It’s tricky to know what the worst part of the Cornwall week was. The hellish journey there or the actual ‘holiday’ itself. As I sat, slumped in my wonky-shaped, badly-erected tent on that first night, I was too exhausted to even care how much my body ached. All I knew was that my blow-up mattress was taking the piss and was stubbornly refusing to inflate. And then, of course, I saw the full-length shark-tooth tear, grinning all the way down it, which had been ripped as it skidded along the ground at the crash. And then I may have started to cry a bit. My broken body slept on the hard ground that night. My dinner had been a Mars Bar. My pyjamas were the clothes I’d crashed my bike in.
As the sun rudely burnt my eyelids wide open at 5 a.m. the next day, I reflected on my situation. Somehow, I had to get myself and my bike back to London, but the thought of doing that journey again actually made the vein in my temple pop. I was too exhausted to do anything other than stay on holiday in Cornwall. But camping is really hard work and frankly, both staying and going were hideous concepts. I mournfully decided to stick it out and tried to start my holiday.
The campsite was full of happy families in expertly constructed tent temples. My geometric oddity of a pitch was mostly hidden behind a large Wall’s Ice Cream sign, near the park exit, which I actually quite liked as it meant I could avoid talking to anyone. I would have preferred not being quite so close to the sewage tank but I was too numb to care. Because no tent can make the morning sun appear at a civilised hour, your day starts really inhumanly early on a campsite. By 8 a.m you are ready for lunch and by noon it’s time to start looking for a place to eat for the night.
How the hell had I hoped to actually fill the time when I was there? The full horror of the camping holiday was starting to unfold. Assuming I could get my broken body to a beach, what exactly was I supposed to do with all my biking gear and bags when I got there? I remember sitting in a bewildered state on a deserted Watergate Bay, at 7.45am, having already been up for 3 hours, wondering how to fill the next 12 hours of my life. Apart from the usual beach accessories, my helmet, panniers, Doc Martins and leather gloves were strewn all over my Snoopy beach towel. I was wearing jeans because of the bike and anyway, my leg was still all strapped up from the crash. Sweat was trickling down my back and I longed to go into the water for a swim but, quite apart from the leg bandages, solo holidaying relies on a greater faith in humanity than I had. I didn’t buy the surfer-dude hippy mentality – I knew my unattended stuff would be gone in a flash.
By 10 a.m I was back at the campsite.
And so the week dribbled miserably on. I had repaired my mattress with a bicycle repair kit but every morning, my ass was flat on the grass as the damn thing slowly deflated through the night. I wasn’t getting better, I was feeling worse and worse as the week went on. I had no money for a hotel, but I longed for a bath, a bed and a toilet I didn’t have to cross actual foliage to get to. I wanted to click my heels and be magically transported back home, where I could fully embellish my adventures to laughing friends in the comfort of a beautiful boozy pub from where I could joyfully get a cab home. As I ate yet another evening meal at 5pm (usually just a bag of cheap chips, which I chomped whilst sitting on a wall staring wildly at passing cheery families who were only just coming back from their beach-day adventures), I realised I had to leave very, very soon or I was going to go quite, quite insane.
Once the plan popped into my head, I was almost giddy with excitement. At dawn the next morning, I ignored my seized-up bones and gleefully set about pulling the tent down. I ripped at the poles, I tore at the ropes, I scrunched the flysheets up into a ball.
And then, I put the whole lot into a rubbish bag and binned it.
I’m not proud, but it was pretty much the best feeling of my entire life. I did hang on to the sleeping bag. I’m not a rock star.
Feeling like I had an actual cinematic soundtrack playing me out – I grinned hysterically as I drove my (less packed) motorbike out of the gates of that hideous campsite. I’d pre-paid the whole week upfront to the campsite, but never have 3 unused night charges ever gone to such a tremendous cause. I momentarily felt marvellous – I couldn’t actually feel my knee, but I had popped so much Nurofen by that point, I could have cheerfully stabbed it with a fork and felt nothing.
I ‘d already decided I’d aim to ride to about half way between Cornwall and London, stop in whatever big town I was near and, money be damned, I was going to find a hotel, fill a hot bath to an indecent depth, and not come out of it until my innards had poached. As it was, after about an hour back on my bike, my back started to seize, my hips started to ache and my hands were shaking with cold. The weather had turned cold and wet and, as signs for Exeter approached, I got very truly and properly spooked. I had been pretty flippant to myself up to that point about the severity of what happened. As the days passed, I now realise that I absolutely should have gone to a hospital to get my knee checked-out and I just don’t think I was functioning properly at the time. Delayed shock? Exhaustion? Stupidity?
After I got Exeter behind me, for the first time that week, I started to make some good decisions. I wasn’t too far from Yeovil, and although very far from half-way home, I decided I just couldn’t ride the bike any further. I pulled into the Tourist Information car park and 10 minutes later, I was clutching the details of a B&B on an apple farm just a few miles outside of town.
I don’t think you will ever have a bath like I did that afternoon. I’ve never had one like it since. The feeling of relief as the hot, bubbly water wrapped round my aching bones was like the relief your ears feel when a screeching car alarm suddenly stops. I’ve no idea how long I stayed in it. I do know that after the bath, I then went to bed in the afternoon and didn’t wake up til the landlady brought up my breakfast to my room the next morning. I tried not to hug her.
I don’t ride a motorbike any more.