I love riding my bike, there’s no doubt about it, but some days are just grim.
Short movies about Randonneuring evoke a sense of the stoic heroism of the long distance rider, just check out the PEdEL ED “Stories” or the Rapha “Features”: these are not make-believe heroes, these are ordinary cycling folk achieving enormous endurance feats. These are not doped-up racing cyclists cheating for the glory of the win – these are cyclists finding themselves in the lostness of the long distance event. Winning is simply finishing. Overcoming pain. Overcoming weakness. Overcoming the artificial limitations of ‘what we think we can do’, with the experience of ‘doing what we didn’t know we could’.
However, we don’t all have a film crew hanging out the back of a car, capturing in black and white the grim determination on our faces as we bravely endure the weather to crest another Col. For every glamorous shot of a cyclist collapsed at the side of the road, exhausted after riding solidly for 24 hours… there are thousands of us more grimly battling on alone. There is no cinematic document of our suffering. And sometimes we don’t overcome – sometimes we give up.
This January morning, I’m heading out for a solo do-it-yourself 200km audax. The forecast for the rest of the week is ‘ice and snow’, so even though the forecast for today is ‘strong wind and rain’; it’s better than the alternative.
The sky is grey and overcast. There is a touch of drizzle in the air. The wind is in my face. There is nobody around to marvel at the super-human achievement of getting on a bike today. Early into the ride I perhaps reach a high point in the landscape; the bridge over the M62 just outside Howden. There is no glorious vista of mountain tops, no clouds rolling by beneath my feet – there is only the moss on the unused pavement and a few dead leaves in the gutter. I have a growing sense that the day is going to be simply grim.
Today certainly could have been a horrible experience – it certainly could have put me off long distance cycling. The ingredients were there to discourage me forever: The feeling of being cold and not warming up. The bad food choices, halfheartedly swallowed while stood on a diesel coated garage forecourt. The impatient motorists overtaking me with no room to spare between my knuckles and their wing-mirrors. Of all of these I think it was the careless disregard of me as a fellow human-being that got to me the most. To the old gentleman in the Volvo: I stopped to let you cross the road and get in your car, you rewarded me by not even bothering to cross the white lines as you passed me later. To the driver of the articulated lorry with NL country code number plate: you didn’t even bother to slow down as you passed me within inches of my shoulder. To the driver of the red company car, keen to get home: you could see the end of the queuing traffic – two seconds and you could have overtaken safely. To the hero in the small hot-hatch who passed me at motorway speed on an empty country lane: seriously – you were not in control of your car.
I found myself paraphrasing Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want…
…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me…
The Lord is my ride-leader;
I shall not get lost…
…yup; though I cycle along the B-road of impatient motorists,
I will fear no close-pass:
for thou art with me…
However, let me share that there were many redeeming features to my day of ‘endurance cycling for fun’. The barn owl coasting along the hedgerow ahead of me, not noticing me because I was downwind – so I had minutes of being able to watch this beautiful bird in flight. There was the time to think, reflecting theologically on recent events in the life of the church and the world. There was the break in the clouds when the sun illuminated the fields and hedges with warm yellow-orange light: and the patches of bright blue sky amid the dark grey clouds. There was the unexpected bit of country lane between Topcliffe and Skipton-on-Swale, through Catton, which I’ve never ridden before but was a delight to explore. There was bird-song. There were hundreds of courteous drivers for the few impatient people. There was a delicious cake from the village shop in Tollerton. There was the crystal clear night sky, with the bright white moon shining on the world. And there was even a little bit of daydreaming that I was in an epic movie of randonneuring prowess.
Finding the little joys in even the grimmest of rides helps me to keep going. This is the background training that nobody normally sees. These are the tough winter rides that make the summer events seem so easy and fun. This is a ‘Randonneur Round the Year’ series which keeps me going on cold, dark and wet rides.
In July of this year, God willing, I will be lining up with 1500 other cyclists to take part in the biggest long distance cycling event in the UK. The ‘London-Edinburgh-London‘ Audax. 1433km (890 miles) long. 11,128m of climbing (Mount Everest is 8,848m high). A time limit of 116 hours, including eating and sleeping. Entries open on the 20th January 2017.
I’m hoping that my training will pay off, but I don’t expect it to be easy. The last time I did that distance was in 2009, Lands End to John o Groats… but then I took 10 days. I wonder how epic I will look? As I got home last night my wife didn’t think I looked epic.. the word she used was ‘haggard’….