|At the start ... before the hills|
A hill. Another stupid hill. I couldn’t even see the top of this one. My legs were aching from pedalling, my shoulders were sore and I was cold and wet from the wind and rain.
I was down to my last half a flapjack.
And then I did something I said I never would do.
I unclipped my feet from the pedals. Climbed off my bike and started pushing it up the hill. It was a mistake. I knew that immediately. My calves started burning, my feet in their cycle shoes were sliding on the leaves and debris at the side of the road and worst of all was the sense of disappointment in myself.
I followed the man in front of me who was also pushing his bike as other cyclists flowed around us. The blue jacket and wide shoulders obscured the view of the hill ahead and reinforced the feeling that the hill was a never ending spiral, fringed with high dirty verges. And that it was stretching higher and higher, making me work harder as a penance for being a coward and climbing off my bike.
I was NOT having a good day. I was on the 3rd of 5 hills in the Rawlinson Bracket, a sportive set in Warwickshire, a county not known for its horrific hills or large climbs. I was cold, wet from a shower of rain, running out of water and snacks and tired from a bug which had been plaguing me for far too long. Most of all I was sick of cycling.
However, I WASN’T sick of sitting. Nope. I was perfectly happy to carry on doing the sitting part. It was the having-to- work-to-get-the-bike-to-move part which was becoming tiresome. Also bike rides usually involved cake and I had seen NO CAKE. Just hills. Lots and lots of hills.
Everyone else seemed to be in merry little groups. Granted some of these groups were at the side of the road fixing punctures or having arguments over whose job it had been to pack the snacks and “Why aren’t there any KitKats, Gerald?!” but at least they had someone to bicker WITH. I knew full well it was MY fault I hadn’t packed any cake.
|Me telling my friend, Rich off for not telling me about ALL THE MASSIVE HILLS. (He sped off and made it look very easy. Damn these good cyclists ...)|
The route would probably have been very pretty if everything hadn’t been obscured by a layer of drizzle or if I’d been able to pedal forwards without feeling as though I was trying to go through treacle thanks to the headwind. While my logical brain told me it wasn’t possible to have a headwind the whole way around a looped course – my legs told it certainly was. And that the wind was doing it on purpose.
And now I needed a wee.
I had seen no other cyclists for ages, just hedgerows and the occasional village pub out of whose windows wafted the most amazing Sunday Roast Dinner smells. I could be in the pub instead of on a bike like a dripping-wet, lycra-clad Bisto twin.
Just as I finished my last mouthful of water, I spotted a quill flag and about 100 other cyclists all piled into a damp looking carpark and pulled in. The feed station. Finally. I refilled my water bottle (with water as there was no sports drink left) and the only food that was left was green bananas which I was recommended by the volunteer NOT to try as you needed a knife and some special ninja skills to open them. Possessing neither of these things, I left the green bananas to the next samurai.
I like to think I’m usually a positive person but I was struggling to find many positives today. Right. Have a think. I hadn’t been eaten by a T-rex. I still had half a flapjack left. I had reached this feed station before my water had totally run out …
At least there were toilets. I went into one of the cubicles and started the lengthy that is involved when you need a wee while dressed in bike kit. It’s like unwrapping a multi-layered Pass-the-Parcel but in an enclosed space and while trying not to touch any surfaces.
All my kit was damp – from rain not badly directed wee – and it was not a pleasant experience putting it back on again. I was like the grumpiest and dampest Egyptian Mummy ever. And not made any cheerier by the thought I had to keep wearing these wet clothes for another hour or so.
I was cold, miserable and I’d had enough. I had no idea where I was but I was going to call for a lift home.
And then I heard a familiar voice. A voice belonging to a friend. Linda my friend from running club was outside. I was treated to a massive hug and she told me she was cycling with another friend of mine, Fiona and they invited me to cycle the rest of the sportive with them.
I’m sure there’s something inspiration or clichéd I should say here. Something like “A bike ride with friends is even better than cheese (except for that blue soft cheese that smells of socks)” or “cycling with friends magics the rain away and means you get pushed up hills by fairies” or something but cycling with Fiona and Linda really made ALL the difference.
We chatted the next 25 miles away and the distance flew past. We laughed when we got hailed on, we sped down the hills all together and had a grand old time. Even the hills seemed to shrink. There were 5 hills on the course, 2 of which I cycled with Linda and Fiona … and we were so busy chatting that we didn’t notice them until they were halfway done. It was a VERY different experience to the first half of the course.
We got to the finish full of smiles and were promptly fed huge amounts of cake by the lovely volunteers. The perfect finish to a tough start.