Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beyond Reach

Click here for full photo album of the ride to Reach and Ely
I rode 50 miles and I didn't even win the wheelbarrow of booze? Oh well, it was a great bank holiday nonetheless.

As previous posts will attest, KT and I are enjoying cycling. And this past weekend, on the Monday bank holiday, we went on our longest rides yet, and our first group ride. For the past few years, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign has organized a 20 mile roundtrip ride to the small village of Reach, which has been holding its annual fair in May for the past 808 (!) years. The ride was scheduled to leave at 10am and arrive in Reach by noon, just in time for the opening ceremonies--the Mayor of Cambridge and other VIPs and official dress in traditional garb, sing God Save the Queen and throw newly minted pennies to the masses (to represent the rich giving money to the poor). Most on the ride would spend 2 hours at the fair and then head back to Cambridge, but a few hardy souls would cut their fair visit short to continue onto Ely--where some could train home and others could ride back for a 50 mile overall round trip. KT was happy to go the Reach (she even bought a new bike!) but I seriously wanted to do that long ride, though I had never gone such a distance.
The day was glorious and 80-100 riders gathered at the starting point--including young kids and grandparents. KT and I looked at each other, slightly embarrassed at being nervous about the "long" ride. We chatted a bit with one couple who had a kid along with them and the husband said his motivation was to get to Reach and win the "wheelbarrow of booze". Hmm, this is what England considers a family-friendly fair?

Ride to Reach from dceditors on Vimeo.
(Hmm, until I can get the video embedded click on the Ride to Reach link above this line)

The ride to Reach turned out to be nice and easy. Even at leisurely pace, we were there well before noon--and most of the ride was on traffic-free bike paths. In Reach, the crowds were already streaming in and the beer tents were open! We soon saw the infamous wheelbarrow, with bottles of vodka, gin, the local pub's beer, and KT quickly bought 5 tickets (to support the school's swimming pool, of course!)--none were the winner sadly.

The crowd sang God save the Queen, pennies were tossed, kids danced around a traditional May pole, tents and stalls sold baked goods and fair food, and children in fairy tales costumes skipped around--all in all it was simply delightful. KT and I were amused because everyone was so stunned by the nice weather--it tends to rain on bank holidays and the Reach fair had been rained on the past 5 years

All too soon 1pm neared and I had to decide whether to press on to Ely. There will always be more fairs so why not. About 25 of us set off and biked another hour before a rest stop in the Wicken Fen, a protected nature site. Then it was another hour to Ely, much of it along the banks of the River Ouse--Ely's magnificent cathedral lured us on, even from many miles away. KT and I have visited Ely several times but we had never made it down to the pretty riverfront where we all parked our bikes and dispersed for tea, a pint, or ice cream--or all 3. A few people headed to the train station for the 15 minute ride home but nearly 20 of us started back to Cambridge around 4:30pm. We reached Reach once again around 6pm and stopped for another pint of beer (I see the appeal of English cycling now!) as we watched the fair being taken down--it had closed about 30 minutes before we returned. Then, with legs burning and back stiffening, we made the final dash for food home. Amazingly, the leader of the trip rode in flip-flops, carried a huge flag on his old rusty bike, and had a mammoth basket of food and other supplies weighing him down. And he never broke a sweat. Still, I was very proud I did the whole trip. Next year, however, I'm winning the darn wheelbarrow. --JT

1 comment:

gareth.rees said...

If you're keen to do more rides like this, you might want to try the Sunday afternoon rides with the Cyclists' Touring Club. We meet at 14:15 at the junction of Brookside and Lensfield Road, ride 20–30 miles into the countryside, stop for tea and cake, and ride back again.