It all seemed so simple. Get fit, save money, save the planet. So when my recently-departed ex asked me if I was interested in buying an electric bike that a work colleague was selling, I leapt at the chance. The father of my children assured me that the bike was almost new, in excellent condition and a bargain at the asking price.
I really should have spotted the warning signs. The first being that an estranged partner does not necessarily have his ex-wife’s best interests at heart, or at least, not necessarily have thought things through in the most practical sense. The new bike arrived – shiny, modern, and…with a very high crossbar. I’d just parted with £400 for a man bike that would be fantastic had I been a 6’ bloke. As a 5’3” overweight 50-something female, this would present a new challenge.
Not to be deterred, I welcomed my new mode of transport into my home. Parked in pride of place in my lounge (it’s a very small house) I read the manual cover-to-cover; charged the battery and set off along the canal towpath for my first six-mile ride to the office. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Good Morning’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists alike. The bike was a tad on the large and heavy side, requiring a severe tilt to the left to dismount, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I felt quite virtuous as I arrived at work slightly hot and sweaty but feeling as though I’d made a proper start to my new fitness regime.
So why should my journey home that evening be any different?
Now it’s difficult to get lost on a canal. One route, along one path, beside one waterway. It’s reaching the right bit of the waterway that set the tone for this particular journey. I am a woman who gets lost even with a Satnav; who can read a map, navigate in a car, but not both simultaneously. After some to-ing and fro-ing around the river Tone and it’s neighbouring parkland I eventually got back on the right track. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Thank you’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists who let me pass with a ‘Ting’ of my shiny new bicycle bell. Only one more mile to go!
And then I fell in the canal.
Don’t ask me how it happened. But I’ll tell you anyway. The towpath along the Bridgwater-Taunton canal is, in the most part, a good path for cycling. It is well-maintained and in places surfaced to provide a smooth ride. It’s just that in other places it can get rather narrow. I had negotiated my way under the bridges most carefully; the paths narrow considerably and it’s only sensible to show caution. However, my downfall came at a point where a gate closes off all but a very narrow twist in the towpath, and as I slowed down to a snail’s pace and tilted the bike to place my feet on the ground I realised too late that I was setting down on the very edge of the grassy bank which was just a couple of inches lower than the rest of the path. Not a problem, doubtless, for the mythical 6’ fit bloke who would hop off in a trice. In my case, it meant a desperate grab for a piece of fence which eluded my grasp, and the subsequent slow, if not entirely graceful, head-first descent into the very murky, weedy water. I just had time for a quick expletive before disappearing briefly to emerge with a mouthful of canal and one shoe floating off downstream.
Footwear rescued, I pulled myself out by hanging onto that two-faced, sneaky fence which had let me down only a minute earlier, and stood, dripping and covered head to toe in pond weed, next to my bike, which fortunately had remained, unlike me, on the towpath. After a quick mental checklist: ‘No broken bones. Bike OK. Backpack intact. Pride severely bruised’ I couldn’t decide if I was glad or disappointed that no-one had witnessed my unintentional dip in the surprisingly warm primordial soup. In a stoical way that would have impressed my mother I got straight back on my bike and soggily pedalled the remaining mile home, to be met by a welcoming committee comprised of my neighbours and the local farmer, who had just been commenting that he had yet to meet the new occupant of the end cottage. Bearing in mind that I now closely resembled the monster from the swamp, I wiped the pond weed from my face and attempted a weak smile by way of a casual greeting, remembering just in time that he probably wouldn’t want to shake my hand as it would quite likely cause a major outbreak of cholera in the region. ‘I seem to have just fallen off my bike’ I said, limply, as if that explained everything; which it probably did. ‘That’ll be all round the local pub tonight’ grinned my neighbour, as the farmer looked at me suspiciously and took one step backwards before practically running for the safety of his Land Rover.