How I met Alf 


I'd been aware of the existence of Alf Tupper for many years but it wasn't
until last year that I had the privilege of meeting the man.

My older, and considerably less wise, brother had talked me into riding the
width of the country, Irish Sea to North Sea, on a charity bike ride. We set
off from Morecambe, heading towards Scarborough, on what would later turn
out to be one of the hottest days of the year.

On a long ride like that you tend to fall in and out of conversation with
different people, as your paths cross. They might be having a good spell and
leave you for a bit only to catch sight of them at the next food stop, where
they've dithered longer than you.

We kept coming across this old wiry guy, who seemed to be teamed up with a
woman in maybe her late 20s. Father and daughter maybe. But there seemed to
be some chemistry, suggesting more than that. Anyway, over the course of a 9
hour day, there's considerable time for the mind to wander, so by the time
we were crossing North Yorkshire our group had created quite a back story
for the odd couple, without troubling ourselves too much with the facts.   

He had presence certainly, but beyond that there was something familiar
about the man. I felt like I knew him, or ought to know him at least. My
suspicions were about to be confirmed some 90 miles in. We'd stopped for a
late lunch in the market town of Thirsk. There was something of a party
atmosphere with several groups of cyclists re-grouping after several hours
in the saddle, together with a good number of motorbikers. Shirts were
stripped off, tall tales were beginning to be told. We were about evenly
split between those of us stocking up on energy bars, bananas, electrolyte
drinks, etc., and those of us swelling the profits of the local chip shop.
Full fish and chips followed by a big cup of tea for old wiry guy, I
noticed.

We set off with heavy bellies and after only a few miles were confronted by
the almost vertical wall of 'Sutton Bank'. Our organisers had warned that
this hill was 'almost impossible' and we'd be walking. Red rag to a bull for
us blokes. After about a mile of gently steepening hill, we'd already found
bottom gear. And then it got steep. A solid mile of 1 in 5 (that's 20%
Euro-fans). By god it was hard.

...just before the top, wiry bloke sauntered past, chatting away to people
clearly without spare breath to reply. 'She wanted some company so I said
I'd do it. I've got a bike in the shed somewhere. Just needs a bit of air in
the tyres.' I caught him up after the top of the hill where he'd stopped to
wait. I couldn't help but notice the antique nature of his bike, a straight
through 5-speed block teamed with a huge front chainring. No easy gears for
him.

I had to ask him 'I know you don't I?' I'd barely finished the question when
a smile broke across his weather-beaten face, he offered his hand and
announced 'Alf Tupper, pleased to meet you.' And then he rode off chuckling.
 

Stephen Riley

UK