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God only knows what possessed Mooga to do that – but, thank God he did. Moments like this live with you forever – forming indelible memories which, somehow, seem to get even better over time.
This is why I love cycling; whilst the masses slumbered – or watched Sunday morning TV, we were out in the great outdoors; three mates, making memories that will last forever; whilst the majority ate toast and read tabloids, we were sipping coffee and analysing every moment of the ‘Consiton Water’ episode.
Returning home, I tried to share what had happened with my wife but, to be honest, you really had to be there; absolutely no discredit to her for simply humouring me.
So, when I ask, ‘what were you doing at 05:30 on November 25th, 2012?’ I wonder if you will remember – I certainly will and that’s why the alarm wins the fight every Sunday morning.
What were you doing on Sunday, November 25th, 2012 at 5:30 AM? I can tell you exactly what I was doing; listening to the 5:30 alarm, juxtaposed with the wind howling outside and a warm bed inside. For a brief moment, I wonder why the hell why I am crawling out of bed and donning cycling gear – but, for some reason, I am!!!
It’s the same every Sunday – the alarm pulls me one way – the bed pulls me back the other. Somehow, the alarm always wins but, at this time of the year, it has to fight hard to keep me.
With breakfast on board and the pre-ride checks done, I’m ready. Striking out up the gentle gradient of my road I’m fighting the wind from the first turn of the pedals. By the time I’m in my stride, I’m already 4 MPH slower than my regular warm up speed and the heart rate monitor is telling me that I’m getting one hell of a warm up.
And so…it begins…
Gav and Mark are already at the meet point by the time that I get there – my outward leg having taken a little longer than usual (having been into wind and uphill the whole way). As I pull up in the car park, greetings are exchanged and the route discussed. Despite some bravado, we all know this is not going to be easy. But, this is still our idea of a good Sunday morning.
Passing through the quiet village of Battlesbridge, we are 5 miles in and under no illusions – this is not going to be hard or very hard; it’s going to be exceptionally hard!!!
The route out from Battlesbridge leads us up the short, sharp ascent of Hawk Hill. I’m on the front now with the crown of the hill drawing gradually closer. The road at the top is much more exposed than the bulk of the ascent; a wide open expanse on either side almost begging the wind to blow across it. As we get closer, I can hear (and see) the wind tearing at the roadside grass and hedges. I push on – not wanting to – but knowing I have to. As we get closer to the top, I can see sapling trees almost bent double. It feels as though I’m climbing into a pit of vipers, but there is no going back - time to fight those demons.
To be fair, when the side wind hits us, it’s not too bad. Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t a walk in the park; but it’s not the killer hurricane that the voices in my head had suggested. Despite this, the climb into the wind has already taken it’s toll on the legs. We push on - fighting the headwind once more on the next climb into Rettendon.
And so it goes; mile after mile, climb after climb. Each of us fighting their own demons with every pedal stroke; Gav has the physique of a pro-peloton rider so has a bigger fight with the wind than Mark and I, Mark has an injury that is preventing him from standing on the pedals and I have opted for deep aero section wheels – which have developed a mind of their own; throwing me across the road with every gust; almost randomly.
Know when to quit…
With the half-way point of the planned 65 miles drawing near, the legacy of yesterday’s rain becomes evident. Traversing a heavily flooded section of road with great care we all achieve our goal of exiting with dry(ish) feet. The little ‘win’ momentarily raises our spirits - until a chilling thought brings me back to Earth with a thump! I ask Gav, “Isn’t there a ford somewhere near here?” He thinks for a moment before shouting ahead to Mark, “Mooga – what about the ford?” Mark responds, “Should be OK – let’s see how we go”.
In no time, said ‘feature’ is upon us. We should have known it wasn’t good – by the ‘Flood’ sign and traffic cones blocking the road. But, being the intrepid types we are, we pushed on.
The sight of Mark fearlessly ploughing into the water as the roadside depth gauge indicated nigh on 4FT will stay with me for a long time. Like sheep, Gav and I followed. We all knew it was game over when Mark (with a better view of the road ahead) looked back and simply shook his head!!!
Standing by the roadside, we are in contingency planning mode. Gav was looking at footpaths across fields and I was thinking of phoning a cab when Mark opened the bidding with, “well, we are 25 miles in. If we follow the same route back, we’ll get 50”. Wise words mate. Decision made.
Is it a man…or is it a Bluebird?…
Having now turned for home the wind is on our backs. Average speeds rise – almost in unison with our spirits. But, in no time at all, we are back upon the flooded road that had previously been traversed with such caution. Despite the raised spirits, wet feet at this point in the ride could well take the edge off of what little pleasure remained so Gav and I held back – planning our route through the water with the utmost caution. The fearless ‘Mooga’, on the other hand, pushed onward in his usual determined fashion.
What happened next was simply surreal; a moment of pure selflessness on the part of Mark – no doubt intended solely to further raise the spirits of his flagging comrades…….either that or an act that hints at the need for some professional help!
The road could only have been flooded for 10 yards or so. But after 30 miles into a 25 MPH headwind, that short expanse may as well have been the cold, foreboding depths of Consiton Water.
Incredulously, Gav and I looked on as, with the same bulldog spirit that drove Donald Campbell out in Bluebird one fateful January morning, Mark – SMCC’s very own ‘Donald Campbell’ – performed a 100 yard sprint; worthy of Cavendish or Griepel toward the waiting 'lake'.
With full speed reached, he instinctively pulled both feet clear of the pedals – folding them back behind into the full Roland ‘Rollie’ Free position. Hitting the water hard, huge rooster tails of water engulfed him; vortices of spray swirling behind the bike. For the briefest of moments, we could have been watching a jet powered record attempt but, of course, we weren’t. If I’m honest we were both half hoping he’d make it through and half wanting him to hit a submerged pothole - ending the stunt with a full-on ‘Superman’ over the bars and into the water……sorry, Mooga!!!
The moment could only have lasted a second or so – but it felt like minutes. Slowing the bike, Mark looked back; an aura of ‘hero’ hovering about him. A very wet hero, I hasten to add - but a hero, all the same.
By now, both Gav and I had (nearly) stopped laughing……..And then we started again. In fact, I was laughing so hard that I nearly fell off twice just pootling across the murky depths obscuring that short stretch of road. In fact, I was still laughing so much on the other side of the flood that I had to stop the bike dead to clip back in to the pedals. In fact…..I’m still laughing about it now!!!