The walls have fears

Sunday Ouch

That’s a route profile to strike terror into the heart of an excuse-driven cyclist. Riding on the dirt gives an experienced excuser multiple grubby places to hide; physical – wrong tyres, busted suspension or mental – “not feeling it”, don’t like that wet rock.

Road bikes don’t. Get up or get off. Get over that gear or get spinning. Get off the brakes or get left behind. Get busy riding or get busy lying*. Take a look at those walls of climbing and feel the fear.

Riding bikes is silly. We’ve established this on the Hedgehog drawing a long line from racing around muddy fields to hurting yourself for no discernible reason through broken bones, empty bank accounts, swamp monsterism, self doubt and occasional epiphany. Added to this body of evidence was arriving in Ross-on-Wye an hour after sunrise having ridden over 25k to get there.

The centre of this county town is 5k from my front door and – before dawn – would normally be accessed by motorised halogen lights. This morning I was all eyes streaming peering through the endless gloom, cresting 45kph and heading into a tight corner having yet to ascertain the efficacy of new brake blocks.

A swift twinge from the rear area was mirrored by a harder than advised pull on both levers instantly proving that a) these new brakes are fantastic and b) I may soon be viewing them from a position of some verticality what with the power of potential energy.

Crisis averted, I met my fellow lunatic some 10k distant. We have similar winter bikes** festooned with gadgetary measuring speed, heart rate, cadence and all sorts of other useful statistics assuming you don’t get out much. There the similarity ends with 100k rides being something Jez accumulates monthly, supported by a training regime that tires me out just by looking at it.

Good to have a pal to ride with tho. Not only because he knows the way (whereas I only know the way to get lost), provides motivation by dint of disappearing up steep climbs apparently unfettered by burning legs, and can explain to the shocked family why his mate has broken into their house and is now feasting on their breakfast bacon butties.

So Ross then. Or “Valley Floor” as I don’t like to think of it. From there it’s merely displacement activity, reeling in the first of those big hills at a steady winter pace. “It’s not that bad” so says Lance the Labrador “except for the last 25{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} gradient bit” and “You ride up Cleeve Hill? It’s no worse than that” “Yeah” I breathlessly respond “but that was a right fucking bastard if I remember rightly”

Doubly unpleasant was my unwatered-fish expression being caught on camera at the summit and the disappointing announcement that the cafe was closed. A cafe where I had been promised tea, cake and emergency medical facilities. Instead we had limitless joy of further climbing until finally running out of pointy geography.

Road descending has passed me by. None of the fun and skill of Mountain Biking and yet twice the terror. But now equipped with “Eyeball-on-Stalk” brake upgrade, these allowed a couple of 60kph plummets through twisty bends thankfully free of moisture if not of mud. Road bikes aren’t boat-floating for me in so many ways, but God-Alive they are fast downhill.

Uphill? Not so much. A second big climb lacking the gradient of the first but making it up in distance. My little internal proud-fire at a decent spin up was doused when Jez explained that the local road club used it for hill reps. Yes, that’s right ride 5k up a 250m climb, and then ride straight back down JUST TO HAVE ANOTHER GO.

What is wrong with these people? Christ, why not just ram ones testiclappers into a running chainsaw? Similar amount of pain and suffering without having to leave home. I was suffering a bit now but out of excuses with the “got a puncture, need to stop for a bit” played far too early in the view of some confused looking golfists. They didn’t understand us and by buggery, we certainly don’t even want to understand them.

My descending pace was reciprocally matched by ever-slowing climbing, but now the hills were ouch-y without being endless. Familiar landscape swam into focus recognisable from my rather more limited attempts at road-riding, hinting that home and medals may be close. A final yomp on a fast – and for about the first time – flat section had us intersecting our course from some three hours earlier.

We parted way with Jez heading off to break the 100k, whereas I turned turtle on my old commute route with just a final 100m climb to conquer in the lowest possible gear and the minimum amount of remaining effort. Finished at 90k climbing 1355m and leaving a very tired Al to be helped off the bike and into a round of much needed egg-based product.

On reflection, it was a ride of many firsts; furthest ever travelled on Wog, most climbing since the Dartmoor-100, a mostly working back testament to the skills of Andy@Bike Science. And sufficient energy to demand further tea and cake from the children. It wasn’t until an attempt to wrest myself from the sofa ended in an internal discussion that such stretch targets were many hours away, did I realise how knackered I was.

Should be able to walk in the morning. Might be a bit wonky. Unlikely it’ll be noticed.

* I stole/paraphrased that line from the Shawshank redemption. It sounds better if you play it in a Morgan Freeman accent.

** Except his is in a size missing only hinges for its’ obvious purpose.

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