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Run Silent, Run Deep…
As my feet disappeared below the water line, I could already hear the shouts of disapproval behind me. Pushing on, those same shouts turned from disapproval to borderline fear. This morning, Watery Lane was living up to its name. I’d ridden this road when it was flooded before – but today was in a different league. And this wasn’t just any water; this was snow-melt. Ice cold, foul smelling and a good couple of feet deep.
If you’ve never ridden a bike through a flood, my advice would be – don’t. It all starts well enough and you think you’re in for no more than a good soaking. But, once the water covers your feet, the drag is enormous – a flat road becomes a hill climb. Add to that the fact that you can’t see the myriad potholes lurking beneath the surface and that you really don’t want to put a foot down (driving your wet legs even further into the depths) and you honestly do have a recipe for potential disaster!
To be honest, we all knew what it was going to be like before we got there – we even joked about it as we rode around the ‘Road Closed – FLOOD’ signs. I’m still not sure why we didn’t turn back at the edge of the flood – but something just drew us in.
Emerging from the icy water, there was a moment of silence; nothing to be heard but the swoosh of three (now very wet) drivetrains. Then, almost in unison, we all erupted into hysterical laughter. I said what we were all thinking, “What the f*&k were we thinking!” Pushing on into the icy morning with towering grey clouds building before us, there was no mistake that this was going to be a rule #9 type of ride.
Somehow, when you’ve just done something like that, there is a little disconnect that happens in your head – part of your brain says, “Right, that’s as bad as it gets”. It is denial; plain and simple. You won’t let yourself believe that there is worse ahead of you. In a way, that’s a protection mechanism – but ironically, a protection mechanism that puts you at greater risk.
Never was this more evident than the moment when my wheels skated about beneath me as I careered into a patch of compacted ice still clinging tenaciously to the middle of the road. Emerging unscathed and shiny side up, the laughter reflex kicked back in – further ‘protecting’ me and allowing my sphincter to return to its normal size and shape.
A Place of Safety…
With Leather Bottle Hill approaching, we had settled into a steady pace. The roads here are marginally wider and better surfaced than the lanes we normally inhabit and this made us feel somehow safer. The shouts of protestation from Wet Wipe as a passing car ploughed into a patch of standing water – sending the resulting bow wave square into him suggested this was a false illusion. And even though Mooga and I were not now covered in quick-setting mud and horse poo, as was poor Wet Wipe, this little incident did us no favours either; have you ever tried to hill climb competently whilst you laugh your head off? It’s not funny, I can tell you!!!
With the hill conquered we turned into Lower Stock Road – my old friend – one of my all-time favourite cycling roads. Although narrow and with restricted visibility in places, the gentle downhill gradient (which is almost imperceptible to the eye) lets you crack on at a pace. On the drops, on a fair day, if you don’t touch 30 down here you’re not really trying. Today was not a day for trying though and so we settled into a comfortable mid-20s pace.
Exiting the wooded area that indicates the end of the ‘thrash’, it’s normally a car that forces a quick sit-up and grab of the brake levers. Today, however, it was water – deep, filthy water. To be honest, I was going so fast that I just decided to cruise through – a bad decision as it turned out.
Hitting the water at speed, I imagined that I would simply coast elegantly through. Of course, anyone with a modicum of common sense and a physics O Level would know that this move would not pan-out quite as I had intended. The drag of the icy cold water over bike and legs slowed me rapidly – causing another ‘50P / 20P’ moment as the bike wobbled and weaved almost to a stop. To reinforce the ‘bad move’ message, the freezing water now cascading over me stole precious warmth – hard earned from the preceding manic five minutes.
As Mooga and I had laughed at Wet Wipe, now I was the source of amusement! To be fair, I had to laugh, too; simply looking back at the others and shouting, “What a tw@t!”
Take Me to the Hill…
The heavens opened again and still we pushed on. Working hard to maintain core temperature, our route led out to one of SMCC’s favourite roads; the mighty North Hill. Today, however, we would not be climbing! No, today was a special moment in SMCC history; a descent of the mighty hill.
On a fair day, with tip top brakes and good visibility, this is a daunting descent – well over 40 MPH if you do it right with tyres on the edge of their usefulness. On a wet day, with visibility counted in metres and brakes offering as much bite as marbles on glass rims, even your average Kamikaze pilot would respond, “No; you’re alright – I’ll try it tomorrow!!”, If offered a rapid descent aboard a bicycle.
Passing the big pink house that marks the top of the hill, the heavens opened. A proper downpour; the sort that would probably have had Noah running for the Ark. With the first bend approaching, I instinctively grabbed some brake…..then some more……then some more…..then….Oh, bugger – no more lever travel and all the brakes were doing was making a funny noise; not slowing me down. With braking now no more than a notional thing it was time to be brave, release those levers, follow the widest line and most flowing route down – and hope there wasn’t a car coming the other way.
Re-grouping at the bottom, I was comforted to see that it wasn’t just me who’d been ‘bricking’ it. The two other pasty faces and furrowed brows told their own story – thank God we were the only moving objects on that hill, at that time today!!!
What goes down must go up and soon we were beginning our ascent out of the valley. By now, a subtle mix of hypothermia and hysteria had kicked in. We climbed, we suffered, we enjoyed. Roads flowed before us – gravel strewn, mud covered and mostly flooded, but we rode them all the same.
Then, as leaden skies began to lighten, for the briefest of moments, we spied a patch of clear blue. That small patch of blue in sea of grey clearly appealed to the optimists in us and moods began to lighten…..until…… The shrill screech from Wilson signified a different sort of problem; we are off course! As usual!!
To be fair, this should not really have been an issue. Wet Wipe had shared the route with me days before and I had diligently uploaded it to my trusty Garmin 800. In certain knowledge that I would save the day, I shouted the directions now clearly displayed before me. Wet Wipe’s response was simple, cutting and soul-destroying, “That’s my house!” Oh, bollocks! My trusty Garmin had just spent the last two hours trying to get me to Wet Wipe’s house – where the course was plotted from!!! Not much use here, in deepest, darkest, wetest Essex, eh!!!
We Could Sit Around All Day Making Fancy Speeches..
After a group meeting that would have made the PFJ look like captains of industry, we concluded that we’d all had enough severe weather training for today and that, at this point, heading for the coffee stop would be a much better idea. A rough course was plotted and off we set.
The roads on the return leg weren’t any easier. In fact, some were worse. But, eventually, the tea rooms hove into view. Just imagine how good we all felt to discover that we’d actually made it back too early – and that they didn’t open for another half an hour!!! OH, DEEP JOY!!!
Another hasty group meeting was convened, following which we struck out for home. Ascending the last big climb of the day, Moooga was in front of me (he always seems to be!). We exchanged pleasantries and went our own ways. A short ride later, I coasted into my road – in glorious sunshine!! Slipping the bike into the garden, the smell of bacon called to me like a sirens song and I slipped inside to find that my lovely wife had read my mind and got the bacon sarnie in progress before I even arrived home. Bloody love her!!!
A Puddle of Memories…
Re-fuelled and rested, I slipped the bike back into the garage – making sure to stand it on its tail before finally putting it to bed. The torrent of water cascading down over the cassette from the chainstays served to remind me of the last 4 hours of suffering – and made me smile.
I’m not sure what it is that I like about riding in foul weather! It makes no sense at all that one should enjoy riding a bicycle soaked to the skin and frozen to the core – but I do; I really do. We all treasure that which is hardest to come by and reaching the end of a ride through the worst that Mother Nature can throw at you hammers home the sense of achievement. We are slaves to our senses and emotions. A Rule#9 ride stimulates every single one of them.
So, the next time you crawl out of bed and fear that your weekend ride has been thwarted by a spot of rain, don’t slip your training wheel in and spin your energy away on your turbo trainer; simply wrap yourself up in your best winter kit, get some porridge on board, get out, clip in, suffer and enjoy.