I've got just two days and roughly 200km to go. 11 days have flown past. Well, 9 days have. The first two were tortuous and each one lasted a week. But I'm already anticipating the loss when I go back to work next week. As with each of the other Long Way Home rides, by the time I hit the second week I have settled into a rhythm that I want to continue. And who wouldn't? All I have to do each day is get up, load the route and turn my pedals. There's not much else to trouble my day.
Most days I have had someone new to ride with and share the enjoyment. But it all stops on Thursday. Rachel has suggested that we go for a ride on Friday together, reminding me how great it will feel to be back on my lightweight Bianchi with no bags. She's right, that will feel great and I have missed riding with her. I will probably ride again on Saturday, do the club ride on Sunday and Monday is a bank holiday, so guess what I will do? Today was another highly enjoyable mix of people and terrain and was once again drama free. Having stayed overnight with my friend Ron and his family (and had five star treatment) I set off for another 100km ride from Farnham to Salisbury via Winchester. Ron's 17 year old son Auguste joined us and was politely asked to take it easy on me. 'Yep' he said 'I know you've got a thousand kilometres in your legs, don't worry'. Inevitably he set off like a scolded cat. Ah the predictability of youth. So much for my warm up. This was more like a ramp test at 5am with no warning. Ron sat behind me chuckling 'yeah he does this to me all the time'. My one advantage here was that Auguste had no idea where he was going so had to either wait at junctions or be called back. Amusingly Ron's Garmin decided for itself that we obviously wanted to constantly change direction so helped out by calling out a series of turns 10 seconds after we passed them. It didn’t bother me though - I was quite enjoying somebody else dealing with Garmin issues and it's good to know I'm not alone in swearing at inanimate objects.
Through the Alice Holt Forest
We seemed to be rolling through endless tiny country lanes with enormous houses leaving me to wonder, what exactly do all these people do for a job? In the middle of all these houses we suddenly popped out onto a gravel trail in the oddly named Alice Holt Forest. I didn't get to find out who Alice was, but Ron told me the forest was used for many years to supply oak to build Royal navy ships. Sadly the trail was over too soon and I didn't even get the chance to do the advertised Gruffalo hunt I saw on a sign that we whizzed past. Once out of the forest we carried on through largely empty B roads crossing into Hampshire, through Alton and on to New Alresford where we picked up another new rider, David, for the day at the excellent Party at the Mill cafe. David is my 16th guest rider of the trip and another welcome addition. If Auguste was the young whippet in our group, then David was a racing greyhound. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him - he's one of these blokes who looks fast sitting still drinking a coffee. Looks were not deceiving and the pace immediately went up with him on the front. He's chair of a Winchester based cycling club and we had a great chat comparing club activities and approaches. Like Ron, he was also part tour-guide, chatting about points of interest and local history. Personally I love this, not just for the stories themselves, but because they add colour to riding in new places. They are also a great distraction clearly because we hit the 60km mark as we entered Winchester and it felt like nothing. After a quick coffee and chat, Ron and son turned back home and I'm delighted to report that Auguste was knackered on his return.
Today's support crew in Winchester
David guided me out of the city, waiting patiently while I lumbered up the climb in the words of Blackadder "like an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping". Sadly he had to head back after another 30 minutes, but left with the cheery suggestion that it was all 'easy rolling roads from here to Salisbury'. Indeed it was rolling. There were no flat roads anywhere. So I had two hours of up and down all the way to Salisbury. On the plus side, the sun was out and the roads were empty. What more could I want? Well, just more of it full stop. But sadly it will all end too soon. But not before another 100km in the sun tomorrow. Happy days.