Newsletter - 2000 Archive

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Old Roads And New

Harold Bridge


It was a mixed month, not too much of any one thing. The timing of my vacation was planned around two occasions; participating in the Reims trip with the North Road Cycling Club (I joined in 1944) & helping my house bound Cousin Dorothy celebrate her 89th birthday on Oct 15.

I arrived at Gatwick, complete with boxed bike, Sept 16 in the middle of the fuel crisis. A purist would have put his bike together & ridden to North London. But as a car would be needed for Dorothy, one that could be dropped off at Natonal's depot in Finchley made sense. No hatchback available, so I lugged the box & bags onto the Victoria bound train. Thirty quid for a taxi after throwing away my $10 box got me to Pollard Road in comfortable time for the first of numerous "cuppateas".

With a demand from Reims trip organiser Alan Kennedy to be in Hertford, about 15 miles north of London, at 06:00 on the morning of Friday 22nd I knew I would need to find a bed in the vicinity. It wouldn't be practical to leave Dorothy's early enough to ride to there. A few attempts to find a bed failed so I decided on Tuesday to ride over & see what I could find. After calling upon the North Road Captain & his wife the Editor I had a wet ride on familiar old roads through Potters Bar, up Kentish Lane, via Cucumber Lane to Epping Green. That had me hailing North Roaders rich, fast veteran Gordon Dennis as he flashed past in the opposite direction just after turning onto the Bayford road. It occurred to me that lunch time was upon me & the sign advertising Food at the Baker Arms appeared right on cue. Just after sitting down a couple came in the back door & asked if I'd seen Fred (or someone). It turned out that John & Maisie Wright were expecting to meet the "40+" Cycling Club there for lunch. But as no one else showed we lunched together. I was telling them the reason for my trip when the waiter intervened & said they have rooms there. Problem solved, just 8km, mainly downhill, to Hertford.

Thursday was wet, of course. I loaded up the bike with panniers & a rack bag. The more space you have the more stuff you find to put in it. I stopped under the railway bridge in East Barnet to don my rain gear & started off again with a flat front tyre. Found a covered entry way around the corner where I was able to change tyre & tube, the tyre was slashed & I only had one spare with me. Lesson number one: For a year or more I have been using a track pump. Since pumping my tyres up properly I haven't suffered any punctures. As a result the frame pump hasn't been used & was badly in need of lubrication & it proved difficult to pump the tyre up. Check your pump!

Nice room with a fire exit out the back. Set my alarm for 05:00 & was away at 05:15. The Union generator & 10 cm headlamp illuminated Brickendon Lane beautifully, it was like riding down a tunnel. At the appointed place by 05:38 & wondered where everyone was & if I was at the right place. About 05:59 the others turned up. Consternation that someone would actually turn up with mudguards on, but nonetheless the bikes went in the back of the bus anyway.

After saying farewell to the cooperative spouses we set off a few minutes after six. Apart from Neil missing a turn somewhere in Kent enroute for the ferry terminal at Dover & doing an extra 100 km when Ken left his jacket at an auto route rest stop somewhere near Arras it was an uneventful journey to Reims CREPS, a sport complex with hostel type accommodation. The jacket was rather important, it contained the tickets & his passport!

As we milled around in the foyer Club Treasurer Dave Gudgeon appeared having ridden down, leaving the treasury on Wednesday morning & having overnights in Calais & Perrone. The reception said something about the start of the event being moved, at least that is what I thought was going on. The more immediate concern was finding beds, 4 flights up, & getting ready for the morrow.

I had heard tales of the delightful lunch stop at Maizy that is a regular feature of the Reims weekend. The 40 km ride north west of Reims was pleasant with decent roads, light amounts of traffic & late summer weather at its best. A month or six weeks earlier & I imagine it could be unbearably hot. As a tourist riding with poseurs on stripped racing bikes I was at a bit of a disadvantage. But the biggest disadvantage was, as usual, that the bike is a bit unpowered. But it only showed on the adverse gradients, of which there were a few. I had the opportunity to learn something about triple-ring psychology during this ride.

Some 10 or so km before reaching Maizy Ken & I were confronted by a wall of a hill that is the site of a big vineyard. The road swept round to the left & ascended the side of the hill & disappeared over the top. The others were long gone. Ken, 65 & not fit but still very strong, grunted his over sized bottom gear away & was soon a speck near the top. I was plodding along & had Ergo-powered my chain onto the 26 bottom sprocket while still on the 39 middle ring, a 39 inch gear. It was beginning to feel a bit heavy & I decided I needed to do a cross over by pressing both buttons. I didn't look to see where the chain finished up at the back, but it felt decidedly better & I continued on to crest the hill. At the top I looked down to see what cog I had finished up on, it was the 18. 26x18= 38 inch gear, one inch off!

I found the others patiently waiting at a crossroads & it was but a short ride along the D22 to Maizy. I had dropped off the back but being a rouler I had powered along a flat stretch to re-join just as a little hill presented the guys with the opportunity of a sprint. I was off the back again, & by the time I arrived at "La Rivage" the others were sprawled all over the patio supping beer. I soon joined them. We were given a table to ourselves & were served about 5 courses that lived up to the French reputation for cuisine . The wine bottle seemed bottomless & we were very relaxed as we headed back to the more austere CREPS. I even rode with the others for a while. We went back a different way, allegedly flatter. But it proved to be slightly shorter too according to my computer. 40 km to Maizy & 78.9kms on the clock when back at CREPS.

Consternation ruled when we arrived. It seemed that the message we should have assimilated the previous evening was that the Prefecture of Police had cancelled the Randonnee! An irate anglophonic Belgian said to me he had come all the way from Belgium. I told him I had come all the way from Vancouver. He knew where that was & shut up! It rather knocked the wind out of our sails. We wondered what the 2 other members would say when they drove in Saturday evening. They took it very calmly I thought. But it was decided we would ride without benefit of Brevet card.

While the other 7 set out on Sunday morning to do the full 154 km figure of 8 route, Ken & I decided to see some of the route in a more gentile manner. It was a beautiful day & we stopped for coffee at Nanteuil la Foret & lunch on an elevated patio in Hautevillers. In all a very civilised 70 km by the time we returned to CREPS. Civilised, that is, if you include groveling up what seemed to be 45 degree slopes through the vineyards.

In, I think, Ville Dommange, I witnessed one of the reasons for the cancellation. The grape harvest (Vendage?) was in full swing, big tractors out on the narrow winding roads while pulling monstrous containers on trailers. A steep winding descent into the village & a bunch of poseurs dreaming of closed roads in "le Tour" came whistling down the hill with no regard for potential obstacles. But, the problem has existed for years, why was the Prefecture's letter dated Sept 18, 6 days before the event? He has yet to hear from me!

Monday morning came & it was time to bid adieu. The treasurer took my place in the bus & they all fled northwards. I planned to visit the bike shop with the idea of buying new tyres & then have a look at the City. The bike shop was closed, I turned round & set out westward. I had gone a good 10 or 15 km before I remembered I had intended to look at Reims. Another time maybe.

Perhaps you will be subjected to the rest of the story another time.