Thursday, 4 October 2012

How bad can it get?

I am having a theoretical rest. Certainly it's a rest from cycling, not been on the bike for 7 days, when I joined our works outing, aka charity fund-raiser. We raised over £30K for Care International, and thanks to those that helped me do my bit and raise my contibution. The day was great, I met people from all the different international offices of our organisation, all brought together on two wheels and a bike. Lots of them, people and bikes.

The ride was OK. We did most of the Olympic road race route, except without the crowds or the closed roads. So whilst the London parks and a few bits of Surrey were rural and picturesque, especially Box Hill, the suburban stuff was full of traffic and never-ending parades of shops and houses. No wonder Team GB didn't win, I'd have been bored to death riding it too. To relive the real professional experience we got to cycle multiple circuits of the Box Hill loop.

After my first two, which as you know breaks my law of never going over old ground on a ride, I rebelled and rode the loop in the opposite direction. Then, instead of completing my 4th, and penultimate ride before the lunch stop, I saw the clouds coming over the hill, and headed for soup and a sandwich pronto. Unfortunately the rain continued all afternoon in a drizzly fashion, and seemed an appropriate metaphor to the way my cycling season has fizzled out of any enthusiasm.

So I decided to have time off the bike. That's the "rest" bit, the rest of the rest is as busy and frantic as ever.

It didn't help that I was already a week into what is now turning into the longest-running bout of manflu ever known to, well, man. Obviously I suffered on the bike, and riding 90 miles in the damp on a Friday in London was not conducive to total good health, but this pesky virus seems to have taken up residence in my respiratory system and is not leaving till it gets what it came for.

I can see everyone around me all buoyed up by the thought of next year, and I'm lacking a certain joie de velo. Still, times have been worse, particularly when it comes to the weather. One of the posts above relays Day 5 of this year's trip to the Pyrenees, and I have decided that gets in at number 6 in my all-time worst cycling weather moments.

Number 5 was also from 2012, step forward this year's Mad March Hare. Another terrible rainstorm, one that lasted all day and was joined by gale force winds, freezing temperatures and a lovely blizzard at the top of the day's main climb. My comfort levels were not helped by inadvertently leaving the vents of my rain jacket wide open. I only discovered this after buying an expensive replacement a couple of days later, an action that guaranteed us the next few weeks' dry weather.

Number 4 was also a day of unrelenting rain, the first day in the Pyrenees last year (see photo below of a rather disconsolate bike next to a soggy bus shelter and a rain-peppered road). The great thing about that day was how the sun came out and the wind died down at almost the exact moment we finished riding.

The third worst was the infamous Exmoor Beast 2009. It did rain most of the day, but the worst of it was the wind. People were blown over on a regular and frequent basis, the mist was swirling around like the dry ice at a Mission gig, and no-one could see a thing. Once or twice I found myself blown onto the wrong side of the road as I cycled past a westward-facing gap in the hedge, catching the full blast of the hurricane in the process.

The organisers cancelled the 100 mile route and defaulted thousands onto a truncated version, leading to crowded narrow lanes, and much accompanying cyclist ire. And a few more crashes on the slippery cattle grid and foaming ford. One to say that "I was there", and never go back. Which of course Stuart and I ignored by signing up and completing the full distance in slightly better weather in 2010, although the extra bits tagged on are a bit dull really.

It was a close call, but the second worst weather took place during 25 minutes of what was generally a tolerable to pleasant day. Day three of 2010 Raid Pyrenean, coming down the Aspin. Again rain was the culprit, but hard, driving, thunder-strewn mountain-bouncing-upwards rain. Climbing up from Campan had been a bit damp and misty, but generally OK. On reaching the col Stuart and I nearly had our legs ripped off by the storm, as torrential rain swept in from the east.

The descent to Arreau is about 12km, losing around 800m at an average of around 6.5%. On a dry day it's a sublime ride, long straightS with great hairpins and wonderful views. On that day it turned into hypothermia from hell, as slowly I lost contact with toes, then fingers, then nose and then reality. There was so much surface water I was reluctant to pedal to warm myself up, for fear of taking a tumble. This only prolonged the agony as I freewheeled down to the base of the mountain, to find the storm passing, and all my sopping wet clothes starting to steam in the heat.

But the prize, if there was one, for the worst weather on a bike, is also one of the most significant days I have had in my life, never mind a bike. Day 9 of Land's End to John O' Groats, April 2009. Connel (near Oban) to Inverness, a distance of just over 106 miles, in one direction. Up the Great Glen, largely on the flat, in the wind. The 30 mph headwind. The only respite was on the few climbs, when at least you expected to be slow. The wind was so fierce I had to pedal to gain momentum on the downhills.

Crying, raging, cursing my sore knee, thinking of giving up. At the end of that long, long day I knew that if I could get through that, I could get through, and more to the point, I could actually accomplish anything I set my mind to do.

So of course, how bad can it get? Possibly worse than all those days, possibly worse than yesterday when I raged about the idiocy of Norman Tebbit, the fatuousness of celebrity, the ineptitude of the Health Service, the pettiness of duvet covers and the uselessness of my lungs. But that's all normal for this stage, one month on. Early days.

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