Cambridge to Kenilworth

I'd been going out with Simon for several years before I first rode to Kenilworth, near Coventry, in the Midlands, where Simon's parents live. It had long been a goal for me. A quick look at the map showed it would be between 90 and 100 miles. This was a distance I'd ridden plenty of times before, but not much recently, as I'd had problems with RSI and tendonitis in my left elbow. In addition, while the section near Cambridge would be flat, the part near Kenilworth certainly wouldn't be. Not that the midlands are remotely mountainous, but there are definitely some hills. Out of idle curiosity, I plotted out a route on the map and made up a cue sheet. One day I rode about half of it, and then came back.

Then came the day that I rode all the way to Kenilworth. It was a Friday. I discovered that my route was just under 98 miles. I got a bit lost in a few places (my map wasn't very detailed), but I recovered my way and eventually made it there, and I corrected my cue sheet so I'd have it easier the next time. Simon drive the car there, taking my clothes, and we spent the weekend with his parents. On Sunday evening we packed my bike into the car and drove back. This was in 2000, and I rode to Kenilworth again a bit later that year.

In 2001 I didn't ride to Kenilworth at all. I'm not sure why. I think it had something to do with timings not working out, we were going there in the winter, or I couldn't take off the Friday before the weekend.

So now it's 2002 and I wanted to revive the tradition. I hadn't been doing much riding this year due to doing DIY on the weekends, but nevertheless Simon and I had booked outselves a CTC tour in Scotland with our friends Sue and Neil. Despite not being very well prepared, we survived the trip to Scotland, doing 440 miles in 10 days. We did four days of 50 miles or more, one of them 60 miles. The weekend after we got back we went out on a ride with the CTC, and I was feeling strong. The following weekend we were going to visit Simon's parents, so I decided that unless the weather was awful, I was going to ride there. I worked hard during the week so I could justify taking Friday off. Unfortunately I hadn't had a chance to pack before Friday morning, so I didn't set off until 10:45. I thought that given my lack of distance riding, 8 hours for the ride was a reasonable goal, so I thought that I'd try to do 25 miles every 2 hours.

The first 25 miles is very easy, simply picking up the B1064 and following it west to St Neots. Despite the weather having been decidedly rainy most of the week, it dawned bright and sunny on Friday and was still sunny as I headed out. It was a good temperature too: warm, but not hot. I was comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeve cycling top. As I rode along that first stretch, I thought, there's nothing I'd rather be doing today than riding to Kenilworth.

As I came into the little town of Abbotsley, there was a scarecrow feeding little wooden cutouts of duck next to a farm. A bit over-cute, I thought. Then soon after there were a couple of scarecrows occupying a park bench. Soon it dawned on me: the town was having some sort of scarecrow festival, and about every other house, it seemed, had one out front. There was a BBQing scarecrow, one dressed as Jason from one of the horror movies, one having relaxing dip in a jacuzzi, one with neon yellow trousers with "Fire Crow" written on his chest, a bride and groom, one in a swimming cap and goggles diving down a telephone pole, one dressed as a Roman soldier with "Russell Crow" on the breastplate. I've never seen anything like this before, but it was great to look at all these scarecrows as I rode by. Sometimes it's nice to be going slowly... It put a smile on my face as I rode out of the town.

In St Neots there is a nice park just on the other side of the river (the Great Ouse), and it's always tempting to take a break there, to stop and watch the passers by, to eat some food, to use the toilets, to fill up my water bottles. It was 12:30 by the time I rolled into St Neots (15 mins ahead of shcedule!), so I thought that I'd have my lunch in the park. I bought a chicken-filled baguette and a gingerbread man at the local bakery and took them to the park to eat. I wasn't all that hungry since I'd had a large breakfast and the ride to St Neots was flat and easy, but the park is so nice that I stopped and ate the sandwich. I was full by the end so I put the gingerbread man aside until later, and after visiting the toilets I was on my way. Unfortunately it was 12:50 by the time, so I was already 5 minutes behind my scedule.

I rode on, following my cue sheets. At mile 33 I came across the Thurleigh Farm Centre, which I'd forgotten about. It's a farm shop and petting zoo just off the road, so I stopped to use the loo. Not that I really needed to, but it's hard to pass by a nice toilet when there are so few that are convenient.

In Sharnbrook, just as I turned left to go to Odell, I found a family of four, complete with bicycles. They had a Bike Friday tandem (for one parent plus girl), a normal Bike Friday (for other parent), and the older boy had his own bike, a Raleigh racing bike. The Bike Fridays were towing trailers (the suitcases that the bikes pack up into, these bikes have a very neat system worked out!) so it was obvious that they were touring. From their accents, they were American. I asked them about how it was to go touring with kids, as Simon and I are hoping to start a family and would like to go touring with the kids, when we have them. They were quite enthusiastic about it, and the kids seemed pretty happy, so it sounded like it was working out for them. Cheered by the prospect of continuing to go bike touring even when we have kids, I headed on into the warm sunshine.

One of the funny things about this ride are that I remembered various highlights of it from previous rides. Like there's a bit where I go down a steep downhills, then there is a big lake at the bottom, and then the corresponding uphill to struggle up. There's another bit that goes through a really nice wooded area, another area with a very unpleasant road narrowing, and towards the end a large, steep hill. This time I vowed to try to rememebr where they happened. I found the nice wooded bit between Odell and Hinwick, and I enjoyed it as much as ever. It is a nice section of road, with dense trees (which have been carpeted with bluebells on previous trips) on both sides of the road. Coming from a very woody area, I greatly appreciated this.

The halfway point of the ride is Wollaston, which is just south of Wellingborough. Every time I approach Wollaston, the country and western song "Galveston" runs through my mind; of course I substitute the name of the town. "Wollaston oh Wollaston, I can see you standing on the water..." Just past Wollaston I paused at the entrance to some industrial complex to eat my gingerbread man and drink a small carton of juice. I noticed a conveyer belt running under the road and wondered what it was for. Soon my question was answered, as a large truck came up to a concreted area across the road and dumped its load into a hole. Soon I noticed sand on the conveyer belt, heading for who knows what, out of sight behind some trees. When I rolled out it was 2:55. I'd gotten another 5 minutes behind schedule.

The next event of note was coming across the big downhill, the lake, and the uphill. My map tells me that this is Pitsford Water. It looks like a pleasant place, but I've never stopped there, I suppose because I don't like the idea of stopping at the base of a steep hill. Shortly after that I came into Brixworth. This was the only point where I got badly lost the first time I went to Kenilworth: you come into what looks like the main intersection of the town, and there are no signs saying which village is which way, which is unusual for decent-sized junctions in the UK. This time, I knew that I needed to turn left, and I also knew that right around the corned was a nice Co-op grocery store where I could fill up on water. The day was warm and I'd just about drained the two water bottles I'd filled up in St Neots. I bought 2 liters of water, filled my bottles, and drank the rest. I headed on.

By this time I'd gone 60-something miles, further than I had gone in one day for more than a year. I was beginning to get a bit tired, but being more than halfway there, I thought optomistically that there were less than 40 to go.

Shortly after that, Simon phoned me on the mobile. I pulled over to answer. He told me that he was in Kenilworth and asked me where I was and then, realizing that he wouldn't regognize the name of the place anyway, asked me how far I'd gone. I'd gone 72 miles, I told him, so there were only about 26 left to go. It was now 5pm, and we estimated that it would take me about 2 hours to do the rest. He was reassured, but told me that if I got tired I should phone him and he'd come and pick me up. I reassured him I was fine. I replaced the phone and headed on. In fact I was already fairly tired and achy, but I knew that I could make it, and with such a short distance to go, I couldn't give up now.

At mile 74 I stopped for a food break. I was getting low on energy, so I ate three cereal bars and drank another small juice box. I was getting quite achy by this time, especially in my shoulders and feet, but also in my legs, stomach, and bum. But I was getting closer and closer. I kept at it, pausing my pedalling frequently to stretch on the bike.

As I neared the end I began to wonder if I'd already passed the big hill that I remember from previous times -- after all I had gone up a fair few hills, some of them steep. But at 90 miles, suddenly it came on me: Snowford Hill, just as I was heading into Offchurch. I clunked into the granny gear and pedalled up, knowing when I got to the top that there were no serious hills after that. Yay!

The last directions on my cue sheet are "Offchurch, immediately R to Cubbington, keep going straight on this road, X B road, X A road, X B road, join A452 to Kenilworth". And I did just that. Eventually I was pedelling along Simon's parents' road, and then into their drive. I arrived at 7:05 (8 hours 20 mins after I left home) and felt completely eshausted. I felt far worse than any previous trip to Kenilworth, probably because of my lack of long rides this year. I left my bike for Simon to put in the garage, took off my helmet and shoes, and collapsed into a chair. Soon dinner was on the table, and my recovery began. After dinner I took a shower and I fell asleep trying to watch the 10 o'clock news. I went to bed.

The next morning I felt slightly achy, but felt comppletely fine by the middle of the day. It does impress me that I can recover pretty quickly from big efforts. A useful trait!

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