Another week, another Grass up the middle ride – being led a merry trail by two of Cheshire’s finest lane hounds, determined to disorientate and confuse those with a nervous inner compass.
Starting 30 minutes earlier than previous editions, my alarm was set for 0630. Excitement and beams of sunrise had me itching to get up and at it around 0545 though, so a fractious wait ensued. Despite the sunlight, a windproof and mid-weight gloves were a comfort as I hit the crunchy nut canal path to head towards the rendezvous at Sale Town Hall. Timely arrivals by all three riders meant we could benefit from a prompt start, so we spun up to speed.Initial chatterings saw my recent surreptitious bicycle transactions exposed – one of the ever decreasing community of right-thinking cyclists bestowing my shed with a retro Yates-built Condor of an audax persuasion. Turns out the seller is a subscriber to these missives – a whispered shout in his direction it is then.
Bicycles are of course important in all cycling niches and perhaps more so in the nuanced world of green laning – the subtle details of obscure brands of tires (sic) or other velo couture can and are enjoyably debated for lane after lane. Balancing one’s choices, informed with proven performance against personal experimentation (and sheer contrariness) ensures no two steeds are alike, yet all are works-in-progress – iteration-after-iteration in search of the holy grail of rides. But to discover that pinnacle would be to end the journey – best to leave that envelope unopened, methinks!Back to those nuances – riding increasingly familiar territory means other flavours and details rise to the surface. This morning’s coffee stop highlight saw an #arousedswan tout for business on the still canal waters as Paul brewed and Steve watched his Straggler slide to the ground repeatedly. I had senselessly left all my camping accoutrement in a bike shop, so was at the mercy of charitable donations of coffee and croissant. The birdsong was reaching a crescendo around 0915 – no need of any headphones by this captivated and appreciative group.
A leadership pow wow revised our schedule to include another visit to Tattonia and its rather decent café – back on board to wend our way, this time dreaming up all manner of Grass up the middle merchandise. The merits of the SAE (stamped-addressed-envelope) were reviewed – recalling the halcyon days of writing to various organisations for stickers and freebies in our youth. Before long, the wobble into the cobbled yard of the café was underneath us and sausages procured. The yard gathered a range of unsightly cyclists in the garish ill-fitting garb of ‘the racer’. It’s been said before of course, but squeezing a non-racer physique into such unforgiving attire is a recipe for ridicule…
At the halt, it dawns upon Steve that he’s mislaid his mobile phone. The best collective hunch is that it fell out at our last stop, when the Straggler struggled to stay upright. A new route then to retrace our steps, in the hope that it may still be there.
A traditional fly-by of real grass up the middle was afforded, this being my first time to attempt the Sagan-like contortions required to stroke at speed (see @grassupthemiddlecc on Instagram for the latest video) How long before there’s a claim being laid at the door of GUTM HQ post-lurid, grass-stained carnage, I pondered??
And then we’re back where we were. Steve the Luddite, with some misgivings about actually recovering his overlarge phone/modest laptop, sneaks up on the patch where we were pitched up. There it was – lurking passively in the long grass. Cue a small sense of social well being.
The return leg became pay day for Steve’s good fortune though – the warmer weather and week of unusual winds had brought insects to the party in their droves. Steve choked down one too many bigguns on the dusty TPT and had to effect their exit with a finger down the throat. Mothers out walking with their bairns shielded them from the grim spectacle.
We’re back on home territory, 45 miles later, sated on another deliciously innocuous jaunt. Grand talks of future rides, inspired by the Anglesey’ Un-meeting’, have us considering the merits of Cornwall and the Isle of Man – all well and good if they can match what is under our very noses of course…
Words – Neil Ruddock
Pictures – Neil Ruddock, Steve Makin & Paul Rance.