Sometimes when you head out the door for a run or a ride, you just know it’s going to offer something to write about – whether that’s due to distance, conditions or breaking new ground personally. This was not one of those rides; this was just a gentle ride with the kids and some friends. It seemed like a good idea at the time – it was a good idea – but maybe not as thought out as it should have been.
We had gone camping with our friends Hannah, Tom and their two and a half year son, for the weekend just outside Exmouth. Where we were staying had all the credentials needed for a good campsite – namely it was close to a traffic free cycle route. The plan was to go for a bit of a ride as Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge in September to raise money for Bloodwise. So that’s 4 adults, 3 kids (2 on bikes one in a bike seat or on his balance bike), 2 dogs, and a bike trailer off for a relaxing ride along the Exe in the sun. Terrific.
I’d like to say it all started so well, and it did for about 20 minutes. One of the reasons for the ride was for Hannah to get used to riding a road bike and using clipless shoes. Yep, that’s right first time on a drop bar road bike and first time clipped in. If I was to tell you that Hannah’s first ‘clipped in’ moment happened fairly early on, you’d probably assume it was one of the dogs or a child cut across her or hitting her front wheel. You’d be wrong, it wasn’t. It was her husband. All was going just fine, a bit stop start as we battled to control a pair of excitable dogs.
As we got to a point where a spur comes off the route to go to a National Trust property Tom decided fairly late on to pull over to the side to see where it goes. Rather than pulling in on the left, he swings across Hannah’s line to read a sign on the right hand side. Being unable to get unclipped quick enough Hannah is a jumbled mess of human and road bike in the middle of the path (probably at the busiest part of the route) to a chorus of ‘ohhh’s. Luckily she was unhurt – and so is Tom, I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for my wife’s first clipped in fall (but I kind of am, gravel riding not long after the wife got ‘clippy shoes’ was not my finest idea). To add insult to tarmac impact the route Tom stopped to look at didn’t really go anywhere.
Once separated from her bike and to her feet we carried on in the direction we were headed – I can confirm from a clipped in incident a few weeks ago (which did include a child) getting unclipped while your arse is on terra firma isn’t all that easy and certainly not with an audience. It isn’t all that long before I need to stop again.
This time not for a clipped in calamity but for a dog based one of our own making. With our surrogate dog beginning to advance in years, we are conscious that she can’t run at cycling pace – even kiddy cycling pace – for too far. She can out run me – easily – for about 7 km or so but much more than 10k she starts to wane, this becomes obvious when she is happy for me to be at the front. With this in mind, plus the stress that she could cause a pile up worthy of a road closure at any moment, we decide to put her in the bike trailer.
At this point I become that person, the person who you see on pretty much any traffic free cycle route – usually middle aged, usually a poodle – towing a bloody dog in a kid’s trailer. After a bit of faffing shortening the lead and doing up the harnesses – in an effort to prevent her from stepping out – we are on the move again. It’s been a far few years since I towed this trailer – not enough for my daughter to stop reminding me how I all but rolled it with both kids in it going down some (3)stairs – and I had forgotten how jerky it was. There is a very definite lag as the bike rolls over the top of a hill before the trailer tops out and you begin to speed up. We start of not much quicker than walking pace to make sure she is happy to stay put – which she is for a while.
Before too long I begin to hear a bit of noise from the trailer, which could either be “I would like to run for a bit now” or “I really need to poo, let me out NOW”. Not wanting to risk option 2, I stop and let her out for a bit of a run. At this point we decide to try and put Tom and Hannah’s dog Baxter in for a rest. She jumps in after a little persuasion and is secured in the same manner as Poppy (no that isn’t a typo she is a girl dog called Baxter; I assumed I had misheard her name for quite a while before asking – rescue dog that had already been named). However as soon as we are moving she tries to jump out the back of the trailer, so we stop calm her down again and once she is lying down I go again. Again she tries to escape out the back. At this point I abandon the attempt at ferrying Baxter and we are back to having two free range dogs, and all the chaos that brings.
Thankfully the trail is a bit quieter now and we don’t cause a multi bike pile-up. It’s no less stressful however when bikes do come the other way, especially when the kids – with good intentions – call the dogs too. This just seems to confuse them as to who to listen to, and they just stop dead right in the middle of the path. When I say them I mostly mean Poppy.
Before too long we reach a section of road, so Poppy goes back in the trailer (she is blowing again by this point and appears to be happy for a lie down). We negotiate the section of road, which includes a little drag up and down into Lympstone, before climbing back up onto the traffic free section. The use of ‘drag’ feels poignant as I dragged the dog laden trailer up and over the rises. The trouble is I couldn’t just keep it in the big ring and just get out the saddle as that would probably been a bit too jerky for the passenger, so I just found a gear and span my way up – I’ll be honest though, as we came down the other side I really wasn’t looking forward to coming back up it again.
Just as we get to Exton, Tom decides that he and Baxter had better start heading back. It’s starting to get fairly warm and with Baxter‘s reluctance to stay in the trailer means she has had to run a fair way and will have to run back again too. So that leaves three adults, two kids and a dog (still in the trailer) heading on.
We carry on without incident to Topsham, and after a quick strategy meeting we decide that rather than carrying on up the Exeter and back down the other side of the estuary to a foot ferry (that we didn’t know took bikes or dogs) back to Exmouth we could retrace our tracks back to Exmouth.
A few kilometres back and I need to stop, again. Poppy is becoming a little restless in the trailer, but as we are at the start of the longer sections of road I can let her out. I tell everyone to carry on as I stop and spend a bit of time giving Poppy a bit of attention. She soon settles down and so begins the most ridiculous attempt at catching other cyclist I have ever been a part of. Normally it a case of going hard on the flats and hills and squeezing out as much speed as possible on the descents. Not in this case; gently pootling along on the flat, going as quick as I can on the climbs without fully attacking them – I’m still a bit cautious about the dog in the trailer – and braking (heavily) on the descents so I don’t freak the dog out and make her want to exit a la Baxter (i.e. try to jump out a moving trailer). Think OJ Simpson on the 405 and you won’t be far off, but with less waving (but plenty of “oh look how cute” which I assume was aimed to the dog not me) from passers-by and no police presence.
I finally catch up with everyone just before the scene of Hannah’s introduction to riding with idiots while clipped to a bike and we roll back to where the cars are parked together. Amazingly I can report that no dogs, children or adults were harming in this pursuit of cycling pleasure, and we have agreed to do it again – but we may (or will) leave the dogs at home next time.
For more on why Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge, or to donate click on the link below: