15/08/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
G’day folks, and here we are. Eye surgery all done, and what a breeze it was! I remember my Dad, many years ago, nearly going blind because he was so scared of having his cataracts, both eyes, operated on. After he had been forced to go and have the operation because he just couldn’t see he realised what he’d been avoiding, which was precisely nothing. There is nothing to be afraid of! Remembering this so well meant that I had absolutely no qualms about what was about to happen.
As all the medics told me the procedure was 100% painless with just some very minor discomfort, stinging, for about 20 seconds when putting drops in post op, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who needs it. The results have been fantastic and I’m still getting used to the improvement in my close vision, reading, which I was told was not going to happen, it was just my long distance vision that would be restored. Very, very happy indeed, and in fact the only part of the whole episode that hurt was paying for the damn thing!
So anyway, I’ve been on the road, real cycle touring, for just over a week and it’s about time to regale you all with what’s happened. Where to start? Well, it was almost where to finish, which was very close to happening, and only on my 2nd afternoon! I did know well in advance that I would ‘hit the wall’ on many occasions, and wonder what the hell I was up to, but for this to happen less than 36 hours after starting was beggaring belief, particularly for an optimist (blind optimist?) like me, and it was frankly disturbing. I’ll get to the details later.
If you’ve read my earlier waffling you will realise that I had one day of ‘testing’, riding with a full load, and found out that I was lacking in so many attributes, i.e. fitness and ability predominantly, that a serious re-think was needed. I really had to work out which stuff I needed and which I didn’t need. After a load of faffing around I managed to shed about 8 kilos which was a start, and almost as importantly, I managed to change the set up of the bike which meant the height of the stuff on the rear rack was considerably lower meaning the ‘dismount’, for an old git with a dodgy hip, could be achieved without so much embarrassment!
I set my target for the first day at 50kms. I’d done far more than that many times during my time in Laos, but on the flat and with no luggage on a comparatively light, 12kgs, hybrid bike. How would I fare in the rolling hills of Gloucestershire on a near 20kg bike with about 35kgs of luggage? (Plus I might add 95 kgs of old, fat, bald, novice cyclist) The first 20 kms were all about climbing, albeit thankfully, very gradual and I was sure I could do that bit without issue. No problem, and I was cruising along nicely before I realised my first turning had been missed. Signposts, or lack of them, will become a recurring theme…..grrrrrrrrrr.
‘What about Sat Nav/GPS?’, I can hear coming back at me through cyberspace. If you know me or have read my earlier stuff you will know that tech is not my strongest suit. I am learning as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and GPS is very definitely on the wish list before I head off to Europe and beyond. Unfortunately I had some stupid faith in the abilities of folks who live in the UK to be able to give accurate and understandable directions when in their locale. At times I could not have been more wrong. I’m sure that folks are trying to be helpful, but at times they are anything but.
Day 1, and I’ve overcome the minor inconvenience of the missed turn and am homing in nicely on my campsite, booked for the first night, and feeling good about it being mid afternoon and I still feel as though there’s plenty left in legs, heart and lungs. In this very rural part of England I was pleasantly surprised to see I had a phone signal, I thought semaphore may be the only way to communicate, so decided to break with the traditional ‘man thing’ and call to ask directions. The alarm bells should have rung loud and clear when the lady who answered the phone announced that she wasn’t very good at giving directions and had only been at the site for 10 weeks. This should have been the moment I hung up! Foolishly I listened and set off on the first part of what was to become 2 and a half hours to do the last 3 miles. After climbing two hills that I later realised I didn’t need to, I called again and asked, as politely as possible, if it was possible to speak to someone who DID know the area.
That’s when she passed the phone to a ‘local yokel’. It appears that in this particular part of England the locals start, and regularly intersperse, all conversations, sentences, phrases and even thoughts with, ‘aaarrrr’. Aaaarrr can mean anything and convey any emotion depending on how it’s said. It would also become apparent that all directions thereabouts involve a duckpond! ‘Aaaarrrr, (thought) there be a duckpond, but it may have water in it and it may have ducks aaarrrr, (more thought) but it may not, (even more thought) but don’t don’t count your chickens, aaaarrrrr. (levity) It might be on the left but it might be on your right, aaarrrr, (stupidity) but it depends which ways you’s coming aaaarrrr’. (levity combined with stupidity) Buy one get one free!
Whilst riding around this beautiful part of the world it occurs to you that although there are not many houses in these small villages, there are absolutely NO people! It’s almost spooky, and if I believed in stuff like that I would have started thinking that the walking dead had been through the area. I actually made this point to a cyclist I eventually bumped into and he assured me that they were still around but they don’t come out until after dark! Btw, he also didn’t have a clue where the campsite was. I eventually made it after turning 50kms into 65, and had to get 4 pints of cider down my neck before I could face putting the tent up. The day sort of got a bit better by my pitching the tent in less than 20 minutes and without looking like a fool. (Only the 3rd time I’d pitched the thing so I gave myself a big pat on the back)
Day 2, again about 50 kms to my next campsite, but it soon became obvious that the exertions of the day before would start to get to me, and with a vengeance. My knee started to creak and groan quite early on and other bits, that I didn’t know I had, were also making their presence felt. I soldiered on as best I could stopping frequently to eat, drink and get my breath back. Fortunately I had decamped early and set off in good time so I had time to take some short rests. Eventually I got to a sign that told me I only had 10 miles to go. Huge relief as my body was screaming at me! The sign also told me that there was a village about 3 miles ahead which I hoped would have a pub, with a beer garden and hopefully some internet coverage so I could take a break just 7 miles out and gather myself for the final push.
I got to the village of Tarrington in Herefordshire at about 2.00pm and found the Tarrington Arms. It was a pub and it had the required beer garden. It’ll do even though the exterior doesn’t look overly impressive. The interior was even worse and I immediately thought that if they ever do another remake of the film Psycho, it should be set here. The faint of heart would have been out of there like a flash. I am not faint of heart and I was bloody thirsty and determined to order a pint when Lurch, well that’s the name I would have given him, told me they weren’t open and in a not too friendly way. I asked him how far to the next pub on the way to Hereford and he told me 2 miles, and I couldn’t miss it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The words you never want to hear!
One thing I’ve noticed very early on is that if someone local to an area tells you that somewhere is any distance away you should immediately double or treble that distance to avoid disappointment. Maybe all the times when I told my kids that our destination was ‘just around the next corner’ or ‘not much further now’ are coming back to haunt me but it is a recurring theme that it’s important to understand and adapt to. Lurch’s 2 miles was a bloody site further than that, 4 miles easily, and he made no mention of one of the longest and toughest hills I’ve encountered. Day 2, 4.00pm approx., and I’m ready to have a major rethink!
So I eventually I did get to stagger into a very nice place, serving cold refreshments, which by this time were desperately needed, and I got chatting to a great couple (the bike is always a great ice breaker, both the colour and the load) who told me that my chosen site for the night, Hereford Rowing Club, was not too far and was a great place to camp with excellent showers and a comfortable clubhouse. They then told me that there was just one hill to climb before a nice descent into the city. The climb, they warned me, was short, but tough with the sort of load I was lugging. They were right on all counts, I had to push the bike up the climb but the rowing club was superb with the best showers ever, fortunately coinciding with the first time I was allowed to shower all over after my surgery, rather than just from the neck down. I stood under those powerful jets for a good 20 minutes.
That evening I decided to cancel my booking for the next night’s campsite which was 65kms away as I would never make it. I also decided to rest up for a whole day and see if that got me going again. I didn’t have to decamp and could just relax and regather some energy. Another good decision was to get the train, the day after, to my next destination in Shropshire, (yes that’s cheating) and only ride about 15/20 kms. This was when it dawned on me that my earlier targets may be attainable in the future but it was important to get some miles into my legs and get used to touring with a load before attempting too much. Now I’m starting to enjoy the life of a cycle tourist!
I spent my first weekend staying with friends at their holiday home on the Welsh border actually getting to sleep in a proper bed! Total and utter luxury! I was becoming very aware, very quickly, that small luxuries like that were to be enjoyed, appreciated and NOT taken for granted. After 2 days and nights of normality I set off, batteries recharged, for my next destination, not knowing what was around the next corner. The second part of my ride that day took me for some miles along the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal. I had planned on the towpath taking me all the way to my campsite for the night but was warned that there was a long stretch which I would not be able to navigate with the bike due to it being very muddy.
I had been told where to get from the towpath onto the road and, as is so often the case, the slope leading from the canal to the road was exceptionally steep. After much huffing and puffing I eventually got the bike to the top of the slope with sweat pouring off me and my heart going like the clappers. There I was faced with a narrow country lane and, of course, no signpost. Across the road, in a lay-by was an elderly gentleman on a mobility scooter, and the conversation went like this…….Me, ‘excuse me Sir, which way to Cheswardine?’ Old Fart, as I would subsequently think of him, ‘well you can go either way’. I can laugh about it now but at the time I wanted to puncture the tyres on his scooter! Obviously there are different ways of getting anywhere, but can you try and be helpful please?
It then got worse as a small lane was closed and the subsequent diversion took me in an almost a full 360 degree circle before arriving at my chosen site and with a number of huge climbs where there was more pushing than riding going on. Again my last few miles turned into a marathon of epic proportions. At least I was well rested from the weekend and the body wasn’t grumbling quite so much. A great nights sleep followed and the next day was a corker, ending up on Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty as well as being close enough to civilisation so that I could catch up on the blog, having not done much due to either no internet or phone coverage. (That’s why this is the second post in 2 days)
Anyway, enough for now, take care all, and as always may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.