An upcoming Belgium trip at the start of April, planned since the start of the year, was very nearly scuppered by this broken arm. Wishing the healing to quicken never works, and it was looking likely to be a car-based trip, with, if lucky, a few miles on a MTB. Or even worse, postponement of the trip altogether. I really didn't want to postpone....the itinerary, as planned by Mr Organisation, my very good friend Rafe, looked great, with plans for visits to the World War I graves, watching the last post being performed at the Menin Gate and generally having a gentle social jolly along the quiet green lanes of the European mainland.
Rafe, however, has saved the day, by arranging hire of this Hase Pino for a few weeks. Like the Circe Morpheous, the Hase Pino is a rear piloted machine, with the front seat in a recumbent position and leaving me hands free. What better way to test it than a 200 km audax in the flatlands of the Fens?
We collected the Hase from a lovely couple who told us all about it, and how sluggish it could be. It certainly weighed a ton, but a blast round the village showed it was relatively easy to pedal and Rafe got the hang of the handling almost instantly. He was an exceptionally good pilot, and, after a cuppa and playing 'what-fits-where' with the car, parcel shelf, passenger seat and a very large machine, we set off East, and to our overnight stop.
An what an overnight stop it was! A Fairline River Cruiser in St Neots. The boat was winterised, so it was a great opportunity to test out the OMM 1.6 primaloft sleeping bag and the new Alpkit bivvy bag. I've had the OMM 1.6 since last year, and used it a few times in variable conditions, but this would be the coldest temperatures so far. The bivvy is new, finally Alpkit had them in stock at a time I had the money to buy one.
But first, there was a beautiful Good Friday evening to be enjoyed by the river.
Our other adventuring friend Mark rode from Nottingham to join us on the boat.
I was most jealous indeed. I just want a bike with my very own panniers. It's decided, panniers are where it's at. This lightweight fast minimalisation adventure racing stuff? I'm not sure it's for me. Carrying just enough for comfort, plus a book, and dry cloths, that's perfect.
Easter birthday chocolate all the way from San Francisco thanks to Rafe. Mightly tasty, it has to be said.
Easter buffday Earl Grey + Elderflower tea and strainer from Mark. Perfect for glamping in a boat.
The guys put my empty baked bean can cook pot to shame with their Ti Alpkit mugs. Time to rethink my cooking facilities. These little gas stoves are great in the shelter of a boat, but outside, in the wind, this would struggle.
After tea, we headed into St Neots for food and drinks. A pretty little town, with a fabulous giant bunny mural and a Wetherspoons where several hours were lost in catching up and laughter.
It was a pretty chilly evening, with the breeze increasing through the night. Mark was the most hardcore, and fully tested his sleep set up, bivvying under the stars on the bow of the boat. I was a little less brave, and wanted to make sure my arm wasn't going to be led on hard ground so opted for the wind blown deck. Rafe did the sensible thing and slept in the Cabin.
It wasn't the most restful night's sleep, although the rocking of the boat, noise of the water against the hull and rattling of canvas against the wind bothered me none. However, it was difficult to get the arm comfy and it was a relatively chilly night. The OMM 1.6 is a lightweight bag and it was on the comfort limit in the early spring temperatures. Still, hunkering under the bag did the trick and I eventually drifted off into a restless night's sleep.
Probably would have been a little warmer if I had managed to stay in the bivvy though.........
The weather for Saturday had been predicted to be a mixed bag, with a brutal Southerly wind, blasting up the Fens at 40+ mph, bringing rain in the early evening. It was a relatively calm morning however, as we drank tea and said goodbyes to Mark as he left for a tailwind-boosted ride home. Rafe and I were envious as we are both appreciators of linear routes with a purpose (especially with a stonking wind-assist!)
We were late arriving at the start of the Audax event, and even later setting off by the time the bike was built up, Garmins were set and luggage was packed. To be honest, I don't think either of us were really in the audax frame of mind. My normal strict 'no faff' policy had been re-written to 'I just don't really care'.
For me the important things were a) have a great time and laugh riding with Rafe b) testing the Hase Pino for Belgium and c) just appreciating being in the Fens, an area so different to home turf it feels like a foreign country.
It was a good job too, as, within 15 minutes the chain had already fallen off a number of times and we were sat by the side of the road, as Rafe tinkered to sort the issues and I stood around, useless with one arm.
Hey ho, with some encouragement from the organisers, who pulled up just as Rafe had worked his magic, we were back to it and before long, on the most wonderful single width lanes.
The route was really great and Martin and Ann had put a lot of effort into the organisation of the event, allowing us to switch off and just enjoy it. Spring has sprung in the East, with flowering rape, daffodils and daisies.
Horizons look distant under the huge skies, and reminded me of the America we often see in films, Industrial agriculture swept either side of the hedge-less roads and farm machinery was working hard to prepare the ground for planting.
It was easy to get lost in the immense scale of the flatlands, especially with a whopping tailwind pushing us along. Plenty of time to cruise and stare.
We were having a good deal of fun!
There were constant doubts on the way to March, however. Even the slightest turn into a crosswind revealed the magnitude of the wind, blowing us across the road and leaving me genuinely concerned we would be blown into a 10 ft drainage ditch.
Neither of us were particularly comfortable, with my glutes pressing into the cheap nylon of the seat at the front, and Rafe already suffering badly from pressure pains due to the poorly fitting saddle. At least a change in bar height relieved the pressure from his hands, but we had already made the decision to turn for home early, even before we realised, with all the faffing, we had missed the intermediate control cut-off.
Drinking hot chocolates, as the Easter Weekend traffic built up in March town centre, we reassured ourselves it was definitely the right decision. Unlike the Circe Morpheous, the Hase Pino would require a fair amount of set-up changes and improvements to make it comfortable.
From March we cut across the open country, battling the bike as the crosswinds blew and our average speeds plummeted. It was fine, we had plenty of time, in fact, all the time in the world. With no audax clock ticking, it didn't really matter how long it took us to get home and we could, in theory, just enjoy the ride and those big skies.
'In theory'. When you want to get home as the saddle sore is so unbelievably painful it is difficult to just enjoy the ride. My problems were sorted by the addition of my ever faithful Paramo Jacket, which was stuffed in the seat and immediately relieved the nerve pain.
Rafe's saddle issues however, were not so easily dealt with. He was in absolute agony and it was a real battle for him to just keep going. We had to though, for there was no other way home, no other way back to the car. Once we turned due South, the headwind was absolutely brutal and the miles passed slowly, even more so with the stops to allow Rafe to regain feeling in his legs.
...but eventually we did get to Huntington, and rolled back to the car, after an incredibly tough afternoon. Just 55 miles, but they took double the expected time, and my legs were telling me just how hard they had worked in the strange recumbent position on the front. I was lucky though, on the whole, it had worked well for me, allowing immersion into the mangnitude of the Fens with a broken arm. Rafe, on the otherhand, had missed out on his Audax, got agonising saddle sore and had to do all the steering whilst I took photos and enjoyed the view. What a good friend he is.
Belgium is being re-planned. The Hase Pino is still coming, but with a better set up, and shortened route to ensure that the weekend ticks the original intention box of 'steady enjoyable tour' and doesn't turn into a painfest. There will be less green lanes covered, but the important sights will still be seen, and continental coffee will still be drunk.