Monday, 21 September 2015

A Bridge too Far.... 3 Days from Frankfurt to Paris

A Bridge too Far.... 3 Days from Frankfurt to Paris

      I looked at the bridge, I looked at the gaping chasm, and I looked back at the team, gradually pulling up to a halt in front of the 'Pont Coupe'. "Well that's a shame" I thought, although the words that came out may have been more expressive. A quick survey of the surroundings offered no solace, and my brain, addled after a hard day of driving from London to Frankfurt, backed up with successive 140 and 145 mile days, was, how should I put it? Well... 'b*ggered' I think is the technical term. More riders arrived, the slower ones straggling up to the pont, and then the back marking leader and the support van. Usually, closed roads can be negotiated by cyclists, as the foot path is often still open, or alternatively a quick shimmy around a couple of bollards will suffice, and a brief walk through a dusty building site, and 'jobs a good 'un' - but today, a large vertical drop from the flyover, mesh fencing and an angry railway line stood between us and the next serviceable piece of tarmac....

 "Lets just cross the railway line!" said one daring individual. Mental images of the 17:10 steaming through cyclists and carbon fibre filled my imagination. "We are NOT crossing the line guys!". I looked at the assembled gallery of cycling finery; Argon, Cervelo, Cipollini, and even a stealth Colnago with classic matt black finish and Di2 electronic gearing. I next turned to my trusty Garmin, which for 285 miles hadn't missed a beat, at first not revealing any alternatives. Ah ha - I spied a minor road running parallel to the train tracks. Lifting my eyes into the real world however, showed nothing more than a couple of slightly worn tracks across a ploughed field. "So - its up to you guys!" it always seems best to me in such circumstances to try and ensure that the team are 'bought in' to the next course of action, rather than enforcing a plan. "You can either retrace and add a further 10km, or you can take this dirt track for 800m? What do you think?". Like a Djokovic return of serve "How rough is the track?" came the response.
 Although I have criss crossed Europe by bicycle more times than I can recall, covering thousands of miles, and more than 25 countries, I didn't recall ever having been down this particular dirt track, so I didn't feel qualified to answer this question. "Look... look... its Mark! Whats he doing?" - as I turned around I could see a lone figure scrambling up the side of a tiny vertical metal ladder to inspect the half built bridge. Doom. Disaster. Judge in red robes and white wig. Cue my imagination again... "Did you honestly do everything in your control to ensure these riders were kept safe? ... You are found guilty of gross negligence... 20 years...." ... Back in the real world again... "Mark - please come back here! We are not on a climbing expedition!" Another synopsis of the options followed, as the 'cross the train tracks option' was firmly and finally dismissed, and 'Team Full Carbon Deep Section Racing Wheels' looked at their bikes dismally. "Well - its up to you - we shall have one leader to return up the road for the long loop - and those who are up for it... follow me - down the dirt track!"
 8 riders bumped down the gentle grade into the field, and I smiled to myself. Mr 'Brand New Colnago C60' was with us, embracing the moment, and getting stuck in to the adventure. If you're going to make an epic journey anywhere, you're going to encounter some excitement. You're going to experience some unpredictability, and some unusual situations. Its part of what makes journies exciting, and from this summer's experiences, its a part of the ride that people remember, and that makes it special. A ride that turns from a straightforward 8 hours into a gargantuan 12. A dry day that delivers a biblical downpour more suited to the Monsoon on the subcontinent. A small backroad that happens to be a 20km long Swedish logging trail, through stunning Nordic countryside. Or a succession of villages with closed up cafes that forces us to beg mercy for a water refill on a Champagne Viticulteur at the roadside, who turns out to be a thoroughly decent chap with a special reserve of Orangina and Coca Cola. Or even the 6 punctures in an hour at the roadside when its p*ssing down. These are the special moments, the experiences that you just don't get when you drive to Westfield, and have your lunch in Pizza Express. Nor do you get them when you go on that all inclusive package holiday in the Dominican Republic. When we set off on a 400 mile pedal across borders, rivers, mountains and forests, we know that some special and unique experiences await. We just don't know what they'll be. It's not detailed in the itinerary. And that's why we love it. If you want certainty, if you want to know how the day is going to shake down, by all means, go the the 'Costa del Boring'. And you'll know what time dinner is going to be. You'll know where lunch is going to be, and you'll know where the toilets are. But if you are seeking something special. Something that will live with you for more than a fortnight in your memory, a story you'll still be recounting at dinner in 5 year's time. Do it. Come on... let's get ready for the next incredible, sometimes bumpy, sometimes arriving after dark, and maybe with a chance of showers ride.
 Incidentally, what happened to the 17 riders at the Pont Coupe? Of course, they made it to the hotel. There had been talk of finding a swanky starred restaurant for eats that evening. But in the correct spirit, with 150 miles and stories collected along the way, the group slouched in the lobby bar in smelly lycra, with pints of ice cold Kronenbourg. At dinner that evening, Mr 'Brand New Colnago C60' turned to me..."its bloody good this food isn't it?" ... after a proper days riding, mostly anything tastes good... another ride anyone?
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