I visited my parents near Dover for the Easter weekend and decided to cycle there while my saintly other half drove down with the kids. It was almost exactly 85 miles, straight down the coast from Brighton following the A259 through Eastbourne, Hastings, Rye, New Romney, Hythe and Folkestone, before cutting across country for a few miles.
It’s not a particularly pleasant route – second-grade A-road almost all the way – but I figured that would best mirror the kind of roads we’ll be on for the LEJOG ride in June. You can choose to believe that if you want, or you may suspect that I just didn’t fancy a ride too much longer than 85 miles so I went for the most direct route.
It was a good ride. The hills into Eastbourne and out of Hastings and Folkestone provided a bit of a test, as did the stiff headwind I was grinding into at times, but I finished feeling reasonably strong and encouraged.
I dislike roads like the A259. It’s small enough to feel safe to cycle on, but just about big enough for leaden-footed drivers to feel justified in pressing on a bit – and impatient and frustrated if their progress is held up by cyclists. So in the five and a bit hours it took me to complete the ride I was sufficiently incensed four times to shake fists and head at cars that came too close for comfort. On one stretch – a long straight approaching Bexhill – a lorry came so close I was too shaken to shake anything.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago I spent a happy 18 months as a bike courier in London and, in common with pretty much everyone else who’s ever done that job, I used to love the danger. I’d dart between buses along Oxford Street, Acme Thunderer clasped firmly between my teeth to scare the bejaysus out of anyone foolish enough to step into the road without looking (I’d miss them without the whistle – that was just there to make them jump). I’d gleefully race ranks of taxis around Marble Arch; I’d slap the sides of buses that dared to squeeze me into the gutter on corners, enjoying the look of alarm on the faces of the startled passengers. I never thought for a moment I’d be seriously hurt and, perhaps partly because of that, I never was.
In those days I even went as far as sneering at drivers who gave me what I considered to be too wide a berth. I almost dared them to come closer – as if to prove I could take it or some such youthful nonsense.
Well, not any more. These days it’s possible to calculate precisely how happy I am on the road using the distance between me and the nearest motorised vehicle and the speed that vehicle’s moving at. If they drive past me on the opposite carriageway at 20mph after tailing me nervously for half a mile, I’m cock-a-hoop; if they get within an arm’s length at 60mph on a blind corner – as they do far too often – I’m murderous.
But I am going to have to get more comfortable with A-road cycling because much of the 847 miles we’ll be covering for our LEJOG is on relatively busy major roads. So I guess I should be training on something similar. It makes me wish we were taking a little longer to enjoy the scenic route.