London to Audley End
70 km / 43 miles
We'd cycled to Windsor a couple of weeks before, so I was feeling confident and excited about my winter cycling expeditions. We got up at dawn and were along the canal by sunrise. I'm new to cycling. I started less than a year ago, spending all last spring going on rides and building up my miles. I cycled for ten weeks during spring and summer last year but not much more since then. I was now hoping to get riding earlier in the year, so that I'd be fit enough to do longer rides, hopefully increasing my distances over spring and summer.
sunrise on the canal
I don't wear cycling gear. It's expensive. I wore my running trainers which are fine in the summer, but the mesh panels let water in easily. Puddles were everywhere along the canal. I tried to avoid them which instantly frustrated me - I usually get up this part of the canal much quicker. Five miles from home we came to a weir across the footpath next to the canal. Daniel cycled through with his feet held high off the pedals but I wasn't as brave and cycled right through it, soaking my feet.
cycling across the weir
We followed the canal up to Ponders End then got off and took a main road, rather than continuing through puddle after puddle. The main road was ugly and we stuck to the cycle path passing one industrial estate after another. Soon we were back on smaller roads, following the woodland until we reached Roydon. About one third of the ride in, we were finally getting somewhere. At Roydon we stopped at a railway crossing. I eyed up another pair of cyclists and noticed the woman was also wearing trainers and a fleece, not cycling shoes and lycra, which pleased me greatly. The train passed and as we crossed a woman shouted out her van at me "There's no way through, a car is stuck in the water". We looked at the map, went back on ourselves and started heading towards a main road. A puncture! Shit!
Daniel fixing my puncture
The main road turned out to be a dual carriageway. Cars and lorries drove past at 70 mph. I stared straight ahead at Daniel in the distance and just kept going. I needed a cup of tea. We reached a quaint village and it was tea time. By this point my feet were freezing so I ate the sandwiches out of a plastic bag, then turned it into a waterproof sock for my coldest foot.
plastic bag sock
The sock sorted me out and I could cope better with the streams running down roads and puddles spreading across the width of the roads. We cycled up and down hills, along country lanes, through villages of thatched cottages. I saw quaint sites like the village telephone box that had been turned into a little library and the honesty shop in someones front garden selling vegetables they had grown. I saw funny sites like a woman pushing a double buggy, pulling a pony with a little girl on top, with a dalmatian at her side.
telephone box library
We kept heading north. 20 miles from Cambridge, 43 miles into the ride I got another puncture, on my back wheel this time. I hadn't had a puncture on the back wheel before and we could not get the tire off. It was old and too tight. We needed to go to the nearest train station but our phones weren't working so I went to the nearest house, a huge beautiful county house, where a posh old man in his tweed blazer directed me. We started the 5 mile walk to Audley End pushing our bikes past pink cottages, feeling totally defeated.
a country house along the way