Rolling to the Stones 2008 - report
22.06.08 by Dazzler
It was that time of year again and this time I had no real idea how many riders were likely to turn up. I’d put an open invite out through various channels, debated the merits of riding the 85 or so miles along a hilly route on fixed and as a result many people had showed interest in coming along but as usual until you turn up at the start point at Speakers Corner you never know for sure. Although Buffalo did his bit by pretending that he was going to come, Jack ‘The Bike Show’ Thurston making all the right noises until half an hour before depart, with the weather looked threatening (rain coming in from the west, 15 MPH headwinds etc) I wondered whether I’d be riding alone out of pride through driving rain to a swimming pool with stones in it.
I needn’t have worried as 8:30 came along and with it a nicely sized posse of 10 riders tumbled in with the wind. There was quite a good cross section of bikes and riders, too. As is my way I had the usual problem of remembering peoples names but from those I knew personally Martin from Reuters rolled up keen as beans on his newly set up road bike, my consumer-hippy friend Ben came along on his beautiful 80’s Fondriest, Metro Jo oozed quiet confidence on her trusty Trek work bike, rack loaded up to tipping point with Bivvybag, sleeping gear and maps as she intended to ride on from the Henge to Taunton to spend time with friends.
One chap turned up on his Genesis Ridgeback townbike and as I’d had a couple of these in a past life I had no worries he’s be fine on that. When I asked him how he’d heard about the ride he told me he’d been on holiday in Antigua or something last year and had listenened to The Bike Show podcast on his walkman. Small world. Amongst the other riders were souped-up lo-pro time trial bikes, weighty Marin town bikes and various racers.
But if I needed my spirits lifted even more then it happened when from out of the gloom our special honorary guest rolled up looking like he’d simply never been dragged under an articulated lorry three months before and had to endure weeks in hospital, reconstructive surgery on the muscles to his leg and three months off work. It was Ephraim! I’d talked to E maybe 6 months prior about this ride and he’d loved the idea. During the lengthy recovery time following his accident he still maintained with me that if he could he would love to come along on the ride still. So having returned to work last week and having put in a few lengthy training rides he told me he felt ready and good to bang this ride out. On a single speed! Like, WOW. So very, very impressed with that boy.
The weather stayed fairly good for most of what was a simply beautiful ride. An hour or so in we had our first puncture (one of 4) and this gave us a good opportunity to break. I wasn’t too comfortable with the idea at first but Jo had reservations about keeping what would have to be an upped pace considering her load so we agreed for her to ride on ahead and to stay in radio contact with us. This worked really well as having lost our time cushion I had to make sure that the pace we maintained was strong, steady and on the clock. Consequently it became much more of a real challenge but the group understood our goal only too well and with that we pushed on confidently into the darkness.
There really are some sublime moments during the ride to Stonehenge. Long, steady, fatiguing climbs that lead into super-fast, sweeping, curved descents. There are moments when the chain-gang slips smoothly and silently under dark tree-covered canopies and where you don’t even feel you are pedalling, just floating along. Some corners spit you out into the most jaw-dropping misty vistas (whoops!), other descents through silent, sleeping chocolate-box villages (gasps!). Personally I was just in cycling heaven during these moments but at times for me it was made even more special by the fact that I secretly had Kraftwerk’s Tour De France pouring into my ears through headphones. I fantasized about pulling a trailer with a 2K system in it so I could share my joy but looking around I could see that everyone was loving it as much as me anyway. It would have been impossible not to be touched. The air was so clean Martin said he felt like he’d never smoked! London’s a dirty old town. But that was well behind us.
Rounding a corner about three-quarters in we came across Jo laid up with a puncture. By this stage we were swapping tubes and ready for the off again in about 7 minutes. It’s what we do. With the light rain starting to make more of itself we cracked on for the final push to the Henge. We really had no more time for hold-ups but it was really no issue as everyone had found their pace and stamina and knew what needed to be done.
One final slog along the A303 and a drop over the brow into the familiar glow that contained the Midsummer Solstice Festival. As the Stones came into sight and our riders began to take in the scene of 30,000 ’revellers’ jumping round the stones I almost had a tear in my eye as I heard various gasps of amazement from the group at the sight. It wasn’t a tear, it was rainwater, but we’d made it! With 20 minutes to grab a coffee and warm down we stumbled up to the stones for the 4:58am sunrise. It really didn’t matter that we knew it wasn’t going to be that idyllic golden moment when the grand yolk breaks over the horizon because the atmosphere was ELECTRIC.
The thumping of drums, whooping shouts of celebration, wide smiles on faces. It never fails to touch me and as I passed around the well-earned prize of Lidl’s own sweet, dark rum I could see the looks of exhausted achievement among the group. We’d all made it. And together. So very, very sweet. My work here is done.