Day 1: Cambridge Harwich

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 112km
  • Average Speed: 22.6km/h
  • Legs: πŸ˜•
  • Undercarriage: 😐
  • Bike: πŸ™‚
All dressed up and ready to go.  It was time to leave at 3pm for an 8pm boarding at Harwich and an 11pm sailing.

I’d already taken care of my sports performance nutrition.

Some of my ex-colleagues at Cantab very kindly turned up to wave me off and, after all the prep and worrying about it, it was time to actually turn the pedals and start the journey.  The first 10 or 20 km were on roads that I cycle a lot around Cambridge so they were a a good test of how I felt and how the bike felt.  The answer to both those questions was…shit.  Riding a bike with an extra 6kg attached to it is not great.  The big kidney bean shaped thing on the back weighs nearly 5kg and it wobbles about and makes the bike feel terrible.  It was humid and my legs really didn’t want to do this.  Which is fair enough because they’re going to be getting a bit of a beating over the next two weeks and therefore some reticence from the legs is to be expected.

Eventually I got into the groove and it started to go better although if I got out of the saddle on a climb, it felt like I was wrestling a hippo.  An angry hippo with the kidney-bean-of-doom attached to it.

Cambridgeshire turned into Suffolk and the kilometers to Harwich ticked down slowly.  There was a sudden burst of wildlife when a hare ran over the road in front of me and a flock of birds burst out of a hedge giving me a shock.  A fully grown deer bounded across the road in front of me and a butterfly got stuck in my helmet. I was half expecting a Velociraptor to bound out of a ditch and go for my throat.

Due to the proximity of Duxford, there’s always a few old planes flying about Suffolk.  Today was pretty special since there were two Spitfires up practicing close format flying.  I know the distance makes it look very close but if I was flying one of the few priceless icons of the Second World War, I would probably take it a bit easy on the “I can scratch the other pilot’s nose from here” distances.

Suffolk is annoyingly rolling and, although there was nothing huge, I would repeatedly roll down into a hollow and then have to wrestle the angry hippo up a long drag.  It's tiring but luckily there was maximum security prison in Suffolk about half way and the shop outside sells Irn Bru.  I wonder if there’s some correlation?  Irn Bru is well known as a hangover cure but it’s also a great sports drink as long as you can cope with your teeth dissolving. 

Anyway, gradually Suffolk got a bit flatter and my pace rose a bit but, unfortunately, the quality of the driving in Suffolk (and subsequently Essex) deteriorated dramatically.  It went from “A bit annoying but not too dangerous” to “full-on Italian driving round Rome in a beat up Fiat Punto”.  On single track roads, drivers would come swinging round blind corners at 50/60mph and then slam on the brakes as they saw my terrified face.  On two lane roads, drivers would come right up behind me at 70mph, and either (a) slam on the brakes and rev their engines loudly or (b) just barely pull out and zip by at 70mph.  It was pretty trying.  The constant soundtrack of thumping house music played through speakers and amplifiers which reduced the "music" to distorted mush was not great.  Also, there seems to be a bit of a thing with drilling out silencers to make cars sound louder.  Those growling exhausts (occasionally augmented with a 8000rpm top-note from the organ-donors bikers proving their worth on quiet country roads) was…dispiriting. 

I stopped and took a picture of a church to try and reduce my adrenaline levels a bit. 

I had spent quite a bit of time — you have a lot of time on a bike — thinking about why Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex get bucolic English countryside scenes so wrong.  It’s as if the Cotswolds and Surrey are "Waitrose scenery" and Suffolk/Essex is “countryside done by Aldi”.  Every time you a lovely farmhouse would appear, there would be an horrendous corrugated iron shed stuck to the side.  The fields — which are each the size of Belgium — would look lovely until you saw the half a dozen lorries gently rusting in the corner or the giant pile of chicken shit.  It was vexing but it did pass the time.  As the sun went down and the shadows lengthened, everything looked more beautiful and warm. Maybe I was putting Suffolk down because I was tired, hungry and grumpy.  In the red evening light, it looked lovely. Happy now Suffolk?

Finally, the rolling Suffolk hills were done but they did have a sting in the tail for the end.  After swooping down into a village in a hollow, it turned out that the road out was a 12% climb.  12% is hard enough but with an osmium kidney bean on the back of the bike it was an exceptionally hard pull.  Quite a lot of “oops, there goes the red-zone-heart-rate warning” on that short and brutal climb.

I crossed a tributary of the main Harwich estuary and ended up in Essex, deep in Brexitland.  The quality of the driving deteriorated more and almost every house had a St George’s cross outside.  One house even had a garden full of extremely inappropriate statues depicting racial stereotypes.  It’s a different world there.

I was hoping that the route would just take me down the edge of the estuary.  Estuaries, rivers and railway tracks are the cyclist’s friend because they’re flat but for some reason, the route took me away from the estuary and into the rolling hills behind it.  Thanks topography!  That’s just what I needed.  Frequent but incorrect road closed signed were a final kick in the nuts. 

The cranes and ships of Harwich appeared on the horizon.  A time-trial-of-death down the A120 got me to the terminal although some lorry drivers had a good old try to stop me getting there by turning me into a very flat squished cyclist.  Stenaline made it easy to to check-in although I did have to bring down the misanthrope curtain to avoid picking up some cyclist “friends” as we checked in.  Everything went swimmingly getting into the boarding area and I’d arrived almost perfectly on time.  However boarding was delayed for 90 minutes and, as far as I’m aware, professional cyclists don’t hang around in a windy car park, thirsty and hungry for 90 minutes after they’ve done their thing.  Those 90 minutes were miserable even after I had found a vending machine which contained liquids. I was, by now, less dehydrated but cold and very hungry. 

Boarding was very cool when it finally happened.  Cyclists are first and we rode up the huge ramps that get the lorries on.  I gave the elderly couple who wanted to be my friends the slip, got to my cabin, showered and changed into my “other clothes” — of which more in a later blog.

I had splashed out for the ‘Captains Cabin for Three” just for myself which I considered 89 EUR well spent what with the misanthropy ‘n’ all.  It was actually pretty good with a comfy bed and a hot shower and, let's face it, I don’t really need much more.

I’d burned 2,174 calories in 5 hours and therefore I was justified in loading up at the buffet.  The food tasted as bad as it looks but the two tiny bottles of wine went down pretty well.  I’ll need sleep tonight even though it wasn’t a huge day.

Tomorrow…Holland.  I have a big stage tomorrow.  I’m meeting my friend Gideon Richheimer for dinner in Arnhem.  Gideon runs Autofill which was a great cohort company in the very first DeepTech.labs programme.  Very smart tech indeed.  They’re based in Amsterdam but Gideon has very kindly offered to drive down to meet me for dinner in Arnhem.  The only issue is that Arnhem is 200km from Hoek van Holland.  It’s going to be a tough day.