To be said in the voice of a retired teacher, bitter at years of non-promotion and cars that failed to start.
‘Dear Sir/Madam, I write to you today in regard of your overnight forecast on the night of December 18-19th. You had clearly stated and so I expected 5-7 degrees, with no frost and clear skies. Furthermore you had stated “pleasant morning with the temperature rising to a slightly above normal 8 degreesC. I put it to you Sir that this was not the case…..”
There is a stillness when you notice that things are not what they seem. Not the eyes-wide-mouth-open-brake-locking-outa-control 2 seconds where know you will crash. This was a sudden flash of fear- I am no longer vertical.
5-7 degrees with a cloud symbol.
“I have got three winters out of these bib tights” was my sincere pitch at a recent bike show, to spread the joy of our Mistral bib tights and their durability. I won’t get a fourth. As the porridge was simmering, I went outside to attach my charged lights, in my socks and base layer: Bit parky- I thought, but 5-7 degrees over night rising to 8:- Roubaix gloves and Gilet over Long sleeve jersey, is the ticket for this temperature.
Pedalling was a sweet joy. Empty lanes. The black of the land gave to the navy sky and unknown stars were dotted in shapes I’ve never learnt. I climbed to the top of the mountain and breathed in the fresh darkness. I had got out of the saddle to check the front wheel. It felt a bit twitchy. I reckoned 70psi in 30mm winter tyres was too high a pressure.
The flash that blinded was the front light pointing at my skull and then it wasn’t. The noise I heard was my right cleat disengaging. I was 45 degrees to the road with my bike in parallel to the horizon. For a milisecond I was floating. I knew the next moment I would begin to hurt. But right there, frozen in time, floating in the air, I was fine.
I decided years ago to stop crashing. I was fed up with the road rash, bored of scraped rear mechs. They may still function, but, they look imperfect and it affects the moral of the ride. I decided to stop crashing and I did. I no longer sprinted for 9th or 19th place. I avoided the back half of the bunch where tired men and rocking shoulders preclude less attention to the road between spinning legs. In training I would take an extra turn in the wind rather than sitting behind the lad with the loose mudguard stay. Out and around. The rider whose front mech is clicking on every revolution. 90 times a minute that click translates to ‘not only is my front mech not adjusted but the 9th patch in my tube is about to fail and my front brake pads won’t do another season as previously thought.’ Out and around. The mouthy guy shouting in the bunch to go quicker, slower, chase him, don’t chase me, whatever – isn’t at one with his bike and will overreact and be at the bottom of the pile of wheels. Out and around.
I decided to stop crashing for good. The noise of a peloton imploding is horrific. When it is behind you, the relief is immense. Pity is not yet available for those in a spaghetti of broken carbon and screams, for someone could yet look around and cause another. Experience does buy avoidance. I am not counting sliding out on a recent CX race – avoidable stuff. Crashes change your day/ week/ life. I have no time for them, so stopped it. Scars across my shoulders prove I have done my time and served my sport and I am done with them.
But there I was, just before dawn, floating. Thinking, What the fuck just happened. Floating no longer. No reserve chute, I was falling. Arms in, no new scars, can’t be bothered with this, I have the afternoon packing to do. Thud.Sky…Road…Sky…hedge.
I came to a stop in a ditch.
The first thing you do is ‘the assess’.
I can feel pain, so I’m not dead. Relief. Tick.
I can move my legs, so no blue parking space. Tick.
Squint eyes to somehow check your head and neck. Tick.
Squeeze fist; Arms ok. I will live- It’s grand.
I open my eyes and exhale. I see a white nettle at my nose. I see white grass blurred behind it and stare at that white nettle. Frost. Fecking ICE. 5 to 7 degrees overnight my arse. My end of the mountain was OK. I feel the damp at my hip and get up out of the road side. My knee buckles under my winter weight and a stab of pain runs the full length of my back like a firework. I peer into the hole in my tights. I don’t mind the blood. I move the hole around to see the damage. The lump of skin off is expected and the unknown ‘whitey thing’ gives me a shiver. The damp at my side was blood and already my tights have taken a menacing jelly glow. I peered south, there was still time to meet the group. I turned the bike to face the correct direction; the front wheel slid away on the ice. The white glitter which decorated the tarmac into the distance, may as well have been a line of lava.
Home I pedalled like one crank was 350 mm long. New overshoes were missing an ankle. Ankle wasn’t missing any skin and I knew where to get more. I’m grand. Home I pedalled in the stones- where the road meets the grass, hoping for some traction. Trying to rejig the day’s plan ahead.
Peeling off the kit, with a long intake of breath the same way a 33 year old woman opens a velvet ring box. Viewing the new skin colours and holes and blood and pondering – I thought I was done with this.
“….I wish to enquire where and how you obtained the information that it was to be 5-7 degrees overnight, for I can tell you Sir, that you are very much mistaken. ….”