I like Gareth but I think he might be trying to kill me.
This thought is in my head more than once as I attempt to complete his challenge:
- Mountain bike along the 100 mile South Downs Way
Sometimes I imagine writing a sitcom or play about my friendships with Gareth and Kat and the strange bubble it exists in.
The first time we shared a car into work Gareth confessed that the day before he’d gone all the way to London for a conference only to find that he was 24 hours early. I like people who can own up to their mistakes with humour. Kat meanwhile is someone way cooler than I’d ever be friends with in real life. I often find myself envying the ease with which she flirts with the world and the way the world loves her back.
Over the past eighteen months we’ve probably driven the two-hour return journey to work and back at least once a week, which I think means we’ve spent more than 150 odd hours in the car together, along with Adam, talking about life, the universe and everything.
Gareth’s friends exist in my life like characters in a soap opera. Recently I finally cracked and ‘friended’ him virtually. BIG mistake! It was like seeing the cast line up for the movie adaptation of a much-loved novel and finding they’ve used completely the wrong actors.
In return he’s patiently listened through my near-breakdown, massive anxiety and descent into depression. He probably knows as much about my life as anyone.
If he ever takes up blackmail I’m screwed.
Here are a few of the other things that ran through my mind before, during and after I attempted this ride – which by the way includes a total ascent of 3,800 m.
I am too tired, there’s no way I should be doing this. If I cancelled I could just spend my bank holiday hiding under the duvet. Would Suzi understand if I dropped out?
Is my bag too heavy? What can I lose? What if it’s cold. Will I need my thermals. I should take them just in case. And that sweater.
Bloody hell it’s early [5.50am] what do I need to do. Relax, there’s loads of time. Waterbottle, don’t forget waterproof. Won’t fit. COME ON. Try bigger backpack. Phew. Hope it’s ok to cycle in. LATE.
“Come on, come on, please let me through, I’ve got a ticket.” FUCK the barrier’s closed on me, “Please help, my bikes trapped!” FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, Suzie’s never going to forgive me. RUN, RUN, RUN. “Hold the door!”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Did I miss anything when I swapped bags, was there something left on the bed. I think there was something left on the bed.
SHIT, no pump.
Google bike shops in Winchester. Can’t believe I’m going to to have to buy a fourth pump. No one needs four bike pumps.
DAY ONE, 47 miles – Suzi and me:
How do we get out of Winchester?
I remember this bit. I don’t remember this bit. Right, no left. Mmmm blackberries.
Wow, look at that house. Do people really live like that? First hill. I can do this. Yes!
I’m so glad I came. The world is beautiful. I am thirsty.
Where did all my water go? This pub should have a tap, where is the tap?
Are those the pylons on Butser Hill? They are SO far away.
Five quid for two cups of tea! Ooooh brownie!
I don’t remember my saddle hurting before. Maybe I should have gone back for those new shorts.
Hill, hill, Winchester Hill. PRETZEL STOP!
Why are we going north? The pylons are east. Why are we going south? FLAPJACK!
Wheeeeee! Pooeeee fly!
Wheeeeeee! Bleugh fly!
Wheeeee! Jesus where are all these flies coming from?
Maybe if I stopped grinning I wouldn’t swallow so many damn flies.
My saddle really hurts. That’s not good. Why isn’t Butser getting any closer? I really should have gone back for the new shorts.
Bikes should be prescribed on the NHS. I hurt in a million places but my head isn’t one!
Granny gear. Hill, hill, steep hill. I remember this hill. I have to stop. I’m not stopping. I can do this. I’m doing this. Chest hurts. Peddle! Nope. Walking.
Urk! That gravel’s dangerous.
That’s a lot of blood! Why didn’t I bring the big bandages. Clean water. Anti-septic wipes. Savlon. Bandages.
“Shall we sit down for a bit?”
Ouch! Stupid saddle. Why isn’t Butser getting any closer. Jesus are those the pylons on Bignor. FUCK, we are never going to get there. I hate this!
I love this. I love my bike.
Ouch! I hate my saddle.
Zip through Queen Elizabeth Country Park, no need to stop.
I am so tired. I can’t do this. I could sleep in that wood shed. Maybe just a quick nap.
Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill.
Thirsty. Where’s the nearest tap. SHIT Queen Elizabeth Country Park. THIRSTY. Not going back.
Jesus, my arse hurts. Hill, hill, up the hill. Wheeee! Ouch.
Thirsty. Tired. I can’t do this. I hate Gareth. What would the most offensive thing I could text him?
Nice view. Mmmm pretzels. Thirsty.
Up, up, down, down, up up, down down. Gently undulating my arse!
When was I last on a bike? Three weeks, is it three weeks? Maybe I could have trained a bit better for this.
Is that a bull? Shall we push through this field?
What kind of dinosaur rides the South Downs Way? A megasaurus (mega-sore-arse)!
YES! We missed going past the turn to Cocking. Only seven miles to go. We can do this!
Ouch, ouch, ouch. It’s entirely possible that I will never be able to have sex again.
Fuck, that’s the turn off to Cocking. There’s still eight miles to go. Water, water, water. TAP! Drink, drink, drink.
Woefully unprepared. I am woefully unprepared for this challenge. I like that expression. I should start using the word woeful more often. I am full of woe. Well, I’m not full of woe but my arse is full of woe.
Oooh, sunflowers. Glorious.
I need a wee. There’s a good place to hide. AIEEEEEE! It burns. Ouch fuck ouch!
What the fuck are we doing?
Up, down, up, down, up, down.
Those pylons are still so far away.
Ouch, ouch, OUCH!
Evening light’s so beautiful.
Oooh deer! Lots of deer. The sky is beautiful. Wonder how long until sunset.
I wonder if I texted my mum if she’d come and pick up our sleeping bags from Amberley tomorrow morning.
10 minutes until the sun drops behind those trees.
I will never buy bike lights from Lidl again.
Pylons! We’re saved.
Wheeeee! This place is lovely. Dinner.
On the bright side the more savlon I put on the sores the less I’ll have to carry tomorrow.
This plastic mattress in a barn with a door that won’t close is the most comfortable place I’ve ever zzzzzzzz…
DAY TWO, 33.5 miles – Lou, Suzi and me:
Mmmm sunshine. Tea, seeds, flap jack and cliff bar. A perfect breakfast. Hello beautiful world, you are glorious and I’m glad I live in you.
Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. I cannot get on this saddle. It’s ok to push up the first hill, it’s not actually on the route.
GET OUT MY WAY STUPID PHEASANTS! Suzi’s right, they’re mini dinosaurs straight out of Jurassic Park. I’m a T.rex, hunting down a veloceraptor for my breakfast. GROOOARRRRR!
Hello cafe, hello river. Hello Mum. Hello Lou. I love coffee, I love bacon, I love sausage. Goodbye sleeping bag. I love my mum.
Hill, hill, up the hill. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I’m like the train from Dumbo.
I can go forever. Nope, walking.
Chanctonbury Ring, home turf.
Home turf. Great views. So much pain. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Hill, hill, up the hill. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Bloody hell, I did it!
This is what the word glorious was invented for. Chanctonbury Ring already. The world is very golden.
I love this. I want to do this forever. Look at the sea, the sky, the autumn shades. FLAPJACK!
Annington Hill. My nemesis. Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. [pause to rescitate lungs] Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. [pause, chest heaves] I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
Recovery from Truleigh Hill
BLOODY HELL, I MADE IT. Man this grass is comfortable. This is the most comfortable place I’ve ever lain. I’m just going to stay hear until I can’t hear my heart any more.
Tarmac is an amazing invention. How the hell did people used to travel on un-paved roads. Did the Elizabethans have buns of iron? No wonder those posh Georgians used to stay at each other’s houses for weeks on end. One month for their bums to heal from the coach ride and another to prepare their nerves for the return trip.
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
This is lovely. Maybe a five-minute snooze in the sun.
Up and down, up and down.
[pass sign saying ‘The cattle are grazing’ which inspires a little cycling song to the tune of Away in a Manger]
“The cattle are grazing, the slope is down hill.
The views are amazing, we’re doing quite well.
And Rachel is waiting, at the cafe we’ll pass.
The one thing I’d change is the pain in my arse.”
This is the best cup of tea I’ve ever had.
I am so comfortable right now. I’m never going to move again. Why don’t they make bike seats like toilet seats. I’m just going to sit on this loo forever.
Push up the hill. OUCH. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Up, up, up the hill. OUCH. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Up, up, up, up, up. This is it. This is my favourite bit of the South Downs Way. The grassy sward. Sward. Sward. SWARD. I LOVE IT!
SECOND LUNCH. I am so grubby I can actually write on my skin.
This had better be the last hill of the day.
Bugger. The football’s on. Hope we can get the bikes on the train.
So goood to streaaaaaaaaaaach!!!!
We wash too much. One shower a day. Some people take more than one. They will never know how great it feels to get clean after a few days getting really, really filthy outdoors. I am so clean. I smell amazing.
I wonder if I’ve got time to wash my clothes too.
DAY THREE, 25 miles – Aeneas, Lou, Suzi and me:
Last day. I might actually do this. We are going to do this!
Ouch, ouch, ouch!
This is like the opposite of ten little Indians. A new person added to the group every day. I’m the cycling Pied Piper.
I just wish they had a bit less energy.
[Lou makes comment about having tyre in wrong groove, so I sing Madonna for a bit]
Get into the groove, hey, you’ve got to prove your bike to me.
Get up off the seat, yeah push with your feet, you know what I mean.
Gonna peddle, on the South Downs Way, this doesn’t happen to people every day.
Only when I’m cycling do I feel this free, and when I reach the top I’ll be able to see the sea.
Up, up, up the hill. I can see white cliffs. Ouch!
Time for a cup of tea. Nooooooo! Closed. I can’t make it up this hill without tea.
Seriously? Period you couldn’t have waited one more day?
Up, up, nope. Up, up, NOPE. Wobbly legs. Cramps. Crap! Push, push, push up the hill. Push, push, push.
Have another go. Wobble, nope. WOBBLE! Nope. The others are so far ahead. Push. Up, up, up, up, up.
Aaaaand sit down. Peddle, peddle, stop. Peddle, peddle, sit down. SANDWICH!
CREAM TEA! Oooof, full.
Nice bridge. Out the way lady! I’ll get you. And your little dog too.
Is this the last hill? I will cycle this if it kills me.
Urk, chalk! Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. Breathe. Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. BREATHE.
Not sure that cream tea was a good idea. Oh dear. Might lie down for a bit.
Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. Breathe. Up, up, up the hill. BREATHE.
To vomit or not to vomit. THAT is the question. Up, up, up the hill. DID IT!
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand SIT! Isn’t there supposed to be a long man around here somewhere?
This is lovely. Ouch! I sort of don’t want it to end. Ow! I wonder how long I could keep going. OUCH! Before this saddle stopped hurting. ARGH!
There’s Eastbourne! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
WHAT? BUT? WHAT? ANOTHER HILL?
When I get home I’m going to throw this saddle away.
And burn these shorts.
UP, up, up, up, up, up, UP.
At the end
And we’re done.
Cup of tea. Jesus it hurts to sit down!
Bloody hell. We actually did it. Thank you Suzi for your company (and for scraping me off the kitchen floor) and Lou and Aeneas for joining us along the way. Thank you Gareth, you’ve been a good mate this year so I’ve decided to forgive you for these three days of torture.
And now I’m off to burn my cycling shorts.