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Total distance: 167 miles (267.2 kilometres)
Oxfordshire the Second
What follows is a rough write up of the 2013 CircumCycle ride around Oxfordshire from Leo's point of view.
This year there were only three of us starting the ride - we were hoping Jon could get work sorted out early some time on Saturday and perhaps join us at lunchtime - so Barney, Graham and I set off from Graham's house at 0645 on a dry but overcast Saturday morning, ten years to the day after our first CircumCycle attempt finished.
The first section of the route took us through Chinnor and Sydenham, and then to the base of the escarpment at Kingston Blount. The hill there is the steepest of the whole ride, and would be marked a category 4 if the Tour de France guys did it. We call it KB1, and it has great significance to us all. Not only because it is difficult, but also because it is where Barney got the message that he was needed at the hospital for Francesca on that fateful, first ride.
This time he sailed past that point and on up the hill. I, however, fell off.
It's not something I do every day, but I needed to pull up my sock before we got to the steep bit, and in doing so I rode off the road into the verge and then fell off.
Yes, it was stupid. Yes, it was embarassing. Yes, it was funny. Yes, Graham saw it all.
That wasn't the worst of it.
The worst of it was that when I got back on the bike and started pedalling up the hill, I tried to change gear, the rear derailleur got caught in the spokes and ripped itself completely off the bike. I had bent it sufficiently in the fall that it got caught, but not sufficiently enough that I noticed beforehand.
So there I was, less than 7 miles into a 170 mile ride, with no gears at all and no way to cycle anywhere.
Sam got lost coming to pick me up, but found me 40 minutes later, and took me to Wallingford where we knew there was a bike shop.
Meanwhile Barney and Graham carried on up KB1 into the mist shrouding the hills, and along the Southern edge of the route. To be honest I was quite glad to miss out on this since it involved more hills, gravelly paths, and a fair bit of very wet mist, but I had other problems to deal with.
Sam and I arrived in Wallingford at the bike shop which wasn't open yet, but we knocked on the door and said, "Pleeeease can you help me?" and they said, "Certainly, Sir." which was very nice of them.
And they had a gear mech that fitted, and they fitted it for us and we had some breakfast in a coffee shop just over the road while we waited for Barney and Graham to catch up again.
Once they joined us, all wet from cycling in the clouds up at the heights of the Aylesbury escarpment we let them have a bit of breakfast too, and then set off as a group of three once more, saying bye bye to Sam on the way.
As we left Wallingford, Barney had a puncture, so he leaned on his bananas again while Graham and I watched (you had to be there, but it was funny). This time, however, he remembered to use a glove while mending his puncture so his hands didn't get too dirty, but for some reason he only used one glove.
Puncture repaired, we carried on in the grey, but dry weather until we got to a rest stop in East Hanney at which point Jon rang up. He had been in Devizes, working at the weekend to get over the strike problems his company had been having, and he wanted to come and join in, so we said, "Come and meet us just outside Wantage". So he did. He was just getting his bike out of the car as we cycled up, so with a minimum of fuss we became four on the B4507 going towards Ashbourn and Uffington. This is an undulating road with lots of ups and downs, but quite busy, so we were fairly happy to get off it.
Jon had missed out on 50 miles of route, which Graham continued to point out at every opportunity for the next two days, and I had missed around 28, so at the turn off to Uffington we sent Jon on around the corner to take a picture of the famous White Horse as we could only see its ear from where we were.
We stopped for lunch after 68 miles or so at The Eagle in Little Coxwell - a beautiful and very welcome haddock and chips turned out to be exactly what was needed for all four of us.
We left at 3:35 and headed North, continuing with the uppy and downy undulations. Graham had some problems with his gear selector cables, so we had an extended impromtu stop to try and sort that out on the A417.
At half past six we stopped for a rest by a farm. Jon was using a smartphone app to record his progress, and it kept telling him things he didn't want to know - every now and then a little voice came out of his bar bag saying he'd burned 413 calories, and his average speed was 12.3mph. We (well, Graham and Barney anyway), had done somewhere in the region of 92 miles, so this was supposed to be the last stop before Hook Norton at around 106.
It was getting dark by now, so we put the lights on, and continued in the gathering gloom, following the signs for the Rollright stones.
There were no street lights at all in this area, so dark really does mean dark, and a good bicycle light is worth its weight in, er, batteries. Jon has a history of less than superb lights, and this year he had gone to some effort, but this still didn't stop him hitting a pothole on the way down a hill and bouncing his phone out of his barbag and into the ditch. Screen smashed, but it seemed to still work after a fashion. It kept on wittering away at him anyway...
We reached the Sun Inn at Hook Norton just after 8p.m., and finished the day sore and tired, but happy to have done it. The staff were very welcoming, and once we had put the bikes in the barn we went in to the bar where four pints were already drawn and waiting for us. (Someone had apparently phoned ahead.)
An early bed was calling, and beyond getting in to it I don't remember much until the alarm the following morning. Up at 0630. I hate that.
I had some spoke problems to sort out, and Barney needed to pump up his rear tyre a little more. He got excited about borrowing my pump. Something about a long throw and a narrow bore, but enough about him... We eventually got away just before 0800, with 60 odd miles to go.
On our previous visit to Hook Norton ten years ago we remembered there being an absolute bugger of a hill almost immediately out of the village. However either time has eroded this at a higher than normal geological rate, or it has grown in the retelling, because in fact it was not too hard at all, even with my rear brakes rubbing because of the broken spoke. We stopped to let me loosen this off a little more, and I carried on with a slightly out of true wheel which was OK as long as I remembered not to use the back brake.
We were cycling into a bit of a brisk headwind by now, and it was trying to rain, but we passed a surprising number of dog walkers and joggers doing their best to enjoy themselves. We took a rest in Duns Tew, and several of them came past us again while we were standing around chatting and eating gels and snack bars. Perhaps that story about the tortoise and the hare has some merit after all?
Carrying on, we wanted to do a good 40 miles before lunch, and in an ideal world it wouldn't start to really rain until after that, as sitting in a pub in sopping wet cycle gear is not the nicest way to spend Sunday lunchtime.
We were out of the Cotswold hills by now, and beyond Upper Heyford the road becomes much less undulaty and more rolly. Infinitely easier to cycle!
We took the last stop before lunch in a bus shelter out of the wind in Bletchingdon, opposite the Blacks Head Inn. I didn't realise there was an S in the name at first, and thought it a little strange. Graham's legs weren't working any more, and we all really wanted lunch, but we still wanted to go a little further yet. We started pub watching in the villages, looking for one that seemed to suit, but Islip was too soon as well. There weren't any pubs at all in Oddington, and Charlton-on-Otmoor seemed no better. I was actually thinking of maybe going back to Islip when Jon suddenly dived off the road in Murcott and disappeared from view.
The Nut Tree in Murcott is Michelin recommended, and now also gets a five star Bottom, which I feel is even more of an accolade. They didn't turn a hair at our orange attire, and served excellent food with a smile and plenty of alcohol. Exactly what the doctor ordered in fact.
After lunch on the last day and beginning to feel that the end is in sight usually means that Graham gets a new lease of leg. This time was no exception, and he was beginning to champ at the bit. We unleashed him, but the addition of a shot of caffeine at lunch may have been a mistake on our part as we struggled to keep up once we hit territory which he knows past Horton-cum-Studley. The Shabbington hill was dispensed with derision, and Long Crendon flashed by. We were all tired now, even Jon (4317 calories), but this was all forgotten as we cycled along Thame High Street and past the Cross Keys, the site of many a planning meeting over the last decade. There was a welcoming committee waving wildly at the end of the route, and we cycled in through the gate and got off our bikes with a great sense of achievement and relief.
This ride was undertaken with some trepidation on my part - the emotional baggage associated with it is not insignificant, and I for one had a couple of lumpy throat moments at times. I saw a butterfly on Saturday afternoon, and something Jon said on Sunday threw me completely. I think that on the whole it was a good thing to do though. Each of us has our own memories of Francesca, and the CircumCycle ride we do every year helps keep them alive. This one in particular, being ten years down the road and a repeat of our first route has brought an added poignancy to what is becoming a regular, bittersweet weekend.