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Have you ever seen a pro rider (or any sportsman for that matter) going through their pre-ride ritual? Some would not admit it, but I bet they all have their own little superstitions. I’ll bet, if you are honest, you do too; I know I do. For me, the bike has to be backed out of the garage to the left, turned on the drive and pushed with my left hand on the seat into the garden – where it will wait while breakfast is taken on board and the other rituals observed.
I like to think that I am a rational person – I listen to the Sceptic’s Guide to the Universe frerchrissake!!! But, try as I might, I can’t get away from the need to follow the pattern – get in the zone and appease the gods of cycling before I so much as clip a foot into the pedals. This morning, however, the gods were angered; no amount of religiously followed ritual would temper their fury and they chose to rain it down upon the SMCC Sunday morning ride.
Arriving at the meet point (two minutes late) I was concerned to see Wet Wipe and Mooga standing by the roadside with Ed’s bike upside down. Given that no one had even turned a crank in anger yet, this did not bode well. Behold the power of the cycling gods, who had smitten Ed’s front derailleur; restricting him to the small chain ring. We tinkered and faffed – hands were dirtied and curses cussed. But we mere mortals were powerless to overcome the might of the gods. Reluctantly, we offered Ed up in sacrifice; departing without him.
The wrath of the cycling gods…
Surely the gods would now be pleased; we had yielded to their power and offered up one of our own! No; they were still angered. No more than 100 yards along the road, they called for Mooga – a careless glance over his shoulder sending him toward the kerb and a death-weave from which he would never recover. He landed hard – fortunately on his head – sparing the bike from any lasting damage. We got the message – today we were to be tested; we would triumph or be taken!
Humbly we rode on and joyfully, we relished every test. The gods threw an omnipresent headwind at us; we pushed on into it. They toyed with Global Positioning Satellites – sending us miles away from Wet Wipe’s carefully planned Garmin route to lengthen our suffering. They pulled my newly fitted chain toward the front mech in top gear (losing me my fastest ratio).They added hills that we had not anticipated and, finally, they broke Wet Wipe’s spirit – never before have I heard him shout and swear with such utter venom as he did when the GPS threw its last little curve ball our way.
Something had to give – one more sacrifice if we were to pass the test. Today it was the coffee stop – as the tea room hove into view, we glided past; a small gesture but a personal ‘Lent’. In the last 10 miles, we were broken men. I rode on the front as Mooga apologised for empty tanks and dead legs. Wet Wipe suffered behind. We rode on in silence.
Well chaps….looks like we made it!
Back at the meet point, we all knew that we had risen to the test; Wet Wipe and I both looking like Cyclocross riders after 62 miles in each other’s wheels on mud covered, gravel strewn, semi-flooded country lanes. Mooga’s all black outfit superficially hid his pain – but we all felt it.
The test passed and the gods appeased, just two more climbs lay between me and home. Ascending Crown Hill, traffic had built toward the top. I urged Mooga to take an outside line and keep moving (for fear of having to execute a hill start on a 7% gradient). He obliged. Shortly after, our homeward legs led us in different directions. We parted with simple pleasantries and knowing nods.
Ascending the final climb toward home, I wondered what we had done to bring such wrath upon us. Briefly, I was reminded of Samuel L Jackson shouting, “You will know my name is The Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee”. Never have I been so glad to see my own road and never have I so savoured that last quarter of a mile between the turning and my drive; even treating myself to a long coast with hands off the bars and back fully extended.
Slipping the bike back into the garage, the post-ride rituals were carefully observed; being almost as important (possibly more) than the pre-ride rites.
Blessings in Disguise….
Sitting indoors, gently sipping a recovery drink as a creamy endorphin rush washed over me, I had an epiphany – we had not been challenged; we had been blessed. Every painful pedal stroke into the wind, every extra mile ridden because of our trust in ropey consumer GPS and every technical problem had somehow enhanced the ride.
Even though my glass is always half full, I accept that it’s hard to consider yourself blessed as your wing man hits the hardtop at 20 mph on a cold wet and windy Sunday morning. By the same token, it’s nigh-on impossible to consider that extra miles and extra hills are ever there for your benefit. But, today’s ride will be filed in the ‘epic’ folder that lives in my head; it will be talked about fondly at SMCC coffee stops for years to come and time will temper the pain – turning bitter experience into golden memories.
When you look at it that way, this morning, the rituals worked! The Gods of cycling were with us and we are all the richer for it.
So, next Sunday, as I back the bike from the garage to the left, placing my left hand upon the seat, I’ll remember exactly why I’m doing that. Rituals are there to be observed; challenges are only issues if you let them be. Give thanks to the gods of cycling and embrace your superstitions. But, whatever the hell you do – ENJOY EVERY RIDE, NO MATTER WHAT!!!