John Thorpe's 30th Annual Bike Ride Report

July 8, 2019



Well, good readers, it is that time of year again, when I put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard in this case, to impart the exciting goings on which occurred during the bike ride, which of course I took part in yesterday, Sunday the 7th of July. This was my thirtieth consecutive ride (did I mention this more than a dozen times earlier?!), and I was looking forward to a decent time and a trouble free journey to celebrate my amazing feat. On both counts I was to be disappointed, but more of that later. As always I had gone over my trusty steed with a fine tooth comb in the day or so beforehand, and checked, as far as anyone can, that everything was in order. I came to the conclusion that, as always, the bike was probably in better condition than I was, and left it at that!

              While assembling the tools and spare inner tubes I was going to take with me I tried to plan for the worst, as always, hoping, of course, that the worst wouldn't happen. I figured that probably the worst would be potential punctures, and took the repair kit, levers, some tools and three replacement inner tubes - make a mental note of this, it's important later, as we shall see. Sandwiches and provisions were all ready the night before, and the rabbits , as they always are, were not impressed that I had to put them back in their home early, to give me a good night's sleep.

          I set the alarm for 4.30 and got up not long after this to feed the rabbits and tortoises, before last minute checks, my breakfast, and departure at 6.00am, for the journey to The Piazza at Salford Quays in Manchester, the start point for the ride. I did this in an hour and ten minutes, and was in time to see my old friend Rick, 'The Voice of the Ride' in his subtly coloured yellow suit. We had a few words and got another cyclist to take a snap of us, as we have done nearly every year. He's been doing the job ever since I did my first ride way back in 1989, when thousands of us charged hell for leather out of Albert Square near the Town Hall in Manchester like a somewhat chaotic version of a lemming migration! How I survived that I'll never know.  Rick has had a few health problems of his own, including a broken leg and chest problems, but like the trooper he is, was practising his wit and humorous observations in the midst of a throng of cyclists. Such priceless gems as "We've been informed by the Meteorological Office that there will be meteorology all day today for those with an interest in such things!" Well you get the idea!

               As we were talking, the driver of an articulated truck wandered up looking a bit perplexed and said that he wanted to bring it into the Piazza to effect a delivery to one of the media companies there. Rick pointed out that there might be a slight problem of flattening many of the assembled throng, and there was a deep and meaningful discussion about how no one had told him that the event would be on and he had to speak to someone in authority. Hopefully he got sorted out, but I fancy he had to wait quite a while before the space was free!

        At 7.30 am promptly we assembled at the start line, and to sound of a starting gun and a car horn, wielded by Rick, we were off, through the leafy tree lined streets of Salford. As you may have gathered, the last remark was by way of a humorous exaggeration! The weather was good and mild but there were still a few clouds around and it wasn't anywhere near as warm as it would later become. Unlike many people I love the heat, and always ride better than when it's wet and cold, so I was hoping for better things in the afternoon. The ride passed without incident as we wound our way through Leigh, Atherton, Hindley Green, Westhoughton, Aspull and Haigh Hall, where, as I always do, I spent half an hour refreshing myself with some food, drink and a stretch of the legs. I got there at 9.30 and stopped at 9.35 until 10.05. You may wonder why I try to be so precise about this, and the answer is simple. from past experience I know that if I stop for much longer I will get lazy and want to rest too much-I need to be very firm with myself because I know how fundamentally lazy I am! 

              I parked the bike against a collection of metal beer barrels (these had no connection whatsoever to me I can assure you!) and was in the vicinity of the portaloos, where a fairly long line of people had built up. I'm quite fortunate in that I seem to have a bladder built for endurance, and once, while on a flight back from Galapagos, across the Atlantic, didn’t get up to go the loo for the whole distance! I bet that's a record that hasn't been beaten in a long time. Back to the portaloos anyway, I noticed one lady emerge from one of them wearing a cycling top which had the Heinz Beans logo (as on the cans) on it, and thought it was perhaps an ill omen where portaloos are concerned!

                  We wound our way up Chorley and Leyland, and somewhere along the route in this area, on a hill, I felt what every cyclist dreads while on a long ride, miles away from home, the unmistakable feel of a deflated tyre. I got off and found that the culprit was the back tyre. This is always a pain, since it involves messing about with the chain and cogs, and, muttering a few unrepeatable phrases from the 'Cyclists Book of Quips, Merry Phrases and Foul Rants', I set about replacing the inner tube with a new one. Now under normal circumstances this would not be a particularly difficult task, but as I was to learn, this was not to be the case this time! I got out the three tyre levers which I'd brought with me, which are hard plastic rather than metal, as the rims on the wheels are an alloy, which is damaged easily. I tried one after the other and each one snapped under tension! The tyre itself is very tight and resists being removed, and I now found myself miles from nowhere, with a flat tyre and no way of getting the damn tyre off! Thinking outside the box, I searched the tools I had and found the Allen keys used for loosing Allen bolts (unsurprisingly!).

               This would not normally be a good idea but needs must and I had no choice. After a lot of messing about, I managed to remove the tyre and take out the tube. Ironically the tyre was one which I'd bought deliberately because I was assured that it was very puncture resistant! It's called a Gatorskin, and all I can say is that the gator must have had very soft skin! Given that beneath it, I'd deliberately installed a puncture deflecting layer over the inner tube, it was rotten luck that this happened, but I consoled myself with the fact that out of all the rides I'd done (did I mention that this was thirty?!), I'd had very few punctures, so probably couldn't complain too much. I reassembled the bike and pressed on. Within five minutes I had another puncture on the front tyre!, and had to go though the same procedure again! As you can imagine, dear reader, my patience, not to mention my confidence, was wearing a bit thin by now, and apart from the mental stress, there was the time I was losing to consider. I replaced the inner tube and carried on, to have another puncture ten minutes later, again on the back wheel! This was one of those situations where you actually feel that something is trying to tell you something-perhaps that you should have stayed in bed with a cup of coffee and a good book!

        I fitted the new inner tube and pumped up both tyres as hard as I could safely go, hoping that this would be the end of it, but obviously fearing the worst, with a long way to go before the finish line. I must say that even though two people did enquire if I was OK during the puncture episodes, there were probably a couple of hundred riders who rode past without bothering to find out. Perhaps that says a lot about the way people think nowadays, but unfortunately one day they may need help themselves, and will be pretty disgusted when others ignore them. What goes round comes round as they say. I got to the docks at Preston at 1.20 and had half an hour break here, trying to relax a bit, and taking the opportunity to mend one of the other inner tubes just in case it was needed! Of course I well behind schedule compared to previous years, and knew that my friend Les was waiting for me in Blackpool with my other friend Jon, who lives there. I'd told them that, all being well I would finish between one and two o'clock and we'd have time for a drink and something to eat before visiting a second hand book and record shop of Jon's acquaintance. I called Les to let him know and said I'd be there as soon as I could, wondering all the time whether that might be eight o'clock in the evening at the rate I was going!

         Back on the bike at 1.50 pm I negotiated the lanes which wound through some lovely country villages and farms on the way to Kirkham, Freckleton and Warton, and was doing really well, when near a pub out in the country, a Marshall stepped out to inform us that the road ahead was closed by police following an accident, and we have to take a detour! Now obviously I felt sorry for those involved in the accident, but it did seem at this point that every obstacle you could imagine was been put in my path, and I turned left down another lane  trying to remember the Marshall's words " Look for the windmill pub and turn right."

                The lanes were lovely in their own right, but I must admit I was more concerned with making up time than noticing the fields of drying hay basking in the, by now, hot Summer sun. We seemed to ride for miles before we found the aforementioned pub, and at one point I did begin to wonder if the windmill in question was somewhere north of Rotterdam! At this point we turned right onto another road and eventually got back onto the original route, but it had been a costly detour, time wise. Those who don't cycle probably won't fully understand the feeling of  doubt and apprehension when you are feeling every movement of a tyre against the road, and mistaking the rough surface motion with a deflating tyre, but it can be pretty stressful. Thankfully in spite of all the bumps and rough stretches, the inner tubes held for the rest of the way, but I couldn't afford to relax until I was at least a short distance from the finish. If worst came to worst I would push the bike across the line or carry it, as I did one year when I got a flat in sight of the finish!

                I reached Warton and then we turned onto the coastal road which runs through Lytham St. Annes and eventually Blackpool. At the top of a steep hill, where we turn right onto the main road, a couple of Marshalls, a man and woman, were parked to direct cyclists. I stopped for a brief chat, and she joyfully announced that it was only ten miles to the finish. “Is that real miles or country miles?" I enquired, and she was adamant that it really was. I was a bit dubious about this, and as we pulled up to some traffic light a little way down the road, one of the other Marshalls told us it was definitely 12.3 miles from there. Amazing how the distance gets longer the further you travel isn't it?!The old White Windmill eventually came into view once again on the massive greens area, and the onshore wind was thankfully relatively mild this year, unlike some when it is so strong that it blows you back faster than you can pedal forwards - that would have really 'put the tin hat on things'!

              I must admit I was feeling a bit tired at this point, partly due to stress regarding the punctures, and the last couple of miles seemed to take forever, but eventually the finish line was in sight, and I could see the crowds, which had obviously thinned a bit over the course of the day and had got fed up of waiting for stragglers like me! It's funny how a little bit of positive encouragement can lift your spirits, and I finally crossed the line (there are those who'll contend that I did that years ago!) to a round of rapturous (or rupturous depending on your point of view!) applause from several hardy souls who'd braved the sun and forsaken the allure of candy floss and fish and chips. Apart from the completion certificate and bottle of water, we got a heart shaped metal medal on a ribbon this year, which was rather nice and will fill me with pride every time I wear it to a dinner party!

                  I gathered myself together, drank my water, and made my way along the Promenade to where Les and Jon were waiting opposite the amusement park. After the obligatory shaking of hands, slapping of backs and such comments as 'My God you look like death!” we adjourned to a local hostelry for drinks, and my purely medicinal Guinness. It's the iron content you know, otherwise I wouldn't touch the stuff! The sun was glorious and it was lovely to just sit and watch everyone else expending energy while I relaxed. On the way back to the car Jon pushed the bike for me, and after visiting the loo, I asked him if he'd pretended to be a rider to elicit sympathy from passers -by. He thought for a moment and then said "Well I told them about the hardships of the open road and the sheer guts and dedication needed to overcome them, but that's just the kind of person I am!" I'm not sure whether he was kidding or not but I wouldn't put it past him! The distance covered on the day was 78.3 miles in all, and when you do the calculations, if I hadn't had the punctures but had only taken the normal breaks, I would have been in Blackpool for about 2.15pm, which wouldn't have been too bad. I also managed to get up to 31 mph on the downhill section which I've written about in previous reports, and hope they don't come after me for the extra 1 mph! Anyway I can console myself with the fact that even though it didn't go as planned; I still overcame the problems and pushed on to the end. As Nigel put when I told him about the events "It's only obstinate people like us who'd carry on after three punctures, a lot of them would have thrown the bike in the nearest hedge and adjourned to the pub!" Probably about right.

            I've checked with Bike events regarding the numbers taking part, and they feel there were probably a few under 3,500. Interesting I thought there were more because I had seen numbers on riders which were in the 6000's, but they tell me that they are still using up numbers ordered from years ago when there were more entries, and this can be confusing for the casual observer. At any rate 3,500 is still pretty respectable, and they all deserve a great deal of respect for their efforts.

            I hope you've enjoyed this little tale of adversity and triumph, and thank all of you for being a Three Owls supporter. We couldn't do what we do without your help, and if you can support my humble efforts with your sponsorship, I and the birds would much appreciate it. I'll gird my loins ready for next year, and probably gird my tyres as well, they obviously need it!


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