Saturday, 28 November 2009

Lawrence of Arabia... perhaps Fredrik of Middle England

Ok. So I meant to write about this last week, but life has been pretty hectic and last week just slipped through my fingers. Looks like this week will be even busier, with parents visiting, tutorials, experiments, demonstrating (to name just a few of the planned events).

Two weeks ago Alex (pictured below), a postdoc in my lab, suggested that we should cycle to bath. Why not?... i thought. Bath is nice, Ive been there before and my bike is pretty nice.

To be honest I did know it was quite a long way (our route was 75 miles). The day before was the stormiest day of the year, but luckily it cleared up on sunday. And so we set off at 8 in the morning. Here is our route. Sorry I don't know how to take a screen image with the mac so Ive just copied the link to the map.

So yes, early in the morning, dressed up in the all the lycra (spandex for our american brethren) I own, I set off. This was definitely a good decision. However, I made one key error. I don't own any cycling shorts, and this is definitely a huge mistake, because although I do have a fancy gel seat on my bike, after 9 hours on a bike you need all the cushioning you can get.

Something like this. Apparently back in the day tour de france cyclists would put a raw steak down their shorts in attempts to assuage the chronic pain.

The first few hours till lunch time were wonderful. We made a good time to wantage (our first rest). Unfortunately alex got a puncture, so had to fix it (twice... the first time wasn't so successful). These are the only pics I took (of alex fixing his bike). After this I was too tired.

Then it started to get really hilly... I was shocked. England is supposed to be flat! and my bike doesn't have any gears. Now its not all bad. It just means you have to man up on the hills, but the worst is going downhill bc my bike also doesn't freewheel so I have to peddle every rotation of the wheel. This is rough when you are going down a steep hill bc it gets pretty wobbly as your legs are wildly flailing up and down.

Luckily Jenny had been baking the day before so I had plenty of muffins to keep me going. We got to Marlborough around lunch time and luncheoned in a pub. This was really nice and think I would have taken the train the rest of the way because I was so thoroughly exhausted after eating (but they didnt have a train station).

We were worried that we wouldn't get to Bath before dark and cycling on small A roads can be pretty dangerous, so we altered our route to a boring but quick one. We did cycle past some cool looking barrow mounds. I thought briefly about taking some pictures but my will to live was slowly ebbing away and being replaced by the pain from sitting on a bike for so long.

Our plan was to stop in Chippenham and take the train for the last 15 miles, but once we got there, we assessed the situation, I took as many ibuprofen as I could get my hands on (and would have bought a raw steak if I could have found a shop) and decided we would cycle the last bit as well.

We finally rolled into Bath (after having to ask the locals for some directions... as we only had some printouts from google maps). Once in Bath we headed to the hot baths... the only ones drawn from natural volcanic springs. That was amazing, but made even better by the nine hours we had spent on the road (definitely recommend them to anyone who is visiting the area). They have a pool on the rooftop where you can see the whole city and lots of steam rooms.

We then had a farcical episode of trying to find somewhere to eat, which ended with us standing outside the train to Oxford with crisps and sandwiches bought from sainsbury's being told there was no room on the train for our bikes. I almost lost it. A train that can hold hundreds of people only has room for 6 bikes?!?!?! and you could see the twisted joy in the conductors eyes as he informed us of this. So we went to the pub and waited for the next train. Luckily there was room on the next train so I was back home just before midnight. It was a long day, and I think I had barely got in bed before I fell asleep.

It was actually loads of fun looking back at it, but it was definitely painful. But then people don't climb Everest bc its easy. My thoughts on the trip: cycling shorts (a must for long bike rides), fixed wheel bikes (very trendy at the moment, but not practical and should be left on the track), cycling (fun), muffins (good), spas (amazing), english trains and first great western (rubbish).

Also here is a picture of my trusty bike (I still like it... thanks Ezra).

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