Those pesky blackthorns

If you read yesterday’s blog then you will know that we were supposed to be hosting a woman called Adrianne Hill on the first night of her round Britain bike ride on the exact anniversary of our own departure two years ago. The good news is that we did host her; but only just.

Firm new friends

Firm new friends

We were expecting her sometime in the afternoon so the first hint that things weren’t exactly running smoothly came with a text informing us that she would be with us early evening. We just assumed that she was taking her time and enjoying exploring the lovely Lancashire countryside. Several texts later though it became obvious that the horrible headwind, frequent wintry showers and unpredictable Garmin route suggestions were taking their toll. I offered to ride out and meet Adrianne to give her a bit of company for the last ten miles which she gratefully accepted but before I was five miles from home she phoned to say she was being hampered by multiple punctures which explained the delays. I immediately went into emergency rescue mode which achieved nothing apart from proving how incredibly unfit I am at the moment and the idea of sprinting to her aid was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I finally found her and discovered that my damsel in distress was in fact a very cheerful, funny, optimistic, independent and resilient soul whose only flaw was a tendency to be just a teeny weeny bit disorganised. By this I mean that the punctures she was dealing with were in the 20” wheels of her trailer whilst all her spare inner tubes were of a 27” variety to fit the bicycle wheels. She had persistently patched the offending tube but unlike her mood, the tyre remained obstinately flat; no doubt due to an unseen thorn remaining in the tyre. We had no choice but to call for Thunderbird 2 in the form of Gill in the car who quickly loaded up the trailer and Adrianne’s bags and took off up the dual carriageway for home. Fortunately she had to return past us after turning round and fortunately she noticed that we weren’t speeding homeward but rather we were looking dejectedly at yet another flat tyre, this time it was Adrianne’s front wheel! Those black thorns have a lot to answer for. To her credit Gill stayed with us for moral support while I changed the tube as fast as my now freezing fingers would let me.

In fading light and a bit late for supper we finally made it home sometime after 9pm and salvaged what was left of the evening with copious amounts of food, a little wine and lots of laughter. I’ve said it before but cycle touring is always a roller coaster of ups and downs of every type but they don’t normally all come along on the first day. Welcome to touring Adrianne.

Off she goes

Day two, here we go.

 

We packed her on her way this morning with cheese and salad sandwiches, a homemade scone and two brand new 20” inner tubes. As I am writing this she has reported yet another puncture but she is battling on regardless. I have every faith in her ability to make it around our coastline because beneath her petite frame and beaming smile I think there lies a character that is tougher than the toughest blackthorn and believe me, they don’t come any tougher.

Mixed emotions

Bicycle security chickens at the first campsite

Bicycle security chickens at the first campsite

It’s coming around to the second anniversary of our big adventure cycling around the coast of Britain and as always at this time of year I find there are endless memory joggers that cause me mixed emotions of joy and consternation. Joy at such happy memories and consternation over whether we will ever manage to tear up our new anchors and break away to taste that amazing freedom once more.

I have always followed other people’s adventures but for obvious reasons I am now particularly drawn to any endeavour to circumnavigate our coast by whatever means. I am currently following Quintin Lake who is walking the coast and creating a stunning photographic record of his journey, Elise Downing who is running the circuit and Sean Conway who has upped the anti and is attempting an extraordinary triathlon cycling, running and swimming the route. All of these adventurers have been reminding me acutely of our own experience but when it turned out that Elise and Sean would both be passing through our village the week before our two year anniversary I found myself reliving our departure like it was yesterday.

Great to meet you Sean

Great to meet you Sean

But just when I thought these coincidences couldn’t get even more profound we received an e-mail from yet another intrepid soul about to embark on her own odyssey.

Adrianne Hill wrote to us via the Warm Showers cycle tourers hosting site and asked if we could put her up one day next week. She went on to explain that she was cycling the coast of Britain and we could learn about her journey from her website. Obviously this piqued my interest so I went to find out more only to discover that she has raised the bar in more ways than one. Not only is she cycling the coast but she then intends to run from Lands End to John O’ Groats before crossing the country SUP style (Stand Up Paddle) to complete her own unique triathlon. That is an impressive and ambitious trip but what really bowled me over was when and where she was starting from. She is leaving Liverpool today, Tuesday the 26th April, exactly two years to the day since we set off and she is staying with us tonight! I’m not a believer in fate and all that stuff but really, Mystic Meg could not have written this stuff.

Ready for the off on day one.

Full of nervous anticipation two years ago today

All of these poignant reminders only serve to put me in reflective mood as I look back with timely perspective at our own trip and contemplate what I learned from it. As predicted it really did change me in all sorts of ways, most of which I couldn’t see without the benefit of two year’s hindsight. Trying to assess the effects of a trip like ours immediately on our return was a bit like standing two feet from a very large oil painting and trying to take in the subject. All you see is a blur of colour and texture which may be interesting and even attractive but you get no sense of what the painting is about. Looking back over a decent time span is like stepping back from the work of art and all of a sudden everything comes into view.

I wrote a whole list of the ways in which I believe I have changed as a result of our adventure which included things like being less materialistic, believing in the good in people and appreciating the simple pleasures in life but the one thing that really stands out for me is that I just feel more content. I feel like I have found my place. I think I have always had a yearning to find out what it would be like to throw caution to the wind and metaphorically set sail, leaving the safe harbour behind and chancing to the wind to explore and discover. Our cycle trip has scratched that itch for me and left me feeling simultaneously sated and happy to be where I am. It doesn’t mean I would never want to set out again, but I am happy for now to just enjoy the moment. I remember writing something before the trip about squeezing every last drop of juice from life but the trip has taught me that you don’t necessarily have to be pedalling thousands of miles to do that. I would love to go off again to find new adventure but I don’t have the same sense of urgency that used to gnaw at me. Standing on the start line of a 4,500 mile bike ride is daunting and magnificent, as is looking back at it after two years, but the reality is that the journey itself is no different from any other part of life and the trick is to recognise the value of now and exploit it for everything it is worth.

I’m looking forward to hosting Adrianne and to sharing her excitement at the very beginning of her journey. I’m looking forward to following her adventure along with Quintin’s, Sean’s and Elise’s and enjoying their experiences as they push themselves to new heights. The difference now is that I won’t be jealous of them because I don’t need to imagine what they are going through, I know.

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