RAB Liveblog – Stage 3 – Bath to Ludlow, 99 miles – 7 Sept 14

Today was varied. The morning was easy going, but torpid due to commuter traffic. It’s an awful pain departing from a city centre at 8AM. It was chilly to start with, gloves on etc, and we started the day by descending a longish hill, which is the last thing you want to do really. The cold air, plus no heat generation due to no exertion, makes for a slightly sad start. Luckily, the organisers rewarded us with a steep long climb after that. I regretted that Bath University had not been sat at the foot of the hill rather than the crest. But anyway, by the top I was hot and happy to stop-start through the traffic for an hour or so until we reached the Severn Bridge.

While a wonderful spectacle, the quality of riding here was abysmal. Riders were taking photos as they rode, or stopping without warning, and generally rolling at a trundle. Despite this, I felt quite excited to be visiting Wales. Having barely glanced at the route in advance, I was unaware this would be a thing that happened. I thought: that’ll save money on ever having to have a holiday in Wales. Looking over my shoulder, out over the water, as I rode, worried slightly about the possibility of crashing into an unseen obstacle, I was unable to reflect, as I can now in retrospect, that it was fortunate that we crossed the bridge after the first third of the day, rather than after the middle, as in that case I fear we would have witnessed another wave of RAB suicides.

I can’t say I saw much of Wales. We got off the bridge, all unsuicided, and immediately ate at the pit stop. We then rode immediately out of Wales, into some or other English county, and straight up a hill. The second stage was tough, but it was exactly the terrain I’m quite good at. Straight up and continuing. There was about two kilometres of the vertical stuff, which was more than advertised due to a road closure and a last minute diversion, which took us on, almost literally, the ‘as the bird flies’ route. I especially enjoyed this climb as: I got to overtake tonnes of people, it was seriously steep (up to about 15% incline, which is lowest gear, maximum heart-rate stuff), and it was a single track–and on that single track there was not only a postman doing his run in a track-wide van, but also the binmen coming the other way. If not for this, I would definitely have had the Strava record.

The final third was dominated by beautiful scenery, and a few hill, though nothing particularly challenging. Towards the end I got into a chain-gang, which sped things up, enabling me to finish 22nd overall, the same place I came in on day 1. Average speed was 26.5 km/h (obviously it would have been much faster but for the commuters in the morning and the bin-men on that hill), and moving time about six hours ten minutes. My legs felt tight and my knee sore when I woke up, and I feel stiff an very tired as I write this, and I am becoming impossibly hungry.

Group riding is a funny thing. I don’t do it that often as 1. I like to go at my own pace, and 2. essentially I’m a bit of a loner. Usually, when not on RAB, I just ride with one other person, who is very evenly matched with me (or: faster than me, as the relationship is more accurately described.) My main skill as a cyclist is going up hills. Not superfast, not anything on Chris Froome, but faster than most. This isn’t really due to superior muscles or cardiovascular ability, I just don’t weight that much, and hence a lower power output carries me faster upwards that it would a heavier rider.

My main weaknesses as a rider are technical descending and riding into a headwind. For the first: I find it scary, especially in gusts of wind. For the other, I just can’t be fucking bothered. It is such a lousy, thankless form of cycling.

So my tactic in the flats is this–find a big lad (bigger=better) and just draft him until the next hill. This is quite antisocial, but the best groups are the least social. If you have six big lads, and me, then each of us can take a go on the front, a mile or so each, meaning you can draft 5/6 of the time. Such economy can’t be had if you insist on chatting! And this is the sort of group I finished with today. I never said a word to any of them. We just cycled the bike race and shook hands at the end.

I have had some more sociable groupings. I have ridden a bit with two Londoners, one the son of  a Navy-man who has some sort of globular communications employment, and the other a former restaurant entrepreneur  considering his next career. I think they were both born in Scotland actually. The main thing though is that they have decent chat, and are adept at pushing air out of the way. Unfortunately it has proved impossible to keep their company constantly. They never seem to piss. I have to stop many times a day, often in disconcertingly urban areas. I also drop them on the hills, because if you are only good at one thing, you may as well be competitive about it in a totally antisocial and self-defeating way. That’s what I believe anyway, although putting it in writing makes me doubt the soundness of, well, me I suppose.

Anyway, I now recall, last night I watched the NFL on my iPhone while we were living it up in the luxury of the student digs at Bath Uni (back in the tent tonight). At least, I watched some of the Chicago Bears game, in between other duties, such as laundry and attending about one minute of the rider briefing before I had an epiphany: nobody would notice or care if I didn’t attend. So I watched the game, which was much better. I have followed the Bears for about six seasons now, and I think this may be the last.

I do find it awfully exciting–I think it is less predictable than soccer, I like that they draw it out over a whole three hours, and I enjoy the tribal highs and lows, the eu/dys-phoria caused by the outcome of an event that is in the scheme of things, utterly arbitrary and inconsequential. But hey! Humans are arbitrary and inconsequential–I like to thing I am especially so. But I think that as I realize the ultimate futility of the endeavour and as I feel I have probably now experienced the full range of NFL related emotions (aside from winning the Superbowl, which Chicago haven’t done since 1985, and haven’t seemed likely to do since) I think that now is the time to stop devoting time to it, time being precious.

I similarly gave up on soccer several years ago. There are only so many 40 yard lobs, 30 yard smashes, keeper-roundings, injury-time come-backs, gruesome leg-breaks, and cup-final losses before you’ve basically seen it all. And who enjoys attending matches? With the knuckle-dragging, chest beating, chanting rabble that constitutes a soccer crowd. So I quit. (Nothing at all to do with my club being relegated, nothing, honest.)

But because soccer and American football are easily replaceable. Their removal won’t create a gap in my life, it will just give me more time to fill.

But cycling: is different. Nothing can replace cycling really. You would need something that is at once sport and relaxation; social and distinctly individual; and with elements of mechanics – the bike building and maintenance; the long distances you can cover, the places you can visit, the physical fitness it facilitates. It is even pretty good as a spectator sport on TV. I tend to judge how good a sports event is by how long it is. ( American football is better than soccer.) And only test match cricket can rival the grand tour. Twenty-one days. That’s excellent value. Plus all those chateaux! It’s a shame that only the unemployed and the aristocracy have the time to watch the whole thing.

And this is my grand tour. It may not have the mountains of France, but it is hard work, and rewarding. I have been able to spend an unheard of amount of time uninterrupted in my own head, and the views today were incredible, particularly through the middle section. There is something reliably pleasant about the agrarian industry by which we were surrounded. The manicured fields, the bales of hay, the gravelled lanes.

Despite being obviously man-made, these things exude the impression of nature. There is something in their colours, their ragged order, and their apparent ancientness. Of course, this is summer, under a blue sky. I’ve seen these moon-scapes in winter.

But in the sun they are wonderful. Yet such a shame; for we can not live here, in the rural-industrial complex, without being altered by the idiocy of country life. By rurality: by distance, by closeness–from civilization, to family.

Due to the indubitable strength of bond between members of isolated families, it is impossible to live a healthy, philosophical existence in the countryside. No one need even try. The only attempts, of course, have been religious–the Amish for example. If not for the power of parental persuasion, how could generations of humans be tricked into living such a ludicrous life?

Because the logic of religion, necessarily, is anti-logic. It is the celebration of trust over reason. It is powerful, and leads to perpetual childhood.

So cycling is irreplaceable, because in what other way could I enjoy the countryside, without imperilling myself to the risk of infection by simple, dumb, rustic craftsmanship?

I am an amateur novelist, an aspiring tax advisor, a cycle commuter, and a graduate of philosophy, politics and law

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Posted in Ride Across Britain

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