My Thirty Sixth Week as a Budding Author
To be honest I’ve been wondering when it would happen rather than “if”. This year I’ve ridden my bike along more than 5,500 miles of British roads without it happening. Until this week, when it happened. I can’t prove it, but I reckon it happens to hundreds of cyclists every week. It’s almost as if we take it in turn. Some of us get off lightly, others don’t get off at all. This week it was my turn as I was knocked off my bike by a motorist. Actually, let’s be a little more specific, it wasn’t just a motorist, it was the driver of a flatbed lorry. Well, at the time of the accident he could only loosely be described as the driver because he was multi-tasking as a mobile phone operative.
So, knocked off your bike by a mobile phone wielding lorry driver, could it get worse? Yes. How about, knocked off your bike whilst riding in a cycle lane by a rotund mobile phone wielding lorry driver?
This week demanded that I complete two big rides in order to keep the book on schedule. One of which included the Purbeck hills of Dorset and when looking at the map I noticed an enticing route around Poole Harbour. A brief weather window opened and I dashed down to Wimborne Minster and pedalled furiously through Poole heading for the Sandbanks Ferry. The last section of road towards Sandbanks has a well marked cycle lane and I tapped along this without a care in the world having enjoyed a slalom course of pedestrians along the harbour cycle path.
Meanwhile, behind me the flatbed lorry driver (let’s call him “Hank”) had finished a complete box of Yorkies and decided to call his supplier and order a restock. He reached for his phone and pressed the speed dial key for Nestle when his conscience spoke and reminded him that driving with a mobile phone is both silly and illegal. “No problem”, his fourteen functioning neurones replied, “I’ll just pull over and make the call from the pavement”. And so he did, with little regard for his nearside mirror or me, who was cycling alongside him.
Suddenly all that existed in my world was lorry. Available tarmac ahead dried up and I was left with a choice of kerb or steel girders. A nudge from one of the girders aided selection and I dived left whilst shouting “Noooooooooooooooo!”. This time I was lucky, the bike and I skidded across the pavement out of the path of the lorry’s rear wheels. I’d been meaning to tighten my cleats the week previously but other tasks had got in the way. This slackness came to my aid, as my left foot unclipped when the bike hit the kerb and I landed with the aid of one foot. There was no real damage to me or the bike.
Now you’re expecting to hear how I calmly took down the driver’s details, photographed his numberplate, sought witnesses and swiftly brought him to justice. But let me tell you that when you’ve been in an accident all lucid thought leaves the mind to be replaced with shock mixed with joie de vivre. First instinct was to check the bike, it appeared to be as intact as a bike owned by Dave could possibly be. Next, I turned my attention to me. A few scuffs on the clothes, but no rips, tears or any signs of red. Finally, swearing.
I made my way to the passenger side window and observed the driver still on the phone. Clearly, he was blissfully unaware of my presence or predicament. Obviously the best course of action to correct this was to swear and thus I unleashed my full arsenal at him. The “C” word, “F” word, “B” word, “A” word and even a tenuous “Q” as if aiming for a scrabble high score. The rapid fire profanity bounced around his cab ricocheting from his belly to chin and eventually crossing his timpanic membrane and into the brain. He looked pretty non-plussed to be honest and reacted with a shrug. It helped me though, so I left him to his Yorkie order and pedalled off up to a set of temporary lights.
At the lights a car pulled alongside, window wound down.
“We saw that mate, you should report him, we’ll act as witnesses, he nearly killed you, the idiot was on his phone”
I should have taken their names, I should have called the police, I should have pursued all action possible to prevent him repeating his mistake and killing in the future. But those are the actions of a lucid man and I was still running on chemicals designed to help fight/flee. I brushed off their offer and rode on towards the ferry. Many miles too late the right course of action became clear, but by this time I was in the hills and he was in a cafe somewhere laughing about the wanker-cyclist who’d sworn at him out of the blue.
Fortunately the remainder of the ride was a belter. Lots of stabby little Dorest hills having a go at my legs and lots of scenic little Dorest lanes tugging at my eyes. The curse of the closed roads returned with a vengeance near Lulworth. The roads up here cross Army ranges and are often closed so they can practise at war. As far as I am aware there’s no reliable place to check in advance. I’d prepared myself for re-routing and at Steeple Hill I heard the sounds of gunfire indicating that my ride would be somewhat elongated.
As I rode closer the noise became more terrifying, machine gun fire mixed with tank shells. It reminded me of my favourite war poem by Private S. Baldrick
The German Guns
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom
The remainder of the ride almost passed without event. Until the final few miles riding back to the car. I came to a narrow climb decorated with six inches of cow shit to the left hand side and with room for either a car or a cyclists, but not both. I gingerly skirted the poo and cycled up, as I was halfway up a motorist appeared at the top.
“It’s OK”, “I thought to myself, “He’ll see me, the gap and the poo and he’ll wait”
He’d clearly been in discussion with the lorry driver and chose the opposite course of action in order to enhance his swear word vocabulary. I was forced to stop, unclip and stand in the poo. As he inched past I gave an ironic salute and called him a “T” word. His wife in the passenger seat wound down her window and shouted back, “No!, you’re the tw*t”. She’s right, I am a tw*t, I should be writing about great journeys in the car. No aching legs, no rain, no wind, no sore arse, no shitty shoes, no strength sapping diversions and most importantly, airbags.
Big Ride number two was planned for the Chilterns. My friend Andy had collaborated on the route which meant there’d be climbs as he likes that sort of thing. Circumstances prevented us riding it together and on Friday I set out on my own to tackle the beast. Low cloud ruined all ambient light giving me the luxury of a ride without the stress of cycling self portraits.
I’d even found a government website that advised upon closed roads and checked every inch of the route to ensure it was open. Which it was, apart from the mile long climb out of Little Missenden which was firmly shut. I asked advice from an ageing couple at the bottom, enquiring whether the road would be ok to ride. She clocked my GPS.
“You should have an OS map”, she spiked, “and then you’d know. You don’t need these new fangled devices they only cause problems. A map would tell you what you need to know”
God I hate map zealots. I had an OS map in my back pocket. I also had an OS map on the GPS screen. Neither was capable of telling me whether the lane ahead was rideable upon a bike. I considered enquiring as to whether she had a phone? If so, I’d have go into a lengthy diatribe concerning the use of semaphore as an entirely suitable substitution instead of this new fangled technology lark. I thanked her for the non-advice and rode up the lane. It was a disaster. In fact I think the army had been up here previously to practise their shelling.
I had to smile at the number plate left behind by the optimistic motorist probably led down here by his sat-nav. Should have used an OS map.
The rest of the route was great, apart from the cars. Word clearly has got out about me and in the Chilterns it’s even more scary as they all drive so fast. Everyone appears to own either a Landrover or an Audi. They clearly know the roads and how to drive them “on the limit”. Cyclists are treated like chicanes, approach at speed, minimise braking and pass with minimal disruption to the racing line. I actually got used to it after a while and stopped swearing with gesticulations.
Three feet, that’s all I want, three feet of space as you come past my bike. It’s not much to ask is it really? It might take an extra thirty seconds from your journey if you slowed and complied. In return I’ll give you a nice cheery little wave and you can laugh at my clothes and the rain.
It wasn’t all gloom though, In High Wycombe I stopped by a pub for an energy bar and a quick check of the map. A young couple were sat in the garden, smoking fags, supping lager and wine. It was quite cold at this point and the skies looked dark.
“I wish I was you” I quipped glancing jealously at the pint.
They smiled and the bloke raised his glass:-
“Maybe, but you’re out there and we’re sat on our arses. At the end of today you’ll be in a better state than us”
He might be right, but typing this the fatigue is squeezing at my legs and I look at the schedule for the coming month. Hopefully the battle with motorists will desist and the winds will blow themselves out. I still have another 2,000 miles of riding to go and the nights are drawing in. Now where did I hide that EPO?
10th September 2011