Baptism of Fire (and throat-ache)

Following what must have been one of the most exhausting days of my life on day one, I had a decidedly pleasant follow up to York, close enough that I set off in the early evening. Things would improve further too with York being my first major stop-offs, with a whole day to rest. And for me, it was after this that I felt the cycle tour proper would begin, 8 days of cycling non-stop, anything from 35 to 130km. The first two days could be passed off as a long weekend ride followed by an evening ‘spin’ with Leo. It was this sustained day-in, day-out cycling that would separate my boy from my man.

I pulled into York, a city as beautiful as I remember it from the last time I visited in 2013, passing through a medieval gate by dusk, Lunette becaeme a steed rather than a bike, and I was either royalty or some badass (sorry, noble) knight. Even reality was pretty special, here I was, most definitely in the north-east of England rather than the north-west, I’d crossed the hills, my life was now most definitely reduced to the three bags clipped onto my sole mode of transport, and here I was, just rolling through into this old city, one of the first on a long list of wonderful places that I’d be coming through.

I took a look around and then sent my friend Fran a message to tell her I’d arrived. I’ve known Fran for years from a festival, that festival, that I go to, and when she isn’t sat on folks’ shoulders in concert tents, she lives in York. A message came back.
“Shit, I had completely forgot that you were coming tonight!”.
She was in Pickering, a good hour’s drive away.

Now, I thought, this is getting a bit more travel-y. Here I am in an unfamiliar city at night, to the best of my knowledge without a place to stay. I took in my surroundings, beginning to consider them my new home, the entire city. Maybe I could find an interesting looking homeless bloke and camp out, or just ride through the night and arrive at my Grandparent’s a day and a half early. Either way this didn’t say much for the return on all my forward planning, 2/3 of my first nights had turned out hostless. This is something I knew would happen, just not on night two.

To be fair, I was freefalling like this for all of 5 minutes before Fran got back to me and told me, the darling, she’d be at the train station within an hour. With renewed vigour I took to the now ever-darkening streets and walkways of the ancient city, rolling down to the train station whilst fulfilling my new hobby of taking pictures of couples I spot struggling with selfies and similar endeavours of unaided group photography. I also had my first travelling saga:
Part 1: My strap falls off my handlebar bag (it’s a weird clip-on system, not too trustworthy) on the way to the station, and I only discover upon arriving there.
Part 2: I lock up the bike and decide to go hunting for the strap on foot, back up the hill.
Part 3: I find the strap! Well done me and all, an urban adventurer conquering the dizzying heights of York city centre’s maze of roads to find a long piece of plastic on the tarmac.
Part 4: I nearly step out to take the strap, but a queue of traffic is on the way so I’m left to watch my strap on the road for a little while longer before being reunited.
Part 5: The queue of cars all drive harmlessly past or over the strap, leaving it still pristine and ready to continue its career. I confidently stride towards the kerb as the last car passes, and it is then, following what must have been 10 minutes of near continuous traffic, the last car in this queue, the only queue I’d watched, decides to run over the strap in such a way that one of the clips cracks. Well, it didn’t crack so much as it exploded, nearly bursting my eardrums and most definitely breaking my heart.
Part 6: I recover the broken, wounded corpse of my strap and return to the station, where…
Part 7: I find a use, two days in, for the knife that my friend Harry got for me and that I thought may never get used at all. This knife is a serious piece of kit, and it made easy make-do-and-mend work of what remained of the strap, cutting a new hole in the end without the clip so it could still attach to the bag. I was once again a DIY Pro.

Now, Fran soon arrived and I had an absolutely brilliant time in York over the next 36 hours. I met some lovely people, both friends of Fran and complete strangers. There was a visit to the House of Trembling Madness, a very brief but nice night out, lots and lots of Hell’s Kitchen and homemade jammy dodgers (the cocktail rather than the biscuit). Not to forget as well a trip to Turtle Bay where I lost my Jerk virginity, if you will. Fran also kept up her inspiring portfolio of pictures with my camera, going strong for at-least two years now.

12th (9)

But 5 minutes of homelessness was not the end of it all, no. When my friend Ryan joined me from York to North Lincolnshire, the momentous occasion of crossing the Humber Bridge (which really was a rather fine experience) was the culmination of a day that took at-least 20 years off both of our lives. It was on this day that we discovered just because a road doesn’t have ‘M’ in its title, it doesn’t mean it isn’t, for all intents and purposes, a motorway. We enjoyed at-least 2 harrowing kilometers on a dual-carriageway, multi-lane, national speed limit death rollercoaster before finding a place it could spit us out, brimming with adrenaline and other bodily fluids.

Ryan (Ron, to me) got on his train home 20 miles from my own home for the night – my Grandparents’ house. My family would also be there so it was an important opportunity to prove I wasn’t dead. Thus came my first real attempt at getting somewhere as fast as possible with all the luggage attached, and needless to stay, over those rolling Lincolnshire hills, it was not easy at all. I was huffing and puffing all over the place as I made the triumphant descent down their road and my knee had had far more than enough for a day. But still, my first touring sunset had been a delightful spectacle over the countryside.

13th (5)

And then came an afternoon ride to Lincoln next day, where I met my first ever hosts – Ben, Ruth and Odin (the best name for a baby ever). Once I’d locked myself in the shower and been rescued, the Moldovan red wine I bought as a gift was suitably interesting, dinner was lovely and I had a splendid night’s hospitality. I even took with me a parting gift. Poor Odin had been struggling with a chest infection and it seems both Ben and I were enjoying it come the morning. I ended up leaving for my 130km ride to West Norfolk well past mid-day, while Ben was bringing Odin back from daycare after his condition had worsened.

By the time I reached King’s Lynn I could really feel myself coming down with something. My throat felt like it was slowly closing, I’d covered 90km almost non-stop, there was a terrible headwind and so my flu-ish symptoms had a field day making me look even more of a mess. The last hour or so became very strange. Dizzy, shivering with a temperature, a banging headache, the sound of the A road traffic started to blur into one, darkness started to collect around me too. I pulled into my target village and waited for directions. My host Clare soon rang up and told me where to go but not before I’d got really cold outside a closed pub. It was the first time I’d felt really responsible for my own wellbeing, which for today had resulted in me telling myself to stop moaning and pedalling on, more out of necessity than anything else.

I was similarly delirious the next day, but still decided to take a detour to the coast, adding a healthy 50km to my ride to Norwich. Looking back (which I what I knew I would do eventually), I’m glad I did. I hit Wells-next-the-Sea at lunchtime, thus finally completing my own coast-to-coast venture. It was a pretty shambolic day, I lost my brick-phone somewhere in the Norfolk countryside, and pulled into Norwich in something of a state. I ran some errands, bought some paracetamol and finally gave in to medicating myself. Once I’d regained the ability to swallow I headed for a café and applied for student finance – which is everyone’s favourite holiday activity of course. And then to the station to meet my host Jon, who had himself had a hell of a day. It is something of a credit to both of us that we made it out to the city for one drink, before completely giving up and going to bed. I was really quite a wreck, and it was a shame. Covering long distances in a day is one thing – it takes time away from you which could otherwise have been spent looking around places or seeing people, and I was in no state to use these days as attempts at feats of athleticism either. The cycling was ploddy. I still hadn’t adjusted to the weight, the weather was generous in the wind it permanently threw in my face, I spent the next three days with my head down not really looking at any of the scenery that past my ears. I ended up in a pretty depressing cocoon. Music swirling around my head, constant rallying of strength to continue pushing a heavy bike down a miserable A-road towards a destination that would either be shrouded by night or completely dulled by grey skies. I didn’t quite reach the point at which I wanted to go home, that owes much to the hospitality I received in the evening, Andrea, Alex, Jess and all their cohabitants, espeically Buddy the dog, made at-least the social side of the travelling a shining beacon of positive experience, only marred by my inability to stay up too late or reach my typical heights of liveliness.

But at the same time I knew I should have been pleased. Those days were incredibly hard. Lugging 30kg across a country with a cold-flu-cough thing. 100km is never easy, but it helps to be conscious when you do it. And still, I rolled in London on a crisp Sunday afternoon, and felt things finally start to improve. Capital number one brought with it a whole three days of rest, with some fantastic people, and a whole lot of cultural immersion to do. I clipped off the bike on London bridge and convinced myself that I was in my new temporary home, and I had made it all the way here without falling behind schedule, which was pretty important to me following my potentially foolish decision to plan out the entire first month. But it meant that I’d forced myself into proving that I could do it. And I suppose that is an acheivement in itself. In the end, over six months, there was no way I wouldn’t end up cycling through some kind of illness, and though it’s unfortunate that it happened so early, I can at-least appreciate that I’d seen most of the places I’d visited before, and I view the illness now as an ongoing disturbance that shrouded a week or two of the trip, rather than something that stopped it in it’s tracks, and nothing – be it the undersized macho-man mindset housed somewhere in the centre of psycho, or the obsessive planner who made themselves a loose schedule then treated it as concrete, was left unfulfilled or upset.

And then here I was, beginning to emerge, whilst simultaneously climbing out of a tube station into the notorious, infamous, inconic and enigmatic city that has haunted me for so long. The adventure most definitely continues.

20th (22)

Day 11 of 179
803km (499 miles) cycled
0 punctures (Ron managed to get one though)
1 capital visited
15 minutes of homelessness
18 paracetamols

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