The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

England beyond the motorways - Day 1

Tandeming from London to South Devon: originally organised as a test of fitness and tandeming tolerance quickly became an adventure through the England of older and more romantic days. Taking 3 days and 1 morning to travel 280 miles proved this increasingly common concept of slow travel a triumph.
The first morning I have little memory of. A combination of the cold and some very slow releasing nerves must have numbed my mind. In hindsight the day was the most dramatic in terms of cultural change. From the bubble of frustration that is London's commute we quickly entered the world where the school run is dominated by 4x4-driving-designer-gym kit-wearing mums pulling out of electric gates into spacious, tree lined avenues. After crossing over the M25, the nondescript towns of the greenbelt gradually became more and more disperse until villages and their farmland welcomed us to rural England. To celebrate this victory, leaving the great smog with nothing other than our own power, we took a break for lunch. When stepping off the tandem it became instantly apparent that there has been some discrepancy in the distribution of effort. My exclamations of "Wow that was great. I hardly feel a thing and still have loads of energy. Its a bit cold though isn't it", were quickly crushed by just looking at Nick's sweat laden, red face. This was the moment I realised I had to assert some effort to contribute, it didn't just happen passively. Reassuring to know we'll still go somewhere if I don't though.


Once in the depths of Hampshire we became a more balanced team as I put in more effort, Nick started warning me of gear changes, I got to use my drag break on the downhills, we both sweated through some uphills and argued over map reading. The countryside also began to reflect our new found flow, as fields of green crops and brown soil spanned the horizon, only disturbed by clusters of old farming cottages, manner houses and church spires. We arrived in Winchester an hour ahead of schedule and after weaving into the town center, felt almost reluctant to dismount. Cycling a tandem is pretty high on the weird scale; walking down a pedestrianised high street carrying one is off the scale. Consequently we walked around Winchester looking lost and bewildered for about an hour contemplating what next.

Our first night was an introduction to what became a wonderful insight into the world of an English institution almost as great as the public house: the B & B. The routine was almost identical every night. Middle aged lady, room plenty, cash and/or company sparse, welcomes you into her beautiful home, makes you tea, gives you a comfy bed, laughs heartily at all your jokes (especially those from good looking younger male), cooks a whopping great fry up and sends you on your way feeling the warmth and tingle of home comforts.

Visiting a friend who works in Winchester College rounded our first day off perfectly, giving us a good reason to go out for a big feed, oozing the satisfaction of a days exercise. We turned up at The Wykeham Arms, where all the teachers of Winchester College congregate in their own side section of the bar for post (or between lesson) drinks, as if an extension of the staff room. Here awaited a captive audience for our tales of adventure over a couple of ales and suddenly London seemed a distant memory. Conversation was dominated by 'teacher talk' of nightmare pupils, dating other teachers and subject banter, but (to my great pleasure and pride) was interspersed with exclamations of amazement at our achievement and onward journey.

My muscles turned to lead just in time for bed and I was automatically fearful of how much harder the second day would be. Nick mumbled something about the importance of stretching before bed but passed out about 2 minutes later, so I decided to follow suit. We would probably regret this in the morning but with forecasts of snow, hail, head winds and a rather large blister forming on my right buttock I had the feeling a bit of stiffness was going to be the least of our worries.

1 comment:

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