12-15 September: Three old mates on bikes

Author: Mr A

Location: The Ridgeway – from Goring…heading west, Oxfordshire

Friendship – where would Homo Sapiens have been without it? There’s an argument to be made that the ability to form friendships is one of the most critical skills that has enabled the development of our species. Being able to co-operate across large groups has been fundamental to so much of what humans have achieved, and learning who you can trust and who will not let you down, is at the core of pretty much every big achievement. Humans didn’t build the pyramids, reach the moon, or invent Vegemite (Marmite?!) on their own. Friendships enabled groups of people who didn’t start off knowing each other to work together for a common goal without dissolving into a chaotic mob.

Making and keeping friendships has been central to my life. As an only child with two busy parents, I learnt at an early age I would need to find people who I liked to spend time with. At twelve years of age I made some friends at school who, over half a century later, are people who I love to hang out with, or in the case of this last weekend…ride a bike with.

Meet Andrew and John…

We gathered at one of their houses deep in the Hampshire countryside, embodying all that is good about rural England. Rolling hills, quiet byways, and pubs with great beer!

Our host Andrew had done a great job of organising our ride, trying out the route, getting his car to the end of the route so we could just do a one way trip, and most importantly, identify where the best spots were for a spot of lunching.

Andrew certainly found a great lunch spot

We were so fortunate with the weather, a crisp autumnal morning with blue skies greeted us. We set off in high spirits climbing up onto one of England’s famous old roads, The Ridgeway. It runs for over 140km though some surprisingly remote country in the heart of England.

Well our ride started a little slower than planned with some on trail mechanics being needed for some recalcitrant gears. I provided distant moral support, given my inability to wield a spanner without causing more damage than I solved.

Chief photographer at work

We needed to make up time, and cracked on across some spectacular scenery with nearly 360 degree views across the downs. A tea break was called for, in the time honoured fashion of English country gentlemen out on a jaunt. I had packed a little surprise (well quite a large one actually) to keep the wolf from the door.

Tea and chocolate…all is right with the world (thank you Jenny!)

We finally dropped down off The Ridgeway into a small village, where of course, there was a pub, and lunch was served. And then the old maxim of what goes down….must go back up…hit my two riding companions hard. They were on manual bikes, I did feel for them, it would have had to have hurt.

Beer and crisps!

The best thing about the ride, other than the beer, was the chatting to each other as we rode, often interspersed with some animated verbal sparring, in what passes for affection amongst Englishmen of a certain vintage.

Anyone resenting the ebiker at this point?

We made it to our planned end point having covered 40 miles (65km) of track that was fairly rough in places, so quite smugly hit the pub in the evening. It was a weary trio, well two of us especially so, and you wouldn’t have called it a rollicking night. Age showing its signs?

The next day was another big blue skies cracker, but due to some family commitments we only rode for half a day, again through some stunning countryside. Despite the late kick off we still managed to fit in two pub visits, so yes this was a pub crawl interspersed with some riding, the cynics would say.

Fabulous English countryside at its very best

We all left on Sunday all the richer for the memories of the time spent together. Friendships need nurturing, and digital time only goes so far. I feel privileged to have these people in my life, and all the other friends we have.

I lost a friend last year to depression, and I just didn’t understand it. Despite all the friends he had, that wasn’t enough to make life worth living. For me friendships are what gives life so much of its purpose. To see the smile of a shared joke, that’s really only funny because of the years you’ve had together. To feel the support when you’re in a tight spot, or the gratitude when you can return a favour. This is what makes us human.

Laughter really is the best medicine

Nourish your friendships, they are the family you chose…

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