I was relating my experiences of the Edinburgh-London (It is possible to lose a lot of friends that way). My story had progressed as far as the first night at Carlisle, and the tale of the drenched bed, when I realized that I could not account for Jim. Memory does play me false on occasion.
To explain: I had failed to get over a heavy cold prior to starting and so had ridden rather slowly and uncomfortably during the first day. During three hours sleeplessness at the motel I managed to sweat out a tremendous fever, leaving the bed soaked, but me feeling better.
We had booked two rooms: Mark and I in one and Dave and Anne in the other. What was puzzling me was where Jim had got to. Dave provided the answer, which was that he had not joined us until Dalkeith, some hundred and something kilometres further on. (I suppose I must be easily confused.)
So it follows that it must have been on the way back from Dalkeith (For those who didn't ride: Dalkeith = Edinburgh, and Epping Forest Youth Hostel = London; a certain willing suspension of disbelief is required.) that we passed PC stopped at the verge and peering intently in his saddlebag. Mark was speculating that perhaps Helen was in there, when he powered silently past us and up the hill towards Jim, who was a little way ahead, then slowed and abruptly turned left up a forest track. We didn't see him again.
It was around that time that we saw Mark Beauchamp, still heading North, last person on the road, and looking like a corpse. It made a change from seeing Steve Abraham in that state. We gave him encouragement.
The last part of the second day was eerie. On the long climb over the Pennines I could see the rear lights of Mark and Jim twinkling a mile or so ahead. I kept glancing round, surprised by conversation or the noise of bikes, but I was on my own. The descent was slightly faster than was prudent; I was pedalling to keep warm through swirling mist. At the bottom I caught someone who knew where the hostel was. Second night: a snorer and another sleepless three hours.
Back at Thorne, the following day, I had an overdue shower and a change of clothes (Thanks, Mick, for the loan of a towel.). Freed temporarily from the constraints of lycra, certain parts of me seemed to swell, which made the first few miles of the next stage uncomfortable.
Somewhere we were joined by Peter Marshall, who made an awkward addition to the peloton (Even more awkward than the Dutchman who insisted on riding on the white line until physically forced to the side of the road). It was not Peter's fault really, except that he had chosen to ride a recumbent trike. He spent most of the ride grinning madly. At one point he was laughing loudly. We feared for his sanity.
Darkness fell as we headed for Thurlby. Dave did his usual and started to fall asleep. Jim and I chivvied him along, to his evident annoyance.
We saw lights ahead ("Carrots!", shouted Dave, waking up.) and a bit of a road-race developed. It was Sheila and friends we caught, and who joined in the fun. She told me that she was worried because her battery lights were lasting too long, and I replied that my dynamo was pretty reliable as well (The following morning she looked surprised to see me and asked if I had been in that group.).
Third night: three solid hours sleep. Off at five-ish, leaving Dave and Jim skulking in bed.
Next control: Longstowe. I have no idea what Mark or I had to eat, but I do remember that Anne had maltloaf, because she was accused of spreading the butter on her face. Don't ask why, it is far too complicated; and no, actually she wasn't.
Some unpleasant roads later we turned left to climb to Epping Forest. Mark was off ahead; I was getting confused about the route; and Anne was somewhere behind swearing at an incompetent motorist.
We arrived to effusive greetings from Annemarie and the lovely Rocco. This is where I remembered the reason I had entered: Tracy Horsman's cooking. I left reluctantly.
Somewhere on the return journey my right achilles went ping. I persuaded Mark not to wait as I needed to ride at my own pace; but along came Ian Hill who insisted on riding with me, waiting while I stopped to massage a few more miles into the offending part, and kept up an amiable and distracting conversation. Thanks, old chap.
A good nights sleep at Thurlby (A whole six hours) did nothing for my injury. But Brian, arriving as we were leaving, and announcing that he was suffering horribly with tendonitis, made me feel somewhat better.
And so I limped back to the finish on borrowed painkillers.
Food, shower, change, check the photographs (none of me).
I had a go on Peter's recumbent: Found myself grinning, despite the tendon. Others tried it, and they all grinned (Strangely enough, when I saw Dai Harris on his, he was grinning).
We learnt that Mark Beauchamp was in hospital with two broken ribs sustained in an encounter the week before, so he didn't finish. Dave Stevens had been found in Gainsborough without any idea where he was or who he was, and had to be rescued from another hospital by Helen Vecht. He did finish. "Stupid men", said Anne, including me for starting with a cold (Well, what would you do?).
The hardest part? The Fens: Hard on the backside and the shoulders.
The funniest part? Various notices at different controls, showing that M Webster has managed to tickle AUK's collective funny-bone.
The best part? Scotland and the North: Wonderful riding.
My thanks to everyone who had a hand in it.
The Amnesiac Auk.