I crossed the border into Scotland, my home land. Here I was born and usually remain. To leave, I must roll a double. I am always back within three weeks. What is its magnetism? Convenience. I couldn’t stand erect and say with a straight face that I loved my country, or that I was proud to be its fruit. If anything I judge it much more harshly than I do any other country. Why do I consider the xenophobia of foreigners to be so much reasonable than that of my countrymen? Because I can understand why foreigners might not like my countrymen, I suppose.
There we are, in our football tops, imbibed and sunburnt, singing our bigoted songs and breaking stuff. THE FAGS HERE ONLY COST FUCK ALL. The vodka is sold in decent measures. It’s easy to see why foreign countries are better than our own, and why they want to keep us out. We only ruin it.
So as I crossed the border I didn’t stop. I didn’t get a picture by the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign. I will see it again. Many times. Each year.
The border came early in the day, and despite what I’ve just said, I was pleased to cross it. During the night I had decided that I would go home tonight and sleep in my own bed, choose my own dinner, bathe, and spend some time with Stephanie. This was also the easiest day, a mere 100 miles, and relatively flat, so I was hoping to get to the camp by about 1PM and to my flat by 2. This required an average speed of 20mph, and I was getting pretty near it. I rode in a group of four with one of the chaperones in the first third, and we kept an excellent pace. But we lost each other at the pit-stop so I just carried on solo after that.
I took the second third almost as quickly as the first. Not quite as fast, as the quality of the roads was horrible. For some reason all roads south of Ayrshire are pebble-dash rather than tarmac. At some point I slipped into mild insanity, and started working on a song in my head. It was a mash up of Trans-Europe Express and Rawhide, and featured a rap about saddle sores, and it lasted for at least ninety minutes. I started to think it was quite good, and I was considering the sartorial aspects of the promotional video when I noticed that I recongnized my surroundings.
I was now on roads that I had traversed on my training routes. ‘Rolling, rolling, rolling, rawhide,’ I thought, which wasn’t want I intended on thinking, but it was what I got. The more I cycle the less comprehension I have of free will. The more apparent it is that for large swathes of the day I have no control of myself, in so far as I equate me with being the loquacious, repetitive and often vituperating homunculus who I know so well. For of course, even when the homunculus is absent it must be me that is taking actions, doing stuff. I suppose I just would prefer to be consulted. ‘Hey, Nik!’
‘Rolling, rolling, rolling, rawhide: okay?’ But it’s too late for consultation at that point isn’t it.
And God isn’t Scotland empty. The second pit-stop comes in a village of two houses and a car park or something. I barely stop. Just fill my pockets with swag and hop back on. Since Penrith there hasn’t been much to see. Carlisle in the mist. Then 100 miles of pebble dash to Glasgow.
I really know where I am now. South Lanarkshire. I do the sums in my head. I’m in the Crawfordjohn triangle. This is an excellent part of Scotland for causing mental problems. You can, it seems, cycle as far as you like in any direction, and eventually you will see a sign telling you you are two miles from Crawfordjohn. I recall once after seeing ten such signs I was taken aback by actually passing through Crawfordjohn. I’m not sure it even had a shop: just a factory that makes road-signs and a postbox. As I sped away from Crawfordjohn back to the metropolis, I saw a sign saying ‘Crawfordjohn, 2’ pointing in a direction that was not the one I came from.
I was nearly home, the sun was out. Twenty miles and a taxi ride was all there was between me and luxury. Twenty more pebble-dash miles. I was starting to push harder: I could almost taste the Chinese takeaway (or was that blood?)
At this point I heard an explosion. Rawhide, I thought, unhelpfully.
The punctured tube was irreparable, as was the worn-out rear tyre. A chaperone helped me attempt to patch the tyre with a used gel sachet and fitted a new tube. I was back on the road, for about five miles, when I heard the now familiar sound of an inner tube exploding. I called the race mechanic, then settled down to wait for the car to arrive. I waited about 45 minutes, and ate all my sweets. I was on the verge of calling a taxi (I was only ten miles from camp at this point) when the car arrived and a man from Halfords sorted me out.
The last few miles were horrible. My body had completely cooled down, my limbs had stiffened, and I really just wanted to be home. When I arrived at camp I didn’t change, I just dumped my bag, helmet and shoes in my tent and took a taxi home still wearing my lycra, carrying a bad of laundry. The taxi driver told me about the time he did Land’s End to John O’Groats. He had used a motor vehicle, which struck me as being a bit easier, but it was nice to have something to bond over. The next morning the same driver took me back to the camp, after presumably sleeping in his car outside my flat, and we had an identical conversation.
Being home was good. Its easy to take being at home for granted. I opted not to. I gleefully washed all my kit, and stocked up on clean underwear. I supped a contented beer as I cut my toenails in the bath. Stephanie arrived home from work at this point, finding me bearded and bathing. We ordered the Chinese food, and we watched a Jonathan Meades documentary about Northern Europe and I sidled several measures of Scotch up to my beer. Not your measly Scottish pub modicums though. Foreign measures. Decent measures. Like what you have on holiday.
I can’t remember a happier day passing.