With the big adventure rapidly approaching Daren (Nairo) Morgan was eager or us to go for a ride together before I leave for the US of A tarmac. And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, the ‘eagerness’ was mutual. We had hoped to be joined by Richard as it’s been quite a while since the three of us have ridden together. Unfortunately, Richard had drawn the dog-sitting short straw today so it was just the two of us. When we were discussing the route earlier in the week I suggested that Nairo planned the route as a sort of mystery tour - a cycling leaving present for me. In other words, I would have absolutely no idea where we were heading. Nairo seemed quite happy with the challenge and I was equally happy with the prospect of being able to draught (i.e. follow behind) him for the whole ride on the basis of not knowing where we were going.
I was quite impressed when Nairo phoned last night to confirm the arrangements. With the possibility of some rain showers we decided to start slightly later than usual and he told me that we should meet in the car park of the St George’s Distillery at East Harling. He mentioned that he had phoned them to confirm that it would be okay to park in their overflow car park. The distillery has a new shop and café which we were keen to investigate at the end of our ride.
Well this morning brought heavy grey clouds and a sort of fine drizzly mist that looked as if it might be around for the duration. We met in the car park as planned, prepared our bikes and got ready to set off. I’ve recently bought a new rain jacket, a Castelli Idro, which is made from a new Gortex fabric. It has been widely reviewed and described as a game changer. Its main selling point is that it is claimed to combine full waterproofing with total breathability. In my experience, you can have one or the other but I have never owned a jacket that achieves both. I’ve owned several waterproof jackets which are very efficient at trapping sweat eventually leaving me almost as wet as I would have been from the rain. I’ve also owned several tops which are warm and breathable but in wet conditions eventually let the rain through and become rather soggy. The Idro is also very light and so packs away nicely as well as being quite close fitting so it doesn’t flap about when wearing it. Today looked being a day to find out if the claims were true.
We rolled out of the car park and through East Harling heading towards New Buckenham. Nairo did his usual thing of starting like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle. Riding into a headwind I settled into my more usual steady pace. After a couple of looks back over his shoulder, Nairo eventually got the message and eased back a bit so we hooked up. By now the rain was falling quite hard and, encouragingly I could see droplets and beads of water forming on the sleeves of the Idro – usually a good sign of waterproofing. As we headed north easterly along the B1113 through New Buckenham and Tacolneston I could see Nairo was regularly looking at his Garmin so I guessed that he was checking out progress along the route. The only thing I knew was that it was going to be about 55 miles from start to finish. There was a slight hesitation at the turn to Hapton before Nairo pressed on heading ever closer to the outskirts of Norwich. Eventually we arrived at Keswick and turned down a narrow lane that I thought was a dead end. In fact it was the entrance to one of the city’s Park and Rides. With a slightly hesitant meander around the car park we eventually emerged at the other side and after crossing under the busy A47 were soon back on a nice country lane heading towards Caistor St Edmund. I was pretty impressed with Nairo’s route planning – using a Park and Ride as a traffic calmed shortcut seemed pretty inspired – something I probably wouldn’t have thought of unless I knew the area well.
With the rain still falling and our tyres swishing along the wet tarmac, dodging the puddles which surely concealed wheel-buckling potholes we headed past Poringland (a lovely name) eventually arriving at Surlingham and the edge of the Broads. We were making our way along the River Yare Valley when once again I realised that Nario was fixated with his Garmin. As we approached Claxton at just past the 30-mile point he told me that his Garmin had now frozen and wasn’t tracking our route. No worries! Nairo managed to reset the wayward device and we were soon underway again. When I asked him how far we had to go he flipped his Garmin screen and told me “44 miles”. Now readers, remember that this was intended to be a 55-mile magical mystery tour and we had already covered 30 miles so by my reckoning we should have about 25 miles left.
Sharing this navigational insight with Nairo as we rolled along, initially produced a puzzled frown rapidly followed by a worried look. Sensing that Nairo may have had enough of being the mystery route captain I asked him where we were headed. He reeled off an impressive list of places which as I totted up the mileages led me to conclude that if he was correct, the total distance was going to be well over 80 miles! Clearly something was amiss. So we pulled over just before Woodton and with a bit of discussion opted to follow the more direct, and shorter route back to East Harling. For the record I should add that the rain and the wind continued to contribute to our discomfort.
As we turned east towards Hempnall and Tasburgh, Nairo let slip that his Garmin was still telling him that we had over 40 miles to go. Well enough of this. I know the roads round here well enough and decided that the time had come to do a spot of leading from the front. We made good progress with the benefit of what was now a tailwind, and as the road was quite quiet were able to ride side by side and chat about life, the universe and navigation skills. Approaching a junction just after Hapton I was ready to turn left and retrace our route back to East Harling. I suddenly realised that Nairo, who was leading at this point, was about to turn right. So we stopped to confer whereupon Nairo informed me that his Garmin was confidently saying we only had two miles left to go. Fortunately, because we had already ridden the road in the other direction earlier Nairo readily accepted that the way to East Harling was left.
From here on we rode along secure in the knowledge that East Harling, a hot drink and cake, possibly lots of it, lay ahead in about 10 miles. Even the incessant rain didn’t seem to trouble us. Sadly, poor Nairo was to suffer further misfortune. Crossing Banham Moor, about 5 miles from the end he had a rear wheel puncture. What bad luck! Cold fingers meant that changing the tube was a bit of a challenge but we were soon underway again and (yaay) back at East Harling where the refreshments more than met our expectations. And do you know what? I took off my Idro to reveal a bone-dry jersey underneath. A quick shake of the Idro and it was dry again. Not even a damp patch along the seams. It would seem that the claims of total waterproofing and full breathability are entirely justified. I should add that throughout the ride I was hardly aware that I was wearing it.
As we sat in the café there was a sudden transformation in Nairo’s demeanour. It was like watching the lights come on. He had managed to work out why his distances were all wrong. With a slightly sheepish expression he fessed up that he had planned the route to start and finish near Wreningham about 10 miles up the road from East Harling. And do you know what? Wreningham is two miles from that left/right turn after Hapton! Long standing readers of these pages will know that Nairo leads a parallel life, when he’s not on his bike, as a magician. This is definitely the last time I’ll be asking him for a magical mystery tour.
If you would like to know where we actually went, then click here to look at the route flyby. If you want to know where we should have gone I’m afraid I can’t help you. That’s a (magical) mystery.