If you’d told me as a kid, or at any age to be fair, that I could get up in the morning and ride my bike to the Lake District, I’d have recommended psychiatric treatment. Actually, I’d more likely have stared at my feet at mumbled something barely audible and almost certainly meaningless. Not a very confident child.
Not a very confident grown-up this morning either. Determined to get up early and get breakfast out of the way leaving plenty of time to digest, it took me 25 weary minutes to chew through my bowl of porridge. This felt like the most sluggish start to the day since waking up in Stockling on Monday morning. Mum, Tom and I talked about how the tiredness and its elusive flipside, the energy, come in unpredictable phases. I recalled how whacked out i’d been finishing last night and bit down on the fear that today could be worse. This was supposed to get easier as we went.
Rarely can a broken bike have given anyone such a confidence boost. Wheeling out of Mum’s garage it seemed like my back wheel was sticking. It turned out that the bottom of my brake lever had sheared off, forcing the brake block against the wheel rim. Suddenly last night’s dramatic dip in zip seemed explicable. I couldn’t find the part on the garage floor so it surely must have come away before the end of the ride. No chance of any bike shops being open at 7am, but the web pointed us to the Orange Apple in Longridge, 40 miles into the day’s trip. I set off with a big, relieved smile on my face, and no rear brakes.
The riding was good. Picking through the streets where I grew up, starting by climbing hills I feared when a schoolchild (Thornton Road! Par Brew!) which turned out to be little more than slight changes in gradient, then joining together the post-industrial towns that make up the western fringe of the Manchester/Salford conurbation: Tyldesley, Atherton, Horwich. Now the buildings were red brick instead of local stone and then, just as suddenly, we were up in the hills approaching the West Pennine Moors, and the stone started to return.
We picked up Rob in Rivington and rose and fell through (sharp) hill country, heading to Blackburn, Preston, the Lakes. Hearing the cream-churned North-West accents was another almost embarrasingly simple filip. My own started to return, and half way through the day I surprised myself by using two syllables for the word ‘here’ where in the South West one would suffice.
Heading up a hill 30 miles in, my front tyre started to swell. Rob came alongside, pointed his magic finger at it, and it exploded. We changed the innertube straightforwardly, but only when freewheeling downhill past Tom, who was watering the hedgerow, did I realise that I’d forgotten to reconnect my front brakes. The keen cyclists among you will realise that no front brakes plus no back brakes equals no brakes at all. Luckily the hill was empty and fairly short. Not sure what I would have done otherwise.
The chap in the Orange Apple was fantastic, dropping everything to fix my brakes, Rob’s cranks and then recommending several cafe-stops for the second part of the day. He also recommended Longridge’s own ‘Old Station’ cafe for lunch, which was fine advice.
The second half of the day was long. The scenery changed and the speed picked up as we edged to the lower Lakes. The three of us spent large parts of the afternoon cycling alone, including one 13-mile stretch into Kirby Lonsdale. During the hour it took me to get there I saw neither Rob nor Tom who had both boosted ahead at their own favoured paces. The washing machine started up again. Why am I behind? Why are they ahead? Have I gone the right way? Are they fed up of me trailling all the time? Why am I behind? Why am I in worse shape than the two of them? Why have I been left behind?
When I arrived the whole Rainbow family were waiting on the roadside verge, complete with a great welcome banner that Tess and Kitt had hand-painted. Along with the Williamses and the Kennedys, the Rainbows are as close as I get to having a second family (don’t panic Currans, you’re real family – actually, do panic). Spending time with them is effortless and fun, but today seeing them waiting and waving flags made me miss Jo more.
Rob stepped out at this point leaving Tom and I to plough on to Sedbergh, a long slog made slightly more difficult by the reception we’d had in Kirby, which felt like it should have been a finish line. We got there, but the day in all seemed to have taken much longer, and much more out of us than it needed to. Much like this post, i’m sure you’ll be thinking.
513 miles down.