I have to say rediscovering time to ride my bike again has been like a breath of fresh air. I’ve more-or-less always had a bike and ridden since being a kid. But having a family and running the kids around on a constant basis (I’m sure many of you are familiar with this situation) became an all encompassing past-time, and kept me from riding as much as I would have liked.
Now, they’ve all reached a more adult age, while I still more-or-less run them where-ever and when-ever, its at more sociable hours to me. Meaning I can get out and ride again. (Woohoo)
So over the last 12 months I’ve been fairly consistent in my rides. Which meant I’ve gradually built up my average basic ride from a 10 miler to a more rewarding 30 miler. My big ride of the week has now gone from a 30 miler to a 50 miler and increasing all the time. It’ll be no surprise therefore to know, my enthusiasm for the recent Tour De France visiting these shores was at optimum.
For all of you confirmed road cyclist haters, the upheaval caused by the Tour de France episode across Britain must have created an incredible amount simmering aggravation in a number of households. From having to clear the surrounding roads to ensure the route was clear hours, nay, days in some places, prior to it taking place, the upheaval in general must have seemed not just an inconvenience but an incredibly unfair situation.
A real feather-spitting, steam-out-of-ears moment for a lot of people in fact.
And when I say – and I have to pick my words with care – I Don’t care!! (Ha!!) I do so from a vantage point that was Holme Moss in Yorkshire.
Wait, wait, wait!
Hear me out.
I have to tell you when I finally reached my viewing point up on Holme Moss, to find Banana-Boy sat opposite me waiting patiently arms folded, well, it was just an incredible bonus..
And I can only include that because I was one of the rapturous many sat near the summit, spying some 3 miles of route descending away from me, some of England’s finest patch-work green, dry-stone-walled hills arrayed before us, and be able to soak in the biggest party atmosphere I have EVER been to.
And I have 60,000 people strung along that route to back me up.
And when I say people, I mean men, women, children and Banana-Boy(!) The generation spread on display sat up there supporting this event was phenomenal. Breathtaking even.
I only have to think of what I experienced up there and even now it literally chokes me up.
I sympathise with those inconvenienced people for the upheaval it caused, I do. But only slightly, if I’m being honest.
Really, I don’t mean this was some wild, drunken party, where you wake up the next day bleary-eyed to slip you feet into your favourite boots.
Only to find guest No 34,435 peed in your shoe cupboard..
Or that guest No 12,487 (heaven forbid) was caught in a compromising situation in the kids room with guest No 29,812 and the only moment you became aware of the rumpus was when a lump of plaster fell off the ceiling as the bed collapsed. And when you rushed up the stairs and into the room to find out what had just happened, only to discover said guests, mercifully backs to you, stood staring down at said bed with its legs sticking out in four different directions. And the Barbie headboard snapped in half.
Both with shirts, shoes and socks on, but minus any trousers..
Or, even that guest No 51,972 didn’t so much shave a friends eyebrow, but in fact, sheared the cat. (Dust Motes)
No, this, party was the best feel-good event I have ever – and I have to say – ever, experienced.
It was with a sense of excitement out of all proportion that I readied my gear for my early morning start. I was cycling over to Holme Moss with my very good friend Tramline dave. I’ve known Dave for some 10 years or so, having come to know him through football. Our boys played together in the same junior team and we then set up our own and had some utterly fantastic experiences together along the way. (See A Starfish On Snowdon)
Since then we had always stayed close and I introduced Dave to road cycling.
Now Dave is a complete obsessional perfectionist. Anything he does he has to do just right. He has to research it to the point of exhaustion until he knows it inside out. When something catches his imagination he completely sinks himself in it. Not a passing fad. I mean, he just lives and breathes it. Submersion. So when I introduced him to road cycling and the bug bit, well, I knew I had my hands full keeping up.
He bought himself a hybrid first, swiftly moving onto a road bike as he recognized the massive differences in the riding styles of each bike. He got a great deal on his bike which he has ridden faithfully for the last 8 months or so just to confirm he loves the sport enough to spend some serious money on a serious bike. Which he did.
Only to have delivery delayed by two weeks which meant he never received it in time for our ride over to Holme Moss to watch The Tour De France pass by. In fact he only took ownership of it a day before he was due away on holiday. A week later. He was, gutted.
I was relieved. I don’t know how I would have kept up otherwise..
I love riding with Dave because he’s such good company. The miles tick by when your travelling with someone you can talk to. And when that person is someone you know well, who is enthusiastic just being there, then there isn’t really any quiet time, unless your climbing a really bad hill. And Dave fills the silence non-stop.
Dave, on the other hand still can. And he fills the one-sided conversation effortlessly. Mainly with encouragement to me to climb the next hill while he’s literally doing press-ups and star-jumps on his bike to make it more entertaining.
And, I know he’s not struggling, but he tells me he is – even puffing and panting a bit to demonstrate a level of suffering. Then he forgets he’s supposed to be exhausted and begins to gallop away up a hill, realizes he’s left me behind sucking in air like a broken hoover and drops back beside me saying something like,
(Pant pant) “Fuckin hell pal! This hills a killer!! Nearly there though! Keep going your doing fantastic!” (Puff pant puff)
See, I also know that he knows that I know, he could drop me like a stone and be up that hill in no time. But he never says anything and I daren’t mention it in case he actually does disappear into the sunset. Its a bit of a pantomime.
So its a kind of happy meeting of non-equals. The cripple panting on one bike laboring away hippo, while on the next bike Tramline’s spinning effortlessly away like a fucking gazelle and pretending he’s a hippo…
Jesus I hate the bastard sometimes..
What makes it entertaining also is the fact that Tramline just can’t judge stopping distances sometimes. There isn’t a ride out I’ve had with him where he hasn’t bumped or nudged my back wheel because he’s been too close to stop. Fortunately more-often-than not, we’re going slow enough where it didn’t matter or he falls off without any help from me.
Our ride up to Holme Moss was planned to initially take us on the flattest route possible through Royton and Oldam (a feat on its own) until we hit Dove Stones, a road that climbs non-stop for some 6km and doesn’t level out.
But I had left Dave in charge of the route as I knew with his normal dogged determination it would be as flat as he could make it. The ride from his house took in an awful lot of although winding back streets, they remained (blessedly) flat for the large part of our early journey.
“Not bad this pal! Few side-streets but it’s cutting corners all over the place!”
But at the back of our minds was Dove Stones.
We both knew we had to ride this route and had both stayed quiet about it, thinking if we didn’t mention it it wouldn’t be as bad as we thought.
And actually it wasn’t.
What helped was the sheer amount of cyclists on the road that morning. All ages, all abilities, all trying to reach their own personal vantage points to catch the Tour as it whistled past. And as we climbed we could see these people strung out along the Dove Stones route, laboring to reach the top.
Dave as ultra positive as ever would be saying,
“It levels out up here a bit pal! Probably just around the next bend…”
And we would take the next corner to view another 1000 miles or so of un-interrupted ascending tarmac hugging the hillside with a breathtaking view of the valley below us to our right. And all the while I’m trying to suck air in with big gasping breaths with my tongue hanging out.
And Dave sounding initially surprised would say,
“I could have sworn it levelled out round here pal! Never mind! We’ll be reet! Keep spinning those legs! Look! We’re gaining on everyone in front! This is brilliant!! Hooray!!!”
See, he’s always kind enough to include me in the description, and it is a lift so that I end up thinking,
“Yeah, I’m not doing to bad at all really.”
Till I realized while I’m draped over the handle-bars like a wet towel, he’s still as sprightly as ever.
I didn’t think anyone could paint a picture of themselves clicking their heels while riding a bike, but its the image at the fore front of my mind when Tramline gets excited about something. His natural positive outlook just makes it seem that he talks in exclamation marks. (!!!) So if I ever speak to Dave and he’s down about something I know it must be bad because I’d have been tying and re-tying the knot to the noose weeks ago.
He also has a quite touching ability of explaining something like its a brand new, never-before-seen discovery.
“This In-ter-net. For getting on-the-line! Its fantastic pal! Click a button and it can do anything!!! You can talk to people AND see their faces at the same time!! Un-fucking-believable!!!!”
(BTW, if you read this one David, that’s an on-line sex chat room. That’s why the nice lady takes her clothes off.)
Seriously though, Dave has enormous amounts of enthusiasm for things that catch his imagination and he’s one of those rare people that makes things happen with the sheer passion he feels about which ever subject he’s caught up with. He cant help himself. Its the nature of the man that makes it so entertaining to witness.
We did make it over Dove Stones with Dave bursting with indignity that there wasn’t a level point, because he was sure there were a couple of places where we should have been able to have a breather and recover.
(The lying bastard.)
But the amazement or surprise he demonstrates is always short-lived. Always overtaken by the enthusiasm.
“I can’t believe it pal! I could have sworn it levelled just round this bit! Ah well. It must be just round that bend just up there. See it? Not looking? Yeah, your probably reet! Looks about 60 miles away from here! Hahaha! – But don’t you think about that pal! Its not that far at all! Look, we’re passing someone else again – Hellooooo there!!! Goes on forever doesn’t it!! We thought it levelled out a bit round here…!!!”
All the time I’m gulping in lumps of air while he’s rambling on and on and on.. And in between Dave was yo-yoing between incessant encouragement to me and disappointment that the level point wasn’t where he thought it would be and all the while not stopping for a breath.
(Tramline just waiting for another opportunity to click his heels…)
While I’m trying to co-ordinate pedaling and seeing through the little black specs appearing before my eyes, and attempting to string together one oxygen-depleted wish.
“Dear god, Please, please, just make one of his lungs collapse for 5 minutes, give the bastard taste of what it really feels like..”
Finally we did make Holme Moss, meeting more and more cyclists as we got nearer. Anyone walking was doing so from miles away, having made their way from all corners, walking on the empty roads or over the moors, rambling across the hill-tops to reach what was turning into a cycling mecca for the day.
What struck me first of all was the amount of people arriving. At the bottom it was becoming crowded but becoming stretched out as we began our ascent of Holme Moss. The ebullient, almost euphoric feeling emanating from the people along that route was almost tangible around us. From the easy going nature of the police to the crowds walking or lining the tarmac to the top.
Applause and cheers and bells were meeting riders climbing that road at various points as we journeyed up it. The amount of people in fancy dress catching the spirit of the event were numerous. The feeling of being a part of that huge body of people, all with the same idea in mind – to experience and enjoy to the full this event and witness these fabulous athletes climb the same route we were fighting to ride ourselves.
When we did finally reach the summit it was to have our picture taken by the sign, just to prove we were there. I don’t think we quite believed it ourselves. We didn’t linger as there was a constant stream of folk arriving at the same point, all trying to have their picture taken then stand back and soak up the atmosphere.
We decided to drop back down the hill side some 200m and climb up on the embankment with a view above the crowd at road-side, looking over their heads, and down the entirety of the valley.
There were people passing us all day, on bikes, all ages all shapes. From the middle-aged chap wearing his lyrcra that seriously must have last fitted him 30 years ago. With the 30 years of hard-earned tyre hanging out of it, determined to live that moment and reach that place, laboring from left to right across the road.
Down to the electric bike ridden by the lady, legs spinning on fresh air, zipping up that hill, still, got a cheer.
Even though she cheated.
She was there.
The tandems ridden up there. I lost count of the laboring couples. Or the Kids, pedaling furiously to reach the summit, the seriousness and determination plain on their faces..
And each time some worthy rode up needing support the crowd would rise, again and again. Every time. The kids especially received fantastic support. Young boys and girls from around 6/7 upwards were riding this road with their parents and friends. And as they passed the crowd would rush forward and envelope them in a tunnel of humanity, cheering them on, ringing their cow bells and blowing their whistles..
(Click on to spot Banana-boy)
Then after all the hype of people passing to reach the top, to find a place and view the event. After the Mexican wave that kept sweeping up the full length of the hillside during our 5 hour wait. After the fancy dress, all the different lycra on display, all the various bikes of every shape and size. After the Police motorcycles, with various sirens, sounds from across the continent adding the flavor to the moment, after the Caravan passed, all the various floats and cars, throwing caps, drinks, sweets and bric-a-brac from vehicles swept past,
The Peloton arrived.
We first became aware of the imminent arrival as the 5 helicopters swept into view down the valley, hovering around the riders still out of view. Only for a couple to fly up the valley along the road to film crowd arrayed along the route.
I’m not ashamed to say I was one of the many bouncing up and down waving both arms in the air as it swept past us.
Then in the distance the riders appeared at the bottom of the valley and the crowd seemed to hold its breath around us and then the cheering began to grow as they began their ascent, and you could feel and hear the crowd at the bottom roaring them on up towards us, the cheers progressing in volume up the hill with the riders..
I have to say watching those men ride past, at the pace they did, was heroic. Inspiring. Their determination was of draining proportions. The energy they were using to overcome the obstacle that was Holme Moss was quite phenomenal to see. The sheer emotion emanating from the crowd, well if it didn’t touch you on that day at that place I don’t know what will. The support of the crowd was a physical thing, willing those men up that hill. And only one of many, incredibly touching experiences I was lucky to witness that day.
What was the highest point of that day with so many high points though?
Was it the amount of sheer goodwill on display from every person there watching, for the youngest and oldest of people travelling that road on that day? It was unbelievable.
Was it the crowd rushing to form a tunnel and cheer, whistle and ring cow-bells for each martyr who needed lifting in their attempt at climbing to the summit? The experience of the atmosphere carrying them along the route and upwards.
Well, all those witness’ there didn’t disappoint. And I lost count of the amount of times the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I was covered in goose-bumps, each time the crowd found someone who needed that lift, to rush forward and roar on up the hill.
Or was it seeing Banana-Boy idling away the time opposite me, only to spot Banana-MAN, running up the hill, the crowd cheering him on as he did. Only for Banana-MAN to do a double take when he spotted Banana-BOY in a moment of recognition and to rush forwards and High-Five Banana-Boy, then continue on his route leaving Banana-Boy staring after him open-mouthed like he couldn’t believe what just happened..
Or was it just the day of out and out smiles, where ever you looked. The pleasure every person got from seeing all those other people there making the same effort to witness what was coming, as brief a moment as it would be?
I’d have to say, it was having to walk most of the Holme Moss route down, pushing my bike, along a road choked with cyclists and walkers making their way good-naturedly down to the bottom and home. Until we could finally mount our bikes and trickle along the route through the village at the base. Out toward Holme Firth on a road still packed with cyclist’s to feel the familiar bump on my back wheel.
This time I was taking no chances. I was too aware of how crowded it was.
“Oi! Your going to bring us down! Get in front! You’re not putting me on the deck here!!”
I received an apologetic and embarrassed look as Tramline moved in front of me, leaving me in a more relieved position watching his hesitant progress amongst the hundreds of cyclists around us, filling the road from left to right, back to front.
Until the guy in front of Dave had to pull up short and Tramline as-ever not on the ball about his stopping distance, ran straight up the back of him. He had a moment of frantic pedal wrenching trying to clear his cleats from his pedals, then toppled over sideways and had a domino effect across the road. It was halted 3rd man along who managed to hold up the fallen riders and prevent it sweeping across the rest of the road.
Dave was already leaping to his feet trying to get his bike back up, apologize to those he had knocked over and check if he had done any damage, all at the same time.
I could only drape over the handlebars and laugh.
The good nature of the crowd however again took precedent and there weren’t any bad words had.
The only thing damaged was Dave’s pride.
“Just pull over here pal! Just check me bike’s ok!!”
He said some moments later after remounting.
And in between laughing all I could said was
“No point worrying now pal! Everyone you almost killed are long gone..”
Yeah. That was the best part.
I had to make the most of it.
Dave would have the last laugh watching me try climbing those hills back home..