Whilst everyone had been through the day's testing, not everyone would be going to Italy so Friday morning saw the departure of David, John and Steve leaving just nine of us for the day's activities, a two hour bash around the Pennine foothills. I felt bad for David and Steve, they've been giving their all but I guess we've been building towards this point since we arrived.
The weather was muggy; a few spots of liquid sunshine mid ride did little to cool us off leaving us hot, sweaty and irritable. Once back in Droylsden we showered and fed before everyone convened in the ‘lecture' room.
“Settle down please, we've a busy afternoon.” Steve advised.
Even a handful of teens can make a racket; a double handful of excited youth took a moment or two to come to some sort of order.
“Thank you. So, we are off to Italy in the morning,”
“Yay!” Jamie cheered.
“Indeed Mr Wilson. The bad news is that we don't have the budget to fly all us lot and the kit to Italy,”
A round of groans filled Steve's pause.
“But we do all get to do a road trip. We know it's a long drive, I'm not looking forward to it but it's the only way we could do the training camp. The good news is that we do get a support team for the trip, Darren will be our mechanic with assistance from Mike, we'll have Jemma as soigneur, Chris will be coming along as director and of course Caroline and myself.
Darren and Mike will be here in about an hour to load up the bikes and your kit, I want everyone's bags in reception by three. You'll need an overnight bag, I'm not sure exactly where we'll be overnighting, Chris has organised that, we'll not be unloading your cases.”
“Passports?” Caroline mentioned.
“Yes indeed, passports to Caroline after this meeting please, we've had issues with ‘lost' paperwork more than once in the past.”
Not the only ones!
“We'll be eating early this evening,” Caro put in, “we're leaving at six in the morning so it's an early night please.”
“Yes Drew, six.” She confirmed, “Breakfast is at five thirty then we are straight off, any problems?”
“Er no, just checking.” I allowed.
“Right then, let's get started people,” Steve enthused.
“I thought we'd be flying.” Claire complained as we headed up stairs.
“Yeah I was hoping to get some air miles like,” Josh added.
“Could be worse,” I observed.
“How's that?” Darren enquired.
“We could be going to America, they'd have us rowing there!”
“Aye yer could be right Drew.” Jamie agreed .
I should be good at this packing lark by now but I guess you know me by now. I had my overnight bag packed and unpacked three times before I was satisfied I had everything I'll need. It's pretty easy to get everything else into my case afterwards, worst-case scenario I live without fresh socks or whatever until we get to Italy. I dragged my case down to reception, a bit late but I wasn't last, that honour fell to Sal.
Caroline was in charge of labelling and documentation, we found her behind a makeshift desk.
“Okay you two, passports?”
I gave her my passport and German ID card, which in theory I can use instead of a passport in Europe.
“Thank you, right, one label on your case and the second one is for your overnight bag.”
I tied the big yellow tag to my case's handle and slipped the other in my short's pocket.
“Now that's done I can sort myself out,” Caro allowed.
“What do we do now?” Sal enquired.
“The others are outside I think, dinner's at six but otherwise apart from not leaving the hostel, times yours till then.”
“Neat!” Sal grinned.
“Oh Drew a minute?” Caro requested before I could escape.
“Sure, what's up?”
“We've got you sharing with Josh for this trip, you okay with that?”
“As long as he is.”
“He says so but if you have any issues let me know and we'll sort something out. I'm sorry you couldn't have your own room but the budget is tight enough for this trip as it is.”
“It's alright, I just hope he doesn't snore.”
“Get on with you!”
The real reason for the overnight bags became clear next morning, the truck with all the gear and our bags had actually set off the previous evening – we'll meet them at the hotel in Italy.
“Bags the corner seat,” I stated, clambering bleary eyed into the BC minibus after a breakfast consisting of a cup of coffee – it's too early to eat!
“I wouldna fit anyhow,” Jamie concluded .
Why that seat you may ask? Well it's a single, score one and as no one else has to go past getting on or off I can make a sort of nest to sleep through the journey, score two.
It looked like another Mancunian summer day on the cards, grey sky threatening rain with a few blue tears to allow a bit of sunshine to tempt you to go umbrella-less. With fewer bodies on the bus things were less cramped, at least for now, we are short Chris T, this Jemma woman and Mark; I'm guessing we pick them up en route.
“Everyone ready?” Steve called back.
“Yes!” we enthused, as much as you can when you're half asleep at silly o'clock in the morning.
“Let's roll then.”
Within thirty minutes we were clear of Manchester and trundling down the M6. By mutual consent the conversation was little, sleep still beckoning. For those not up on UK geography we have to go down the west side of the Pennines before heading south east past Birmingham, around London then through Kent to Dover. It's not an exactly scenic ride and the hold ups around the Capital even make the German news.
I snoozed on and off for the next hour or so down to Birmingham, finally giving up on the sleep when we unexpectedly left the M6 and followed the signs for the NEC*. A couple of miles and several roundabouts later we arrived at our destination which turned out to be Birmingham International airport.
“Won't be long.” Caro told us as she jumped out.
“What we doing here Steve, we flying after all?” Laura asked.
“‘Fraid not, just collecting some passengers, great, here they come.”
Steve got out himself and came around to the back of the bus. We all of course had noses pressed to the windows to spot the extra passengers.
It didn't take much detective work to identify the individual pulling a bike box and case or his ‘minder'.
“Morning everyone,” Director Toynbee greeted us.
“Hi,” Mark allowed.
After a bit of moving, huffing and grunting , the newcomer's kit was stowed, seating was sorted and we were on our way again. Instead of retracing to the M6 we joined the M42 direction south.
“You fly from home man?” Josh asked Mr Cavendish.
“Yeah first flight out of Douglas.” He confirmed.
“You coulda flown all the way,” Mand suggested.
“I wish, I've got sponsorship from Manx Air but they only fly to Birmingham, Belfast and Glasgow.”
“Bummer.” Darren noted.
“Tell me about it , ” Mark agreed.
We soon joined the M40 towards London, the time already after eight.
“Toilet stop in ten.” Caroline announced.
“Great, I shouldn't've had that fruit juice.” Sal shared.
“TMI.” Geth mentioned.
Ten minutes were closer to fifteen by the time we were stopped in Banbury services.
“We'll be having a longer stop later so if we can be back in twenty minutes.” Steve instructed.
There was a bit of muttering but we all piled out and headed for the facilities, running the gauntlet of Costa, Smiths and BK on the way. I've made it a rule, I think I mentioned before, to utilise any opportunity to empty my bladder on road trips but why do they make you walkthrough the whole complex before you get there! I hadn't really wanted to go when we stopped but when I finally got my knickers down and sat well - aah!
“Who on earth wants an electric drill at motorway services?” Mand enquired while we waited for the others to appear.
“Motorway DIY man?” I suggested, I must admit admit to asking the same question myself when I first saw the stack outside Smith's on the way in.
Any further exploration of the question was annulled by the arrival of Sal, Laura and Claire.
“I'll get some playing cards, they always have them in these places.” Laura mentioned heading into the shop.
“Come on girls, you can shop later,” Chris chivvied.
We sort of did a slow meander towards the bus; Laura caught us as we arrived. Once loaded it was back to the motorway to join the increasing London bound traffic. It seems to be a girl thing, the Angels do it too, that is break out the playing cards on longer journeys.
I'm useless at the best of times, Con on the other hand is a right card shark, so I tend to opt out. There would be no such escape this morning; the card school would include me whether I wanted to or not.
Hmm, thirteen. Should I stick on that? Yeah.
“Call!” Mand stated.
So of course if I'd taken the next card I'd've scored twenty-one but no I lost out to everyone else on the hand. Look I told you I'm crap at it.
The lads were of course otherwise engaged, Josh was mouthing his way through the Italian phrase book we got the other day, Jamie and Mark were talking cars, Darren was nodding along to something on his headphones, Geth was gently snoring into the side window.
We lost traffic at the Oxford turn but gained more at each successive junction all the way to the M25 where we turned south towards Heathrow. The traffic was at least moving even if all the lanes were full of traffic. The stream of aircraft taking off announced the airport then we were past and Gatwick replaced Heathrow on the road signs. Heavy spots of rain turned the already grey day into wet and horrible, I hope it dries up, I hate driving in rain.
*National Exhibition Centre
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 02.06.13