The 2021 Manchester to Blackpool Bike Events ride by John Thorpe.

August 12, 2021
Well, dear reader, it is that time of year again, when I regail you with tales of 'derring do' (whatever that really means), suffering and ultimate triumph on the road to Blackpool from Manchester. As always with my little literary effort, the opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the Trustees of Three Owls. As you may recall, the event was cancelled twice last year, resulting in me  making the trip single handed and taking a few small scenic detours ( known to some as getting lost!) along the way. It should never have been cancelled in the first place, but be that as it may, this year's event was scheduled  for Sunday the 4th of July, and thankfully took place. My number was 739 and my start time 7.30am, so  as in every other year, it was going to be an early night on Saturday  and an early morning on Sunday. The  early night was not appreciated by my rabbits, who are used to staying up until  after midnight, but needs must.

        I had  serviced my trusty bike a few days before, using the  stand I bought for a very nice price from Lidl a few weeks ago. I can definately recommend them, as they bring the cycle up to a good working height and allow all round access.The chain and gears got a good degreasing (always fun )  and seemed much happier for it , which is more than i could say, since I then had to degrease  my hands! As is my normal practice, i had not trained for the event and other than very regular walking exercise and a clean and blameless life, I relied on muscle memory. Not what I would recommend  to anyone else, and no doubt from a medical standpoint it would be classed as virtually suicidal, but it seems to work for me and  since this was my 31st official ride (plus one  unofficial last year), my body, such as it is, seems to tolerate it quite well. As I'm fond of saying, my body is a temple.......ruined and full of rats and monkeys! I was a little suspicious of on road physical problems this year, since I had a nasty attack of bursitis in my left knee earlier in the year, which left it looking like a vexed tomato- red and angry! Caused, I'm sure by inadvertently kneeling on something sharp and dirty while doing a  job for a friend- lesson being to be more careful and avoid kneeling on small, pointy and infected objects.

           I was  up at 4.00am, fed the animals and myself, in that order of course, and out of the house at 5.00am. Thankfully it was a decent day , after a night of wind and rain, and I must confess to thinking that it was not going to be good while lying in bed  listening to the rain on the window. As always it is a balancing act as to how much 'stuff' to take for the trip. Such items as tools for emergency use, are a 'no brainer', but weigh heavy and therefore have to be selected with care. Food is also essential, as is fluid to avoid dehydration, but again, a balance has to be struck between weight, which slows the bike down and puts a strain on the wheels and tyres, and necessity. Even after all these years i don't always get it right, but I try!

          Thankfully the roads were pretty clear and as always I use the ride into Manchester to warm up and find out if my aging body is happy to be put through it again. Slow and steady is the order of the day, no sudden moves and no pulled muscles- there's a long way to go after all! Also I thankfully had no punctures, unlike a couple of years ago when I had several before getting to Manchester -as you can imagine I was not a happy bunny and the language would have stripped paint off a wall!

         I got to the starting point with plenty of time to spare, and it was at this point that i realised that the gel saddle cover, which I had taken such pains to secure to the saddle before setting off, was not there, and after internally berating myself with some more paint striping language, I realised that it must have slid forward with the movement of riding, and slipped off somewhere along the road. Of course i had no chance of finding it at this point, and just had to accept that i would have to replace it. Given that I'm very careful and don't like to waste or lose things, this was doubly annoying, but someone found a really good condition gel saddle cover and started their day on a high!

       There were already a fair number of riders at the start point in The Piazza in Salford, in the complex which now houses the BBC and other companies responsible for a lot of the rubbish that passes for entertainment now, and since I was early , I collected my route map etc and set off at 6.45. Sadly this year I was not able to have my picture taken with my yellow suited friend 'The Voice of the Ride, since he was nowhere to be seen. Upon checking with one of the Bike Events staff I found out that he might be there later, but that in any case they had had complaints about the noise made by his announcements and corny jokes (no worse than mine it has to be said!) from the people living in a block of apartments next to the BBC. Given that the event only takes place once a year I would have thought this was a bit ridiculous but then again we are perhaps dealing with 'luvvies' who are used to being pandered to.

           All was going well until about ten minutes into the ride, as we crossed  a raised section of road, whereupon I got the sinking feeling known to all riders when the tyre exhales sharply and runs on the rim! I could barely believe it and since it was the back tyre,it was more of a pain than the front, since one has the chain and gears to deal with too. Upending the trusty steed, I whipped the tube out and put in another( I carried several just in case), only to find,after pumping it up, that it wouldn't stay up, and therefore must have been 'nipped' when being put in place-an easy thing to do, even when one is being careful. Feeling increasingly frustrated, I put in another, which thankfully stayed up, and then had to put the contents of the pannier bag back in place before setting off. I have to thank one of the motor cycle marshalls for stopping and asking if he could help-as it turned out he couldn't, but the thought was there. I would make his acquaintance later on, but more of that to come.

              I set off again , probably running twenty minutes late by now, and just hoped there would be no further interruptions to the trip. It's a  uneasy feeling riding while almost waiting for  something to go wrong, but hoping it doesn't, and the further away from home you are, the more uneasy it gets. Thankfully the tube held, although there are quite a few stretches of road where, due to the texture of the material used on the surface, it can feel like the tyre is losing pressure. We wended our merry way through Boothstown, on to Leigh, Atherton and Westhoughton, where I once again stopped, not,thankfully for a personal mishap, but to help another rider who was on the pavement in the main street, with his bike up ended and looking very sorry for itself. He was glad to see someone stop and the problem was with the chain, which had broken a link. He could hardly believe it when I said I actually had the tool to take the link out and repair the damage, and I was looking forward to getting  the job done quickly and basking in the warm, self satisfied glow that comes with being a 'Knight of the Road'!

       Unfortunately fate , as it frequently does, took a hand, and as I was trying toget the link out, the projection on the chain tool snapped off, rendering it worse than useless! The same motorcycle marshall had , by this time, pulled up and recognised me from the puncture. I pointed out that we would have to stop meeting like this or people would talk!

   Unfortunately he didn't have the chain splitting tool in his tool kit, so arranged for the cyclist to be picked up and taken to Haigh Hall, where Darren would be able to sort him out. He was very grateful for my help anyway, and  at least he didn't have to pedal all the way there so every cloud has a silver lining! I have since bought a better quality chain splitting tool!

         Thankfully I was making good progress and the knee was holding up very well, which was a great relief. The day was brightening, and the temperature was very pleasant, not too warm, not too cold. I personally don't mind the heat but many people don't do well in it. I should have been born in a warmer climate! Soon the entrance to Haigh Hall came into view, and since I'd walked up the steep road which  leads to it, I pushed the bike over the infamous cobbles at the entrance. Picturesque they may be, but they can also inflict serious damage to the nether regions if one is not careful, and there are many miles to go  at this point! The  long, steep inclined road which runs through the grounds is great to just coast down and save some energy, but is also a trap for the unwary, since there are leaves on the surface, sharp bends and trees and shrubbery waiting to claim those with more bravado than sense. I stopped at the refreshment point near the portaloos, to take on some nourishment and fluids, and one very needy rider, wearing the shoes with metal cleats on the soles, which engage with the pedals to lock the foot in place; walked briskly over to the loo and opened the door. As he stepped inside, he slipped on the shiny surface , flipped onto his back , and disappeared behind the door rather dramatically!

       I rushed over to see if he was alright, and a disconcerted voice from the bowels of the loo (unfortunate phrase if ever there was one!) assured me he was. He emerged shortly afterwards, a  lot more cautiously than he'd gone in. At this point another rider passed  me and asked if there were any other toilets than the portaloos. Since I'd heard someone  else ask the same question previously , and had heard the answer, I was able to direct him to some around the corner of the building.

      'Will  I need a mask?' he asked. 'It all depends on how bad it gets in there' I replied. Thankfully he had a sense of humour! 

    I'd got to Haigh Hall at 9.45 and left at 10.15- I find half an hour goes very quickly, and if I spent any more time out of the saddle I might be reluctant to get back onto it!  On my way out of the park I stopped to say hello to Darren from Pilkingtons cycles, who was busy repairing a bike under his gazeebo  by the side of the path. It was nice to meet up again since we hadn't seen one another for at least a couple of years. He sold me the bike I'm still riding after all these years, so it was good to be able to show him I'm looking after it! I pressed on through Standish , Coppull and Charnock Richard, Chorley and Leyland, getting a nice rythm going. The cleaning of the chain and gears which I'd taken so much trouble over, was paying off, as the bike was running very smoothly, and the sun was out, giving us all a lift to the spirits.

                The long haul into Preston loomed ahead, and as always down this dual carriageway it's a matter of just putting your head down and keeping going steadily, for it never seems to end. Thankfully the field  and open spaces were green and sunlit so were a nice distraction to the effort.

         There were a few unexpected detours, due to new roads, which definately weren't there in 2019 and 2020, and one stretch of road which we've always gone down to get to Preston Docks,was blocked off totally. I got to the docks area at 12.05, and just as we arrived it started to rain, the first serious precipitation we'd seen so far. although it didn't last very long, it was the sort of rain that gets you wet, to quote Peter Kay! There was a rather tatty looking telephone kiosk, minus door , close to where I'd stopped, so I availed myself of it and ate my snacks under cover until the rain stopped. Amazingly the phone was still in order, ( I couldn't resist the urge to check it!) something of a rarity nowadays.

              I left at 12.25, feeling somewhat refreshed, although slightly damp, and the sun soon came out again as I pressed on north and west towards Kirkham, going through some lovely little villages and groups of houses along side the road. At Salwick I stopped at Gracemire Farm to get some fresh, cool raw milk from the honesty kiosk at the farm entrance. I must admit it tasted great and gave me an energy boost as well as some much needed hydration. On to Treales, Kirkham and Warton, taking the coast road into  Lytham St.Annes, passing the famous white windmill on the extensive greens to the left, I could feel the end was not too far away. Of course, even though this is definately the latter stage of the ride, it isn't over until the morbidly obese lady sings, to quote the phrase, and the road into Blackpool seems to go on forever, just at the time when one's energy supply is waning. the weather was lovely and couldn't have been better really, but nevertheless the nether regions were looking forward to getting off the saddle!

      Head down and teeth gritted, I pressed on , and eventually saw the promenade area, cordoned off to traffic, which leads the weary riders to the finish line opposite the Giant Mirror Ball , A small but select crowd lined the route, offering claps and vocal encouragement, and as I crossed the finish line, at 2.30 pm, the commentator (not my yellow suited friend sadly) said 'Well done that man, there you are ladies and gentlemen, there goes a gentleman of a certain age proving that cycling keeps you fitter than going to the gym!'

         How he knew I was a gentleman (highly debateable I would think!) and what he meant by 'a certain age' I'd rather not contemplate but since I don't get  many compliments I'll take what I can get. Breaking  with tradition this year, there were no young ladies handing out completion certificates as the riders crossed the line, and when I queried this, was told that they felt it too risky in terms of infection spread. We got a rather nice medal instead, but the logic of handing an envelope over at the start but not a certificate at the end is frankly, like so much over the past year or so, beyond me. I rode on  to the area near the Pleasure Beach, where my friend Les was waiting, having very kindly come through for the day to bring me back. Of course a superbly fit athlete of my age could easily  have ridden back but I didn't like to throw goodness in his face! To be honest I did feel pretty good this time round, and remarked to Les that if I could have had half an hour break and something to eat and drink, and a helicopter to take me up to Morecambe Bay, I could have done the eight mile Cross Bay Walk straight after the ride. Unfortunately since I'm neither rich or famous, the helicopter wasn't an option, but I did the walk a couple of weeks later and thoroughly enjoyed it.

       I covered approx.78 miles during the day, and  the knee was absolutely fine, a real bonus. I thank you for your past support of my humble efforts, and hope that you will be able to support them this year once again, at a time when nature needs us more than ever. All being well I will  be back next year to repeat the whole exercise once more, but for now my best  wishes and appreciation for your support and encouragement.


John Thorpe


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