Monday, 19 May 2014

The Trip That Was Never Meant To Happen

So the big day came to set off on journey that would cover more miles in a day than any of us had ever done on a bike before. The only thing was, one of us wouldn't even make the start line.

Team Pannier, Neil, Jon, Rich and John started out as a team doing the Coast to Coast from Whitehaven to Newcastle. Often called the Sea to Sea or C2C, we fell in love with the challenge, with the travelling and our bikes. Well, a love hate relationship with our bikes but you get the idea.

With other C2Cs done from Ilfracombe to Plymouth (the Devon Coast to Coast) and Morecambe to Bridlington (Way of the Roses) we looked around for our next trip. However with Jon and Rich not available due to new baby arrivals Neil and John looked for a 'short' trip to fill the gap. With +John J Sills,  now in to biking thanks to his commute to work, he was up for the challenge and it looked like the confusion of having two Johns was here to stay. Not that it made that much of a difference as Neil generally mistakenly called me (John Lamb) George anyway. Up to three riders for the trip we looked for one more to make a suitable number. Up steps Craig, marathon and half marathon runner and generally fit guy. Just one problem, Craig hadn't ridden a bike since he was 8 and didn't own a bike.

Unfazed by this, the new group of four (not a team yet, just a bunch of friends) set about planning their short trip. With all these trips we've been on, there has been one main issue - getting to the start and finish. So with that in mind the idea of starting at one house and finishing up at another was born. The John to John or J2J was born. High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire to Yatton, Somerset. It seemed a sensible idea, Mr Sills had a friend from work who had cycled the Avon and Kennet Canal cycle route and that covered a good section of the route. He even "had a PDF" John would tell us, showing us all the route. The journey from the end of that route even linked in to the Bristol to Bath Railway cycle route so it would be plain sailing surely, in fact would it be testing enough? Sure it was a decent distance but 142 miles over two days on mainly flat roads is nothing like doing the same distance on a hilly route. We decided with it being our first ride together and not knowing each other's capabilities it would do just fine - Neil's getting old, George doesn't run any more, John hasn't ridden anything like that distance before and Craig, well Craig just hadn't ridden a bike with gears.

Fast forward to the week before we're due to set off and Craig has plenty of miles under his belt. In fact he'd ridden some of the course and scoped it out for us. Flat but narrow at points, with people on the path slowing the pace he said. Otherwise the route looked just fine. As he headed off for a week in the sun he had every confidence he'd put in the miles despite arriving back from a drinking trip only the night before we were due to head out.

As the week ticked by and Craig built up his carb reserves with hop based drinks, the rest of us started to pack, stocked up on beef jerky and Moaoms and started to get excited about the trip. Then it happened. It was nice of him to call before he posted it on Facebook, he thought it was only polite. We tend to text, message and basically communicate anyway but phone so when John called me I thought something was serious, either that or he wanted to discuss beef jerky. Turns out it was a lot more serious than provisions for the trip. His commute had gone wrong, or more accurately his bike had gone. Nicked, along with someone else's bike from the train station near his home. That was Wednesday night, we were due to set off Saturday first thing and John was working Thursday and Friday. With options of borrowing a bike complicated and looking unlikely it was down to whether the insurance would come through and even then whether he could get another bike in time.

Thursday morning we woke to the above headline from the totally reliable and never over-the-top Daily Express. We were due to be battered by wind and torrential rain. It was of course due for Saturday morning and those long range forecasts we'd been choosing to ignore were suddenly looking likely. At the stage the unthinkable idea was floated. Do we call it a day? Do we take the signs of the weather and John's bike being nicked and postpone or even cancel the trip? After all would it be any fun riding in the rain, getting soaked. This was supposed to be fun not just a challenge. However you never know what the weather is going to be like and Neil and George, sorry John, had their passes signed and a hotel booked on route. It was decided if John could get himself a bike without being out of pocket we'd go ahead. That was going to be no easy feat and three of us waited with the decision out of our hands.

Thursday night came and this picture appeared on FB Messenger. What a sight (no I don't mean his non-matching water bottle as one critic pointed out), we were back on and John had got out of cleaning his bike before we set off.

So Friday we "just" had to get from Sheffield and Yatton to High Wycombe and fill our faces with carbs and protein. "Just" as it was never going to be that easy on a Friday night. Neil had some miles to get through (and a dirty burger as he called it) and I had to get me and the kids home and myself, bike and panniers on three different trains. I didn't even get past stage one. My car engine died five minutes from work. I was now at the hands of AA. A one hour response was promised. That would be cutting it fine. It wasn't fine though. Even when they arrived late there was nothing they can do, the car was officially dead and going to be very expensive to fix (new engine as it turned out). This did not look good. By the time I'd been saved by my wife and two very tired kids I'd missed the last train by twenty minutes. There was no way I could get to High Wycombe now with my car out of action and all the trains gone.

Ta-da! Neil to the rescue, he diverted his route and headed down the M4 and M5 and came to pick me up. Having started out at 5 he arrived at mine at 9 with another two hours to do back in the opposite direction. However with me, my bike and a pizza in the car we headed off with me at the wheel. With my foot down we'd soon be on our way. "Hold on, wait a minute, what does that sign say Neil? No, really?". Yep. The M4 was closed, not down to two lanes, SHUT. All we could do was laugh and drive the long way round. IF somebody was giving us a sign, they were going to have to be more obvious! Arriving late we got ourselves to bed. We weren't to be defeated.

Next morning we were over the worst, we felt like we were in a Final Destination film and had outrun the Grim Reaper. Then we got a message from Craig. To paraphrase and not put anyone off their food, he was not going to make it due to illness. So there was three and we hadn't even got out the drive.


  1. Just re-read this as a prelude to our next jaunt. It now almost doesn't seem real that this s#!t actually happened! Going to read the rest now. A fantastic read John, really well put together and brought back great memories (good and bad). Thanks.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it (the read, maybe not the ride). There's something about the hardship that makes it more satisfying and I can't wait for the next one.