The temperature was hovering around zero, and there hung a fog of frozen moisture in the air, forming droplets on my beard as I pedalled.
If I could get to the café, I reasoned, hypothermia might be averted. Fingers and toes could be revived. Frostbite would no doubt make a good anecdote, but where would that leave my secret ambition to be a celebrated concert pianist?
(Never mind my very open ambition to change gear and operate the brakes on my bike.)
No, it had to be the café. From there I could re-assess. Twenty-five miles from home, in the village of Chipping, Lancashire. The mid-point, apparently, of eighty-percent of all bike rides in this area; I rolled up to said café to find every cyclist in the north-west of England wedged inside.
Like a large flock of sheep in an undersized pen. Either one large pack of feral cyclists, or several smaller packs having identified a breeding pair and formed a coherent group around them.
The windows were steaming, the sight of a rosy red cyclist’s face occasionally peeping into view. And was that the tell-tale clipboard and blazer of an official from the Guinness Book of Records, ratifying a cyclists-in-a-café record attempt?
I had no hope of bagging a table. A half-hour wait for a coffee and a teacake looked likely. A quick head-count confirmed they were smashing the cyclists-in-a-café world record as it was, and had no need of my assistance.
Feeling like the third wheel on a blind date (or more accurately the 84th cyclist on the group ride) I clipped in and pedalled off, reluctantly, to await my fate. Death by freezing, curled up in a hedgerow, seemed inevitable.
How I made it the twenty-five miles home is lost to the director’s cut; my short term memory, encrusted with ice and only blinkingly functional, was silent on the matter. The cold had clearly seeped into my synapses and frozen the brain fluid within.
I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.
I recall my revival, chest deep in a warm bath, wondering who had stripped me naked and hoisted me in. That I had been stripped and hoisted at all was the important thing. The inevitable chill-blanes my price to pay for warmth.
And I never did hear whether the folks from Guinness ratified the world record.
Perhaps the attempt was deemed null and void by the half-hour wait?
The café’s status as a functioning establishment undermined (as Guinness rules demand) by poor service?
We’ll never know.
(Image: Andreas Kambanis via Flickr cc)