Four club members with a combined age of 232 years arrived at the Club on the morning of 30 April to cycle the 232 miles to Arnhem where they planned to join The Grayburn Tour the following weekend.
The team was led by Chris Smith with Mark Yeomans providing the cycling nous and navigating skills, with Clive John and Jonathan Moughton along for the ride. The final member of the team was Chris McCombie who had the unenviable job of driving the support vehicle – a task which would involve long bouts of Sudoku interspersed by short bursts of activity whenever the team met up with the van.
Pre-tour training had been limited for most of us so there was a degree of trepidation amongst the team. Fortunately the weather was better than expected and we set off through the Chilterns in glorious sunshine - only to stop an hour later whilst Mark took a pre-planned conference call, whilst the rest of us stood outside a (closed) pub for an hour. We were to pass 27 other pubs during that day without stopping at any of them!
We made good progress once we got going again, despite several steep climbs. It soon became clear that each of us had a different technique for negotiating hills – Chris and Clive would settle into the steady rhythm of the ‘granny gear’ early on whilst Mark and Jonathan took a more vigorous approach, though we would all rest at the top to reward ourselves with a round of jelly babies. Chris McCombie excelled himself by finding a very upmarket garden centre for lunch and then stood outside waving his England Rugby flag to make sure we didn’t miss him – a routine he was to repeat every time he found a suitable place to refuel the cyclists.
The weather continued to be sunnier than we had anticipated, which made for pretty cycling though the Essex hills and villages but also increased the risk of dehydration - Chris Smith in particular found the relative heat harder to cope with. Nevertheless, we arrived in Saffron Walden in the late afternoon and checked into our hotels once we had packed the bikes in the van and following Mark’s advice to drink quantities of milk as a recovery aid – guidance no doubt soundly based but which made the rest of us feel queasy so was not repeated on the following days. We retired to an early bed after an excellent dinner in the hotel.
We were greeted in the morning by grey clouds and light rain which was to persist for the whole day. Luckily Mark had brought several sets of pristine wet weather cycling gear in the hope of finding it new homes and we started the day looking much more like a team in our matching rain jackets and cycling caps – even if the colour scheme did make us look like a bunch of gay tigers from a distance. The cycling was more co-ordinated too as we became confident enough with each others' riding styles to set up a few ‘rolling peletons’ as we wended our way to the coast.
Lunch was taken at a pub Chris McCombie had found, which turned out to be much more promising on the inside than it had seemed from the outside. Large portions of sandwiches and bowls of chips were scoffed – one of the advantages of burning so many calories – before we headed for the only cultural moment on the trip, being a minor detour to inspect the site of Flatford Mill (the inspiration for the famous painting by John Constable).
Arriving in Harwich in the late afternoon, we headed for the local sports centre where we had arranged to use their shower facilities before heading for dinner in the restaurant we had been advised by a local was ‘the best in town’ – another venue that turned out to be better than first impressions had suggested – and then off to port for the night ferry to Holland. Chris and Chris embarked the (white) van and, being particularly suspicious-looking characters, they were duly stopped by Customs but luckily were not asked to explain the presence of several packets of white powder marked up as energy drinks and supplements. Meanwhile the other team members embarked as foot passengers, during which Clive tried to pass himself off as Jonathan by presenting the latter’s passport as his own – much to the amusement of the passport officer.
Once on board, we had a quick discussion to plan the following day (and check the weather forecast) then straight to our cabins for the sort of intermittent night’s sleep that one can expect on a cross-Channel ferry.
Woken at 6.30am by the ship’s tannoy encouraging us to get up and buy some breakfast (as well as other shopping), we rendezvoused on the shore and readied ourselves for the 100+ miles to Arnhem. Unfortunately there was a strong wind against us which meant the going was tough even though the terrain was relatively flat. We travelled through several picturesque Dutch villages but it was a long slog along the top of the dyke and the complexities of travelling through Rotterdam slowed us down further. Mark navigated his way brilliantly (but not entirely flawlessly) through the mesh of inter-connecting cycle ways but it was still disappointing to stop at lunchtime and realise we still had over two-thirds of our journey still to go.
The going got a bit easier in the afternoon when the wind dropped slightly and the only incident of note was a coming-together of two bikes resulting in Jonathan taking a tumble. With no action replays of the accident for the ‘TMO’ to review, there could be no conclusive evidence of fault so the episode goes down as one of those things that happen when bikes ride closely together!
Our expected arrival time in Arnhem slipped back as the riding pace gradually eroded over the day but slowly the miles slipped by (with Clive shouting out the 10-mile markers) and our destination began to appear on road signs. By now Chris McCombie was able to tail us in the van and he (along with the rest of us) was fooled by the sight of a bridge looking exactly like the famous ‘bridge too far’ which appeared five miles short of our real endpoint!
Finally we arrived in Arnhem town centre where, after a little trouble locating the hotel where the rest of the Club were dining, we rode up to the sort of welcoming reception that made all the hard work worthwhile.
All-in-all a thoroughly enjoyable trip, about £5,000 raised for a worthy cause and a rugby tour to enjoy afterwards.
Report by Jonathan Moughton
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