It was Saturday evening and we’d promised the kids Pizza. Frankly though, we quite fancied some ourselves, we were ravenous. We needed a change from our somewhat abstemious cycling diet, you know the type of thing, grilled fish, avocado salad, quinoa etc. (anyway, doesn’t passatta count as one of your five a day?)
Five of us had cycled well over 200km and climbed 3600m of ascent in two days in a bid to replicate part of the challenge in the Pyrenees, and Strava said I had 5000 kcals to replace. I’m not sure whether I should reveal I mentally equated that to ten bottles of Prosecco and three cream teas…but anyway.
James and Franca had devised a fiendish course including many of the toughest climbs of the local South Downs (like Butser Hill & Little Switzerland) as part of a loop to be repeated three times, thereby accumulating mountain-esque levels of ascent. For our sins, Geoff, James S and I agreed to join them in their early morning madness. The upside of this was being able to stop at the cars twice midway to restore supplies of food and drink; the downside was the very great temptation to quit after one or two gruelling laps had been completed, and adorn the sofa with one’s supine body. In the end, the desire to tick this one off our list held sway and we completed said task.
With this course, hills become the norm… the expected, the bread and butter of the ride; in some ways they start to lose the power to intimidate because by some miracle, you just keep getting to the top of another and another. Knowing you have so many hills over such a long distance effectively squashes the “Strava Effect“; a nasty cycling affliction where you feel compelled to beat your last time up a particular segment of hill and get a PR (personal record) thereby trashing your legs early in the ride. This lack of competitiveness ensures you pace yourself properly over the course of each hill and therefore the day.
As we hauled ourselves up a particularly vicious 15%er near the end, I was grateful for this pacing. With each slow revolution of the pedals, standing out of the saddle, I had the strong sensation I was stuck on a particularly tough StairMaster, or perhaps, enormous hillside escalator, it’s tall steps moving in the wrong direction. Only with tremendous effort, do the stairs sink underneath your feet as you make slow progress, carrying the weight of you and your bike ever onwards and upwards, the burn in your thighs an abiding reminder of the energy you’re expending. The satisfaction can be hard to fathom, but cycling would be dull without hills.
Yes, easy it wasn’t, but beautiful it certainly was, and as we roamed the countryside in enormous Strava circles, we found ourselves as if in some clichéd Disney film, surrounded by all sorts wildlife. Admittedly they weren’t clustering around our sweet, melodious song, in fact generally they were trying to get the heck out of our way, but it’s a lovely bonus seeing the various species of bird swooping around us; including a cuckoo call, the enormous pale wings of a barn owl, the hovering majesty of a kite and numerous other, urm, small birds darting from one hedge to another. This is when I feel I might be in danger of putting the Cameron Bespolka Trust to shame with my ornithological ignorance, but these experiences only serve to underline the relevance of its excellent work with young people.
One winter ride at dusk, I was lucky enough to witness a spectacular show of aerobatics from a huge flock of, what I now know to be, Starlings returning from the Continent. Their movement was mesmeric… like shoals of fish circling when under attack, I felt myself quite lucky to be cycling along underneath this dramatic murmuration (see, I’m learning the lingo).
They say that dogs are like their owners. The other day, so it proved. When riding in a group, I glimpsed two hares wandering down the quiet country lane, and was overwhelmed with the urge to chase them down on my bike… precisely to what end, I cannot say, but it satisfied some strange instinct to sprint off in pursuit. The pair ran off, veering from one side of the road to the other as they shot away, like… hares do. Eventually they escaped through a gap in the hedge, where I stopped to catch my breath and laugh at my childishness, as did others. Maybe Purdey’s started to influence my psyche, but hey, I’m not sure where I’m going with this… it’s one thing to say a dog is like their owner, but it does start to become dangerous for a woman to compare her own personal qualities to a female dog, so I better move on.
Our Bluebell-wooded ride with mountainous ascent left us with a serious calorie deficit. Despite gorging ourselves on toffee and marshmallow crispies, jelly babies and those (extremely portable) Warburton’s sandwich thins for 7 hours, so… a recovery family pizza was definitely on the cards, with an egg on top, extra chicken, and a glass or two of sparkling recovery wine (just not equivalent to my own body weight on this occasion). The green smoothies can wait until after Easter when the statue sized Lindt chocolate bunny has finally gone, isn’t that right Franca…?