NB – Facts have been changed, due to a wilful disregard for truth.
I got a taxi to the airport at 7AM. The driver asked where I was going. I said ‘Land’s End.’ ‘Where?’
On my way through security at Glasgow Airport I lost five gas cartridges, for easily inflating punctured tyres. Luckily, a further three such cartridges were unfound. I was allowed to keep my pliers, knife, corkscrew and scissors; although I think I almost talked my way out of that generosity.
I then flew on from Birmingham to Newquay, where I considered checking my luggage in to the hold to avoid further confiscations. Informed by a humourless robot that this would cost me £50, I decided instead to take me chances with security, figuring I could replace my banned items for significantly less than that. Luckily Birmingham Airport security waved me through with my contraband, with no inquiry.
I felt a tad selfish taking my huge bag, practically the same size as me and twice as heavy, on as hand luggage. I didn’t bother trying it in the ‘if it fits it’s free’ basket, as I could tell from a distance that the basket would fit in my bag easier than vice versa. Of course, it didn’t come close to fitting in the overhead compartment, so I just stuck it under the seat in front, where it didn’t fit either.
The old lady I sat next to contorted herself around it politely, hunched herself over her book, and wolfed down her arthritis pills wordlessly as I pretended to sleep.
After many months of training, I have been ‘carb loading’ all day. This is not actually part of my performance plan, I’m just solidly bored. Last night I ate a whole takeaway pizza, and not the small size, so it’s not like I’m low on glucose reserves, or whatever the actual science word is. And anyway, I always eat a grab bag of Skips at the airport. That’s my thing. Like a gastro-catchphrase. You’ll see me there, at departures, eating my Skips, reading my book, oblivious to the announcer on the PA, saying last call to wherever I’m going. Newquay – a first for me.
The plan is to get to Newquay, then get a bus to Land’s End, then set up my bike, Nigella, who travelled separately from me as things have got like that between us lately, then sleep in a tent, then wake up and cycle 969 miles to John O’ Groats. I am doing this because:
- To raise money for the Paralympic Association
- Because I like cycling
- Because I no longer wish to like cycling?
- Brain disease? Love of pain?
I had a black coffee at Newquay airport and waited for my luxury coach. A hen party passed me by—I’d seen them on the aeroplane, attracting attention to themselves, with their Fauxwaiian garb, with their loud chatter, and their tee-shirts with emblazoned nicknames. I counted twenty-nine white girls, called M or Caroline or Aunt Mo, and one black girl, called Brown Bear. This is the naive demographic of ‘Kates Hen Do’. Strangely, I only counted one Kate.
I finish my coffee, and I have a horrible realization. I neglected to bring a pillow case. Although it was advised by the organizers, they, absurdly, neglected to put it on the recommended packing list. I am blameless, hence. But I will suffer the consequences alone. Nine nights of pillowless sleep. Tented sleep. Pillowless, cramped, fatigued, lonely, sombre sleep. Unpillowed.
I fear not for anything in particular, but in general. My true enemy has yet to reveal itself.
I suddenly regret not shaving my legs. That could have made all the difference. That, and the pillow, could be the difference between success and failure. I touch my hairy pins, then I wipe a small tear from my eye. Could I shave them with a facial razor? Without lubricant? I am planning on going unshaved, without deodorant, and without hair conditioner, for the duration. It is the manly thing to do I feel. I only took the razor in case of emergency. Is this that emergency?
There are other RABers (Ride Across Britain-ers) in the Newquay Coffee Republic. This reassures me that I won’t miss the luxury coach. I have not socialized with them—that is not the sort of thing I do—but I can sense that there is no anticipatory buzz infecting the cafe. I am the youngest and fittest looking.
But that means nothing. Maybe they all have shaved legs and pillow cases. My pen runs out. Page 2, and I have lost a pen. I only have one more. Why did I not check the ink levels? Or pack more pens? First days are always hard.
Between snacks, I am reading ‘The Information’ by Martin Amis, and I’m already a decent way in and enjoying it. I feel Richard deserves his revenge. I am not sure why he and Gwyn ever became friends though. I also have ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ by Bob Stanley, which I mainly bought because I like Saint Etienne. I do not share his obsession with music however, so it remains to be seen whether I can tolerate 800 pages of it. (I am forever forswearing long books, yet always seem to be reading them. Just finished Underworld by Don DeLillo, which must have taken about three months. Such a high opportunity cost.)
The luxury coach arrives. It is disguised as a shit mini van.
Cornish people ain’t harth talk funny, jeepers.
It was not a disguise. I am at Land’s End. Nigella is here too, and she seems to be functioning. I ate a huge slice of sticky toffee pudding and, atypically, made conversation with strangers, from Guernsey and London. I also saw a colleague, which was reassuring.
As usual in such social situations, I wish I didn’t feel so irrationally hostile towards everyone I don’t know. I always go into such interactions expecting the worst. I loathe the snippets of other people’s conversations that I overhear. I mean this generally. I’m not talking about anyone here, any of the RABers. Not yet.
As I am writing this immediately before sleep, and wish to cheer myself up, I will end by remarking on how impressive the logistics behind this event are. The set up really is good, with all the tents and stuff, and the food is totally serviceable. I can’t complain about the accommodation. It is cramped and sore and it hurts to write. I must break now to read by head torch—I was sceptical of this device (this, you may notice, is a theme and a good guide to my disposition) but it really is superb. It illuminates everything I look at, and it attracts insects to my face.
My girlfriend texted me to tell me she is going to Paris with her boss. Of course I forbade it, but she thought I was joking.