Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Come hail, rain or shine

And it's a hard, and it's a hard, and it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rains a-gonna fall.

Thanks for that insight, Bob. I wish I'd taken some notice yesterday morning when heading out on my weekend distance ride, because it rained very hard indeed. And at a few points, the rain itself was hard. Hail, to be exact. Nuggety, ice-cold, stinging hail. In your face.

It all looked so promising a couple of days before when the sun shone on my repeated ascents of the Col de Crystal Palace (or Dulwich Wood Park/College Road, as it's more widely known). I managed to put in 12 reps of the Col, and this after the brutal climb of Sydenham Hill, in nothing higher than a 23-tooth cog. Phase two of the three-pronged Bank Holiday weekend training regime completed successfully and just the distance ride to go.

But if experience has taught me anything so far on this journey, it's to take advantage of the fleeting bouts of good weather. And although only marginally overcast, the omens didn't look good for a dry outing.

So it was to prove. Having been a few minutes late to meet BassjunkieUK, the guy accompanying me on the trip, I was struck by the sheer strength of the wind. It remained stupidly blustery throughout the day, but the warning signs were already apparent as we left the relative shelter of London's suburbs and ventured into more open countryside. Or 'Keston' as it's named. It was, to borrow a phrase from Test Match Special, "Looking a bit black over Bill's Mum's."

Sure enough, the first pitter-patters of rain began to fall as we descended into Farnborough before the climb up Cudham Lane North. My short-fingered gloves were already feeling woefully inadequate, but unpredictability ruled as the sun came out and bore us up the hill. Wet weather duly returned to dampen our spirits just after we'd climbed and descended Toys Hill, although even that wasn't without incident as poor old Mark hit a rock on the way down and punctured. He also had another spoke work lose as a result, so once he'd caught up and we'd found some shelter, we decided to cut the ride short and head back. I was all for this, as I'd only just recovered from the coldest rain imaginable freezing the muscles off my face.

More filthy conditions and the first bout of vicious hail dogged our trundle along the A25 after an extremely pleasant descent of Ide Hill. It was around then that the first bout of swearing kicked in. By Westerham, the sun had come out again, so we decided an assault on Westerham Hill was in order. Now I've been down this one on a few occasions and tipped the speedo at well over 40mph, so I knew it'd be a testing climb. And I have to admit I sought the refuge of the granny gear for a couple of hundred yards of it, although in my defence it does kick up to 12% at that point.

Nothing was to prepare us for the downward trip on the other side, however. I have honestly never had to work so hard to go downhill as the wind lashed into our faces like a lariat-wielding cow-hand from Laramie. At one point, just after Biggin Hill airport, I had to change down into the small chainring to keep the momentum going. Utterly ridiculous. There was no let up or change in direction all the way back to Crystal Palace, where Mark went off to tend to his rear wheel.

Knowing I needed the miles in my legs, I decided to make up the distance with a few reps of the Col. It was still windy, but the sun had begun to win its tussle with the clouds, so swooping descents and gutsy climbs were the order of the day. But just as I'd notched up five satisfactory climbs, the rain returned, soaking my descent and massively dampening my spirits. I soldiered on, even when, feeling left out, the hail joined in for good measure, causing me to make almost an entire descent with one squinted eye open.

Still, it had all dried out again by the time I scuttled off to Denmark Hill on my way home and I finished the 75-mile jaunt in a shade under five hours, which given the conditions, I was mightily pleased with.

Feet up tonight as I allow the muscles to recover, but positivity has returned once again to the Onemoregear household. Next weekend, I'll approach 90 miles with renewed vigour before the first of my South Wales training camps the following weekend. The weekend weather's antics have, I feel, prepared me for that trip better than I could have hoped for, so instead of dread, there is only anticipation.

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