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The Best Laid Plans…
The SMCC Sunday ride is a curious affair; just formal enough to feel like a ‘real’ group and just informal enough to feel like a simple hack with your mates. We work hard to keep it that way! And, of the entire SMCC Team, no one works harder than our very own Wet Wipe to ensure that the route for the day delivers the right mix of challenge, excitement, scenery and suffering.
Seriously, there are military campaigns, which have been pursued with less forward planning. For days in advance, poor Wet Wipe diligently deliberates over the Garmin Route Planning site – heavily mixed with a good dash of Google Earth – to deliver a route worthy of the best Sportive planner. Once plotted, he downloads it to his Garmin (500), affectionately known as ‘Wilson’ and we are all set.
The only fly in the ointment is the, at best, patchy reception of GPS signals in heavily wooded areas – especially with a bit of cloud cover; the very territory that is the spiritual home of the SMCC. No ride would be complete without the regular shrill screech from Wilson to let us know that we are (in his opinion) off course! Often, it’s not a problem; a momentary lapse. And, after spitting the dummy, Wilson soon returns to service – guiding us through every carefully planned turning and along every thoughtfully chosen lane.
Houston…we have a problem…..
Today, however, was different. Leaving the old A130 and turning into Hoe Lane, Wilson immediately alerted us that we had deviated from his personal view of today’s route. We had not – and we knew this – so we pushed on. It’s a regular occurrence and, after making his point, he’s usually soon playing ball again. Today, however, was different. After a good couple of miles with no route showing on the screen and persistent shrieking, Wet Wipe announced, “I think Wilson’s out of here today”. And, at that point, we had a decision to make. To be honest, none of the options really appealed; we could: (1) Push on and hope that the course would magically re-appear (2) default to a ‘safe’ route that we had ridden hundreds of time before….or….(3) just head roughly where we had planned and not worry too much about getting lost.
Obviously, when Wet Wipe is sitting down with his virtual protractor and slide rule, the one thing he can’t factor in is the weather; this one very tangible factor has an almost intangible effect on any ride. Weather affects you both psychologically and physically – it has the power to bolster your reserve of break your spirit. It is both your persecutor and saviour; you are at the mercy of it’s whim. This morning, the weather was, frankly, unreal; gin clear skies, manageable temperatures and glorious sunshine effectively masking our proximity to the Winter Solstice. Against this backdrop, it was option 3 that we chose!
With Wet Wipes carefully planned route now abandoned, and the 5 square inches of plastic bungeed to his handlebars, effectively, no more than a glorified speedo, we had transitioned from mere cyclists to full-blown adventurers. Today, we would forge fearlessly into new territory; discover new lands and uphold the valiant sprit, which once coloured huge swathes of the world map pink. Or….put another way……ride around Essex without a f@&*ing clue where we were!!!
It’s odd how letting go of formality – wherever you find it – sets you free. Gone were the frosty debates that often punctuate a ride as turnings approach and, In no time, we were simply approaching junctions and saying, “Left or right?”, to which, someone would answer “I fancy left”….or “let’s go right”. For mile upon mile we pushed on in this manner and for mile upon mile we found ourselves ‘lost’ in acre upon acre of the finest countryside that Essex has to offer. Even the occasional ‘pool’ of freezing fog could not dampen out spirit and, as glorious winter sunshine coloured mile upon mile of undulating lanes vibrant green and gold, each of knew that, today, on this road, we were in God’s own country.
The unfamiliar roads also put paid to the well-rehearsed pace line that usually forms on more familiar tarmac. In turn, this meant that we rode not in single file, but in pairs; chatting; talking bollocks and generally just revelling in being blokes out on our bikes in the glorious early morning sunshine.
The coffee stop was chosen, almost at random – a wonderful tea rooms in Blackmore. Sitting outside; four mates, basking in the winter sunshine, drinking coffee whilst…still talking bollocks….and ogling the very sexy Bianchi and BMC tackle parked outside was, frankly, as close to Nirvana as an Essex cyclist will ever get.
Like Hansel and Gretel, we followed our trail of breadcrumbs home from there. Again, we did not panic if the road signs were vague or the route unclear; we just rode.
Back at the meet point, we were buzzing; our demeanour that of conquerors - rather than the broken men who gathered at the end of last week’s ride. They do say that a change is a good as a rest. Perhaps this is why my legs felt as fresh at the end of 60 miles and 2300 FT of climbs as they did at the start.
Brave new world…..
Today, we lost sight of the shore and discovered new horizons – not through choice but rather through circumstance. When Wilson spat the dummy just 12 miles into the ride, we thought we were stranded when, in fact, he had just set us free. Formality is necessary; it provides both structure and purpose where they are needed. But, today, we tasted freedom; we discovered hidden gems of roads that we may never have seen and the enforced slower pace gave more time to indulge the things that make cycling great – friendship, freedom and simply being out in rolling countryside whilst the masses gather in shopping malls and High Streets. We’ll probably give Wilson a chance to redeem himself next week but, for now, he’s forgiven – purely because he reminded us that we can live without him.
So, the next time you’re out with your mates and something does not go according to plan, take my advice; simply go with it. Don’t fret if your carefully planned route goes out of the window – because you may be about to stumble upon a better one. Ride, savour, enjoy; that’s really all you have to remember.