I looked behind me. Far below, under the orange lights twinklng in the distance, there are people dodging the rain as they run from pub to pub. The young and impressionable probably out without their coats; better not to bring it than leave it forgotten on the sticky floor of a club at 2am.
I turn my face back into the rain and keep pushing the pedals. This is my Saturday night. This is what I wait for during the week. This is my release.
An hour earlier, I’d sat on the sofa, opened a beer that I didn’t really want, and tried to blank thoughts of a Saturday wasted without cycling. I felt like shit. A comment that I had abandoned my ride got me railed up, in ten minutes I was out to suffer the rain and the darkness.
It was either brave or foolish to drag myself up into the middle of nowhere in the wind and rain on a stormy Saturday evening. I didn’t want to be here, sitting on the sofa with that beer would have been better, my daughter asked me not to go when I was getting kitted up, my wife told me she would worry. I selfishly left.
A ghostly shape
A barn owl drifts overhead, right on the edge of darkness, my light searching. I look behind again; nothing but darkness. I’ve climbed 800 feet to get away from the coatless drunks below. This isn’t a normal way to spend an night at the weekend. I still want to go home, I still feel like shit. The headwind batters me and a fresh wave of rain washes sweat into my eyes, I wipe it on the back of my gloves but they’re soaked and just spread the salty sting further into me.
I know it’s not far to the turn. Once I get there I’ll have the wind at my back, it’ll be the run home. There’s still a lot of single track road, I’m starting to get into this. I’ve stopped trying to avoid the puddles, it’s pointless now, my feet are soaked through. The turn comes, my legs relish the reprieve from the climb, the wind makes me feel strong again. Every hill is now a sprint, not the grinding battle of the first hour of the ride. Each time I’m getting out of the saddle, each time my legs burn, my chest gasps for more oxygen. I see a car, I get out of the saddle again, I look straight at the lights, I want them to think “What the hell is this guy doing?!”. I’m enjoying this, this is what I wanted.
I hammer up the last climb, it burns. I get out of the saddle and push myself hard again. Over the top… then the descent. It’s 4 miles of downhill from here, I jab at the shifter and select the 52/12 and try to keep it there, I don’t manage it for the whole way, my legs are still on fire. I know the 30’s are coming, I can’t see them, I’m not racing anyone but I sprint out of the saddle. I see them flash by lit up by my lights. I sit back up, endorphins pumping… I was Wiggins punching the air in Chartres; I was Millar out-sprinting Jean-Christophe Péraud; I was Cooke in the rain, in Bejing; I was Cav giving two fingers. I was me.
I’m drinking a beer
This time in the shower, warming up after having stripped myself and filled the washing machine with every soaked item of clothing I was wearing. I’m happier drinking this beer than the one I opened three hours earlier.
All I wanted to do was hurt myself, but ended up feeling better.