My husband and I were three days into our holiday; it was a bright sunny Monday morning and we were cycling along the narrow towpath at the edge of a canal. As we were both out of work, to say we were short of money would be an understatement. We had thirty-five pounds between us, and that was to buy everything we needed for the whole two weeks. We were both on second-hand bikes. Well to be more accurate, they were bikes Tom had nicked from the local tip. Bikes someone else had thrown away; and Tom had liberated by climbing the fence at night, and carrying home. He'd then had to go back, night after night for nearly two weeks, until he'd found enough spare parts to make them fit to ride. Oh, and they were both men's bikes, or again, to be more accurate, mine was actually a boys bike. But being as I'm only five three in height, I don't think I'd have managed on a full size man's bike.
We'd camped out the last two nights, not at official camp sites, but just pitching our tent in the corner of a farmer's field, and then breaking camp at first light. Once away from where we'd spent the night, we'd find a spot to get out the cooking utensils, and we'd have a good breakfast, enough to see us through until a snack at mid-day. So far we'd manage to avoid detection by any unfriendly farmers using this method, leaving our money for the food we'd need. And in Tom's case, to pay for a nightly visit to whichever local pub we'd found; Tom did like a drink of real ale. We each carried our clothing and bedroll etc. in packs on our backs. And up until about an hour ago, we'd been cycling on roads; where possible trying to keep to country lanes to avoid traffic. But as I've said, we had now taken to the canal towpath.
We were both in good spirits and had been ambling our way along the towpath for about two hours, enjoying the peace and tranquillity these deserted waterways provided. But now in the distance I could see a canal boat approaching. And as we and the boat drew nearer to each other; the chugging sound of the engine became louder. When the front-end of the boat and I were level, I heard Tom saying something. But as the boat had now broken the silence, although I knew he'd spoken, I couldn't make out what he'd said. And as I was in front of Tom, I briefly turned my head, to ask, "What?" "I said watch that."
I didn't hear the rest. My front wheel hit the tree root that was protruding from the dirt track. And as it was not only a good two or three inches high, but crossed the path at an angle, as soon as my wheel made contact, the handlebars were wrenched from my grip. The wheel then descended into a reed filled hole at the waters edge, where it collapsed, the spokes either snapping clean apart, or pulling holes in the rim. The bike and I are still moving, following the path of the now crumpled wheel. So the next thing to hit the earth is the front forks, and they fold on impact. Now the front of the frame digs in, and no-way is this going to fold. It pitches up the back of the bike hurling me over the top into the canal. And then it lands itself in the water on top of me.
It was pandemonium for a few minutes. The man steering the boat rammed it into reverse, and revved the engine. Tom jumped from his bike, and after removing his back-pack, ripped a branch from the hedgerow the other side of the path. And as Tom reached out towards me, and the back of the boat passed where I was floundering, in jumped one of the boats passengers. But as he jumped in feet first, he soon realised just how shallow the water at the edge of the canal is. He was stood just a foot or so away from me, the water only a foot above his waist. It wasn't only the fact I'd gone in almost horizontal, with the bike landing on top of me, but I also had a heavy back-pack, which had unbalanced me, making finding my feet so difficult. And grabbing onto Tom's branch hadn't helped; this had just overbalanced me again.
But as soon as the hands hooked under my arms and lifted, I was able to find my own feet on the muddy canal bottom. From then on, it was just a case of us trudging our feet through the knee deep sludgy mud on the canal bottom to make our way to the bank. And it was now that the man who'd jumped in (I found out later his name was Steve), took hold of the branch Tom was holding in one hand, whilst he wrapped his other arm around my back, and pulling against Tom, he hauled us to the bank.
Both Steve and I were a sorry sight, not just soaked and bedraggled, but caked in mud from the knees down. And while Steve helped me remove my back-pack, Tom used his branch to hook-up and drag out my bike. By now the boat had come to a halt some thirty or forty yards further down, and three more men were now running towards us. As the bike was hauled out, Tom held it up showing everybody the sorry state it was in. And then as all eyes turned to look at Steve and I, starting with my Tom; they all began to laugh. I know the two of us must have been a sight to laugh at. But I think it was as much the sheer relief that what at first looked like a dangerous situation had turned out to be so comical. And before we knew it, as Steve and I looked first at each other and then ourselves, we both joined in with their laughter.
Once the initial laughter had subsided, it was a case of weighing up our situation. First everybody made sure both Steve and I weren't actually hurt. Then came the comical descriptions, each person adding their own observation of how they'd either seen me take to the air, or my demise as I'd landed in the water. All of these observations were accompanied by more rounds of laughter. And then came questions like, the one from Dave. (As with Steve, we learnt all of their names later on during that first morning.) "Do you live very far away; will you be able to carry your bike home?" Steve answered before Tom or I got chance, "It doesn't matter how close they live. She can't walk home in that state. She'll have to come on board and take a shower."
I don't know what I was thinking I'd be able to do to get cleaned-up, but I instinctively replied, "Oh no. We couldn't put you to that trouble." Then Tom said, "Hold on a minute there Kelly." Then turning towards Dave, asked, "I mean, if you've got a shower on board, would we be imposing to ask if she can use it?" "Of course not. It's the least we can do. Mind you, I think we'll need to find a way to get some of the muck off first before she actually goes inside. It's a hire boat and it's fully carpeted. I don't think they'd take too kindly to seeing the carpets caked in that black muck she's covered in."
Steve was stood alongside me, and we were both in about the same state, well from the waist down. I mean, I was soaked from head to foot, whereas, he was only wet up to his chest. He continued with, "Well I think the first step is for us all to get back on board, there's a boat coming, and ours has now drifted across and we're blocking the canal." He was right, they'd moored up rapidly, as soon as they'd been able to slow the boat down, but they'd only used a rope from the front end of their boat.
Steve then turned to Tom, "Where were you going? Cos we can give you a lift to the next town we come to, but it's in the opposite direction to the way you were heading?" "Well, we aren't really going anywhere at all. We're just starting a two week holiday, cycling around for the first week going wherever the fancy takes us. And then at the end of the week, or as soon as our money looks like it's about to run out, we'll start making tracks for home." "So if we chuck your bikes on top of the boat, we can get underway, and your misses and I can get cleaned up while we go." "Well yes, so long as it's ok with you and your pals?" Steve didn't ask either of the other two men, before replying, "Course it is, come on, let's get this lot on board and get going before that other boat rams us."
One of the men (Derek) had already made his way back to the boat, and was using the power of the engine to swing the drifting stern back to our side of the canal. But in doing this, it turned the bow away from where it had been rammed into the canal bank. So by the time we'd all made our way to where the boat was, it was now parallel to the bank, but with the water being so shallow, it left a good two foot gap between the boat and bank. Ian jumped across onto the boat, as if it was just a simple step. He then turned around, and leaning towards the bank, took the remains of my bike off Dave who was passing it towards him. Once he'd stowed it on the roof of the boat, he then turned back and took Tom's bike from him, placing it with mine on the roof. Then he took Tom's back-pack, throwing it into the cabin through the door at his side. But mine being wet and muddy; it was placed in the front well just behind where he stood.
Ian next held out his hand for me and I stepped to the edge of the bank, with Tom holding my hand. But as I lifted my leg towards the edge of the boat, my foot slipped. Tom caught me, taking my weight, and hauling me back up to a more solid part of the bank. "Silly sod. I knew you were too close to the edge. Stand back here and stretch your leg across." "I'm sorry." I tried to stretch my leg up to the boat, but the step Ian had made look effortless, was a high step up, and quite a distance for my little legs. "I can't reach from here; can't they get the boat any closer?" "My god woman, they're going to enough trouble as it is, just lift your leg up higher."
.... There is more of this story ...