- The views and opinions expressed in these stories do not necessarily reflect those of the person writing them.
- Names have been changed to preserve the dignity of the same people who worked so hard to throw it away.
- Nothing in these stories has been written with malicious intent. I am at peace with the world and all the crazy people who live in it.
- Even though all of the following is true, certain parts may be a lighter or darker shade of true than others.
Bruges ton Cul.
Cycling: London Zoo to Folkestone.
Channel Tunnel: Folkestone to Calais.
Transfer: Calais to Bruges.
Cycling through London is fun. It is fast, it is dangerous, it is fun. Cycling down the A2 to Rochester is also fast and dangerous. It is not fun. It is a freaking stupid idea.
If you want to go fast, they say, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Spare me. You are only as fast as the slowest of the herd. Nature has its own way of speeding up the pack. The slowest get eaten, and only the strong survive. This is fine and well and good in nature, but if Mr Darwin was observing our little peloton migrating south through the jungles of Central London, and then across the open wilderness of the A2 to Rochester, he might have come up with a different theory altogether.
We couldn’t abandon our slowest to the predatorial traffic as 1. their parents expected us to look after them, and 2. London traffic and lorry drivers are no respecter of cyclists. No matter how fast or slow you are as an individual, you are fair game. And hunting season is always open. Moving at the pace of the slowest, then, increases your exposure to carnivores. And lorrynivores, which are far worse.
This story has two stars. Fixie, and Tugg Speedman. The reasoning behind Fixie’s pseudonym will become apparent. The reasoning behind Tugg’s, I hope, won’t.
Tugg wasn’t allowed to cycle in London, because it is dangerous. Fixie’s parents had no qualms about him playing dodge-the-taxi, in spite of his apparently never having ridden a bike before. Yes, Fixie was not some moustachioed, flat white drinking hipster in his plaid flannel shirt and tighter-than-lycra skinny jeans, nipping in and out of traffic on his Cinelli Mash while listening to music on a gramophone precariously balanced on his bars. Fixie was a 13 year-old, that none of us knew, on a brand new mountain bike. Who couldn’t change gear.
This isn’t an insurmountable problem when traffic lights are always red and only ten metres apart. It is, however, the rest of the time. Pedal pedal coast. Pedal pedal coast. Pedal pedal coast. Hill. Pedal pedal… get off.
Fixie’s dad had uploaded a photo of him in all his brand new gear with his brand new bike to our Whatsapp group prior to the event. The photo had been captioned ‘All the gear, no idea. Lol.’ The multi-layered irony was crippling. So was Fixie’s pace.
After 500 million years, and ten miles, we got to Greenwich park. We checked his bike for defaults and realised that, no, he actually didn’t know how to change gear. We tried to explain it to him, but none of it really went in. Not that it mattered, his bike adventure was over. He’d had enough. And I don’t blame him. I’d have blamed him more if he’d tried to carry on, because the next section, the glorious A2 to Rochester, needed to be fast if we were to make our booked tunnel crossing alive and on time. Even if he had learned how his gears worked, the A2 was no place for a kid on a mountain bike.
Enter star number two. Tugg Speedman. A kid on a mountain bike. He knew how his gears worked. He was a real pro. He could cycle at least ten miles.
We’d told him don’t bring a mountain bike, you’ll be too slow. No, he said. I will be fine. I will keep up. At least lock out your suspension, we said. It will make you more efficient. No, he said. This is how I like to ride. I will be fine. I will keep up.
He was not freaking fine at all. He did not even nearly keep up.
In London, with its sprint-stop traffic lights, you can hide how painfully slow a heavy hardtail is. Once you get onto the A2, there are no more traffic lights. If you are slow on the A2, you are slow. There is nowhere to hide.
And the slower you are on the A2, the longer you spend on the A2. And the longer you spend on the A2, the more exposed you are. And the more exposed you are, the more abuse you get. And Tugg, on his mountain bike, was slow. Slooooow. Slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. Slowmygoshhowslowcanyougo? slow.
I spent as much time looking back down the road trying to spot his gurning, panting face in the distance as I did actually cycling. It was painful. None of us could get off that road fast enough. We were cycling in the hard shoulder, through all the broken glass and general road detritus that amasses there, with certain and painful death only inches away. It is not a motorway, so we have as much legal right to be on it as the million-ton lorries screaming past us at the speed of fright. Just because you can do something, however, doesn’t mean that you should do it. Even though the law was on our side, the lorries were by our sides. Possession is 9/10s of the law. They possessed lorries, I was just trying to arrive in Rochester still in possession of all of my limbs and as much skin as possible.
Luckily, I guess, we all made it to Rochester. Tugg actually beat me to the meeting point, because I went off ahead and got lost. Not for the last time, either. He was able to make a bike change, which sped him up for the remaining stages, but we were only a third of the way to Folkestone, and way behind schedule. We had a long drive at the other side, too. Bruges was a long way off.
[Bruges ton cul is a multi-layered play on words involving the name of the town in which we stayed on the first night, and the French phrase ‘would you kindly move your bottom please’, which can mean ‘hurry up’ or ‘get out of the way’. It is also inspired by our passage through France, and our sore backsides. Look, it doesn’t have to be funny, alright?]