This morning was the annual Sydenham Wheelers Reliability Ride. The name alone should have flagged up the need for organisation, resourcefulness, grit. In reality, what transpired was a farce of near tragic proportions.
Arriving nearly 40 minutes late after a faffy departure from Dad’s and a journey with many three-point-turns, we were delighted and surprised to find something had proved reliable – in this case the bloke at the sign-in desk: cheerful, positive about our chances of catching a wheel (and thus not racking up endless and soul-destroying Lost Miles staring at the directions sheet) and still there. We sign on, heading off alone, immediately discovering that the presence of the directions sheet was threatening to turn the ride into something more like orienteering. All went OK for the first 30 miles or so with two notable exceptions: 1) we got lost and put 10 annoying Lost Miles into our total, 2) I discovered that my legs appeared to have forgotten how to ride uphill and were going lactic almost immediately. Whether this was as a result of watching the elastic between DD and me stretch, then break, and then seeing him disappearing from view, repeatedly, or something less psychological I can’t say.
At this point both of us were feeling the need for something more substantial to eat, it being lunchtime and our provisions gone. We spot a convenience store and D goes in to make a pile of food at the checkout, I followed, added mine to the pile and reached for my tenner. Gone. No money. Food put back on shelf, no charitable offers made by the shop woman, we are now faced with another 35 (official) miles before we can eat. Both of us are now feeling decidedly hungry having had the ploughman’s sandwiches, the fig rolls, the chocolate and Allsorts snatched away from our drooling lips by the cruel hands of fate. Looking at the sheet however, it appeared that at the 47 mile point there was a village hall checkpoint, with Refreshments! Joy. We struggle on, the bonk hovering, closer to the village hall promised land. We arrive in the nick of time… It’s closed. Dark and empty. We wrestle, briefly, with despair and consider our options. 1) struggle on, although for how long would this be possible? Was there a ‘tipping point’ for bonks, beyond which a mere Mars Bar would not revive us? 2) Beg for food. The reality was this was both mortifyingly embarassing and potentially futile, as we all know the general public doesn’t ‘get’ road cycling, frequently to the point of sadism. We struggle on. For me the landscape is drawing in, becoming black and white, northern French fields, the Somme. DD starts to say something and discovers that he is speaking Spanish, for no apparent reason. Conversation dries up.
We console ourselves with the thought that there are only 20 (official) miles to go and that our cars are stuffed full of sugary snacks. I ask DD to count off the miles as an incentive (my bike computer having proved unreliable). These next miles, closer to 25, were a terrible slog. The rain began, fine lancing needle points, freezing and bleak. Visibility shrinks and the legs must keep turning, hunger having long before turned to stomach cramps and drifty, dizzy weakness.
The last obstacle was Star Hill, the same hill we’d sailed down at the start of the ride, back when descents had been fun rather than freezing opportunities for the mind to wander, alarmingly. Up up up, then briefly lost lost lost, before joy of joys, we arrive. Scenes of frenzied eating. Conversation ceases, eyes are rolled in exhausted bliss. We had survived; certainly one of my lowest points on a bike for various reasons, but consequently I suspect, destined to be myth.
80 miles, almost 7 hours. Dixon was a legend.