We all have those days when everything seems to go terribly wrong. What makes them even more frustrating is when they are supposed to be great days.
We had a day like that early on in our UK residency. I had explored Rutland Water on the weekends before Perry arrived. It is a huge man-made lake set amongst quaint villages and is best viewed on its 20-mile bike path. I wanted to see the whole thing as I’d only scratched the surface on foot. I also wanted to share this experience with Perry.
There was only one teensy little problem. Perry really hates biking.
Have you ever tried to get someone to try something they didn’t want to, but you really, REALLY wanted them to experience it with you? Of course you have. I take the view that I want to choose these moments carefully. You don’t want to go to that well too often. Am I right? After avoiding dragging Perry to museums and old churches, I set out to convince him to join me on this excursion. He, being the gentleman he is, obliged.
We set off in the car and I mentally checked off the reasons why this was going to be a stellar day.
- Perfect weather
- Fresh air and exercise
- Quality time together
- Lovely English countryside
- Flat, well-marked bike trail (according to the website)
Despite his misgivings, he put on his game face and we set out with high hopes.
It started out perfectly. The path was paved and flat. The views were stunning. The fresh air and flowers were straight out of a fabric softener commercial. Ah!
Ah...yeah...not so fast.
After about six miles, the path turned from paved to gravel. I was on a road bike, so not as great for me but I was used to this by now (lots of UK bike paths have unpaved intervals) and was getting quite good at it. No problem, commercial quality experience intact.
Then, it started to turn slightly hilly. I turned back to Perry and asked how he was doing. He was slow to reply. ‘Yeah, ok’. Pause. ‘I thought you said it wasn’t hilly?’ Wait, did I?
We got through it and were a bit tired so decided to stop on a flat stretch of road. As I slowed to stop, things took a decidedly bad turn. I fell while clipped into my bike.
If you are a relatively serious cyclist, then you probably have experienced falling from your bike while clipped in. It happens to everyone at least once. Up to this point, I had been a ‘clipped-in-but-fall-free’ cyclist since 2007.
When I realized what was going to happen, I decided to fall onto the grassy side of the road to soften the blow. Which turned out to be a mistake. I kept falling long after I thought I had hit the ground. Strange? That’s because I fell into a ditch filled with brambles covered by hay that looked like grass. I found myself upside down and what felt like a thousand stings all over my body. Turns out brambles are full of tiny thorns that lodge into your skin like slivers. And my butt was ‘ground zero’.
In re-telling the story afterwards, Perry said he heard my screams for help and turned, only to see two legs sticking straight up in the air. He helped me out quickly. Honestly, if I hadn’t been full of slivers, I think we would have laughed about it. I was blinking back tears as I tried to brush them off, but as I brushed they just embedded further. After using my entire water bottle to try and flush them out, I gingerly got back on the bike. I had a wet butt and every time I shifted, I felt slivers wedge further into my backside.
We were only on Mile 8.
We pressed on and the gravel path continued for several more miles but flattened out, thankfully. The weather and views were glorious and I tried to reclaim my dignity and spirit of adventure. I breathed in the fragrant air deeply wishing I had the stupid Snuggle bear so I could use him as a cushion.
As we approached Mile 11, we began to climb a hill. And kept climbing. At the top, I was winded and then I remembered Perry. He was on a heavy mountain bike hybrid with limited gear shifting. I looked back just in time to see him body slam his bike down before I went over the hill and out of sight. I thought he just needed to have a ‘moment’ and would be behind me shortly. I biked slowly and then finally stopped to wait. And wait. 5 minutes later, he rang my phone. “Um, my chain is jacked up, can you come back”? My reply was one of dismay. “But, but it’s all uphill from here”. Feeling guilty but not prepared to tackle that beast, I suggested he walk the bike downhill to me, which he did. Indeed, the chain was jacked up.
Luckily, we were only two miles from a bike shop and ice cream stop on the trail. We walked with our bikes and tried to ignore the snowballing disaster. Doubly lucky, the bike shop guys were friendly and fixed up the bike while we had a 99 Flake.
A 99 Flake is a soft serve cone with a chocolate stick, known as a Flake, stuck in it. It's a quintessential British summer treat, however, don’t let the Brits fool you. While the soft serve ice cream is just fine, do not eat the Flake. I don’t care how traditional it is. The chocolate is unbelievably waxy- it doesn’t melt and sticks to your teeth. Offer it to your companions and they will look upon you as a generous, selfless soul. Consider this good advice that you won’t find in Rick Steves.
Anyway, bike repaired, we trucked along briskly. No time to ponder meadows. We weaved in and out between slower cyclists, strollers and goose poop. By the time we reached the car, we were knackered and cream-crackered. We were tired.
My phone rang as I was loading up my bike. Seeing the caller ID as Perry, I answered it with a ‘Yeah, hello, I’m loading the bike, very funny, ha-ha’. Click. Perry’s head peeked out from inside the car. “Who was that”? I replied ‘Very funny’. The phone rang again. This time he got out of the car. “It says it’s you”. ‘Well, it’s not,’ he replied. ‘In fact, where the hell is my phone’? He patted he pockets and searched the car. I answered tentatively. ‘Um, hello?’ A frantic voice answered. “Don’t hang up, I have your phone. I found it on the trail”.
After a few minutes of securing directions to this man’s house (which only included landmarks such as ‘turn left at the hedgerow’), we were off. It took longer than expected as we naturally took a few wrong turns but eventually made it. We expressed our gratitude and asked where he found it. Turns out it was the spot of the famous bike slamming incident. What we didn’t ask was how he got my number which confounds us to this day.
The hard way, apparently. Instead of looking at the call history, he pulled a couple of random numbers from Perry’s contacts. Later, we figured out this was his friend Kevin in Las Vegas at about 5 am and then his cousin Jennifer in Hawaii at midnight. Jennifer answered and provided the critical connection to me. Thanks cousin Jenny!
What puzzles me is that the guy randomly selected people to call (this is before he added a password). He didn’t start with ‘A’ which would have been very good considering most of his ‘A’ contacts are Argiropoulos’. The fact that they guy chose Kevin P and Jennifer S is puzzling to say the least.
As we were in sweaty biking attire and less-than-ideal moods, we drove in mostly silence but with an air of accomplishment. A new chapter in our UK experiences book. Stronger for it.
We haven’t been biking together since.