My train was just after 9 am and I was up, breakfasted and on the road by 7:30. It was only a 7 mile cycle back to Swansea but I was very keen to reach the railway station dry. The rain, forecast to be sweeping in from the west, had been held up in customs and was a few hour behind schedule. By leaving early I had a chance of making it to the train without being soaked, which would mean a far more comfortable few hours on the train.
Leaving early also gave me plenty of leeway for potential delays. I hadn’t had a single puncture on the trip and I could now deal with at least two. And if the capricious gods of cycling decided to throw a catastrophic mechanical at me I would shave time to walk/jog or dial a taxi and till make the train.
The route alongside the A483 was becoming familiar by now, which was a shame because it was one of the most boring stretches on the whole trip. Still, I suppose I could embellish my CV by adding that I had visited the Amazon three times now.
Passing a traffic safety mirror I felt obliged to take a photo. I had taken a shot of myself at the beginning and I thought I should have one at the end. Except that it wasn’t the end in any sense; it wasn’t at St David’s, the end of my cycle from side to side; nor at Carmarthen where I had ‘finished’ Route 4; nor at the railway station where my cycling would stop; nor at home where the journey would be over. It was more symbolic of a journey unfinished, incomplete.
Dylan Thomas wrote of Swansea that it was an ‘ugly, lovely town’. Things have improved since his day and the ‘ugly’ can probably be dropped. The town has been modernised over the ensuing years whilst retaining its original features that gave it character. I would like to think that Thomas would be pleased with the outcome but suspect that the new sanitised atmosphere might clash with his poetic soul.
I reached the station dry. In fact the rain must have had a full strip search at customs because it only roll in when I was on the second train from Bristol to Plymouth and when it did it was in a rage, storming against officialdom.
I was quite sympathetic, partly because I was warm and dry, relaxing on the train, watching it unleash its wrath impotently against the impervious window and partly because I had just had my own brush with officialdom.
When I had arrived at Bristol, I had just unlocked my bike from the reserved rack, ready to vacate the train before it pulled away, when a guard asked if I had, in fact, just unlocked it. I told him I had but it was my bike and showed him my reservation ticket. Ignoring it he proceeded to lecture me on the fact that bikes should not be locked because it meant they could not be removed. He seemed unimpressed by my argument that that was the entire point of locking it in the first place. I asked whose responsibility it would be if the bike was removed by a thief and he informed me that it would be my problem.
Fortunately I was getting off the train and not on it so I thanked him for pointing out the rules whilst strafing him with red hot metal from my mental mini guns.
Hoicking the bike up and down the stairs I located my platform and wheeled it to the end where the guard’s van would stop. I had 30 minutes before the train to Plymouth was due so sought out the toilets. They were in the main concourse so I decided to chain the bike to the railing rather than hoick it up and down the stairs again; it was bad enough carrying the saddlebag. On my return it was being inspected by another guard.
“You shouldn’t lock your bike to the railing, sir. It means we cannot remove it.”
What was this obsession with the need to remove bikes? “Sorry,” I said, removing the offending lock. “I was using the toilet but I chained it up well out of the way. It’s not an obstruction.”
“No sir, but it is a suspicious object.”
“It’s a bike.”
“It could be a bomb, sir.” Obviously I looked dubious so he added, “The frame could be packed with explosives.”
“If you really suspected that then you wouldn’t want to remove it anyway,” I pointed out. “You would have to get the bomb squad in and I am sure they would have some wire cutters with them. It’s a very flimsy lock.” I waved it in front of him as proof.
“That is not the point sir. It should not be locked. It prevents us accessing it.”
I should have left it alone but was feeling belligerent after my run in with the previous guard. “If I was to put my bag in a station locker would that be a problem,” I asked.
“But my bag could be full of explosives and it would be locked.”
“Is your bag full of explosives, sir?” he asked, eyes narrowing.
“No. I am just trying to make a point. If I was a terrorist I could save myself all the effort of making an intricate bike bomb by chucking a bag of explosives in a locker.”
“Are you a terrorist sir?”
“No! I am just trying to get you to see that there is no difference in me chaining my bike to this railing than there is using a locker.”
“But there is sir.”
“It is not against the rules to use a locker, sir”
“We haven’t got any lockers anyway, sir. They’ve all been removed as a security threat,” he said deadpan. Then he smiled and winked at me and I realised I was being wound up.
Well, it bloody well worked – ho ho!
Staring out of the window at the countryside whizzing by I reflected that my sense of humour was temporarily on hold as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I was going home on the train.
The troll was happy, I could tell by the way he was sprawled on his back across the seat next to me, tongue lolling out the side of his crooked mouth as he snored in bliss.
I had to admit that I wouldn’t have enjoyed cycling in the rain but I might have got halfway through the day before it hit me. Who knows, I might have dodged it completely. I’ve been on a number of rides where I have ridden on rain soaked roads all day but never actually seen any of it coming out of the sky.
Who was I trying to kid? The reality was, I had not been fully prepared for this trip from the beginning. I hadn’t factored in carrying around the extra weight of the troll for a start. That had proved a real burden! But mainly I had not been fit enough. Okay, I would have been able to get to the end, the proper end – at home, but I hadn’t been fit enough to enjoy it. It had been a struggle and there were a number of days where I had day dreamed about this very moment, of being on a train going home. Well, here I was and I was happy to be going home. But I was desperately unhappy that I was no longer cycling.
The troll giggled in his sleep and rolled over.
I never did find the tick. When I got back on the bike to commute to work a few days after the ride it was gone. Maybe it was the troll clicking his talons against the frame?