At 7.30am Dave W led out our small party which consisted of Dave T, Sheila, Susan, Dave W and me (Greg). This was a nationally-advertised event and there were over 400 riders participating – many in the 100 mile ride but some in the shorter 50 or 35 mile options. We were all in it for the long haul and since it was a UK-wide event we were unsurprised when we set off from Impington and picked up the guided busway towards Cambridge City Centre. The busway was busy first thing, with many groups of youthful keenies roaring past; we maintained our CTC pace and got out the way!
Getting ready for the off
We presumed that the start towards Cambridge was in order to show the visitors something of the architectural beauty of our city – perhaps down Kings Parade? But no – we headed across the river and emerged on the Newmarket Road – and proceeded to cycle up past B&Q etc. The one saving grace was that at this time of the morning there was little traffic but I cannot believe this was the best introduction to Cambridge for people
We headed out of town and used the tunnel below the A14 to make it into gentler surroundings. The weather was still very cold – barely above freezing in the shaded parts - but we continued to make good progress in the calm, bright morning.
As we headed generally north-east the weather stayed bright and sunny and there was soon sufficient warmth in the sun to start thawing us all out. At Burwell the 35 milers turned off, whilst we headed out into proper Fen Country towards Fordham. We stopped for the first break here after some 26 miles, sitting next to the dyke we had been cycling beside, and watching the small boats pass (after a certain amount of bush visiting by all...) This was now the opportunity for Greg to start the Great British Bike Bake Event – for his wife had prepared three different cakes for the intrepid party to enjoy! The shortbread was shared out and it was greatly enjoyed – and so we resumed our efforts.
Reinvigorated by shortbread
Shortly afterwards we started to cross Isleham Fen, where we were cycling next to the dyke. It is always somewhat disconcerting to be below the level of the water, though here it was a boon as we were perfectly sheltered from the first puffs of breeze, yet in bright sunshine. The sun was warming us nicely and we were bowling along when disaster struck!
Shouts and whistles called Dave W and Greg back from the front to discover that Susan had a first for us all: a cycling mechanical that Dave W had never encountered. There cannot be many of those! Somehow the chain had got "sucked" into the front mechanism and was wedged firm. There was Some discussion and a few attempts to free it, but eventually the offending item was released and we resumed our way.
Dave W investigates
We made good progress for about ten further miles but there was a cry from Dave T. "Was that your lens Greg?" Unbeknownst to Greg, his sunglasses lens had dislodged and fallen onto the road.. Luckily this was a very quiet spot and the lens had not been subsequently run over. After a short search the item was discovered and firmly replaced. We set off again!
At Downham Market we sought a café for a drink. One of the locals insisted it was down to the left and round the bend. Something or someone was round the bend but the café definitely wasn’t! We had made a fruitless detour downhill for half a mile and when we got back on the route we found the desired café just 30 yards further on. This was a proper welcome to the Fens! We sat outside enjoying the sunshine and coffee and ate our sandwiches. Life was good, and we were just about half-way round. Sheila wondered about some Vaseline (note – never tackle a long ride with new kit, especially not a new saddle!) The cavernous saddlebag that Susan had packed late the night before came into its own: suncream, Vaseline, Ibuprofen – a veritable Mary Poppins-style holdall of all items likely to be useful!
Dave T thought now an appropriate moment to contribute to the Food Fest, and shared around his homemade Rice Cakes. These are packed with energy and goodies and were ideal cycling fodder. The recipe was requested and we share it here with our fellow cyclists.
Dave T eats his rice cake
For some reason, before leaving Downham Market Dave T started his stripping routine, which was to be repeated at each subsequent stop. Here there was some careful reorganisation of shirts and sleeves or somesuch; the locals observed bemused as a strip-down change occurred.
We resumed our way and left Downham Market behind and made rapid progress and soon reached Watlington. We were just over 5 miles short of Kings Lynn, and at the northernmost point of the ride. Here we turned South – and were blown away – literally!
No wonder the going had been good thus far! What had started as a completely calm early morning had seen a gradual increase in wind, until we now had a breeze that had got up but had been helping thus far. Now it was to be our foe for the next 42 miles. The Fens were black and bleak – the soil prepared and unplanted – and there was nothing to interrupt the wind.
The only things enjoying this were a lapwing, the first starling of summer, and a hunting kestrel which hovered on the breeze. We plugged away into the wind, mostly with Dave W and Greg riding the front of the peloton to allow the rest to tuck in. Occasional stints by the rest of the team gave everyone a chance to share the fun out front.
A brief pause for a level crossing afforded Dave T a chance to do some more stripping, to the excitement of the locals. (Actually some bored onlookers carried on doing what they had been doing before).
At mile 65 we turned another corner and stared once again into a three-mile straight, straight into the wind. Halfway down this sector we came across a somewhat miserable looking fellow cyclist,pushing his bike. He had been abandoned by his "mate" (surely ex-mate now?) and had been left without spare tube or tools which meant that when he had punctured he was somewhat scuppered. The Cambridge CTC rescue crew swung into action, Dave W wielding the tools and everyone else watching the maestro. A minor difficulty with the rim tape was resolved and the task was completed using Greg's spare tube.
CTC to the rescue
There was a brief flurry of activity as both Greg and Dave T rushed to retrieve their new "Ed Gizmo" thingy: "Use mine", "No, use mine", both having invested in one of these tyre jacks having seen it in use previously. This makes reseating the tyre and avoiding a pinch flat a doddle: everyone needs one! See here
Mark (our rescuee) chose to continue at his own pace after expressing his thanks to the rescue crew and we once more resumed battle with the wind.
At 75 miles we stopped for the next baked goods opportunity: Flapjack. Greg's wife had surpassed herself; these were pronounced epic and best ever (by Sheila!). There was some debate about the recipe, and Greg determined later that this was actually an old family recipe. See below.
Flapjack – "Best Ever!"
The wind was now a pretty tiresome and energy sapping adversary, and as we came round another bend to come into yet another long straight (more then two miles long) into the wind, with little evidence of Ely getting any closer, this all now became something of a drudge.
However, there was another first occurring: this was the first time Sheila had done more than 77 miles on a ride.
Eventually we found some hedgerows, trees and houses and some shelter from the wind gradually emerged as we closed in on Ely. Dave T took us straight into the middle of town and we parked our bikes in the beautiful gardens of the Almonry Tea Rooms where we could sit and enjoy views of Ely Cathedral in the afternoon sun.
Dave W generously bought a round of teas and Greg retrieved the sticky date cake,the final treat to set us up for the final leg. This was apparently healthy (Delia said so) since it has no sugar in it! However, the condensed milk and dates – plus the butter – made this anything but calorie light, making this just what we needed! Before leaving there was some further Dave T stripping and changing, here from one type of sock to another type...
Dave T gets naked (not a beautiful view...)
Greg confidently predicted that the wind would have dropped now since it was after 4pm when we set off again. The traffic was less than pleased with our brief negotiation of the one-way streetm with Dave W throwing himself off his bike after the curb won the debate. The only damage was to his pride….
We set off over various cobble speed bumps out of town and picked up a fairly main road briefly before we then turned off, signposted Witchford, straight into the wind which clearly hadn’t read the time and had continued to blow...
Once again the peloton resumed as we plugged away into the wind. The miles were gradually increasing: we were now past 90 which meant we were into the final stretch. At 96 miles Greg's Garmin retired with a flat battery and it seemed an apt metaphor all round.
We then crossed Grunty Fen and emerged into Cottenham, which meant we were nearly home! We rode down the longest high street in the UK before emerging briefly back into the countryside before we passed the village sign for Impington. We swept back into the Village College and across the finish some time after 5pm after having completed just over 100 miles. Susan did an elegant dismount, nearly coming a cropper; she had clearly left her energy out on the road! Sheila had completed her first ever 100 miler and we stood around congratulating each other and musing about how much fun the fens are in the wind.
Dave W confirmed he had room for one more passenger so he set off with Susan and Greg to load up the car and return home, leaving Dave T and Sheila to make their respective routes back to their cars. Dave W and Greg rushed ahead to get things sorted and started loading the bikes onto the car rack which had been left some mile or so away at the Milton Park and Ride. Dave removed his handlebar bag to facilitate loading and soon Susan arrived so we got all the bikes stowed and set off.
Greg was dropped off first, then Susan, and when Dave W got home he realised his bag was not there. Recalling that he had placed it beside the car as we loaded the bikes, complete with his wallet, credit cards, phone and Garmin, he rushed back to the Park and Ride expecting to find nothing. Fortunately his luck was in and the bag was just where he left it, untouched. Phew! This was a fitting end to the day which might have been spoilt but actually it was all good in the final analysis.
A big thanks to all who took part and made this a series of firsts – with great fun in the Fens. Greg Tucker