All smiles at the start, the Helipad, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
I love to teach exercise classes and I hope I make people happy. I have come to the conclusion recently that making people feel happy while they are exercising is my purpose in life. However, sometimes the happiness comes afterwards .. sometimes a long time afterwards. I remember in my childhood, going out jogging with my father. It really felt as if I was banging my head against a brick wall ... nice when I stopped! Well, this last week I have experienced the pain while exercising all over again.... and it really was heaven when it stopped. You know that my go-to exercise is cycling and so for the fourth year, my Other Half (OH) and I rode the annual Lap of Anglia (LOA) ...a 422 mile trip (it turned into 430 this year ... read on to find out why) around the perimeter of East Anglia in 4 days to raise money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
Free wheeling with tail wind around Norfolk - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
We started out in fine form with spirits as sunny as the weather. The first day around the coast of Norfolk from Kings Lynn to Walcott was a true delight .. and as a bonus we had a bit of a tail wind to boot. We left the coast and pedalled our way to Norwich to our hotel for the night ... with little knowledge of what was to come save for an inkling on the BBC's weather app.
Climbing Harvey Lane, Norwich in the rain Day 2 - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
Every time I have done LOA , it has rained on Day 2 just as we leave Norwich and this year was no exception. We climbed Harvey Lane (11% gradient) in a fine but constant drizzle and sweaty waterproofs. As an aside here, the phrase "breathable waterproof " is certainly an oxymoron ... I've not known one to ever exist except in a glossy advert selling the things. When we got to Wroxham for our first break at the ubiquitous Roys of Wroxham, the rain had eased slightly and we did the next stint in our jerseys. And this is where it started to go wrong ... first, my phone fell out of my jersey back pocket when I went for a surreptitious wee behind a bush in a farmer's field. I didn't notice it was missing until 4 miles down the road resulting in one return trip of 8 miles to save it from being churned up by the combine harvester. Now you know where the extra mileage on the lap came from. I was in the dog house with my darling OH as we spent the rest of the day trying to catch up with the others and the rain got steadily worse.
One of many flooded roads we tackled - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
After our lunch in Lowestoft we battled heavy rain all the way to Ipswich. The water was running off the hard baked soil in the fields and straight onto the roads .. in torrents! We crossed flooded dips where the muddy water reached up to our cranks. Trying to keep my feet dry was impossible (hitherto my over-boots were doing a stalwart job!) and there was always the underlying concern that lurking in the muddy waters were large potholes. I decided to stick to the centre of the road in the hope that, as was the usual case in the dry, there were fewer potholes ... the rest was down to luck. By this stage, we were very wet and my shorts were sodden causing my saddle to rub ... my delicate backside never really recovered over the next 3 days. As the mega metropolis of Ipswich loomed into view we could taste our longed for evening meal ...we were that close, when sadly, darling OH punctured! Oh the desire to just leave him to get on and mend it himself was overwhelming, but when I saw him shaking with near hypothermia and struggling to lever off the tyre with freezing cold hands, my heart won over and I stayed with him sheltering in a doorway being about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Fortunately, our friend in our little group, Paul stayed too and together they got the bike back on the road. The hotel was a welcome sight that night having been out on the road for more than 12 hours.
Crossing the permanent ford, Kersey- photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
Day 3 dawned sunny and warm. All of us were misled .. again! Was Michael Fish in charge of the BBC's weather app I wonder? Sunshine and showers were forecast ... for the afternoon ...the afternoon my dear reader! All our waterproofs were in the van and the plan was to retrieve them at lunchtime. But those sneaky little showers got blown along on a fast southwesterly breeze and caught us out. We sheltered under some trees in the vain hope that the rain would blow over and when we thought it had eased off we made a break for it. It got worse! Thunderstorms! No jacket, no waterproof gloves and no over-boots... and a downhill run into Saffron Walden so no chance of keeping warm. In fact we were freezing, again.. it was hard to hold onto the handlebars and operate the brake levers .. dangerous. Those were the longest 10 miles to lunch I have ever ridden. When we got to our stop at the local Tesco, I grabbed my waterproof jacket and took myself off into the ladies toilets and monopolised the hand dryer for the next half hour. This time it was me who was shaking involuntarily. I was not going anywhere until the sun came out even if it meant arriving at our evening destination in the dark. In fact, I was all set to catch a bus or a train ... it was the closest I came to giving up the whole thing. The only dry thing I had to hand was my short sleeve gilet which I put on next to my skin but over the top of my sopping wet sports bra. I managed to dry out my arm warmers (sort of) which I put back on so I looked like a soggy Audrey Hepburn in bike gear. With a hot coffee inside me, a dry upper body and soaking wet shorts, legs, socks and shoes I hobbled out of the ladies and immediately hit the cold air mass of the air conditioned supermarket at large .... just how hot had I made those loos? Shivering again, I stood for the next half hour under the warm blast of air at the store's main entrance ...you know, the one that you feel when you first go in and you think 'blimey, are they heating the whole town?'. Eventually, it did stop raining and I felt brave enough to get back on the bike.
Hill climbing dressed as Audrey Hepburn - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
The next stint to Letchworth Garden City was nothing if not gorgeous. High up in the hills of North Hertfordshire, crossing the Icknield Way, the panoramic views were aided by crystal clear visibility but we could see the approaching thunderstorms circling us like horse-backed Apaches around a cowboy campfire. There was no time to admire ... we needed to get to Morrisons! And we did ... just before the heavens opened ...again. More coffee ... and hot chips this time and we went into the store and both bought new socks ...ahhh dry socks! Even with wet shoes, you've no idea just how pleasurable it is to put on dry socks ... two pairs to avoid the rub!
The final leg of the day was to Luton and it's usually the bit that we all dread because of the hills as we go into the Chilterns around the back of Luton Airport. But to be honest with you, this time, this leg was predictable ....the hills don't change, they don't throw up any surprises, you've just got to get up them. Pick a gear for the gradient and keep pushing it round. Job done. As we entered Luton, on a Friday evening with the setting sun shining straight into our eyes and those of the motorists behind us, you bet we saw that town at its very best!
A well deserved break at The Shuttleworth Collection, Bedfordshire - photo courtesy my phone.
Day 4 started with me bumping my head on the door of our Travelodge bathroom .... note to self : keep helmet on when in small conveniences. Only 114 miles to the finish and half of that was across the Fens and by and large we had a tailwind. Good weather and good spirits distracted me from my sore backside. The last of the hills are just at the A1(M) ... only a mile from our house ...and I was tempted to turn right at Glatton. But my conscience made me carry on and our house melted into the distant background as we cycled further into Flatlandria.
Bombing down Upper Sundon Hill 15% - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
Approaching Kings Lynn, Flatlandria starts to play tricks on the brain. You can see the power station looming in the distance but it never seems to get any closer. Instead it likes to move across from left to right just like a ship on the sea's horizon. The main reason for this is that the roads are so straight (as they align with the fields) that you seem to cycle for miles before you can turn a corner and you pass by your destination before you can turn and head towards it. When you've nothing left in the tank to give, this is a cruel twist of topography. At this point, our two fellow riders had gone on ahead of us so my darling OH and I were alone and it felt eerie. Were we the last? Had everyone else finished and gone home ... there was no one in sight. Our minds were put to rest as, unbelievably, when we rounded one of the few corners, we got a cheer from some supporters on the roadside ... an truly unexpected but motivating sight. Thank you, whoever you were!
And then, as quick as that, it was all over. We met up with the other 44 cyclists, signed a jersey and rode back up to the helipad at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where it had all started. After a few emotional speeches, hugs and kisses, we were back in our van on our way to collect our son. It seems like a dream now. I can't physically comprehend the enormity of cycling the huge distances that I did. Even though it is the fourth time I've done it. Goes to show what can be achieved if you tackle things a bit (20 miles in this case) at a time. Maybe that's the takeaway message here, you can do anything if you break it down into manageable chunks. Yeah I know it's the old trite saying 'how do you eat an elephant' but sometimes you have to live it to believe it.
Thank you to absolutely everyone who made this epic adventure happen. Perversely, because it was at times terrifying, frustrating and doggedly tiring, somehow for me, it was the best of the four LOAs I've done. I'd especially like to thank my darling OH, Brian for keeping me sane, keeping me going and keeping me safe. Here's to more adventures in the future.
Back where we began 4 days earlier - photo courtesy Lap of Anglia
I am an exercise4happiness specialist. Forget the bikini body or the 6 pack, exercising to feel good is where it's at! Join me in my adventures in happiness, on the bike, in the studio, or in the classroom and I will infect you with my enthusiasm to get out there and be active too! You will feel good, I promise you.