Day 4 – Preston to Hereford
As devastating as it was, we eventually had to leave Preston behind us, robbed of a night on the town due to local lockdown restrictions. I still haven’t worked out what we’d have worn for the occasion, but it definitely would’ve smelled really, really bad.
I was half expecting our hero from the previous evening to be checking us out as well. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and he was probably catching up on some much deserved rest before helping the next band of weary travelers.
Strava is telling me with rolled out at 6:56AM. It’s easy to work out the planned departure time, regardless of the day. Just roll back to the nearest 15 minute interval (in this case 6:45), and then just know that Jack was late. He might be a bloody good athlete and photographer, but someone buy that kid a watch.
Rather disappointingly we weren’t able to see the many highlights of Preston city center, as a dense mist had descended, making the entire scene quite spooky. However, the state of my bike was probably the most scary thing. After 3 days of being battered by the elements, it wasn’t a big fan of shifting gear, and the chain had now started randomly dropping off. Hold it together bud – just 3 more days.
Some of the toughest riding of the day was in the first 90 minutes, in the hills north of Bolton, where we found ourselves on the Ironman UK bike course – the place where dreams were fulfilled back in July 2018. Oh – and did you know I got hit by a car? Not sure I ever mentioned it.
Whilst I thought all the climbing with a fully loaded bike was going to kill me, in reality it was some old biddy in a Skoda, who decided she’d overtake me with a massive 4×4 coming head on at her the other way. She squeezed in front of me, missing me by a matter of inches.
The red mist descended and I was off, ready to give her a few polite, considerate words on how she nearly killed me. But with a top speed of 43mph, the Skoda just about pulled away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until afterwards that Jack came up with the brilliant idea of hurling my water bottle at her back windscreen. There’s always next time.
Ross had scheduled us on a trip down memory lane, and we rolled past Pennington Flash, venue of the Ironman UK swim. Another hour in there or another 400 miles to Lands End. It was a no brainer.
Day 4 was a merge of Jack and Rosco’s ‘This is your life’, as we entered Jacko’s home turf, and every 5 minutes we were treated to ‘I bought a Mars bar there once’ or ‘this is where I sometimes go open water swimming’ (a blatant lie – Jack swims even less than me). There were some slightly ruder references, which couldn’t possibly be repeated in these pages.
Before lunch we took a completely unnecessary detour until Wales, wanting to bag a third country, without realising we in fact spent a large part of the following morning in Wales. Lunch was then taken in the little village of Wem, where we stopped to take in the house Rosco’s nan used to live in.
Jack and I held back, thinking 3 grown men seen taking photos of a seemingly random house might raise a few eyebrows, before shoveling in a jacket potato at the town hall café.
Shrewsbury was next on the menu, a lovely town that I’d not been back to since a friend (who shall remain nameless), spent a night in a cell after attempting to run away with a police officers hat.
Hours and days on this trip all seemed to meld into one, as when I think back it feels like we were going through Shrewsbury in early afternoon, when in fact we’d already been riding for over 9 hours. One more big climb took us up to our highest point of the day, with ‘only’ another 45 miles to go from here.
After a quick top-up of the Spraggins diesel engine at a friendly petrol station, the train rolled through Ludlow and Leominster, as we began to lose the light once again. Twilight was probably my favorite part of the ride each day, with the sky offering up some beautiful colors, and the prospect of dinner and rest not too far away.
Without looking at the watch or the sky, you knew when dinner was approaching, as Jack would probably have moved to the front. That, and his back light had probably run out again.
Regardless of how long we’d already been riding, the final 90 minutes would always drag. A combination of muscular fatigue and mental tiredness meant by this point I really was knackered and wondering how I could get through another two days of this.
One horrible A road climb in the dark was the worst it got, before we were bombing along the home stretch into Hereford, with the massive Tesco’s our beacon of hope. Upon arrival, celebrations had to be put on hold as it looked like the toughest test was yet to come – leaving Ross outside with 3 bikes and all our kit, fending off the local scallywags.
Finally safely back in our house for the night, Jacky rustled up some taco’s whilst Rosco did the laundry and I walked around like a headless chicken, repeatedly telling the lads there was no way we were going to make it to Bude in one piece on tomorrow’s ‘Queen stage’.
For the first time in a very long time, I was genuinely apprehensive and fearful of a sporting challenge, and I spent some time fretting on the sofa whilst the others tucked themselves in for the night. Me spending additional time downstairs had nothing to do with the fact that I had to share a double bed with Ross that night.
Alarms set and an earlier, 6AM departure planned (that’ll be 6:09 then), I shut my eyes and tried to get some rest before the mammoth day we had in store.
Day 4 stats:
2,435 meters of climbing
10 hours 37 ride time
12 hours 45 elapsed time