Riding in Cheshire a couple of years back I passed a couple on a tandem. Pulling alongside them I for a natter and a hello, I asked them where they were heading "the Pyrenees" came the reply. Thinking the wind had constratined my ability to hear them, I said "Where did you say again?". "The Pyrenees" came the reply.
Yes, they were setting off from Cheshire to ride down to Dover, zip over the Channel and then go riding in South-West Europe and then home again over a three week period. "Do you mind me asking how old you are?" Back then, "71 and 73" came the reply. Wow.
As we rode on, they described all the riding they'd done together on their tandem over the years. Just about every legendary mountain pass, Audax and route on an average cyclists bucket list in Europe. The stories were captivating, their love of cycling, the community, the routes, the time they spent together seeing different places. As I rode off, I hoped that I'd bump into them again one day.
Their names are Brian and Barbara Thompson and seems they are a big of a legendary unit in Audax circles, having ridden just about every Audax route in the country. I saw Brian out on his bike (75 years young now) the other week and had a natter with him, he'd decided to nip out and do a 75 miler on a Sunday whilst his wife Barbara was recovering from a spate of illness.
A sun ripened face, old-school kit and a metronomic pedalling style just made Brian stand out. He found cycling back in the early 80's (in his early 40's as many people are now) and never looked back. Moving to the tandem after a couple of nasty crashes whilst racing, it meant wife Barbara (the stoker) could keep an eye on him!
Lend a hand
Whistling back from my ride on Sunday, I caught them in the corner of my eye about 10 miles from home in a lane, both off the bike. I turned round and went back to see them to discover a Brian repairing a snapped chain from his 'toolkit of all toolkits'.
Lending a little mechanical assistance, including a pack of emergency baby wipes for Brian to clean his oil soaked hands, it was magical to hear further epic stories of 600km Audaxes, how they rode the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Edingburgh - London - Edinburgh, Paris - Brest - Paris, amongst a long list of epic adventures.
The stories were legendary, I was totally consumed by this couple from Bolton, who just lived their life on their trusty tandem. As we got the bike back on the road and I rode alongside them, I can't even remember the three mile stretch we covered, my mind just wandering in appreciation and recognition for these two as they dropped route after route of cycling legend which they'd covered.
In amongst this story, there are a few important observations: -
1) Always be equipped for a broken chain. Carry a link extractor or an SRAM quick-link in your tool box.
2) Carry some baby wipes for those dirty hands!
3) Take time to say hello to people when you're riding.
4) Cycling is a past time which can see you well beyond your retirement, unlike many sports.
5) Inspiration comes in unusual places.
I'm always re-calling the "I once met a couple riding to the Pyrenees on these roads" when meeting riders on the Cheshire lanes, it was superb to bump into them again.
A reminder that riding bikes is a journey, both spiritually and geographically. People who ride, generally live longer, are more resilient to stress and able to cope with the demands of this busy world we now live in. Brian and Barbara Thompson are living proof of that, both in their 70's, they are doing distances riders in their 20's and 30's would find hard to match. Inspiring people!