As some of you may recall, around this time of year I take part in the Richmond to Windsor bike ride (see here and here for tales of derring do from previous years). It's a good day out; a chance to see some beautiful countryside, catch a bit of sun, and barrel down some hills at ludicrous speeds.
And then there was this year.
I think this is my sixth time doing the ride - I've kind of lost count. But that's beside the point, because I will *never* forget this ride; believe me, it will live in infamy. Why? Because I stay drier when I go swimming.
I got up around 7 am, about an hour or so before I needed to leave to head to the startline at Richmond Green. I made a cup of tea, downed a bowl of oaty cereal (for slow-release energy!), and knocked back a mug of orange juice (yes I know using a mug instead of a glass is rather uncouth, but I don't care). Then I got into my cycling gear, filled my newly-sterilised camelbak bladder with two litres of water, popped seven Mars bars in my bag (well those oats weren't going to last me all day), and wheeled the bike out just a little after 8 am. As I pulled on my helmet (fnar fnar) and put my gloves on I noticed that there was a strange mist halfway down the road - which immediately struck me as odd because mist in August is, well, odd. I soon found out why there was a strange mist: it was rain so heavy that it bounced off the cars and pavement making everything look fuzzy.
Within a minute of heading off I was drenched. But there was no way I was going to turn back because a) I'd paid for this, and b) heavy rain storms don't last for long, right?
If anything it got heavier as I continued on my way to Richmond. And then, as I was cycling past Twickenham Rugby Ground, there was an almighty flash of lightning and a hardcore rumble of thunder. Queen were quite right - when you're riding a big metal bike, thunderbolts and lightning are indeed very, very frightening things.
By the time I got to Richmond Green the rain was nothing short of torrential and, upon seeing that the green appeared deserted I began to wonder if the event had been called off. But then I noticed loads of cyclists taking refuge under trees. I quickly joined them, and got at least a degree of cover from the downpour (although far from drying out, Betty Ford stylee). I decided to hang around the green for a while in the hope that the rain might pass and I could start the ride, if not under blue skies and beaming sunshine, then at least in the dry. No such luck, though, and after about half an hour, during which time I discovered that if I clenched my hands water would gush out of my gloves, I decided that I really should make a start just in case I began to feel a chill from getting wet then just standing around. I was also dismayed to see that the usual compare, the highly entertaining Fake Shatner, was not present, having been replaced by someone who looked like a fake Patrick Stewart.
I set off at about 9:30.
Straight away things took a subtle turn from previous years; where once we used to ride down the towpath from Richmond to Twickenham, this time we were given a choice between a short route (the towpath) or a longer route (on the streets). I naturally took the longer route because I'm hardcore, but I can't help feeling that there's actually not that much difference between the two - certainly the towpath is a more picturesque way. About 10 minutes after that, though, things took a decidedly darker turn when, just before Kingston, a rider took a nasty tumble. I came upon the scene about two minutes after it happened, by which time a fair few cyclists had gathered around this guy as he lay on the road. Apparently he'd lost consciousness for a short time, but when I got there he was talking to some of the people around him, and they'd called the emergency number on the map we were given at the startline.
I wondered whether to hang around in case there was something I could do to help, but after chatting to a fellow rider (a lovely middle-aged lady who I subsequently paced pretty much all the way to Windsor), we decided that those around him seemed to know what they were doing and were taking the appropriate measures to look after him, and we'd only be getting in the way if we stayed. So off I went again.
At this point in previous years the route heads off-road to follow the towpath from Kingston down to Hampton Court, but because that way can get, erm, muddy (something I know from past experience…) they were redirecting us along the road - a road that Mr Chunt used to refer to as the Manic Mile. Fortunately, on a wet Sunday morning it's not quite so manic.
About 15 minutes later the ride passes less than five minutes away from Sparky Towers, and I'm not ashamed to say that for the first time ever I briefly contemplated jacking the whole thing in and heading home. But I'm made of sterner stuff than that, so I pressed on. Shortly after this came one of the ride's designated rest stops.
In previous years I've pretty much stopped at all the rest stops (just to eat a Mars bar and pry my arse off the saddle for a few minutes relief), but this year a couple of unusual factors came into play that meant I decided to just keep going; firstly, I was unexpectedly flying solo after work mate BSH decided against taking part following a busy week; secondly, I didn't actually feel like I needed to stop (must be all that run-training coming into play!); and thirdly… well, with conditions as they were I actually just felt like I wanted to get the damn thing over with! Oh, and it was at about this point that I realised my newly-sterilised Camelbak bladder made the water within it taste like I'd scooped it out of a swimming pool: yeeeeugh.
So on I went…
For the most part everything went pretty smoothly after that. By this point I'd warmed up fully so the rain didn't bother me too much. What did bother me was one bloke cycling right up my arse, and four other blokes who appeared to have no regard for anyone else taking part. The first guy was a problem that was pretty easily solved by ploughing through loads of big puddles so he got epic splash-back, then slowing down so he overtook me (though I was amused to see him choose the shorter route - i.e. the kids route - when the course split). The bunch of four guys were a different problem altogether. Although they weren't a proper team (easy to tell by the way they were cycling) they'd all gone out and bought matching tops and shorts, which was quite frankly a bit weird. But that's not the real reason they were annoying; what really wound me up was the fact that they insisted in cycling three-abreast so it was both difficult and dangerous to overtake them, and would often stop suddenly without checking to see if anyone was behind them. At one point I had to serve around a couple of them, and a little while later (at the base of a hill!) one stopped so suddenly that someone actually did cycle into the back of him (not so fast as to cause any injury, though, thankfully).
Fortunately, I lost them at the hill. For all I know they're still struggling to ascend it.
After that it was pretty much all plain-sailing. I made a quick stop to down a couple of Mars bars, passed the familiar sights of One Tree Hill, Butts Hill, and Mincing Lane, and once again conquered Callow Hill (the steepest bitch of a hill on the entire route). I made one more stop, at a proper rest stop outside a pub on a big green that is usually a great place to chillax for a while. Instead of laying in the sun, though, I sat on a damp bench with rain pouring down on me. Oh, and I'd also like to say that damp countryside smells like ass.
I arrived at Windsor a short while later, at about 12:30, making this the quickest I've ever done this ride (I usually arrive just after one-ish). I'd always been intrigued as to how quickly I could do the Richmond to Windsor, but had never wanted to ruin the day by just powering through to the end. Thank the horrific weather for answering that question. On the plus side, Fake Shatner was there; I don't know whether he bumped Fake Stewart off or what, but it was lovely seeing him again, and hearing his exuberant commentary if only for a short time. One of these days I'm actually going to go up to him and tell him how awesome he is.
Usually at the end I plop myself down on the ground and chill out in the sun for an hour or so, but I really didn't want to sit on water-logged grass, so I headed towards a bench where I bumped into lovely middle-aged lady again. We chatted for about about 10 minutes, and marveled at the fact that the sun appeared to be coming out at last. While it looked like it was brightening up, I made my excuses and decided to head home.
The sun, however, failed in it's attempt to come out, and I got drenched again on the ride home, finally arriving at Sparky Towers just a little after 2 pm (to give an indication of how quickly I did this year's event, in previous years I haven't gotten home until about 4 pm).
I made an extremely sugary cup of tea, wiped my bike down and oiled the necessary bits (it's looking very clean after all that rain), then had a bath (because quite frankly I've had enough of showers today). I'm now contemplating making a cheesy-chip baguette to congratumalate myself and undo all that good work I've done cycling today, while watching as many episodes of Boston Legal (the theme tune to which I hummed to myself almost all the way to Windsor thanks to a comment T-Bird left on my last post) as I can between now and bedtime.
I'm also wondering if I'm ever going to regain sensation in my bathing suit region, or if my arse will ever again feel like it's not been violated by King Kong.
That aside, it's been a good, albeit tough, day.
With all the rain, I didn't dare take my beloved iPhone out of my bag to take any photos, but I did take some when I got home to show you how wet I got (sorry, but there'll be nothing gratuitous here folks).
My hands were stained black from my gloves, and my fingers were all crinkly like I'd taken a bath. This was before I took a bath.
My legs were covered in road scum, dirt, and several other things I don't even want to think about.
And today's expression is: pooped. I have mud on my face. Some had also, somehow, gotten down inside my top so I had a muddy chest too.