As a cyclist, you can tell you’re climbing too slowly when a butterfly can flutter into the spokes of your bike wheel and out the other side unharmed.*
Talking of climbing too slowly, towards the end of Le Terrier a couple of years back – a brutal Lancastrian sportive featuring what feels like every climb with a 20% gradient in the north of England – I inadvertently discovered the perfect face saving excuse to get off and rest mid-climb.
On that particular day I’d reached the point, ninety miles into the ride, where I was so tired I was angry.
I was wet, cold, and under-dressed for the conditions, I hadn’t been refuelling as well as I should, and I could hear myself internally berating the organisers as a bunch of sadistic $%£&%*! who I intended to show my displeasure to by thanking them for their efforts at the finish line in a slightly unenthusiastic way (I am British after all, we don’t do complaining very well).
At least I think I was berating them internally – I was so far gone by this point I could well have been speaking in tongues and singing lullabies to the beat of my pedal stroke.
But anyway, back to the face-saving mid-climb rest.
Despite the fact that I was within 15 miles of the finish line there was no saying how long that might take me to ride in my current weary state, so I concluded I would have no choice but to answer the call of nature.
With no public toilets in these hidden Lancashire valleys (and actually, barely a serviceable tarmac road worthy of the name), I was on the lookout for a discreet hedge or clump of tree.
And lo and behold, the cycling gods deigned to shine on me just once on this hellish day, as there before me was a semi-circle of bushes which may as well have had a W.C. sign hanging over them, so perfect were they for the task in hand. More than conveniently, they were located at the apex of a particularly steep hairpin bend, midway up a severe two kilometre long stretch of suffering.
I spotted my opportunity for a rest in the name of a toilet stop.
I hopped off into the hedge, did the business, and had a convenient two minute break which was just enough to catch my breath for the remaining kilometre of this devilishly steep farm track.
I’m not one to get off and walk, but this option was being slowly dragged into the realms of possibility, so taking a leak in a hedge in public seemed like the perfect way to save face.
This tells you something about my state of mind at the time.
The laughter from my fellow cyclists at the sight of my bike laid at the side of the road and my impromptu rest stop in a hedge tells me they knew what was going on. After all, we all had a similar look of pain etched across our faces and none of us were in a position to judge; had they had the imagination to take a face-saving leak at the moment their legs were threatening to give way they’d have jumped at the chance.
“Haha, fair play mate” came the shouts, “couldn’t wait a moment longer eh?!”
Whether any butterflies fluttered through my spokes either before, during, or after my little episode I couldn’t honestly say – I was far too tired to be taking any notice of the wildlife.
At the speed I was riding all manner of rabbits, moles, and other very English creatures could have clambered right through the frame of my bike unnoticed.
And as for Le Terrier?
I’ll be back for more next year – time is a great healer.
(*credit to regular reader Gerry Miller for the inspirational butterfly quote)