After twenty consecutive days of cycling finding the motivation to ride is becoming an issue. And it’s not just a question of motivating myself but of getting the rest of the team on board, sometimes literally.
Early on I used mints; one for actually getting on the bike or into the buggy, then another after every 10km. It seemed a reasonable rate (although our dentist may disagree) and the scheme worked well until the relentless pestering of ‘when are we going to get the next mint’ and the distress of unsticking Hannah from her buggy at the end of the day made it unbearable to adminster.
Our best days are when there’s something interesting to stop at on the way, breaking up the ride, giving us something to look forward to before or chat about afterwards. The kids picked up some leaflets for Wookey Hole caves way back in Tiverton (and then Taunton, Bridgwater and Glastonbury) and the promise of a visit kept them riding for four days and occupied in the evenings with hours spent examining leaflets and debating which of the many attractions of ‘Wonkey Hole’ they would go on.
It’s quite a balancing act trying to keep us on a track towards John O Groats while picking a route that’s off busy main roads and has something of interest on the way. It’s as important to my sanity as it is to keeping the children engaged and pedalling. The cycling on its own isn’t enough.
On the map Symonds Yatt looked a like a great motivational diversion; a ride and picnic on the banks of the Wye, a river crossing on an ancient hand-ferry, ice-creams and drinks at an old Inn and some playtime in canoes on the river. All for just an extra 10km on the way to Hereford.
“Is the ferry running?” I asked a woman on the hilly cul-de-sac leading to Symonds Yat West. “Oh yes,” she replied, “It’s a lovely way to cross, quite reliable, kids love it.”
“Is this the right way to the ferry?” I asked a second woman after struggling up another 100m of unexpected climb. “Oh yes, go down the hill now and wait opposite the Saracens Hotel. When the barman sees you he’ll come across the river and get you.”
Ten minutes later at the bottom of the hill we bumped bikes and trailers down a dozen slippy steps to wait for the ferryman on the muddy bank. After a while a young man came down to the riverside, “Sorry, no ferry today,” he shouted across the river, then turned and disappeared back into the pub. Kirstie looked at me blackly, Hannah slipped on the mud and slid towards the Wye and the boys just looked at me as if to say, ‘What about our ice creams?’ Turns out the ferry cable snapped in the recent floods forcing retreat insteat of a treat.
Like the mints the Symonds Yat Escapade ended up yielding more grief than progress and I thought I’d learned my lesson when I planned today’s ride. I checked carefully on the internet that Leominster had two of the ultimate treats for children; a swimming pool and a McDonalds. I saved details of them on my phone and showed everyone the delights at the end of our 30km ride. I had total buy-in, full-on pedal power and we stormed along at record speed.
The swimming pool was still open when we arrived, with thirty minutes of public swimming left, thankfully just enough for a quick dip. Afterwards, over tea in the poolside café I looked up the address for McDonalds on my phone and asked the waitress how to get there. “There’s no Commercial Street in Leominster,” she said, “we’re just a little town near Wales.” The boys fell silent. “So where is the McDonalds then?” The waitress laughed kindly, “Nearest one’s back in Hereford.” Lips began to quiver. “There’s a fish and chip shop here though.” No-one looked impressed. I checked my phone again…. “but look here it says…” and then noticed the letters MA after Leominster. I’d looked up Leominster, Massachussets, USA.
I tried explaining my mistake but the boys didn’t get the joke while the staff didn’t seem to get the significance of a McD visit to the boys, identifying us as fast food junkies rather than toy impoverished long distance cyclists. “There’s a kebab shop you could try,” suggested the receptionist. “And a burger bar in town,” said the café manager. “Or what about that fast food pizza place,” said the waitress. I felt sick at the prospect. It was time to leave, but now no-one wanted to go anywhere.
“I could drive you to the one in Hereford,” offered the café manager in a final attempt to wipe the misery of the boys faces and out of her cafe. If it hadn’t meant going backwards I might have taken her up on it.
We eventually got out on the promise of a playground; an easy promise to make and deliver on. Oh and two handwritten IOU’s promising a Happy Meal with Ronald at the next available restaurant. Well, it’s a small price to pay for all that pedalling. And who knows there might not be one until Glasgow.