Updated: Aug 24
Today is always going to stick in my mind for one reason only: it was the day I rode a bike with my Dad for the first and probably only time in my life. My Dad is 84 and for whatever reason has never ridden a bike with me, not even as a child. I asked my brothers about this and none of them can recall him ridding with them as kids either. That made the first 10 minutes of today extra special. The ride with my Dad will end up as the shortest by any guest on this this year RTLWH, but will be the most memorable. We rode together along the seafront in Hove, where he made me laugh (as he always does) by getting in front and then asking if the pace was OK for me.
Once my childhood moment was unlocked I went on alone towards Shoreham and from there joined the Downs Link cycle route which is about 50km long and goes all the way to Guildford in Surrey. I have done this a couple of times before in the opposite direction and always really enjoyed it. Like lots of the other trails I have covered this year, the Downs Link is a disused railway line (strictly speaking two former lines closed in the 1960's). It is a mixture of gravel and dirt and the route is only broken up by road crossings and is pretty easy to navigate.
Mrs B has a thing where she asks if particular rides can just be 'a bike ride'. Of course this could apply to any ride, but she specifically means one where you just enjoy being on the bike and pay no attention to the speed, Strava segments etc. I had decided that today would just be a bike ride. After the happy start with my Dad, I determined not to push the pace at all and to enjoy the day. I even stopped early for a coffee when I discovered a new coffee shop on the route. Actually it was more of a wooden cabin in a famers field alongside the trail, but chatting to the woman who worked there, it seems the farmer was smart enough to have figured out he had a captive audience passing his front door every day.
Post coffee and a cake (and who are you to judge whether I needed cake after just 55 minutes of riding) I headed back onto the trail. For long sections it was virtually empty and there was no need to stop for barriers. Gradually the pace kept creeping up until eventually I realised I was hammering along as hard as I could ride on the gravel. I could have stuck with Mrs B's bike ride principle, but I was loving it, simultaneously enjoying the sunshine and the fact that my legs were working well. Anyone on the trial became a target to chase. Admittedly they were mostly parents riding with their kids, but nevertheless they all had to be beaten. I am very happy to share the trails with walkers and ALWAYS slow down for horses, but I can't help but be irritated with brainless people who step out in front of you. I will shout 'passing on your left' or right as I approach from behind and most people will move to accommodate you. But there seems to be large number of idiots who hear this and decide to stop walking, look over their shoulders, then step directly into your path, forcing a quick change of direction or heavy braking. I should be more tolerant I guess, but when this happens 30 times in a four hour stretch you get pretty tired of people who clearly cannot tell left from right.
I felt like nothing could spoil my perfect day. And then of course, something did. I got a puncture. So what you ask? Well, it happens that this is the first puncture I have ever had on a RTLWH trip in almost 5,000km. What pissed me off was that it wasn't an accident. Someone had dropped tacks onto the track. The chances of there being tacks and drawing pins on a remote cycle trail by accident seem slim, so you have to wonder at the mentality of someone who does this. I resolved to stay calm and take my time, refusing to let this ruin my day. While I was changing the puncture, two small boys about 6 years old rode past with one of them chatting about the horsepower of Lamborghini's compared to his Mum's mini. This moment was all the more surreal as they appeared to be on their own in the middle of nowhere. About two minutes later a woman appeared jogging along drenched in sweat, who I guessed owned the underpowered mini, chasing after the junior Top Gear presenters. Weird.
Despite my efforts to remain calm, there was definitely a touch of anger fuelled riding once I got going and then propelled me all the way to the outskirts of Guildford, where I missed a turning. I hate tracking back, so I decided I would cut across country to rejoin the route. I turned on to a public bridleway and started smashing my way through little tiny trials. I was so confident I took my GoPro out and blathered on about my new found ability to go anywhere and ride on any surface. 15 minutes later I was back where I had started. I may be able to ride trails, but I've still got no fucking sense of direction.
The idiot loop
After admitting my mistake I eventually found a direct route to my destination, an overnight stop with an old friend Ron, who is going to ride with me in the morning. As I turned up he was sorting his son's bike out to join us and promptly took my æsir and put it on a stand and cleaned it while I was blathering on about my day. Once again my friends are showing me great kindness that I will not forget. But memory of their kindness will take second place to the fantastic 10 minutes I spent riding with my Dad. It really made my day/trip.