Today was a game of two halves: a morning spent with a new friend and the first solo kilometres of the trip this afternoon. First things first though, the day 5 legs have carried over and I felt good all day. This is not to say I am going much faster, just that the hills in particular hurt less.
This morning I left my hotel to find my riding partner, John, sitting patiently outside waiting. John turned out to be great company and we chatted easily for three hours until he headed home after lunch. Given that I don't know anything about any of the people who have volunteered to ride with me through my YouTube channel, there was a chance we wouldn't get on or find ourselves with nothing to say. But each of the strangers/ new friends on the opening six days has turned out to be someone I'd happily spend more time with. Like the others before him, John turned out to be an interesting guy who had completed LEJOG in just 10 days and Liège–Bastogne–Liège multiple times. Setting aside my previous hatred of riding in Belgium (see many previous posts) anyone who has raced on cobbles is both a hard man and a mental case. He also has six kids so I guess he's a sucker for punishment. Or maybe the cobbles hurt less than being at home with six kids. Either way he had my respect. We rode around 50km together from Melton Mowbray to Cafe Ventoux, near Tugby. The route was lumpy but with nothing that made climbing too hard. I climbed close to a thousand meters again today and almost all of that was in the first half. We rode out towards Rutland water, then directly south after I decided to alter the route. Originally I had planned a lap of the lake for reasons I cannot now recall, but the loop added 20km for no particular gain, so I dropped it. The weather was also warming up and the route almost traffic free, so it was an easy ride. Aside from the usual Garmin/Komoot misdirections. But then again no trip is complete without me swearing at my Garmin for its inability to cope with British roads. Yesterday we had so many missed junctions that Brian suggested I should rename my blog and channel Riding the Wrong Way Home. Anyway I generally felt pretty good until 5km from the cafe stop where I was revived by a large bacon cobb (it says cobb on the menu so let's not have any of your 'you mean batch/barm/roll debate here). John made my morning when he picked up my bike and realised how heavy it is fully loaded. That weight is the only reason I'm so slow up hill, honest it is. After we parted company I was alone for the first time all trip and only had to do the same distance again to finish. I have to say I loved the afternoon. As much as I've enjoyed riding with others, the time alone allows for two things: thinking time and the ability to ride with the ebb and flow of my own body. What I was thinking about was why others had chosen to support me? I mean I get friends doing it, but what of strangers? Yesterday Paul said that I wasn't a stranger to channel subscribers because they felt they know me through the videos. Today John said he here as payback, because some of the tips I had offered in videos really worked for him. "You have already helped me even if you don't know it" he said. From Ventoux I made my way to Market Harborough where I dropped on to a trail I suddenly recognised. I had ridden it last year with friends and knew it went all the way to Northampton, today's finish point. Perhaps it was the familiarity, perhaps it was the weather or my legs or the fact I was riding alone, but I blasted along faster than on my previous visit. I reached Northampton an hour earlier than expected. During our ride this morning I had told John that the first two days were the toughest. He asked why not Northampton as it was the closest point to home for me? Wouldn't I be tempted to simply ride home? 'No' I said, 'because home is coming to me'. Mrs B has decided to join me this evening which is a great way to celebrate reaching the half way point in this year's Long Way Home.
*strictly speaking we did have to ride uphill to Café Ventoux so I am allowed some poetic licence