Musings From The Padded Cell

One Wheel On My Wagon

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”
Charles M. Schulz

Another blast from the past here with Chapter 16 from Fifty Not Out the third in my trilogy that somehow failed to take the world by storm.

Four middle-aged friends take a bike ride…a long one.


As if to emphasise how different we are, as middle-aged women found the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to ease the pains of mid-life, so men found cycling.

This is curious; after all, why would any sane individual of modest fitness and conditioning seek to encourage the onset of a massive heart attack or ending his days in a roadside ditch?

There has been a huge boom in recreational cycling, with men seemingly desperate to spend small fortunes on an amazing array of hi-tech contraptions and kit.

Men love their new toys, a throwback to childhood days. We wash and lather them, pat them dry and massage oil into parts we never knew existed. And not a murmur back.

Cycling attracts all shapes and sizes, appealing to man’s basic instincts of exploration and survival, although searching out a tea shop and a big cream scone is hardly Bear Grylls.

Most of us had bikes as kids, crashed a few times, lost a few teeth and then barely sat in the saddle as a result for another twenty years. But not the X-Box for our generation; we are men of the saddle.

So, one dark winter’s night many moons ago, four old pals decided to take on a new challenge in the form of the coast-to-coast cycle run.

Most of you will know these guys but to the uninitiated a brief introduction will suffice beginning with the oldest.

Le Grand Depart

Brent was still a very good league cricketer, although a failing body meant he was less capable of bowling long, stamina sapping spells of fast bowling by then. He could not have imagined the agonies to come for a man who views places like the gym with utter disinterest.

Lifelong friend RSL had been a very good amateur rugby player but a tendency for muscles to twang at will in later years meant that he had spent a small fortune on physios and tubigrip just to get in the saddle.

Finally, there was JB, a contender for the most disorganised man on the planet. A man you should never ever seek to share a room with unless you are homeless or want to experience what it would be like to live in a squat.

We had talked long and hard about our preparation as only JB had experienced anything longer on a bike than the canal path to Shipley. Indeed Brent had not ridden a bike since his stabilisers fell off; fear was etched across his face.

Each of my cycling partners had spent fortunes on all sorts of new gear ahead of our 140 miles of torture up and down dale.

Dubious about investing heavily in what I viewed as a passing fad before my older mates opted for their armchairs, I placed my faith in the trusted Raleigh five-speed, nicknamed The Bedstead, largely as it appeared to be forged out of solid iron.

I had won it in a raffle at the Villas for a quid. Whilst the other members of Team Villas had front and rear suspension, disc brakes and lightweight frames, I was sat on the cycling equivalent of a used Lada.

Our trip was the spectacular route from Whitehaven to Sunderland, criss-crossing the country through beautiful scenery.

On our first day we very nearly lost Brent – to exhaustion – and me – to a broken neck in the woods. This was not a good start.

We had set off to Keswick after a train ride to Whitehaven. Arriving at Whitehaven, JB somehow managed to get his foot stuck in his fancy cycling cleats (a clip on cycling shoe attached to the bike) resulting in him jiggling around the platform like a frenetic dancing bear trying to free his leg from the bike.

This fascinated the locals as they had clearly never had such an entertaining free show and out came the hat for an impromptu collection and shouts of “encore!”

Oh Dear!

JB in full chaos mode

That first day was sheer torture in extreme heat with murderous climbs in and out of the numerous valleys and late in the day, as Keswick finally appeared, disaster struck.

After yet another lung-busting climb, at the summit JB flew off down the hill with a crazed yell and, as RSL decided to follow on so we could tell the rescue services where to find the body, I stayed with Brent who was groaning more than usual.

“Tell Sue I love her” he wailed “I’ve been a good man!”

Suddenly, he collapsed in a heap, shaking uncontrollably. We were genuinely concerned as we had not named a reserve for the forthcoming Saturday game; he may have been fat and fifty but he was still our best bowler by a street.

Fortunately we found an angel in the form of a lovely lady at a nearby guesthouse. So, with RSL escorting Brent, now fully charged up on Victoria Sponge, safely into Keswick, JB and I decided to complete the official route.

I should have known that following cycling’s equivalent of Eddie the Eagle was not sensible at all.

Flying through woods at a breakneck pace, with The Bedstead vibrating violently beneath me, my innards threatened to drop out. Suddenly, I hit a huge brick and was launched through the air, landing with a thud in the undergrowth. Was I dead?

Not quite although with two flat tyres, a bent back wheel, covered in blood and my new shorts around my knees, this was not my best look.

JB Cycling - Into the Valley

I trudged along alone, dragging The Bedstead behind me trying to hold my shorts up, searching for JB, wondering why I had not opted for Lanzarote as usual. Never had I longed to see the scruffy little man so much.

When I found him it was clear that neither of us really had a clue how to mend a puncture which suggested our preparation for the trip may not have been comprehensive. Eventually we cycled into Keswick, half-bitten to death by midgies.

We spent the rest of the remaining 100 miles of saddle induced torture waiting for Brent to collapse again as JB continually got us lost despite having more navigation devices than a polar expedition.

The Bedstead’s one remaining good wheel clung stubbornly to the back axle, the brakes having given up for good many miles ago.

Eventually we reached the coast-to-coast offices in Sunderland burnt, covered in flies and stinking like tramps; it felt like Everest.

Sat astride The Bedstead I dipped my front wheel in the North Sea and wondered if I would ever sit down without the aid of a cushion ever again.

Another Sunny Day

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