Thursday, August 23, 2007

13.8.07: Winchelsea Beach to Hastings

11.00 am:
Temperature 22C, humidity 41%, wind westerly, sun and dark cloud. Day's distance: 10 miles

Reunited with my prosthetic bicycle which has been stored safely in Gina and Annie's garage, I set out into a head-on wind on the track by the shore. Anxious about the three mile hill ahead, I had not expected this flat part to be so hard. The rain starts - the first on the journey - while I'm watching sheep being moved from field to field by energetic border collies.

I fashion couture rainwear out of a Kent County Council recyling bag and model it on the beach. I have become a re-cyclist.

Cycle Route 2 rejoins the road. After a few hard but mostly manageable gradients beyond Pett Level, where the old sits side by side with the new . . . .

. . . . I reach a ominous sign: Battery Hill. This is the big one - everyone has warned me about it. Pushing the bike (no longer a prothesis but an encumbrance) it takes twenty rests of one to two minutes each, with a mere sixty to eighty paces in between them to reach the top. There are two longer stops, one by the road with fierce cars rushing past over pretty shadow patterns, while I make pathetic calls to friends on my mobile . . . .

. . . . but at the second stop-off for lunch, the view is breathtaking. As so often, my tiny camera cannot do justice to what the eye perceives.

A mile or so beyond Hastings Country Park, Cycle Route 2 turns off the road into a small lane.

It is downhill the rest of the way and euphoric after the previous struggle.

4.00 pm:
Suddenly it's Hastings Old Town. I've arrived.
Feeling the tourist's need for evidence, I photograph myself in front of Hastings icons; fishing boats and the tall black fishermen's huts.

A family is watching and asks if I want my photo taken. Two young women ask me to take their photo and I oblige on condition that I can take theirs. They live in Hastings and are on a day out together. In the daze of reaching my goal, I forget to ask anyone their names.

On the shore I grab more proof. There are black flags made out of bin bags on all the fishing boats and it looks funereal. A well-known member of the fishing community has in fact just died, but the two men I speak to who are working on their boat tell me the black bag flags are used because they show up well out at sea.

I suddenly become tearful, overwhelmed at having managed to reach the end of my journey. After a visit for tea (and bike storage) at Kate's house in the Old Town, Maggie collects me and take me to her home for the night. Maggie works at Arts in Healthcare, based at Conquest Hospital where there will exhibitions of this project next year. The view from her house is wonderful, the meal, made by Maggie's partner Trevor, even better.

On Sunday Hastings Urban Bikes will be riding with me into Hastings. Another tiring ride but a symbolic and exciting end to the journey.