Norfolk Nips 1 (2013)

The plan was to ECE this with Fidgetbuzz to do 50km before and after from his house, for a November 200 (RRTY, see?).  A couple of minutes lateness in departing Cambridge plus extra long roadworks before Thetford following a slow load meant I arrived at Chez Fidgetbuzz about 5 minutes after the agreed time, and as I drove down the lane I spotted a bike light coming towards me and flagged him down: Fidgetbuzz had decided I wasn't coming and had set off without me, but he agreed to soft-pedal to allow me to catch up.  By the time I'd parked, changed shoes and unfolded the bike, FB had a good eight-to-ten minutes on me.  Bugger! 

Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here.  Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that.  The post date has been changed to the date of the ride. 

With cold muscles I upped my tempo to above my normal and hoped that I was reeling him in. I figured at worst I would see him coming towards me as I headed out to the turn at Attleborough.  In the end I did better than that and caught sight of him 800m ahead of me a few km before Wymondham.  When I got to within 200m, I couldn't get any closer: FB clearly felt in a cruel mood and started to put the hammer down!  In the end I caught up with him when he had to slow for a right-turn junction followed by a red light.  Breathing heavily we span on for a while, but FB, despite his claimed years (really he's Peter Pan), kept the pace up in the high 20s.  Aaargh!!  Fortunately I am a lot fitter after riding audaxes for a year and settled into a rhythm, but it was on the upper limit of what I could maintain and the wind really wasn't helping.  Chris and fboab on the tandem passed us in the opposite direction a couple of km or so before the turn: I thought they would be on solos and was surprised to see them on the tandem, I thought they'd had enough after last season?!

At the turn I checked my glasses and realised the fog was actually mist condensed onto the glasses and the day wasn't looking quite so bad, but the wind looked like it was going to play silly buggers and come all the way around the compass and be in our faces all day long.  Any thought of catching the tandem was unrealistic: if they had soft-pedalled it would have taken at least as long as it took me to catch FB, about 10-15km, by which time we'd be almost at the start anyway.  FB didn't reduce his pace until we started climbing up through Norwich, and for me it was a welcome breather.

We got to the start with 20 minutes in hand, time for tea and biscuits and to say hi.  Someone came over to compare notes on little wheels: he was, I think, riding a yellow Dahon Speed Pro on 20-inch wheels, looked quite neat, but I never got his name, although I found the bike online and I think I want one:

(Image misappropriated from NYCE Wheels' website, I'm sure they won't mind)

I also bumped into Halloween, who I think I last saw on LEL.

The main ride was the typical massed-but-chilled start from the church hall.  There's no big "off", so riders tend to head off in small groups rather than one big one.  I saw FB fettling batteries in his GPS and didn't expect to see him again until arrivée, but I turned out to be wrong on that.  On the slight uphill out of Norwich I caught and passed a few groups who were just warming up: after 50km I was already well past that. 

I could see a fast group tantalisingly within reach and spent a huge amount of energy (for me) trying to bridge the gap to them for several km, but they were too quick and that burst cost me for the rest of the day. 

As I backed off, Halloween caught up with me just as I ran over someone else's Brevet: I turned around to retrieve it and he rode on.  The name "Peter Luff" sticks in my mind, but I think that's not quite it.  Anyway, I handed it in at the lunch control and they said he was still in the hall somewhere, so hopefully he was reunited with it. 

A missed turn didn't help: my fault following another rider.  Interestingly, there was quite a large group had gone the same way and were still continuing when we turned around. I caught up with a recumbent rider with a big bushy moustache: "are you German?" has got to be the crappest introductory remark; he's not.  I rode with Tim (slowfen?) for a way chatting, comparing notes, etc.

As usual my pace wasn't quite in tune with his (nor really with anybody's) and after 10km I felt I had to let him ride off the front and take a breather.  And as usual, once I was riding my own tempo, my pace turned out to be almost exactly the same, so we stayed within 200m or so of each other but going up and down at different speeds.  This is one of the reasons I'm looking forward to having a wider choice of gears, as there's a dead spot I find it hard to ride in between fourth and fifth on the B.

Another few km on and I could see a bright bike light in my mirror.  It looked like FB, so I upped my pace a bit, to give him a taste of his own medicine.  It didn't last long: a few moments waiting at a junction and he catches me up.  So, in spite of starting a minute or two ahead of him and a quick tempo out of Norwich, FB has caught me!

We ride to the info control, debate whether it's the first Close or the second Close that's the right one and then it's onto the coast road to Cromer.  This road undulates and a quick kick around some other cyclists up a slope and I discover I've dropped FB.  I slow down and he catches me.  We repeat a couple of times, but clearly FB's not having an "up" day.  A missed turn in Cromer meant doubling back and FB catches me up again – there's no stopping him!  Cromer was quite nice, apart from the twat in the Ford Focus who wanted to debate the Highway Code on whether cyclists have any rights on the road, and at least the hill was a proper hill, none of this almost-hill that we'd been riding up to now across Norfolkshire.  And a few minutes later we were at the control for lunch.  A couple of pieces of cake and some tea.  FB decided even that's taking too long and headed out on his own, but I have to have a pee and think I'll catch him in 10km or so.

Leaving the control, the landscape opens up a bit and it definitely feels like the wind is now against us.  On the Brompton there's no dropped position to hide in, so I winched myself up into the wind on my own.  After a while I realised that I seemed to have gathered up a small group of riders who were sheltering behind me and we stayed like this for five km or more.  Eventually they tired of my pitifully slow progress and passed me, the last one in the group looking around to see whether I had managed to hook on: not likely after doing all the work on my own for the past half hour!  Buggers!  This third leg was the hardest of the three and I just didn't feel like riding it, but as always, you just gotta keep turning the pedals and make sure you're hydrated and taking the salts and eventually it all works itself out.  Which it did at the turn at the final info control: from there it's a "main road" dash – like Welsh main roads, i.e. lanes – back into Norwich and I managed to pick the pace up.  Some new roadstone surfaces were pretty uncomfortable on little wheels, but overall the pace was good and I managed to reel a few riders who'd passed me earlier back in.

At arrivée it was soup and a sandwich – delicious – and catch up with FB, fboab and Chris and some others.  FB had been there a good ten minutes before me and was raring to get out for the final 50km back to his place.

The final leg is often the hardest to get motivated, but we had plenty of time and neither of us was in a hurry to be anywhere, so we took it fairly easily.  The wind had turned to the SW SE and looked like it would be in our faces except for the final 10km.  As before FB's rolling pace was reasonably high, although it had dropped a bit since the morning, thank goodness!  But it was clear that being off the bike working on LEL all year had hammered his power-to-weight, and he was "climbing patiently" – still quick enough, but at a pace I was able to match.  We steadily winched our way southwards and then westwards eastwards, using the infamous B1113 for a while – you could still see the trail made by the tandem.  At the turn to the west east it started to rain properly and it was time for the waterproof, but it's kind of nice to be out there in the proper weather sometimes, and this was one of those times!

At the turn northwards on the main road we set a healthy pace, but split up to allow buses and cars to overtake more easily.  Then it's a left into the lanes and back into side-by-side formation.  By now we know we're just a few km away and right then left and we're there: 206km, 10hrs 19mins elapsed, 9hrs and 6secs moving.  Nothing stellar, but still a good deal quicker than a year ago when I started all this malarkey, which means I usually don't have to worry about the time now.

All in all an enjoyable ride, apart from the constant headwind.  Having had a solo ECE the previous weekend (through nobody's fault except my own), it's so much nicer to ride with company in the gloaming at either end of the day.  FB gave me my first taste of ECE last December and it was good to repeat it with him.  It was nice to see Chris and fboab looking a bit less driven compared to what they were up to just a few weeks ago – relax, people, it's not about the points!†  Shame I didn't get to ride more than about 100m with Halloween – next time. 

As on previous expeditions to Norfolk the tlc that Keith and Sue's team put on was first rate – thank you thank you thank you. 

There's another nip along in a month and I daresay I will try to be there (pass-out yet to be negotiated).

More pictures here.

† I know, it is, but I'm just saying: chillax, okay?! kiss

Nick Wilkinson

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