For whom the bell tolls

Victoria Park, a lovely little park in Stafford town centre, has been like something out of a zombie film the past couple of weeks. They’re all there, with their phones, trying to find computer-generated non-things. It’s crazy. The zombie-based comedy film Shaun of the Dead was on TV a week or two ago, and the thought of taking a cricket bat to their heads does hold some appeal at times. Every trail I go on seems to be full of them. I’ve taken to calling it “The Great Pokemon Scourge of 2016”.

Victoria Park is quite a useful shortcut across to the station, which gets me on to the Newport Road on the way to my fiancée’s house. On Monday I had to ride to the station to help my sister out. She’s been over from Germany (where she works for a certain large sportswear firm, hint hint hint) and it was lovely to see her. She’d got a train to Liverpool with my parents and there was some mix-up about tickets the upshot of which was that she was a bit marginal making the connection to London. I had to go get her suitcases out of Mum’s car, which was parked at the station, and bring them to the platform. This was a lot more straightforward than my somewhat panicked parents seemed to think.

Anyway, having done my good deed for the day I found there was a Bike Bus outside the station. This is a publicly-funded van complete with two bike mechanics offering free road worthiness checks and advice to all. Since I had time to kill I let them give Crichton the once-over. I think after a few hours of cheap Halfords mountain bikes they were quite pleased to have a decent bike to look at, and the only advisories was a very slight play in the rear hub, and the head tube needing just a little tightening. They gave me some advice on locks and off I went.

After a little sit down in the park I decided to try out an alternative route I’ve identified to get to my fiancée’s house. If my usual, more direct route is like Mt Ventoux in miniature, this is more like Alpe d’Huez – less steep, more winding. It goes through a rather rough part of Stafford, but it’s not too bad really. The road surfaces aren’t the best. It’s a little easier than the direct route as there are some flat bits to get my breath back a little between the inclines. There’s also a little supermarket on the way if I need a little sustenance. I didn’t see my fiancée, instead I carried on downhill on the direct route, then branched off to the Isabel Trail. A good 10 mile run. Last night (Tuesday) I went up “Huez” again and did pop in at my fiancée’s, a run which brought me less than 10 miles away from my 1000 mile target.

Tonight I started off with a standard route to meet the fiancée at Costa. We needed to discuss caterers for the wedding, which is now only just over a year away. I quite deliberately took Crichton, as I had a feeling tonight might be the night and wanted my old friend to carry me over the line. On my hand I had written “9.35” – the miles left to complete the kilo – and “9.90” – the miles to complete 250 miles in July. Two. Hundred. And. Fifty…

My left knee has been a little sore for the past couple of days, perhaps a consequence of driving a manual car in two rather lengthy stop-start jams last week, or all the lifting and twisting I had to do at work, or else that being the leg I stand on when waiting to pedal away from a stop right foot first. Either way, it’s barking a bit. I did wonder whether to take it easy tonight and leave it until tomorrow for a longer ride. See how we go.

From Costa I decided to try my luck up Radford Bank again, on the heavier bike this time. I got up ok, but was puffing a bit at the top – I could really feel the extra weight! I rode through Baswich on familiar roads, thinking about options for the route. I crossed over the canal, over the narrow bridge and past Alstom onto Fairway and approached decision time. Straight ahead and home early, or left to the town centre?

Sod it. Tonight’s the night. Left onto the riverbank trail.

I went through town and on to the Isabel trail again, watching the miles slowly count down. I wasn’t racing along like usual, just pacing myself to reduce the strain on my knee. As I left the trail to turn onto Beaconside I saw a gent on another vintage three-speed coming the other way, a little tatty but unmistakable. We looked at each other faintly quizzically, then went our separate ways.

Onto Beconside, less than a mile to go. Press on up the hill, down the other side, and on the flat section afterwards my 1000th mile ticked over. Job done. On the shortcut uphill through to Weston Road I then went past 9.9 miles, and got home with 10.57 on the clock for the day. 1000 miles up, and a quarter of it done in a single month. Before I put Crichton away I took a photo of the hero of the hour:

Without this bike, I’d never have got here. This humble bike, bought let’s not forget for £30 – rescued from oblivion probably – has done over 900 miles since I got it, and punctures aside has been an absolute pleasure to ride. I thought in January 1000 miles would be quite stretching, but here I am, it’s not even August, and it’s done!

What’s more, completing my 1000 mile objective is the cherry on top of some serious achievements for me lately. June was mental, with so much work piled on but it turns out (without going into specifics) that in addition to making good progress on a project at work, and performing well in my college assignments, I’ve also passed a very, very tough exam that defeated the overwhelming majority of my colleagues. And the wedding planning’s starting to all come together. And my sister passed her driving test today. And my Dad received a nice honour yesterday recognising some of his previous work. All this in the space of a couple of days.

As I rode through town earlier, knowing that me and Crichton were about to tick off the last few miles, I could hear the bells of St Mary’s church peeling. Of course, I’ve lived in Stafford more than long enough to know the bell ringers practise every Wednesday, but tonight it was as if they we ringing just for me and Crichton…

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