I’m not one of these cyclists who feel the need to prove my hard-man credentials.
I’ve had my fair share of grim two-wheeled struggles over the years, and my theory is that any vaguely committed cyclist, of whatever standard, will by the law of averages suffer any number of bad days on the bike for any number of reasons.
The fact is, these days sneak up on you anyway; no need to go looking.
Having said that, before one particular early morning ride recently the impending pain and suffering involved all but woke me up with a start, slapped me around the face with its icy fingers, then stroked my hair tenderly and whispered ‘stay in bed’ into my ears. Actually, thinking about it, that might have been the wife (but for dramatic purposes, I’m sticking to the icy fingered and mysterious ice-maiden-weather-metaphor).
But some primal spirit deep inside me resisted and I jumped from between the warm sheets indignantly, repeating some long forgotten mantra about ‘when I say I’m going for a ride…I’m going for a ride!’, and plodded downstairs to fill up with porridge, maple syrup and bananas, and pop my gloves and socks on the radiator.
Then I checked the thermometer outside.
Minus 5 Celsius, it smirked back at me.
‘Is there any way I can crawl back into bed and still save face?’ I thought to myself. But the porridge is ready now; the international early morning signal of ‘no turning back’. Of course, in my new found and mature approach to the business of discomfort (which I outlined at the top of the page) I should have had no qualms about texting my mate, crying off, and crawling back into bed with the ice maiden.
For some reason, this morning, the old bullish pride had kicked in. As I said, I don’t go looking for hard man stories these days, but there’s no harm in clocking one up and banking it for later use I suppose.
So, well layered up, I met my cycling mate at the usual spot and we simply laughed to each other; no words needed about what was about to unfold. Nine o’clock am and minus 4.8 Celsius said my on-board computer.
Hmmm, warming up nicely, I thought.
An hour later I had reached a point of significant physical discomfort. I had little feeling in my frozen fingers, to the effect that braking and changing gear had become all but impossible. At that moment I would have given anything, ANYTHING, to have warm hands. Our faces were frozen, conversation reduced largely to a mumble, and our leg muscles seemed to be threatening mutiny.
I have to point out at this point that my mate appeared to have mastered the art of dressing for sub-zero cycling and was cold, yes, but with the warm hands I craved. I wondered if I’m starting to go soft, then remembered that I’m past proving how hard I am…but yes, I may well be going soft.
He regaled me with stories about past rides with cold hands – trying to make me feel better, I think – before realising this wasn’t helping my mental state and pushing on in silence.
The thought of puncturing didn’t bear thinking about. I could picture myself with frozen and claw-like hands desperately fumbling away at tyre and inner tube, tears streaming down my face, self-respect in tatters, hard-man credentials long forgotten and never to be regained.
After an hour and a half we hit the café and filled up on cappuccino and a solid brick of flap-jack, so dense that the sheer effort of chewing the thing was sufficient to get the blood flowing and warm the extremities.
The great thing about discomfort is that, once the moment has passed it’s a physical and mental impossibility to accurately remember just how much it hurt, and so within a matter of minutes the rose-tinted spectacles were well and truly on, and we began to relish a warm (minus 2 Celsius) hour’s ride back home.
Fact is, we felt pretty good about ourselves.
We’ll tell people we were out that Saturday morning and brush it off as a casual couple of hours. “Bit chilly”, we’ll say, “but nice, y’know”. No drama, nothing unusual here; after all we were only out for a couple of hours, how much can a man really suffer in two and a half short hours?
You know what, if I’d have punctured at that moment when my hands resembled useless lumps of dead wood…
…very much, is the answer.