Distance: 62 miles
Weather: cloudy then wet and cold. (Mmmmm).
Day three, my last, started in much the same way as the last two – eating breakfast sat alone. Much like the day before when I was the king of my very own b&b, today i had an entire ‘all you can eat’ buffet breakfast to myself. I’m still not sure whether it was genuinely amazing or incredibly sad. For an hour I felt like Alan Partridge with a big plate and flashbacks.
The waitress serving me, obviously working the graveyard shift, instantly struck up conversation and was obviously impressed with my journey. This seems to happen a lot. Women generally over the age of 45 seem to want to mother me. I don’t think it’s anything weird, they probably just feel I need help. Essentially with life.
Anyway, today’s route would take me through Leicester and Loughborough, up the west side of Nottingham and on to the pit villages of north Nottinghamshire before delivering me into the clutches of Bolsover, my hometown.
By 9.30am I was in the midst of Leicester and instantly regretting my decision to call Northampton the worst place in the world. Leicester’s big, so making a judgement based on one simple route is slightly unjustified but what a route it was.
I was last in this part of Leicester when I was about ten and my god has it changed. Everywhere I looked for the entire cross section of the city I crossed was Mosques, litter and women head to toe in burkas. Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, it’s not my place to say. However, even though Leicester’s census figures have it down as the first predominantly ethnic city in the UK, it was still telling to witness it with my own eyes. After spending days traversing England’s ancient countryside – it was a stark contrast.
However, within an hour I was out and on the road to Loughborough, famous for its university.
It was around here, possibly just north of the town, that I started to sense I was nearly there. I mean, I still had a long way to go but if I put my head down and cycled like the wind I felt I could be home in a couple of hours. I was wrong.
Another few miles up the road I was just to the west of Nottingham and the start of twenty miles of zig zagging a number of trails and cycle paths that would keep me away from civilisation but straight into the path of Polish alcoholics. I’m not sure how or why it happens but it seems as though the alcoholics of Eastern Europe love a good canal to get drunk by. In fact they are only one of two kinds of people who like to get melt-your-face drunk on cycle paths – the other being school kids on a Friday night.
From Long Eaton the canal path snaked for miles past disused textiles mills and half-decrepit chimneys. The kind of landscape that invokes the northern poet within, even if the best poetry you’ve ever written starts with “their was a man called Bob”.
And so began the worst 20 miles of the journey. If the word grim can be realised in physicality then this would be it. Grim faces, grim weather, grim buildings and everything bordered up. I mentioned nuclear winter yesterday, as you do. Well, I think in north Nottinghamshire it’s already happened.
Cycling along roads with more holes than a block of Emmental, it was like a tour through the worst ravages of post-industrial decline. I half expected a Sean Bean character to walk out of the off-licence smoking a rollie reading the racing post, circling horses at the 3.10 at Kempton.
And so, with just a few miles to go I was back on the tracks. This time it was the old disused coal mine railway lines that criss-cross the area. It was a last challenge that underlined the absolute necessity of having a cycle-cross bike. All in all about a quarter of the entire journey has been off-road, I never expected that.
With our Asian challenge still fresh in my mind I’ve cycled further and harder. However, I’ve done something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve bowed down to my ridiculous compulsive tendencies and achieved the very thing I set out to do in the time, almost to the hour, that I intended.
I’m not great on my own but when faced with the monotony of endurance, putting everything you have into achieving the end result, it is like going through a rigorous mental transformation. The self-loathing and the constant over-thinking turns into courage and determination. It is truly addictive.
For now though, Mind Over Matter part 2, over and out.