Stormy weather


Girton ‘Pork Pie’ Extra, run by Nick Wilkinson, 225km

I had done the Cambridgeshire Pork Pie a couple of years ago and taken an age over it. This year I wanted to come back to it as an early season mildly bumpy ride that would wake the legs up.

I had also been intrigued by the ‘Extra’ option, an extra 10km and 300m climbing and some different scenery – still nothing that would yield a single AAA point, but this is Cambridgshire and Rutland after all.

It had been a particularly hard week. Work was mental and a dear old friend had died very suddenly back in Australia last weekend and I had been coming and going all week – remembering good times, mourning not being in touch enough over the last few years, thinking about the rich life he had yet to live. He was 50.

So I was after a day of quiet. I wasn’t seeking a social day out, I wanted to be alone, to look out at the world, to feel every moment of weather and to process some of the pain by putting it into my legs.

Reaching the hall at 7:35 I learned there was a 7:40 start. I quickly visited the gents, got my card, waved to a couple of ACME brethren, then set out a few minutes after the early group had departed. I set up the Garmin for ‘Cambridge Pork pie’ and hit ‘ride’ for the classic route – rain was predicted and I wanted to be as far in front of that as I could get!

The ride to Oundle was spent judging the effect of the wind. It was very blustery, but mostly side-on so it didn’t look like it was going to be an outright suffer fest. I passed a few people, saying hello and not chatting. Being by myself I rode strictly to heart rate – I only had map and heart rate on the Garmin, best not to know what speed you are doing when it is windy – if you try to speed up you just flay yourself on it.

It was grey all the way. A couple of times something that might have been my shadow came to life on the road, a flicker of life blown away in an instant. After two hours the first riders from the 8am group started to tick by. They were younger, a bit faster. Most said hello, a few didn’t.

Note to the fast guys:

  1. We were all fast once – it’s just a function of youth so enjoy it now but don’t confuse speed with personal worth or status.
  2. If you say hello as you pass you look less like a self-obsessed twat.
  3. If you say hello I might even think about helping you with that spare spare tube if you need it – you’re not likely to need my help but if you have said hello as you pass I am a lot less likely to look the other way as I ride past you.
  4. Life is short, make friends not enemies. Start practising now, out on the bike.

I found dealing with the usual cycling traffic a bit dull, I really just wanted to be alone. In an effort to clear some of it I bounced Oundle and the road cleared out a bit, just a few people in the distance. I had enough food and water to make Melton comfortably and wanted to practice solo pacing over a number of hours, so pushing on was always the plan.

At some point I realised I hadn’t seen anyone around me. I was very much on my own and had been for an hour. Weird.

And lovely. Riding up the hills (150bpm exactly) there were some surreal moments. Because of the hedges the wind was often forced over the top of the road, so  you could be hearing a tearing gale shooting overhead but down at road level it wasn’t that bad. Not until you reached a gap in the hedge when you got a sudden shot of wind and the bike wanted to leap sideways a few feet. Down hills I was keeping my body very low to avoid gusts but still had a couple of moments. I was glad that I had plenty of experience in wind as a youth and wondered if everyone would make it back alright – classic conditions for riders to collide.

I was glad to be by myself, I didn’t need to be concentrating on someones wheel and watching out for sudden changes in direction. Instead I could look around, see the long sine wave of the valleys, the colour leeched out of the hills, the prickly thinned hedges waiting for a break in the wind to grow some leaves. Above the road the single power lines swung crazy on the poles, an endless line of skipping ropes.

I was absorbed in it, and later on the leg there was a fantastic valley descent where, suddenly turned away from the wind, I accelerated and swooped down the empty road, flying.

It was only when I turned right and started up a small hill and saw the gate half way up that I realised what had happened. I was (accidentally) doing the ‘Extra’ route. The Extra route takes uses the ‘out of Melton’ route as the way in. Sure enough as I swooped down into Melton I started to see the first riders coming out of Melton on the Classic coming the other way!

Doh! I must have named the routes incorrectly in ride with GPS. Whatever, it was a happy accident, I had thoroughly enjoyed the solo riding and the weather had suited my mood perfectly. Is it possible to use a ride to actively grieve? I think it must be.

In Melton I went to a cafe and ordered lunch. The waiteress asked me three times if I wanted custard (hot) poured straight on my ice cream (cold). Yes, yes, yes.

Since I had the Extra route loaded, and since it looked like the rain would stay away for a few more hours, I just kept on it.

The extra takes you one valley south of the main route, and what a treat it was. You add the kilometres here and the extra climbing, but it was just my favourite kind of riding – a narrow, deserted ribbon of road snaking through farms, up and over short sharp rides as you moved with, and then against, the nap of the land.


There were some scenic treats too – Launde Abbey, with a sharp climb out of the valley..


Past Eye Brook reservoir, then the other-worldly looking speedway and then past Kirby hall (Elizabethan) before joining back up with the main route about 10km north of Oundle.

From there it was a fast descent down into Oundle, a quick stop to restock, and then on again for the final run back to Girton.

The wind was more favourable now, and the miles passed easily. I don’t enjoy the Huntingdon circular experience, back in tetchy late afternoon traffic with the light falling, but then there’s the little hook through the park (where I rescued an Audaxer tracing Garmin circles) and back towards St Ives and over the nice bridge.

From there you feel like you should be home, and the first stretch of the guided bus way was very fast, but then, as it slowly curled to the south, the wind came from the side again and the last few miles were beginning to get challenging.

Back to home at 7:00 for a 11:15 stomp, with one hours stop all in. That felt like a good time given the wind and solo riding. As I sat drinking my tea and GF Cake (thanks Ewa!) I few riders came in with jackets on looking a bit, well, wet. I had made it back about fifteen minutes before the rain.

I would really recommend the Extra, it is better scenery, only a little more challenging. It feels more remote and quiet than any road has a right to be in that part of the world. And you have the benefit of being by yourself if that’s the mood you are in.

And I was in that mood, and a big day out alone with thoughts, memories, an eyeload of scenery and dwelling in a great cosmic wind was just what I needed. Did I feel better? No, not at all, but I felt like I had shared some of the pain with the sky and ten hours looking ta the landscape and turning the pedals was about as good therapy and relief as I would get for the time being.

I am not scared of emotion, I know when something is genuine and real, and I know it is not to be dodged, or put aside. That is no way to remember friends – to remember and honour them you have to feel the pain too, that’s just how it goes. That’s what the Buddhists call ‘the genuine heart of sadness’.

Finally… don’t neglect your friends and the people you love, they (or you) may be gone sooner than you think.







    • Hi Martin! You can probably tell now why I wasn’t overly chatty at arrive. Thanks for your kind words about the blog and I hope you are feeling great today, or maybe Monday 🙂


  1. Nice write up Al. I managed to book myself on a first aid course so didn’t make it as intended, I was kind of glad!
    Sounds like your riding over winter has you in pretty good shape for the run into PBP!


  2. Nik! Best shape out of winter for years… will it last? Who knows! And yes, this is all about unfinished business with the french ride…


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