In Steve’s February half term we decided to do a mini-tour from London to Bristol to stretch Hooch’s legs, test our stamina and to break in those extremely hard Brookes saddles. We managed the first two but we’ve still got quite a distance to go before those saddles are worn in; we’ve been told we are looking at a 1,000 miles before they are fully worn in.
Stop number one was Chinnor in Oxfordshire to stay with Steve’s sister, Anna, and her husband, Tom but first we needed to traverse London. The cycle following the south circular and through London was fine as this is a route we often do to visit various people. However, things became rather tense and most stressful as we began to follow the A40. Even though we were on a cycle path, the thundering lorries going past felt extremely close and part of the time the cycle path was sandwiched between the two lanes of traffic. To make matters worse, the day was overcast and the scenery bleak. The route was not quite as pleasant as Steve had reassured me it would be but whilst I could feel myself becoming increasingly tense, at least all I had to do was pedal; I did feel sorry for poor Steve having to navigate us safely but he did so with complete confidence. You would have to ask him whether behind it all he was as terrified as I was!
The route out of London seemed to stretch forever and I hoped with all my might that we would suddenly reach some greenery. However, once we did it was dusk. It soon turned dark when our calculations estimated we were about 3 miles from Anna and Tom’s home. They were the longest 3 miles of my life as we cycled up a steep, windy hill with cars zooming past. Our cycle lights seemed quite pathetic in the countryside darkness and no matter how far we cycled we still seemed to remain 3 miles away. In the back of my mind I knew that there was another rather large hill near Anna and Tom’s but I couldn’t bear to think of doing another climb in the dark and hoped that as we were already so high up we would be going down the hill. Eventually we reached the top and realised that the ride would be down hill. Yipee! But, oh no, there would be no freewheeling as it was so dark that Steve couldn’t see the potholes (although I could certainly feel them!) so we had to ride slowly down.
The sight of Anna and Tom was a tremondous relief. A warm shower and some hearty food soon put us right. We then spent a lovely evening sharing the company of Anna and Tom, knowing that the next time we would be seeing them their little one would have arrived. Nevertheless, he was certainly already making his presence known as we watched his powerful kicks through Anna’s beautiful bump. And shortly after our visit, on 21 February, Harry James was born!
Our next destination was Cheltenham to stay with my school friend, Chloe and her boyfriend, Kelvin. Our ride became much more pleasant as we could hear the birds tweeting and the sun shone. We stopped at 2 Wheels in Thame to buy a puncture repair kit and the guy there kindly gave it to us when we explained our next trip was to cycle back to the UK from New Zealand. He told us he was envious and wished he could do what we were planning to do. If he is reading this, I say ‘Just do it’. When Steve first mentioned the idea of cycling round the world to me, all I could think of were problems and reasons why we couldn’t. I wish I could put my finger on why but suddenly I shifted my focus from creating problems to thinking of solutions to those problems. If you want to do something enough, there are ways of doing it if you put your mind to it.
Before reaching Chloe’s we had a number of funny conversations with people who looked at us with incredulous expressions when we explained that we had cycled from London and were planning to reach Cheltenham that day. The very idea seemed astonishing to them. Many widely overestimated the distances between places. We could not understand why until we saw a huge build up of traffic and realised that of course they thought it would take us ages to cycle 8 miles; they had been sat in a car looking at the car in front for the past hour and had only moved 500 metres!
We spent another lovely evening with Chloe and Kelvin in their new home. Chloe had recently been in the wars but as always, she was on top form, although I did worry that at one point her laughing might cause her another injury! Although the video that Steve posted quite clearly shows I am not a very good cyclist (although better than the video suggests!), I have to say that Chloe was the person that first taught me how to ride a bike at the grand old age of 17. I will always treasure the fact that Chloe did not laugh at me when I finally told somebody my shameful secret that I couldn’t ride a bike. It makes me smile when I remember her screaming, ‘You are really cycling, Kat!’, shortly before I cycled straight into a bush.
After a leisurely morning at Chloe’s, we then headed on towards Bristol. At that point, we had not arranged anywhere to stay and had ideas that we might take the train back to London that night once we reached Bristol thinking that we would have a shorter therefore easier day of cycling. But then, out of nowhere, came an enormous hill which we had to go up and over towards Stroud. It certainly woke us up and despite my protests at the bottom that there must be an easier (i.e. flatter) route, we thoroughly enjoyed the long and winding climb. Even better came our first proper freewheel down the other side. It was pure bliss and soon cooled us down.
We then stopped in Stroud for a short coffee (and chocolate cake) break accompanied by a pleasant chat with a couple who had been admiring our tandem. Hopefully we convinced them that tandems were the way to go and we certainly got some great tips on our route ahead. Heading out of Stroud, we were spotted by a drunk guy and his chums. They confused themselves and us when they said that they had only just seen us cycling our tandem somewhere else and that Steve really should keep an eye on me as I was not pedalling at all. Being indignant at told that I was not putting the effort in, I was tempted to show them my huge sweat patches and ask if that came from not working hard enough, but thankfully we soon established that there was another tandem stalking the area.
As we were nearing Bristol and realised that our cycle that day was not quite going to be the ‘short ride in the park’ as Steve promised, we got in touch with Steve’s old friends, James and Becky. We managed to wangle an invitation to dinner and secretly hoped that when they saw us they would say we could stay the night. We arrived and within 5 minutes we were kindly invited to stay the night. I could have kissed them! I discovered that Becky is quite the creative and has just embarked on making a quilt. The challenge is now on; will Becky finish her elaborate but most beautiful quilt before we get back to London? Only time will tell!
The following morning Becky and James were our support team as they escorted us on their bikes to the train station. As we said our goodbyes I had an anxious few minutes as I contemplated the train driver refusing our tandem and having to cycle back to London. But as Steve constantly tells me, there is nothing to worry about and we got on the train with no problems. I am hoping my constant and unnecessary worrying will be one of the things that our world trip will remedy. We then sat back and contemplated (I worried) about what lay ahead of us in April.