole thing felt pretty epic and dramatic. Pounding (Doves) – awesome, powerful downhill music, and they’re City fans too. Starlings (Elbow) – because my theories are often pulled apart with weary and disinterested sighs, but people still seem happy to listen. And the brass is terrific. Shackled and Drawn (Bruce Springsteen) – because I knew where I was at the end of the day, I was wondering which song shuffle would throw up to finish. It came up with a corker. Pick up the rock, son; carry it on.