Hell and High Water

Club Run, Saturday 7th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    87 km/54 miles with 558 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 35 minutes

Group size:                                           20 riders including 6 kids, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:             A deluge.

Main topic of conversation at the start: I stood in the sheltered but dank and gloomy bowels of the multi-storey car park trying to identify the other riders as they surfed their way into the meeting point through the gloom and heavy rain. “Ah, and here come the Dawson twins,” I announced to no one in particular, as G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg rolled up. “They aren’t twins are they?” one of the befuddled youngsters tentatively suggested, “One looks so much older than the other.” Oh dear.

OGL castigated us for fielding and replying to queries about club run start times on Faecesbook, as apparently his revised timings from last week were perfectly clear and understandable and caused no confusion whatsoever (although I understand several people did miss the start last Sunday). Apparently our use of social media shouldn’t be so … well … social.

He even suggested that the Faecesbook stuff wasn’t necessary as all our start times are clearly listed on the club website. (The club website sees even less traffic than this benighted blog and I personally don’t visit it much – the wide empty spaces bring on my monophobia and besides, I’m allergic to tumbleweed.)

We were then treated to the Prof’s execrable Geordie accent as he tried to chivvy us along, in the process doing for the Geordie nation what Dick van Dyke managed to do for Cockneys the world over. Encore!

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

I had a chat with Tri-Boy’s Dad and commiserated with his struggles to keep the youngster in check. Apparently the boy likes to dangle in front of his Pa, wait for the catch to almost be made, then accelerate away again. Ah, good to see the much beloved and traditional Szell game is still alive and appreciated by the younger generation. Across the table I could see the Monkey Butler Boy listening avidly, taking it all in and eyeing up his Pa, already looking forward to trying this.

Looking out at the rain still hammering down outside, we talked about whether on days like this we would be better off not stopping at all, even if it meant (Shock! Horror!) abstinence from cake and coffee. (Ok, I realise this is a radical step too far.)

We also couldn’t help but reminisce about the Damn Yankee who used to come out with us, and who just about collapsed from mild to moderate hyperthermia on arriving at the café during one of our harsher winter rides.

I think everyone was surprised he succumbed to the cold as he was a big, big unit, built like a gridiron fullback and, as Taffy Steve appropriately suggested, with massive calves the size of American footballs.

We’ve no idea where this once club run regular disappeared to – originally from San Franscisco, he apparently went to college in the Deep South, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas or some such. He was quite happy to confirm all our worst prejudices about such places being awash with Antebellum grand dames, in-bred, jug-eared and twanging banjo-duellists, sheet wearing Grand Wizards with burning crosses and constant demands to squeal like a pig.

I often think we sometimes miss that rational, reasoned international perspective

profile 7 nov
A sign that perhaps my Garmin didn’t like the weather too much – perhaps the weirdest ride profile ever.

The Waffle:

If last week was all about generating a Gallic vibe to encourage the Peugeot, this week was all about the rain, so perhaps I should have been watching Eddie Vedders “Water on the Road” and listening to Talk Talk, “After the Flood” and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”.

A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may gave you some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

Yes it rained, and rained heavily, and no it didn’t let up, although it did ease slightly once I was on the last climb for home. Still, we couldn’t say we hadn’t been warned, for once all the forecasts got it right and were spot on with their predictions of unremitting bleakness.

Between a slight cold and family commitments I’d only managed a single, solitary ride into work on the bike all week, so I was going out on Saturday, come hell or high water – and someone certainly didn’t stint on the latter.

Lesson#1 - Repeat after me ...
Lesson#1 – Repeat after me …

Actually I awoke Saturday morning to find very little rain in the air, despite a prolonged deluge that had lasted all night. I now realise we were just passing through the eye of the storm and that the rain was holding back only until I actually got outside.

Oh well, at least I got to field-test the new jacket in the most extreme conditions – and learn a lot about its limitations in the process.

With rain starting to bounce violently off the tarmac, I swung a leg over the Peugeot and struck out, noting the distinctive tang of wet leaves and damp ash mixed with the burned smell of spent fireworks. Remember, remember the 6th of November?

Tipping down the bank the combination of heavy rain and road spray almost instantly soaked through my shorts, leg warmers and gloves, and I could feel cold tendrils of water creeping through my overshoes into my socks by the time I hit the bottom. Still my upper half initially remained warm and dry as I hit the valley floor and started to work my way westward while becoming increasingly frustrated with the traffic.

What is it about the rain that so completely befuddles drivers – I’ve noticed when driving in and out of work that even a slight, innocuous shower will add at least 10 minutes to the journey. It’s as if they their brains get tied-up trying to process more than one hazard at a time and it retards their thinking so they no longer act and drive instinctively. I wonder if there’s a little inner monologue that goes something like, “Oh, rain, uh-uh…better be careful” and then, “Oh, rain, AND A BIKE! Aargh! Panic! What do I do?”

I was subject to more iffy, too close passes that morning than I’ve had in three months of commuting by bike and (my own personal bugbear) several drivers who overtook, before immediately braking and cutting sharp left just in front of me.

Extra special appreciation this morning though was reserved for a van driver who gave me a long fusillade on his horn because I did something he obviously thought was wrong. Well, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here and assuming he genuinely thought I’d done something wrong and he wasn’t just being a RIM.

This worries me more than the thoughtless close passes, because it not only suggests a self-righteous ignorance of the law and a distinct lack of empathy and consideration, but also the inability to anticipate and safely react to the behaviour of other road users.

I was riding uphill, heading towards a set of traffic lights and needing to turn right, across the lane of oncoming traffic. As I approached the lights I looked behind and noticed the van, safely some distance behind. 2 or 3 more pedal strokes and I looked behind again and saw that the van wasn’t gaining on me, and had in fact dropped further back as it slowed for a number of speed bumps (this is a 20mph, School Zone.) I stuck my hand out, looked back once more and then rode into the centre of the lane as I reached the lights.

I slowed at this point to pass behind an oncoming black Range Rover, before making the turn, accompanied by the loud wail from van man leaning aggressively on his horn as he swept past. I naturally took a leaf out of Mr. Cavendish’s book and kindly reminded him of Agincourt, 1415 and all that, but this one really did rankle and I’m still trying to fathom what I did wrong or what else he expected me to do.

1415 and All That

Half an hour later and continuing through the unrelenting rain, I could begin to feel the cold, damp creep of water slowly leeching through the arms of my jacket and into my base-layer. The material had, I assume, became so saturated that the rain was no longer beading and rolling off the surface, but started to slowly worm its way inward. By the time I’d reached the meeting point everything was pretty much soaked through, cold, damp and heavy.

Surprisingly there was a sizeable turn out, including a handful of the kids who, as it was the first Saturday of the month, were going to ride out with us before heading off on a different route. 20 brave lads, lasses and kids then, pushed off, clipped in and went to collectively see just how much cold water we could sponge up, a latter day band of brothers, united by our battle with the elements.

I started drifting through the group trying to find a wheel to follow that had at least some semblance of a mudguard, but even these were throwing off an arc of spray, so I slotted into the gap between the two riders in front.

We’d just made it out of the ‘burbs when one of OGL’s lights shook loose and went bouncing down the road. As he turned to retrieve it I pulled over to field a phone call from home. My eCrumb had stopped in the rain and they were wondering what was going on.

I couldn’t work the phone through my gloves, so stripped them off and then found they were so wet I couldn’t pull them back on again. I had a dry pair in my pocket (a trick learned from the Red Max) but decided to keep them until after the café, so I wrung as much water as I could out of the original pair and stowed them away.

A spare pair of gloves - a real boon when the first get soaked through.
A spare pair of gloves – a real boon when the first get soaked through.

Not only was my eCrumb struggling with the conditions, but Red Max declared his Garmin was waterlogged and fritzed, and at the end of the ride my Strava threw up the weirdest of ride profiles. I’ve no idea what it was recording in the middle of my ride.

Phone and gloves safely tucked away, I got moving again and found Crazy Legs waiting a bit further up the road as OGL hadn’t made it back to the group yet. We hung back until he cruised up and then set the pace to escort him back to where everyone else was waiting.

At the next roundabout all the kids split off, apart from Tri-Boy and the Monkey Butler Boy. A little further on and all well soaked, the majority of us decided to cut the ride short and head directly for the café. We still had time to engender some truly apoplectic rage from OGL for pushing the pace too high, before we were storming toward the Snake Bends and the café sprint.

OGL might as well have tried to stop the rain falling as to halt our momentum at this point, but while his efforts were fruitless a little bit of air managed to do for me. Not any old air in general of course, just the minuscule portion of it I had borrowed and cruelly entrapped in my inner tube. The tunnel was completed, the gates swinging wide, the sirens wailing and an all or nothing break-out was most definitely on the cards for this poor repressed portion of the atmosphere. Another week, another puncture.

Again? Really?
Again? Really?

With heavy steering, a slowly sinking feeling and the road vibrating increasingly through a rattling and no longer cushioned rim, I slipped silently backward and out of the group to fix things without the attendant critical audience.

I still haven’t found the source for this rash of punctures, but the Gatorskins have been consigned to the bin, they’ve either ran out of durability, or ran out of luck and neither is acceptable. Time to see if the Schwalbe Durano’s perform any better.

Sadly I missed the final “dive” to the café, which ripped through a massive, edge-to-verge, road-spanning lake of dirty collected rain water at full tilt, our speeding bunch producing a bow wave reminiscent of a newly launched super-tanker crashing down the slipway.

This in turn gave birth to a minor inland tsunami so high that it washed over the top of The Red Max’s waterproof winter boots and once inside and with no way for the water to drain out, he was left sloshing his wiggling toes around and hoping to avoid developing a bad case of trenchfoot.

Somewhat behind everyone else I limped into the café, sur la jante, to find Max comfortably perched on a black bin bag, feet up and boots off. Every so often the Monkey Butler Boy would be tasked with stepping out into the rain and emptying the water from the boots, but no matter how many times he did this the insides were obviously super-saturated and more water inevitably collected and pooled in the dark confines of the boot.

We managed to prise ourselves out of the café and into heavy, wet clothes, gloves, helmets et al and I took to the front with Taffy Steve, intent on setting a brisk pace to try and warm up a little. Approaching the penultimate climb we were so engaged in a deep philosophical discussion of the Lego Movie that I failed to notice we were riding into a flooded section of the road. While everyone did their best to edge around the perimeter of this lake where the water was the shallowest, I plunged straight through the middle and quickly found myself up to the wheel hubs in water.

I was considering freewheeling through the rest, but the water only deepened further and sucked away my momentum. In real danger of toppling spectacularly I recovered and thrashed my way through, with the water lapping up to my knees.

Surfs Up!
Surfs Up!

Somehow, despite guffawing uproariously at my antics the BFG still had enough puff left to attack the hill, and as Laurelan jumped to give chase I swung onto to her wheel and followed. Over the top the BFG, Cow Ranger, and Tri-Boy kept pushing the pace, while I switched from wheel to wheel, occasionally drifting back to clear my eyes from the constant pressure hose wash of road spray being flung off the tyres.

We made good time and I was soon turning off for home, leaving the BFG chuckling to himself, this time as much amused by the Cow Ranger’s mad thrashing to try and drop everyone as my aborted attempt at water skiing.

I arrived home in good time, stopping on my way to a hot shower only long enough to deposit a sodden heap of slowly leaking clothing in a big puddle on the kitchen floor. Bizarrely, masochistically a good run out.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

I did discover one bad consequence of riding in a group in weather like this as, for a couple of days afterwards, my eyeballs felt like they’d been taken out, lightly sand-papered, rolled in salt and then squeezed back in.

I also realised my Galibier jacket, while perfectly adequate for showers and occasional rain, isn’t going to keep me dry through exposure to a heavy and sustained downpour like we endured today.

And one final thought – to be fully compliant, I really do need to paint a Plimsoll line on the winter bike…

YTD Totals: 5,429 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,918 metres of climbing.



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