The wet theme was continue on Wednesday, when I was meant to be half way through a run of three relatively short and easy days, as I headed to Portsmouth for my ferry to Santander; I had planned it that way so that I wouldn’t be too shattered when I have to tackle the Spanish mountains. But first my chest, then the weather, then my cycling sat nav, and finally, my bike, all had other ideas:
1. The chest. I had already been struggling for about a week and had been on anti-biotics. They ran out on Tuesday but I was still not feeling too clever, so felt the need to call in to see a GP. This caused an hour’s delay but at least the GP was satisfied that my infection seems to have cleared up, that any coughing is the body’s natural response to that infection, and that my shortness of breath would tail off as the days go by (I wish it would tail off a bit quicker than it is doing though!)
2. The weather. It rained from start to finish on Wednesday and the only times I was able to remain dry were when I was in the GP waiting area, and when I ate a bag of crisps and a flapjack while standing under an oak tree. It was also fairly windy and that wind seemed to be straight into my face all of the way to my destination (Speen, in Berkshire). It all held me up and it wasn’t nice; but I could hear Julie pointing out how incredible it is that we have fresh air to breathe and how water – the very thing that most life, including human life, needs to sustain itself – actually falls from the sky. I am also alive and I think that accepting any weather, however warm, cold, dry, or wet it is – is part of the deal. So that’s that.
3. The Sat Nav. There is a setting on my cycling sat nav which asks if you want to follow only roads - rather than allowing it to also include bridleways and dirt paths in its calculations, when it is working out a route. Why then, did the sat nav decide to break its own rules and take me down paths that I could not ride my bike along; paths that were flanked with nettles and thorns, when I was only wearing shorts; paths whose plants stung me, and made my legs and feet extremely wet and cold? I was forced to push my bike, heavy panniers and all, through long grass, wildflowers, bushes, and muddy fields … and all because my sat nav decided to have a day off from doing its job properly.
4. My bike. The bike obviously considered that Wednesday’s journey wasn’t long and drawn out enough and so decided to inflict upon itself, the first puncture of the trip. To be fair, it was actually the sat nav that inflicted it; one of the ‘paths’ that it led me down was strewn with the thorny branches of bushes that someone had decided to trim but to leave on the floor, possibly as a modern art installation, but more likely because he or she was just too lazy to clear up after themselves. Inevitably, one of the thorns pierced my back tyre and punctured the inner tube. Notice I say the back tyre; the one with all the gearing mechanisms on it and which the chain encompasses; not the ‘free as a bird’ front wheel, which you can remove in seconds.
So all in all, Wednesday’s was a slow and laborious journey, which ended with about 5 miles of riding on the extremely busy and, in my view, dangerous for cyclists, A34. But the thing is this; I am here, experiencing this challenge, and I know that Julie – and the loved ones of the many, incredible widows that I have got to know during the past year or so - would give anything to be in my situation. So whereas I would have moaned about Wednesday, 16 months or more ago, I shall simply report it as a set of facts and say that it is still a privilege to have the opportunity to live and breathe and to ride a bike; whatever the weather, and whatever the terrain.
And so, to Wednesday evening … and that more than made up for the difficulties of the ride. I met up with Dave Thomson, a great guy called who I have met through the Widowed & Young (WAY) charity; who originates from Merseyside but who now lives in Old London Town, and drove from there to meet me here in Berkshire. Dave and I enjoyed a couple of hot drinks and then a very tasty curry, in Newbury town centre, had a bit of a chat about music, touched on politics and the state of the world, and of course, shared stories and snippets of other information about his wife, Rashpal, and Julie. Those of my friends who are in WAY and who have met Dave, know what a lovely man, and what great company he is; so I won’t go on too much about him. But I would just like to thank him for taking the time, and making the effort, to come and meet up with me on a wet Wednesday, and say how amazing, measured, and dignified he is, especially when you consider that Rashpal died just less that 6 months ago. I wish that the circumstances had never materialised which led to me meeting Dave; but they have and it has been a pleasure, and an honour, to know him, since meeting him in February.