I woke up on a Thursday morning with nothing unusual, same thoughts, and same routine. Stuck in a rut but always thinking, "I just wanna get out there and ride my bike...."
Once at work I sip my first coffee of the day and check the weather. The weekend looms, it's my chance to go on an adventure, to experience a new location on two wheels! But wait, what's this? The Beast from the East part 2 will hit the UK, well that's rubbish. How about Friday, that's looking pretty decent, 13 degrees, hardly any wind, looks perfect. I call my boss and tell him I need the next day off and without any thought he says yes.
"Make sure the business is covered and your team are sorted"
and then..."why?" "what are you doing?"
I reply "I'm riding my bike!"
So what's the plan I think to myself, where the hell should I go? Then I remember a crazy plan I had to ride to Rotterdam, from London, to race in the NL Crit Series in early April. Yep, that's 150km fixed, the day before a fixed gear criterium race. Not exactly everyone’s way of prepping for a race, but through past experience getting to your destination is where you find most of the fun. And as it so happens John Mack, legendary fixed gear rider and route planner, has the ultimate fixed route to Clacton-On-Sea. This also turns out to be right next to the Ferry that takes you across the North Sea to the Netherlands and Rotterdam. Decision made, lets do this, lets get this route nailed!
I get home Thursday night around 10pm after a few beers, and I again follow my usual routine. First I whack on some tunes and then I start getting my stuff together.
Rad fucking playlist? Check!
New Bloc shades? Check!
New Hiplok? Check!
It's almost gone midnight and I'm still sorting shit out and thinking, why am I doing this? But then I remember, because it's all about riding bikes.
It's Friday morning and one of my flat mates has cooked me up a decent breakfast. We have a good chat and try to remember what each of us did the previous night. All sorted the bike downstairs. It feels a bit odd because I haven’t ridden it since the first Fixed Beers Team ride of the year, which went down to Brighton, a week or two earlier. Damn that was cold. I do the standard checklist, first assessing the chain tension, then lubing it up and making sure all the chain ring bolts are tight. Then as I'm about to leave a thought comes into my head... maybe take a rain jacket you never know and perhaps some gloves? Nah, fuck that, I'm sick of winter!
I'm blown away by the beauty of the day as I set off. Heading through the central London traffic at around 10am I can't resist throwing out a few whip skids as a huge grin spreads across my face. I head out into Essex with the route taking me up through back streets and down cycle paths, it's truly a dream route and I begin to feel like I'm on an proper adventure! I drop into a cruise and as I start to see more greenery I start to crave the smell of farms and forget the awful city smog of car fumes and the hulking red busses. The route is bliss and I start getting into training mode, making sure I eat and drink enough and planning my stops every two hours so I can give myself and the bike a five minute break.
My first break is near the Kelvedon Hatch where I pop into an off-licence. I have a little chat with the proprietor and laugh as they tell me, "You're a bit nuts mate but good on ya' for taking the day off work to ride your bike, the weather is not looking good". I sit down to enjoy the sun. A glimpse of summer this is, and I'm living the dream. I've got no worries, it's just me and the bike, what more could you want?
I'm still smiling when I get back on the bike. The weather is still great, the roads look decent and my legs are feeling strong. I'm not bored, I'm riding my bike and that's all I need. As I approach Colchester the route hits a canal path. Riding them on a track bike can be fun for a while although I start reminiscing about a ride I did to Cardiff the year before. Part of that ride went along the canal and that ride was epic until the constant shaking started to damage all the wrong parts of my body. This time I'm lucky and it's just the right amount of distance to not do any damage.
I'm about 120km into the ride now doing a good time and with no thoughts of stopping until I hit the next stop. One last blast along an A road and I arrive in Clacton and ride straight to the pier. It's all closed off so I grab a few pics for the Insta. It's now around 4pm and yes, it's finally time for a beer! But then before I celebrate I decide it's perhaps best to check out where the train station is and check train times. Passing all the lovely warm pubs I arrive at the station and look up at the screen... sweet I have 20mins to go grab some beers before the train leaves. Hang on a sec... oh fuck... that can't be right. I look again, perfect... ALL THE TRAINS BACK TO LONDON ARE CANCELLED! Some things in life you cannot control, and really it's not worth getting annoyed about, I'm here to enjoy the adventure. I've just cycled around 150kms and now I find out I can't get home? I'll take that on the chin, I mean I do have to do this ride in a few weeks, plus a bit more to Harwich before getting the ferry to Rotterdam. So I check if any trains are leaving from Harwich to London and they are. It's a sign to go there and I need to know the route anyway, so I hit the road once again.
I whip out the "trusty" google maps and for once it doesn't fail me and I find myself on this amazing ride along the coast. As the sun sets with not a cloud in the sky I'm happy again, without a care in the world. Life has dealt me a blow, but I'm fighting back and enjoying a beautiful ride. My legs are spinning and I'm cruising over the hills, Essex is giving me it's best! I arrive in Harwich and as usual, I spot a few pubs en-route to the station and make a mental note of them, you know, just in case. I get to Harwich International am I'm thinking, I've paid my dues, nothing else can go wrong can it? Right, let's check when this train is arriving. Thirty minutes, cool, I have so time to finally grab a beer. But instead I decide not to risk it, in case I get a flat or something stupid like that. I sit there waiting, patiently waiting for the train. I can feel the temperature starting to drop and deep down I just know that something isn't right. I walk over and check the screen again and my heart sinks. It's disappeared from the screen... It's cold and there are three of us on the platform. Do I continue to attempt to get home today or do I cut my losses and face up to the reality, that I'm stuck here. I decide the best option is to throw in the towel and find the closest hotel and admit that that’s it, this adventure is done, I'm stranded. A couple of kms down the road I arrive at a hotel and cheekily I ask, "Do you have any rooms?" and I book myself in for the night.
As I settle down for the night I'm painfully aware that the "Beast from the East, part 2" is planning to arrive over night and my mind wonders whether there will be any trains running when I wake up. I check the train times for the next morning, trying to discover what options I have. Brilliant, there are weekend engineering works happening, which means it's going to be a fucking mission to get home! But, there is a bus leaving at 7.20am direct to London, perhaps with a bit of luck that will take me. I watch a bit of East Enders and pass out.
It's Saturday morning and I wake after a night of bad dreams and pretty much zero sleep. I've been worrying about whether I could get that bus or the alternative of having to take three different train journeys to get me back to London. It's an adventure, you just have to keep reminding yourself of that. I sip on a coffee and head back to the train station. As I leave the hotel reception the receptionists comments, "You might need gloves".
"I left them in London" I reply!
It's now snowing as I make my way to the station. I check where this bus is leaving from, it's the rail replacement, you never know... I get told "They don’t take bikes"
and I'm thinking, yeah right, well why call it a rail replacement service then?
I stood around in the snow for around twenty minutes and as the bus arrives I pray that the driver is a nice bloke. I explain my situation, and he turns out to be the coolest man ever, "Chuck your bike in I take no responsibility!" he says.
"I'm sorry but I only have my ticket from last night when my train was cancelled" I reply
"Get on!" he booms.
It's twenty-four hours later when I finally get home. It was supposed to be six hour bike ride, Hahahaha!
Words by Dale