|Average miles to the gallon:||57.9|
This was the weekend of the National Rally, the prospect of which had been equally exciting and terrifying me since I committed myself to it.
The evening preceding, France À 2 Roues survivors Julie & Mick kindly hosted dinner for the rest of us, so I rode down from Bromley to be in attendance (and show off the new scooter). A hundred-mile drive and a late night weren't ideal groundwork for the rest of the weekend, but I wouldn't have missed the occasion for anything. Besides, it gave me the chance not only to drum up some sponsorship but to convince Howard that he wanted to join cybersofa in accompanying me to the start point.
So my journey to Yeovil - and thence Glastonbury and Shaftesbury, as we were having fun - was made in a group, a nice start which made me much more cheerful about the whole business. Once I got shot of the others the weather improved and I started navigating much better, since without witnesses I'm not ashamed to stop and look at the map when I'm unsure of the way.
The volunteers at the controls along the route couldn't have been nicer. At Newbury they admired my Union Jack Doc Martens; at Reading they handed out chocolates; at Carterton they were cooking burgers and hot dogs at two in the morning. But the Best Control nomination on my record card went to the lovely couple at Aylesbury, where I stopped at a quarter past eleven for my mandatory one-hour rest.
They had been manning the checkpoint on their own all day and were supposed to knock off at midnight, but they stayed with me until I was ready to go. They made me a mug of coffee and sat me down with a packet of crisps and a Kit-Kat, and we chatted till it was time for us all to depart. After the rather dark and lonesome drive from Reading, I was moved almost to tears by their kindness.
I got a good look at many corners of rural England, losing count of how many counties I visited, and thought for the millionth time that there is nowhere I'd rather live. After dark there was less chance for sightseeing, though I did see a real live non-flat hedgehog ambling stupidly across the road in front of me (and swerved to avoid him).
It was only properly dark for a few hours - fortunately, as unlit roads really terrify me - and there was a large and beautiful moon to keep me company. Dawn was cold and drizzly, and spent driving to Coventry and back in search of the Meriden control.
At a quarter to nine in the morning I followed signs to the leisure centre in Rugby and found a car park packed with bikes of every description, and tired but triumphant riders staggering about. My card was stamped for the final time and I received my medal.
At Leicester, the final control before the finish (last-minute change of route), the marshal had looked at me and said "Why don't you grab a coffee and sit down for a while? You're nearly there, you've got plenty of time." When I got to Rugby and clocked myself in the mirror in the loos, I understood his concern: I was coated in grime, my eyes were red from riding with my visor up and getting grit in them and I somehow managed to look as if I needed a shave.
I napped for an hour then hit the M1 for home, stopping at a service station for the most ludicrous all-day breakfast Little Chef has to offer, and arrived back in Bromley just over 24 hours after setting out from Wimborne.
Thanks to everyone who wished me well, spared me a thought over the weekend and/or sponsored me. I'm knocked out by the total raised for MENCAP; everyone has been extraordinarily generous. (And there's still time to make a donation, if you haven't and would like to!)
There were times when I got a bit scared or a bit lonely, a bit tired and dispirited or a bit miles out of my way. I wanted to do the rally on my own to prove that I could, and I'm very glad that I did it. But next year, I'll be up for some company...