What does it take you to get off your lazy rear end and do something challenging? I ask this because I’ve been dithering over a decision, and last weekend something happened that made me realise that I’ve just got to jump in and grab the bike by the handlebars.
A month or so ago my wife gave me permission (at least, that’s how I interpreted her words “if you must …”) to ride JoBerg2C, a nine-day 900km mountain bike event in South Africa. It is nine years since I rode the Cape Epic, and I thought it’s time for another big challenge. JoBerg2C is almost a year away, and I seldom plan my life that far in advance. But entries open (and close) in a couple of weeks, so a decision must be made. There is a lot to consider – what bike to ride, the cost (entry is over £1,500, plus air fares and beer money), training through the winter, and so on. These are all good points to whinge about, but aren’t they really just a way of delaying commitment?
So where, you ask, do cream teas come into this? Well, last Sunday there was an open gardens day in our village, finishing with cream teas in the vicarage garden. It was a glorious sunny day, and the punters turned out in their droves. I wasn’t one of them. You see, I live in the vicarage (my wife is the vicar) so I was pressganged into joining the jolly band of helpers who served tea and collected cups and washed up, when really I would rather have been out on my bike.
The visitors were a motley collection of West Countryfolk – tweedy men with roseate cheeks and posh accents, their women in waistcoats and jodhpurs, ramrod military types in blazer and ties, or couples in short shorts and pale thin legs that end in stout hiking boots. In truth, I was a little disappointed – there wasn’t a Worzel Gummidge or can of cider in sight.
But two visitors stood out. They both wore lycra, and they weren’t on the garden circuit.
The first was a big middle-aged, middle-class gent training for Land’s End to John O’Groats. This was his first long training ride, he told me, but his machine had given out on him. He broke a spoke near Wilton, which is about 30 miles east of here, and his wheel was now badly buckled. He had phoned his wife to collect him and he thought he might as well enjoy a cup of tea while he waited. Where was he heading for? Oh, north of Shepton Mallet, which is another 30 miles away. It turns out that he was doing a 100-mile ride just for training. Usually I do training just for a 100-mile ride.
As we were packing up at I noticed the second rider as he sailed past the front garden, towing a trailer. I wondered to my companions whether he had any idea of the steep hill that was immediately ahead of him. A minute later he was back, and swung into the driveway. In a curious accent he asked: “What is a Vicarage Cream Tea?” I explained to him what had been going on, and he asked if he could get something to eat, because he had run out of food.
I took him into the kitchen and fed him chocolate cake and juice, and packed up some banana bread and fruit for him to take with him. It turned out that he is French/American and he had just completed his first-year studies at Bristol University. Now he was riding home to a town 30 miles south of Paris. He had left Bristol that morning, and had to get to Poole to catch a ferry the next morning. By my estimate, he had ridden 55 miles, and still had more than 30 miles to go.
Before he left he showed me his home-made trailer – a five-foot aluminium ladder balanced on two wheels, with all his worldly belongings carefully strapped on. It was, he admitted, harder work than he had expected. He had decided only at the last minute to cycle home because he felt he needed a bit of an adventure.
Well, that left me feeling shamed and indecisive. So I have decided: I will be strong, I will jump in, boots and all, and ride the JoBerg2C next year.
At least, I think I will …