Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert
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After six months of hype and eager anticipation for our annual lads’ cycle tour, it was nice to, at last, receive our tour notes a mere four days before we are due to leave.

Until the time the notes arrive, the venue is kept a closely-guarded secret. And as this year marks our 20th anniversary, I was eagerly awaiting something special.

During the last 20 years we have stared down at the Tarmac in locations as diverse as the Cotswolds, Killarney, France, Northumberland, Wales, the Norfolk Broads and Belgium. Over that time span my level of fitness has swung from the fully prepared with lots of training runs under my belt to virtually no training with lots of lard hanging over my belt. My weight swings tremendously as my yo-yo dieting system panders to my love of over-eating followed by a shame-driven grim determination to shed the pounds, take on a new lease of life and reclaim my fighting fitness.

Sadly, this year, despite getting quite trim in the spring in anticipation of a visit to our sun-drenched beaches over the summer, the summer months have seen a steady decline set in. Although it is merely an excuse, the weather frankly hasn’t helped.

Every time I have hoped to go out for a training run, the weather has been pretty grim and after some impressive warm-up exercises, specially designed to waste time, I have decided to return indoors to seek comfort and solace from my old friends, the kettle and the toaster. As rain crashes down on the conservatory roof, there is something comforting about swigging tea and munching toast while outside all hell is let loose.

Indeed, according to weather statistics, this year has been pretty grim. While parts of the Midlands have had some of the driest weather on record since the 1970s, up in Fife they have had the wettest summer for just short of a century. Something of a North-South divide. It does not take much research to work out which bit we live in. We have barely sat outside this year, the garden furniture essentially unused. The dry days, sunny days have been fleeting periods in an otherwise dismal, damp summer. We have been to one barbecue, and that was sandwiched between two wet chilly days. I’m afraid, I feel this year has been a very poor summer.

Never mind, there is the cycle tour to look forward to. Well perhaps? As I write, swigging tea and munching toast, the house is being battered by vicious gusty winds, and every now and then, heavy rain showers clatter against the office window. It is not nice out there. Windy, wet and pretty chilly to be honest. It would be nice to think our tour leader would be taking us somewhere warm and sunny, where our rapidly ageing bodies can take life at a more sedate pace, enjoying cycling across a sun-kissed undulating landscape.

Now I have had a few minor health problems this summer, being plagued with colds and chesty coughs, having had a touch of vertigo (not ideal on a bicycle) and repeat issues with sprains and aches and pains as my joints seem to rebel against any activity at all. Yesterday, my knee started giving me jip. I am also now the oldest surviving participant, most dropping out around the 48 to 50 mark. Consequently, I had resolved to take a turn in the support car this year and cherry pick a few choice sections along the way so as to still participate in the full camaraderie of the tour.

So it was with painful disappointment I opened up the tour notes to discover we were off, not to the flatlands of Suffolk, Holland or Somerset, or the gorgeous undulating country of the Wolds or maybe even to the rolling sunny pastures of gorgeous Tuscany, but instead making a nostalgic, return trip to the North-East. But not even to the wonderful undulating coastal strip around Alnwick, Instead we were destined for the exposed, cold windy, wet, austere, unforgiving country of the North Pennine and Cheviots. If ever there was an area designed for pushing a bicycle rather than riding it, this is it. The hills are steep and uncompromising, and while I love driving over those bleak moorlands, I have slogged up the western escarpment of the North Pennines before. Okay once, but never again.

I got increasingly depressed when I realised our proposed routes were not following the dales or even keeping to the high ground but involved a rollercoaster ride from Tyedale, to Derwentside, Weardale and Teesdale, and then back again. Catching my mood, my lungs started to struggle to draw in air and my knee started to really give me jip. Without a doubt, I was duty bound to take on the onerous duty of providing vital logistical support for my friends and colleagues by driving the team support car. It was the only decent thing to do. That’s right I would take on the role of martyr.

I have already sent emails and text messages to our team leader informing him of my willingness to take on this onerous and important, and frankly selfless task, but he is almost impossible to communicate with. Indeed it would be easier to get an audience with the Pope than get some form of reply. Two of the planned watering holes (top boozers apparently) I know for a fact have shut down. There will be little shelter.

So it is with a perverse gleefulness I have just watched the weather forecast. Arrow after arrow depicting strong gusting winds seem to be continually racing in off the Atlantic bearing belt after belt of rain bearing cloud. Looks like being chilly too. I think things could be pretty grim on those exposed moors.

Just as well I will be there providing essential back-up for those dedicated cyclists testing themselves against this unforgiving landscape. There is only one question I cannot answer. Can my car hold six passengers and six bikes? I think we are going to find out.