Monday, January 18, 2010

No Finish Line? No Problem.

The enemies for a cyclist are hills and wind. The best friend? A welcoming pub. I experienced all three on a long, painful, but ultimately delightful summer day last year. One sunny weekend morning, KT, I, and our friend Lucas packed ourselves and 3 bikes into our hatchback for a quick drive south to the town of Colchester, the launching point for a charity cycling ride. The ride offered the unusual option of 3 routes—25, 50, or 70 miles—and after we got past the first hill leading out of town, the riding was smooth enough for us to consider the 50 mile journey. But then the winds and hills started to make themselves felt, at least on me. I have a bad habit of trying to power through hills rather than saving my energy and muscles by changing gears. And so, not long after the 25 mile mark, I began to pay the price, experiencing incredibly painful cramps in my feet—I’ve had leg cramps before, but never foot cramps to this debilitating extent. We had been making good time but several stops in which I slowed to a crawl and literally fell off the bike—I couldn’t bear to stand on my cramping feet—put us behind the pack. Embarrassed and frustrated, I slowly trudged on with my kind wife and friend staying at my side.

Fortunately, the day was saved when we entered Pebmarsh and came upon the Kings Head, the cute local pub (picture above) that was obviously the heart of the village. The road outside the pub was still marked with the finish line for Pebmarsh’s equivalent of a soapbox derby and throughout my time there several kids came into the pub to play (right). After hydrating, I persuaded KT and Lucas to voyage on without me and come back with the car. For me at least, it was a brilliant decision. I spent the next several hours relaxing in the sun, drinking many great local ales, reading an Agathe Christie novel I bought off the used book table in the pub, and having amusing chats with the regulars—including one who started a debate with me about whether Americans had truly landed on the moon! KT and Lucas eventually returned, which briefly made me feel bad again as I learned that the the ride organizers had taken down the finish line before they got there. But a round of the best cheeseburgers we’ve had in England soon lifted our spirits again, and we chuckled when the bartender tactfully suggested that since I had been at the pub all day, I really shouldn’t drive home. I hadn't planned to, but I appreciated the watchful eye.

Why reminisce now about that up and down (literally) day? We vowed to return to the Kings Head again for burgers but I’ve just learned that due to financial troubles, the pub closed not long after we were there. It was the only pub left in Pebmarsh and its absence has clearly saddened everyone there—and me as well. The locals are hoping the pub will reopen instead of being turned into houses—like many pubs have been all over England. I wish them luck and perhaps I should try the bike ride again this year to see if it has been revived. As long as it’s not a windy day, of course. --JT

A fun rest stop during the ride

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