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Eat, drink, and be merry…
Christmas – one of my favourite times of the year. In fact, the only thing that I don’t like about it is the fact that domestic commitments often reign-in my usual cycling and running routines and, to top it all off, you are surrounded for a week or so by billions of extra calories…..some of which….try as you might….will always find their way inside of you!
The pragmatist in me balances this out – going so far as to reason that this time of feasting (a tradition even before Christianity in the Northern Hemisphere) serves to build stores that you will need through the lean winter months ahead. Against that backdrop, those few days of mince pies, turkey and a few too many glasses of red are probably a good thing.
Back to Reality…
Like all good things though, Christmas is soon at an end. For your average person, all they have to look forward to is an exceptionally long period until the next pay day, the agony of the January sales and then – just when they thought it could get no worse – the credit card bill!!! Cyclists, however, have an ace up their sleeve – the knowledge that the annual distractions are done with, those extra energy reserves are simply waiting to explode into the bloodstream and the winter training season has begun in earnest. Bring it on!
Clipping in to the bike this morning, I was more than ready to get back with the plan; the only potential fly in this ointment being the weather forecast. As tufts of grey cloud whipped across the sky, I could almost see the huge white arrows off of the BBC Weather map chasing along behind them.
The Invisible Hill….
Wind; the invisible hill. There is no escaping it; it is never your friend, always your foe – though. Unlike physical hills, it’s one aspect of cycling that never really satisfies. When it’s on your face, it robs you of speed and power in a most un-rewarding fashion. When it’s on your back, it’s artificially enhances your averages – leaving you feeling like you’ve been robbed of your workout. Unlike hill climbing where, to the casual observer, the reason for your suffering is evident – and they may even respect you for it, all those same passers-by see on a windy day is you, dressed like Bradley Wiggins, mounted on a couple of grands worth of carbon fibre…..going slowly!!! No; there is nothing good about windy days on a bicycle.
Ten miles in and I’m approaching my first decision point – do I head down Watery Lane (guess how it got that name) or do I take the longer – less scenic route? I chose; today, I would take my chances in Watery Lane!
Why is it that even though I knew that the ‘Road Closed’ sign was lying flat in the road because it had been blown over by the biblical wind, I automatically assumed that this meant it was null and void!!
I’m Not Ordinary; I’m a Cyclist…
Of course, any sane and reasonable person would, at this point, execute a ‘U’ turn and make back to high ground. I, however, am not a sane and reasonable person; I am a cyclist. As such, I believe that anything is possible – that I can tame the hardest terrain and…..dare I say it….walk on water. Undeterred by the stranded Ford Focus and unfazed by the water now approaching ankle depth, I pedaled on.
With the water now half way up my shins and both crank arms fully submerged, I began to concede that this had possibly been a mistake. Feet now totally submerged and pedaling underwater I can’t see the bottom bracket and it feels like I’m towing a trailer – through mud! However, by this point, I had reached the point of no return – the water now too deep to execute that ‘U’ turn and everything below the knee soaked through anyway.
The mind, as I have observed elsewhere on this site, is a curious thing. It’s funny the thoughts that go through your head at times like this; and, briefly, a mild panic set in. Suddenly, I couldn’t recall actually how long this road is - despite the fact I ride it every week. Images of chest-high water engulfing me or hidden potholes sending me for an impromptu swim flickered randomly through my sub-conscious.
The Parting of the Waves…
As suddenly as I had come across the flood, it began to subside. With feet clear of the water, I picked up the pace. OK, so I was now thoroughly soaked – but, what the hey – I was out on my bike; going where the road took me – I’d just enjoy it. In fact, the unplanned ‘dip’ actually did some good – the annoying creaking from dry spokes now completely gone; things were looking up.
The next few miles passed uneventfully – swinging through my usual lanes and loving it. But, all the time, the headwind continued to build; a fierce southerly that challenged in any direction – unless directly on your back. With this in mind, I started to think through the remainder of the route.
All roads lead to North Hill…
Before I had set out, a little voice in my head whispered, “North Hill….do it….it’s been missing you!” Before the dousing and constant fight with the wind, I had rather fancied it. However, the ascent of this monster leads directly south – right into the face of this killer headwind. Call me soft – but I just didn’t fancy that for some reason!!! The more I dwelled on it, the less appealing it became. In fact, there came a point, where I had consigned this thought strictly to the ‘worst-case-scenario’ folder – way out in the deepest, darkest corner of my mind.
Now, here’s the weird thing – the harder that I tried to avoid riding toward it – the more I became drawn. With the final junction before the long-haul into the hill ahead of me, I rebelled. Turning right, instead of left, I knew I had beaten the Gods of Cycling at their own game – they would not get me today!!!
Striking out down an unfamiliar road, I was feeling rather smug. Even as it started to rise before me – into a reasonable gradient, I was still feeling like a winner. I was still feeling like the victor as a junction loomed ahead. Clicking down through the gears and getting ready to unclip, I was already looking for road signs; to dictate the next part of this morning’s random route. And, then I saw it; all I needed to know. Bright and bold before me, the sign simply read, “NORTH HILL”.
Welcome to – HELL…
North Hill; two words by themselves quite benign; but in this combination – at this place; on this day, they may as well have read “ARMAGEDDON”. Frankly, I panicked –I could go one of two ways here; left (the descent) or right (the ascent). Like a condemned man, I resigned myself to my fate; today, I would turn right; I would climb the hill, suffer briefly and then it would all be over.
I have always believed that you climb a hill in your head long before you ever turn a wheel upon it. If you tell yourself from the outset that you will succeed; then you will. If you resign yourself to failure then you may as well not even try.
Unfortunately, this ascent already had ‘Worst Case Scenario’ and ‘Failure’ stamped all over it in my mind. In an act of instant self-preservation, I rapidly relabeled it – ‘The Ultimate Test’ and simply got on with the job in hand.
Never Say Die…
The headwind did not disappoint – pushing hard against me every inch of the way. The heart rate rose into new territory; the bike creaking and groaning beneath me. And then……it was all over. Coasting out into The Ridge, success was mine; I had risen to this ‘ultimate test’ and triumphed; I had become (in my mind at least) a member of the Cycling Elite.
Pausing at the top for a gel and water, a feeling of elation washed over me – not only had I tackled the hill, but I had done it when not mentally prepared for it, in the harshest conditions and against my better judgement. Right there and then I knew that if I could beat that hill today in the face of such adversity, I could take on anything. On the way home, I got to prove that – fighting my way back down Watery Lane and then forging on with new strength as the wind beat me back on Coventry Hill and Ashingdon Hill.
I am a Cyclist…
Turning into my drive, two of my neighbours stood talking (gossiping). As they glanced at me and I briefly nodded back, I pitied them. To them, this is just the post-Christmas wind-down. All they have done all day is watch tired old re-runs of stale movies on daytime TV. All they have to look forward to is taking down the decorations and opening the credit card bill. I, on the other hand, had just elevated myself (in my mind at least) to the cycling elite; I had been faced with do-or-die; I did and did not die. Today, I proved my mettle and tomorrow I would again as I struck out with the SMCC.
Today, the ultimate test came at me out of the blue. Although I wanted to turn away, I did not and that fact alone has made me stronger. As cyclists, we can do anything; we can tame the toughest terrain and walk on water. Today, I proved that at least part of that statement is true. When challenge comes your way, embrace it be strong today and you will have become even stronger tomorrow.
Turning into Watery Lane, my decision seamed justified though; a few puddles – but not the lake you usually find down here after a spell of rain. Nope – good move sir – push on.
Now fully ‘on the hook’ so to speak, it was almost with disbelief that I suddenly beheld flooding on an epic scale – the road now a river and, just for good measure, vehicles actually stranded in it!!!