The last Bean

Hopefully that title will have been sufficiently intriguing to have got you to click on the link. I promise to explain it’s meaning further on in the post. The inspiration came to me last week upon getting back from one of the worst rides I’ve had in a long time. ‘Spin to the Coast’, sounds ideal right? Well in this case no, the combination of a mild wrist sprain, dodgy gears and torrential rain made it a thoroughly torrid experience. It was one of those very rare occasions where I climbed off the bike in a worse mood than I had been when setting out. “Could be worse” I thought to myself. At that point I couldn’t help but dredge up a long repressed memory, my very worst day on the bike. I’m going to share the tale with you as a form of therapy.

It was the summer of 2013. Cycling and I had spent some time apart but during the few weeks prior to ‘that ride’ we had reignited the relationship. I look back fondly at the honeymoon phase, the days when I would get stronger week in week out. That said I still had a rather long way to go. Following my GCSE exams earlier that summer I was still very much on the heavy side. Sporting a haircut reminiscent of that of Boris Johnson and wearing my bright yellow jersey with the marmite logo spread across the back (incidentally the only one I possessed at the time) I probably resembled an over-sized teddy bear. Anyway, moving on.

The planned destination was West Bay, a small coastal village about twenty-five miles away from my home town of Yeovil. It was set to be a spectacular day and I still remember being awoken by rays of sunshine and enthusiastically preparing my bike, spurred on by the thought of a piece of cake by the sea. My father and I had planned the route the day before. These were the days before Garmin GPS navigation could be considered genuinely trustworthy so we had been careful to note down the directions. What could possibly go wrong?

It started out fairly smoothly, primarily because we were very familiar with the first ten miles or so of the route. As was usually the case in those days my legs felt good until we got to the first significant hill, my bulk presented a very significant obstacle. By the time I reached the top my Father had had the time to stop and take his first energy gel, it was incidents like these (i.e. being humiliated by a man almost thirty years my senior) that finally gave me the willpower to shed those pounds.

Soon we encountered the first obstacle. A wrong turning lead us down a steep and slippery descent that culminated in a dead end. Typically the Garmin only realised we were off course once we’d reached the bottom of the hill. Climbing back up it was going to be challenging at the best of times, with the road surface less than perfect due to rain the day before it was a nightmare. In fact, who could have blamed me for… um… getting off and pushing.

Having survived that particular ordeal we continued, still relatively undeterred in our foolish pursuit of a slice of expensive Coffee & Walnut. Looking back it feels inevitable that we ended up on precisely the main road which we had been trying to avoid. It was highly nerve-wracking especially as a novice to negotiate that kind of traffic. Lorries passing within feet of you is one of the worst experiences you’ll ever have on a bike.

After a few more ‘navigational teething problems’ we eventually made it to our destination. Having been caught up in trying not to get lost we had failed to notice the ominously large black could forming in the sky above us. We made the decision to forgo the cafe stop in the hope of making it home before the heavens opened. The rather dispirited expression on my face in the sole surviving photograph from that ride says it all. No cake, a high chance of rain and humiliation at the hands of hills. If only things had stayed that good.

 

The minute we set off it began to rain. We’re not talking a light shower either, rather a continual deluge that didn’t let off for several hours. Neither my Father or I had had the presence of mind to bring packable waterproofs, being relatively new to the sport at that time there were a great many lessons we had yet to learn. Onwards we ploughed, a lycra-clad dynamic duo nobly battling with the elements (couple of idiots who hadn’t bothered to check the forecast, desperate to get home to avoid becoming hypothermic).

 

A metal drain cover that I failed to see in time made short work of my back wheel. I went down hard, emerging with several bruises and a bloodied knee. Still we continued, as neither of us had a signal there was simply no choice. Fifteen minutes later we came to a turning, of course the Garmin chose that moment to give up completely though we did not yet realise it. Following it’s directions then took us in a perfect circle. The pain in my knee made it difficult to ride, by the time we reached the junction for the second time I was having to hop off the bike every few minutes – making us even colder.

What happened next? Well you probably won’t be surprised to learn that my Father punctured at the worst possible time. We ended up standing in a muddy gateway attempting to change his inner tube, the experience punctuated by the occasional showering of muddy water thrown up by a passing HGV. By this point we had both had enough. All joking aside it was a dangerous situation we found ourselves in.

A mile down the road we still had no idea of our exact location. It’s surprising how different even familiar roads can look in the wet, of course it didn’t help that we shared the family trait of a remarkably poor sense of direction. We took the first available turning, desperate to get off the main road and find some shelter. My Father bravely attempted to remove the undergrowth from the road sign marking the junction, at the very least we might be-able to find out where the road we had just taken would lead us. No such luck, the sign was for a place neither of us had ever heard of.

By this point I was walking up and down trying to get a signal. I would have happily got down on one knee and proposed to my phone when eventually one bar appeared in the top left hand corner of it’s screen. After what seemed like an eternity I was able to get the postcode for our location. With no hesitation whatsoever I called home for rescue. ┬áSo there we were. What had begun as an idyllic two-wheeled adventure culminated in the pair of us stood on a grass verge at the side of the road sharing a pack of jelly beans, the only food we had left between us. By the time my mother arrived we were down to the very last one.

And that is where it ended. Driving away from the scene in our ever faithful Toyota Land Cruiser, my Mother thoroughly exasperated at our sheer ineptitude and (I suspect) struggling not to burst into laughter at the thought of the predicament in which we had been found. It’s easily the closest I have ever come to putting the bike in the shed and throwing away the key.

Looking back I learnt a number of valuable lessons that day. Crucial tips such as; always take a waterproof, bring more than the bare minimum amount of food you think you’ll need, if possible have a rough idea of the route beforehand in case GPS fails and perhaps the most important of them all – check the bloody weather forecast before heading out. The phrase ‘Character building’ is one I use rather liberally but that day truly was, never again have I climbed off and walked up a hill.

Thanks for reading.

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