subtitled: The Worst Journey in the World
i’m currently reading the book mentioned above. it details a trip made by Apsley Cherry Garrard as a member of Captain Scott’s Polar Expedition in 1910 to recover the eggs of the Emperor penguin for scientific study. It’s to do with recapitulation theory. The bird nests during the Antarctic winter so they had to mount a special expedition in July 1911 from the base at Cape Evans to the penguins’ rookery at Cape Crozier. The expedition took place under conditions of complete darkness and temperatures of −40°C and below.
today i felt a degree of empathy with the brave polar adventurers whilst preparing for the first Hardrider of the series. I remember this one from last year, chiefly because i wasn’t that fit and i didn’t try that hard. i set out to change this today, but unfortunately the weather conspired against anyone who opted to leave the house. the prediction of a wave of extremely wet, cold and windy weather was unfortunately accurate. i hoped it might ease, but it only intensified as i neared the HQ in darkest wiltshire, adjacent to the badlands and the emperor penguin rookery of sutton benger. i was concerned: the weatherman implied that there may be some snow lingering across the end of the front as it moved through, just when i would be on the road. i dismissed it as fanciful conjecture.
there was not much point in warming up; it was too wet and cold. i would have simply got even more cold and wet before starting. i rode to the start, then rode a mile or so more, then lined up and waited for the hour’s purgatory to begin. at this point the temperature was around 4° and the wind was biting. Allen Janes, BSCC legend, opted to wear a race rain jacket UNDER his skinsuit. this was an impressive, if scary solution. i was wearing a skinsuit, base-layer, some thin spring gloves and a pair of shiny waterproof overshoes. these had a slight gap at the top caused by unnecessarily thin ankles which was extremely effective at allowing the water to run down my calves and straight into my socks. i can say with some conviction that i have identified the singular flaw in this product. belle says it is my fault for having thin ankles. she also says i should have got the smaller size. she is right on both counts. buying the bigger size in cycling terms is my achilles heel. i have lots of items in my cycling cupboard that are way too big, so if anyone fancies a nice mavic jersey, ideal for the normally proportioned person, then give me a shout.
my nerves were exacerbated by the sight of derek coming back to the HQ having ‘packed’. he said that it was too damn windy and he couldn’t see a thing and there was water everywhere: three suitable reasons to not ride a race. i listened carefully but then opted to make the decision myself. i think i have a bit of a hillclimbers mentality, as in, you have to be mental to ride hillclimbs, therefore other stuff seems a bit less mental. despite that, i had second thoughts when waiting in line – it seemed to be sleeting. this was confirmed by the starter and timekeeper with a grimace. it was one of those races where you’re unsure if the spectators/helpers or riders have the worse deal.
once up to speed i did have a vague and perverse sense of enjoyment. the first bit of the course was very quick with a tailwind – once you got round the first corner where the crosswind nearly blew me off the bike. i laughed at the shivering luminous marshall in surprise. there was a sizeable climb up lyneham bank which was quite exciting, i blitzed it and caught a my two minute man halfway up. by then i felt like i was going well, although ‘felt’ is an interesting term, seeing that i couldn’t ‘feel’ my physical extremities. my fingers were numb and my feet starting to get wet from the driving rain and wind. at this point – nearing the top of the climb – it started to snow. the wind and white stuff swirled around and i found myself going cross-eyed, trying to focus on the road ahead but unable to look up because snow kept getting in my eyes. one thought was reverberating round my head: ‘the faster you ride the sooner you finish’.
the lack of visibility contributed towards me riding through an enormous lake of standing water in the back of a strange wiltshire dormitory town. that was it for my feet, they were soaked. when i got out of the saddle near malmesbury my toes were completely numb, it felt quite leggy, with no fine motor control. it was interesting. the same thing was happening to my fingers. i gave up using the small ring because i had trouble changing back up.
despite all of the above, the litany of woes, i was still going well. it was hard to judge the effort but i knew that if i kept the average speed above 24mph i’d go under the hour, which was my target. the finish was super fast, with the exception of two lumpy bits, and the tailwind was most kind. once i crossed the line though, that was it, the nuclear winter dropped in like an anchor. a number of riders shared a similar experience back at the HQ: essentially it was like someone flipped a switch and i started shivering uncontrollably and could barely hold onto the bars. having stopped the exertion the chill took hold. luckily the HQ was about 2 miles away and i made it back. i couldn’t get the key in the car door to get my warm clothes, it made for an unedifying spectacle, not just shivering but shaking like crazy. matt burden got rescued by a marshall at the finish because they feared for his health. he nearly rode into a ditch, such was his parlous physical condition.
i headed for the village hall with my bag of dry clothes and thankfully, amazingly, they had helpers to get you out of overshoes and armwarmers, the kind of stuff you simply couldn’t do because your hands were utterly numbed by an hour in the freezing cold. once changed i caught up with the other battle-scarred testers to exchange war stories. there were ten DNFs: 5 punctures and 5 people who just said no mas, which given the hardships out on the road was very much the sensible option. i held a warming cup of tea in my hands (i think i did, i could see the point of contact between mug and hand) but was slopping it all over the place – and wasn’t the only one, there was considerably more tea on the floor than there was in the mugs.
despite the weather i managed to improve on last year’s time by precisely 2 minutes, coming 3rd instead of 13th. i am trying harder. some big names, especially Jeff Jones who punctured when he looked on course for a humdinger of a ride, didn’t complete the course. Rob Pears won from Rob Lyne. the thread on the TT forum is like a some kind of therapy group for traumatised cyclists:
“I hit the deck hard about 40 mins in and limped home in 1:05 hardest thing I have ever done”
“I wish I had worn something other than my skinsuit- maybe a baselayer, some gloves and tights might have been sensible. I knew I was in trouble half way round when I was shaking so much it was making my bike wobble. Thanks very very much to the marshalls who put me in their car and took me to the HQ, I could not have made it back myself.”
“As soon as I went over the finish line I started shivering uncontrollably & couldn’t ride in a straight line. Tony helped me off my bike at the HQ, but I couldn’t tell him how to get my helmet off because, when I tried to speak, all that came out was ” anurdigurrr blunidunn ninuurggg. a very nice girl got my helmet & shoes off & escorted me to the toilets, where I joined 2 other hypothermic riders, & she shoved my hands under the warm air of the hand drier. That was bl00dy painful when the feeling came back!”
i feel as though a weird camaraderie has been forged in the crucible of timetrialling at its hardest. next week is the Gillingham Hardrider where there will be a knowing fellowship of those who rode today, and i have a feeling that this event will be talked about for some time to come.
i have since eaten three flapjacks made by belle. they are amazing, a mix of peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, dates, banana chips, oats and sugar.
i also picked up my trophy for 2nd senior in last year’s competition.
then spent the afternoon cleaning my TT bike, and then the other bikes which have been getting really horribly grubby over winter.