It’s 90 degrees under the Yucatan sun, the tarmac stretches dead straight and flat as far as the eye can see and then 20 k’s more. The sweat was dripping before a pedal was turned and 2k’s into the heat the lycra is sopping, the hands slipping and the eyes streaming sweat and sunscreen. it’s the first morning ride of Mexico 2015 and it’s just got serious.
- Rule number 1: train thoroughly, prepare properly: broken.
- Rule number 2: acclimatise fully after travelling: broken.
- Rule number 3: cycle in the cool of the day: broken.
- Rule number 4: no sunscreen above the cheekbones: broken.
- Rule number 5: avoid all alcohol: broken.
The Truants are on tour again. The forecast storms have gone elsewhere, leaving just the sun and the jungle and the smiling friendly Mayans. And the road, the bike, the saddle, and a butt already bitching.
Up ahead the fast boys are drafting away at 30kph all slipstreamy and competitive.
Back here, a k behind them already, is where the thing that is Truants really happens:
- the slow grind on a lady’s bike with flowers on the front and a Madonna strapped on the back rack, for the once cheerful chap from Leeds,
- the 28 stone Wide Load encased in a Wanker Of The Day T-shirt 3 sizes too small and holding a cenote full of wet
- the once hardest man in the special branch struggling just to breath let alone pedal, maybe that tough pink exterior is real and he actually is a lobster
- the legendary mangers and promoters and merch’ers and bankers and bean counters of rock and metal; the business leaders, property magnates, newspaper editors, chefs and entrepreneurs all wishing they’d upgraded to somewhere, anywhere other than this road this broiling day.
- the clash and grind of the gears and roars of elephantine fury when confronted by the shock of a hill that’s actually just a bridge over a motorway; the anger increased by the certainty that the motorway would have us in our hotel in 20 minutes, if only we were driving on it, not cycling across it on this country lane.
- the many of us who once never cycled but now do it often or even all the time as per Heavy Metal Truants of the Rock God and the ageless Hamlet powered Sim, just doing it and loving being pretty damn good at it to.
- the rookie girls and boys suddenly realising just how mad these ageing behemoths around them really are, and just how far almost 200k’s in three days actually is when you chuck in a tropical sun. As we always bloody do.
- the vultures circling, always circling. Were they the same ones we disappointed in Morroco? Tough luck boys. I fancy your chances in 2 years though, it’s only getting ever more likely.
- the wives and husbands teams not seeking each other out on the road as once they did in a bar, each just head down and pedalling in silent marital harmony or strife depending on how he behaved the night before.
- and at the back the Tindleys’ and the Judge our Ancient of Days, just stayin’ alive; the Doc and Hercule herding them along like anxious collie dogs. Baaaaa.
- all interspersed by the frantic clumsy slugging on the go of sweet warm water that doesn’t quench thirst, but might just keep you from doing a HoJo flappy fish and frightening us all to death.
No-one ever boasts about how tough Truant’s is, just about the money we raise, but the Doc summed it up at the first stop, “You are all bloody mad, none of you should doing this!” Well except maybe Dave, Cooney and Stuart, and even they took to slowing their charge by adding Amandas and moustaches and underage Fullers, and Swede’s, fit bankers and even an accountant to their peloton so they didn’t have to go so fast.
Mind you at least their peloton didn’t kill anyone, as Gunnar thought his had. “All my fault”, said the gent he’d left scattered in the roadside shite. The Doc was summed by flying Swede, patched up the boy and on we went.
The dogs bark and the caravan moves on.
Unless you were there that’s probably enough for you, the rest is all in–jokes and detail!
As on we had earlier gone from the first hotel(s) – Red Blue and Green to us but Green Blue and Red to Henk the colour-blind South African, who sent us marching all over Izamal, the wee town we had reached 14 hours after meeting at Gatwick all orange and badges and breakfast Guinness, and then behaving ourselves on the Virgin, as one should, despite fond memories of Cuba flights years ago. And then after a bus ride too far, a quiet buffet supper of slightly challenging local food bits and bobs (beware the green sauce. It’s so not guacamole) and WOD and HOD going to the pair(s) that had taken off their Truant’s T shirts on the plane – ridiculed and admired respectively. After that we wandered around town eventually finding the right set of dribbly taps and dusty beds, and grateful for the wine and beer and that got us to sleep off the rest of the short jetlagged night before being surprised by a decent breakfast, but not by the hour or two of bike setting up.
We are not easy cats to herd, especially when a dozen must accept sit-up-and-beg bikes. The Yank got one, but when it came to it he took on our best and beat them girly-bike or no. He won a Hero and a fine for nationalist chanting in celebration. Luke won nothing even when he fell off the straight and narrow, just as he used to, but this time getting grazes not a hangover. James did that bot for the both of them well enough mind.
But that was long, long after we set off on day one, full of fear and hope into the sun and down that long, long hot, hot road to the first stop, just water and peanuts and fruit, the peloton doing it in 25 minutes, the Imperial rearguard in twice that poor sods. Arriving just in time to pour gallons over their head and off we go again into the full and pitiless heat for another 20 to lunch and an hour’s rest somewhere down the road. The support was fine, but there were casualties, HoJo’s systems shutting down for a long mo’ at lunch in the shady dusty town square, being cared for by Bill Taylor, who won a HOD for that, and a fine for his fine coiffeur as New Judge Pennington made us roar with laughter on the final eve, a fine replacement for the grand old man.
But after HoJo had extended the lunch stop and the Doc had told those of us sheltering in the aircon bus us that Tindley major was too pink to continue, when some of us know he’s been too pink for decades, we ploughed on up the road, a quieter, more grimly focussed bunch, though the stops came more frequently thereafter and we got through our hardest ever Truants 72k day just, sundry casualties needing to ride the air-conditioned bus for a leg before determinedly girding their battered loins and riding through to the finish in Piste. Even Hojo crossed the line, brave poilu. Vive le France and stuff Isil.
And what a line it was, just past the glorious looking Chichen Itsa Four Seasons we found the Pyramid Inn, Norman Bates’ other venture. He built it in the 60’s and god knows what happened there but it was deserted soon after, until we were sold a night x 60 odd and they got the old sheets out and cranked up the ancient plumbing. But no matter that, or the jumbo-jet air-conditioners, the Pyramid Inn had a grand old pool and no bar, so we could ship in maybe 400 beers and drink them all in glorious knackered harmony, all getting to know each other except for Victor who ploughed up and across the deep end for 50 laps while we drank and talked about the pain and the heat of the day and the doings of the 2 years since Cambodia.
The dinner at the huge tourist place across the road was a second uncharacteristically quiet night. The party animals are older and proportionately fewer now and the day had been very hard. The food was challenging – though swift and clean – and the tequila did some good and what had to be done was well enough done, but while many stopped on for a bit after for a natter, we were knackered in a night-life free town so we went to bed. The giant from the desert won WOD for pushing Big Frank into the pool, which was bloody funny until someone asked Frank if his phone was in his pocket. No one could have taken it better, but Jason was a goner, especially as he had also broken tour-bus rule number one. The crowd bayed and the judges made sure they got their villain. HOD was of course the saintly brown-haired A&E nurse Bill.
The next day started with a brief ride to the spectacular Mayan temples and arenas of Chichen Itsa, where we were educated in the wonders of the Mayan calendar with its 18 months of 20 days making 360 and the 5 “non days”; the children of which were sacrificed as soon as they could speak, so that they could get to the gods of the underworld to plead for good soil and harvest; along with the similar lunatic religious logic that saw the winning captain of the ‘ball game’ played in a long walled arena sacrificed so that it was the strongest man who went below to play the game against the gods down below in the same cause. And after that fascinating stuff the ride was shorter, 53k’s they said, but still with the killer noon-day first stretch that seems now to be the Classic Tours hallmark. With a Scot and a Saffer in charge you can only expect a bit of sadism.
Lunch was taken in the shade of a playground, tiny 10 year olds playing soccer-rounders as we arrived, the wee girls all eyes and giggles at the vast white giants in orange. We high fived and smiled and laughed and selfied under the trees, resting and recovering and wishing the afternoon could be spent on the bus. It wasn’t, we went on as ever we do, the casualty count rising, with Mike’s being the worst by far, Will the Doc worrying about having to send out for more clean bandages as the graze and scrape count grew. We stopped for water in the scrappy shade by a tiny turkey farm that blared out rock music and sort of recovered mid-afternoon, before we ground our heavy way on into Valladolid, through the increasingly prosperous, but still v 3rd world streets until the Town Square and the church where Kevin and Stuart H produced iced lollies for all which won them nominations for HOD, so good did they taste after another day on the Mexican road to nowhere.
And then the highlight. We trickled out of town, past the posh houses to the poor ones and a down at heel, but smartly uniformed junior school, where our 54 strong army plus outriders were welcomed into the playground. The tiny wee Mayan children were ecstatic and awed but also properly ordered and bossed by their old-school teachers (themselves still but 2/3rds our size), so that when we took the stage they stood in ranks, maybe 200 of them and listened to the speech from their head and from our man-with-the-mike, or rather his translator, our local guide, Ruben. “We come from England where we have a Queen.” Funny the things one comes out with.
We threw a few rugby and footballs into the crowd and then had to break up the knot of kids that fastened on to each one before getting the balls to the teachers just. We were more careful with the sweets.
Then it was the turn of our Star. Helen was happy to sing, she rightly always is, but what to sing to this crowd? And then it came to her and all of us and the gobstopped kids got to hear “Twinkle twinkle, little star” for the first time ever, sung by 54 overgrown schoolkids, tripping out on the happiness they were causing. Then Adam took it up a brilliant notch with a ipod full of Maiden blasting out through the PA and Rachel got up a conga as only she could and they even got to see some moustachioed air-guitar, again for the first time in their wee lives for sure. And after Bazza had snuck some selfies with the prettiest of the teachers and the rest of us had engaged with the kids and all as best we could, we paraded out of the gate and back to the Hotel Maria de Luz on the square, leaving a sea of memories behind us, and taking another sea with us.
The hotel was a step up thanks be and had a poolside and limitless bar. Luke was robbed and the kitty was ripped off by waiters who eventually grew surly, but the evening was a truly great one. It started with beers, until Jason appeared with a fish-bowl margherita and we all had to have one. Quite a few had a swim, but most just sat and did what Truants sit and do: we talked and drank and smoked – we are a rebel army after all – and got on better and better as always, before repairing across the road to the smartest restaurant in town for the same sort of buffet as the previous two nights, but this one 4 star to their 2 and 1 respectively. We sat at long tables in our own room and slowly but steadily went through the gears until we were flying. No one died, though the riot police were called and came all rifled up but they stayed outside and then departed. The HOD went to Twinkle, who got gloriously serenaded with her tune, though she has since made clear she will not have it as her theme, that’ll be “Don’t Stop Believing”. But for one night only she was our twinkling star and though she cut up the laurel-green T-shirt and got fined too, she wore it well. The WOD was Gunnar, who the judge had decided was to blame for Mike Hole’s demise, no matter what Mike Hole said. ‘Twas done and well done amidst a blizzard of nominations and when that was done the Cooney play list got us jumpin’ as did his valiant attempt to head butt the paper ball hanging from the chandelier. He got there in the end by using a chair as a launching pad and one by one the youth were called out to repeat the feat, until first Jason and then Big Frank scared us all and the foundations too, and better though less hilarious sense took hold and the music blared and we partied like mad, until chucked out we went to bed or most of us to the pub down the road, where some sat on the pavement and smoked cigars and drank margheritas passed outside by the gang inside who went sing along to the Cooney playlist once more. A fantastic Truant night, we thought the next day, up there with best of them.
And the next day was the last on the road, and set to be another tough one at 70k’s, though a recently washed-away road shortened that by 10 I think, but no matter, the morning was scorching, poor Carol fell and badly damaged her calf, and the rest were seriously knackered as we climbed away from the crocodile lake and then down to the finish at the entrance to the deep water-hole or cenote, this one a great example of the amazing geographic feature endemic to the peninsula. Carol had got back on the horse to show her steel, Jason powered down the final straight, Big Frank looked close to exploding and Robin Moore, Robin Moore, came riding through the glen to close our road trip of pain and sweat and broken bacon-strips as Luke so choicely named the part that saddles hurt the most.
And then it was the short cavalcade to the cenote itself and the banner hung between lamp-post and man on the roof of a car and the photos and hugs (was any such ever sweatier?) and mutual congratulations and backslaps. We had done it again, the pain was already been forgotten and the camaraderie could not be more real and wonderful. We were and are Brothers and Sisters in Alms.
And then a great lunch – another 4 star version of the same – and another world class moment, just like that as we changed, showered and walked through the grassy glade to the entrance to the underworld, this one guarded not by Cerberus, but by a Mayan gent renting goggles and snorkles for 20 pesos. I borrowed 50 off Rachel and must repay her. Then it was down the steps and spiralling staircase and out into a vast cave, a sort of buried sphere maybe 30m in diameter and half full of crystal clear water and truants floating about. Jump they said and I did. Bloody hell it was a long way down. Bazza was the yes-no-yes-no star as ever, giving it large as we all gave up on him, despite Rachels’ convincing floating temptress act. Both were fined for their part in that. And then it was up above ground and off in the coach for the ride to Tulum and the 5 star thank-the-lord Kore Hotel resort, where we saw the sea for the first time after a wonderfully amateur check in in what was v smart spot. The staff seemed more focussed on the rules and don’t than on making us happy, but we got on with the party, gathering for champagne and margheritas in our funny T shorts, with Jason and The Bennies’ winning my vote, amidst lots of great efforts and a few non. Thence to a fantastic buffet of the same array of Mexican-food-for-tourists as ever of course, but this one the full 5 stars. We still were wise to beware the green sauce.
And then Rod told us we were closing in on the £2m total – incredible stuff –and HOD went to him, because it should really. He thanked the pro’s, Henk and Gavin, and their team, and Helen W and Helen C, but while they are all vital, it’s his creation and his character, as Jason said, that gets us all there, a whole bunch of Alpha’s happy to play Beta to an ultimate Alpha! WOD went to poor brave Carol, because we all felt she deserved the magnificent Sombrero, and the only way she could get it was if we denied her the alternative Hero award and played by the rule established by Victor’s fall in Havana all those years ago. She loved it thanks be.
And then the judging started, Pennington august, Bradbrooke and Curran learned and suitably pompous. The quiet ones got off lightly with £30’s with the “ar******s just like me” getting £75’s. It should be being quiet that gets you fined on a Truants ride I say. Shack produced the highlight when challenged as to who he had had smashed up when they were secured to the back of his bike (thanks to Adam and Kevin seeing his fury at his allotted bike on day one). “The Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus…..who saved us all my Lord” came back a schoolboy voice. “And Where Are They Now?” “In heaven my Lord.” We cried.
And then Eric gave us the traditional Flipper with a new Puppet on a String addition and while the veterans wept at all the memories the Rookies wondered who Flipper was. They need to know that we need more loons like Eric! But maybe not Bazza. Or maybe yes, lots more Bazza’s, as if that was possible. Then it was Paul and Adam karaoke in the now closed now open now still open bar upstairs and shooting the breeze downstairs, before Sim and Helen and the proper players went off to town to salsa and while away the hours till maybe 0530, the rest of us fading on the way there in a singalong in the lobby bar, that many will remember for the swinging events that triggered a Cooney Gem at lunch the next day. “I guess if you are a Kitzbuhel ski-instructor you are a bit like an Elf-Lord, you can get any stunning girl you like to do what you like.” said one enviously. To which Cooney deadpanned: “But why then would you spend all night trying to get Gollum to shag her?” You had to be there, but we were and we cried again.
And that was it; a hangover, a slow lovely breakfast and then a bit of fun by the pool, a long, long lunch and the 5th Truants tour ended for the working classes who headed to the airport while the toffs stayed on for golf and fun with their WAGS on the Mexican riviera. Lucky lovely things.
It is a special thing this, it really is.