Monday, June 28, 2010

'Flat out in the Fens' with no rear wheel

As we enter the last week before the start of The Tour de France I have been reading about Lance Armstrong's preparations on his Twitter and the Radio Shack site. He has been having a look at some of the climbs he is about to endure by riding them.
Not wanting to be outshone by Lance I decided that I too would have a look at my course for The Flat out in the Fens Ride this Sunday gone.

Riding the course seemed a bit excessive to me, so I persuaded my good friend Colin to take me up in his Aeroplane for some aerial reconnaissance.

I already appreciated the Course would be flat, very flat but by this method I would be able to get an idea of the road widths, traffic etc.
Airborne reconnaissance is hungry work so after a few loops around the area I was to ride Colin elected that we might stop off somewhere and have breakfast.
That appealed to me as I was in my Carbo loading mode.
I am not sure that a full English breakfast fits that criteria but that's what I had at a beautiful Fenland airstrip near Holbech.


When we took off to leave, the Air traffic tower called us up.
They usually do to bid us farewell. This time there was a level of anxiety in the transmission.
'Golf-Alpha-Papa..............When you took off something fell off your plane'

My basic knowledge of these things was that everything that might be attached to the plane was actually required for some reason or another.
The props propelled us, the wings guided us etc etc......
The radio crackled again.......'Golf-Alpha-Papa..........we have found your rear wheel on the airstrip......in fact the whole unit has come off'
To make things worse a student pilot had just taken off for her first Solo flight and was doing a short circuit prior to landing.
She was told to circle the airstrip.

Colin remained as Cool as Ice and interjected ......'the student should land prior to me as if anything happens she may be stuck with a closed runway.

Closed Runway !!!!!!!! I did not like the sound of this.
Colin continued 'I will do a 'wheeler' landing once the runway is clear'

As Colin banked the plane around I did not think it would be appropriate to ask too many questions.
He did however look at me and tell me to tighten up my harness as tight as possible and then proceeded to explaining how to get out the plane quickly in case it caught fire.
I listened intently.

He came in very low and very fast.
At one point I asked him if he was going to fly 'above' or 'below' the electric pylons that we were fast approaching........I don't think he answered me.
As we got close to the Airstrip I saw the firetrucks moving and nearly swallowed my tongue.

The landing was terrifying I thought that we were going to flip over in a cartwheel as the plane surged forwards on the grass strip. Finally he let the unprotected tail drop and we shuddered to a stop. WOW !!!!
Up until that time Colin had been Mr ICE, but now I could see his hands shaking.


We had to leave the plane at Fenland and get a lift home......I was quite happy with this more traditional form of transport even if it did take hours.


The Ride seemed a bit of an anticlimax in comparison.

Mark did exceptionally well in his first sportive of 112 miles and I don't think he will ever complete on in such temperatures......Well not in this country. It was far hotter than last years 'Hotter than Hell' in Texas and many participants were suffering.
After deciding that we would spend the day as 'wheel suckers' our pride got the better of us and we had some long stints at the front pulling.
What is clear to me is that there is no substitute for miles in the bank. Although I am still heavier than this time last year....I am so much fitter and now look forward to a proper Hotter than Hell challenge in August with the American Mules.

1 comment:

ted Hicks said...

Glad to hear you survived the landing. Colin sounds like a superb pilot. My brother Tim, also a cyclist, is a pilot, too. Flies a 1946 Taylorcraft. It's a high-wing taildragger.