The rhythm’s gone completely. I hack away at the pedals, legs like misfiring pistons using any combination of remaining power and bodyweight to keep them moving, the fluid circles of the lower slopes a distant memory. I daren’t glance across the valley to known reference points that will end my psychological resistance and force me into my lowest gear, if the 36t doesn’t stay clean then I’m finished, doomed to admit the failure in this session. My tongue feels fattened, an awkward sticky slug blocking the airflow my lungs crave and the thirst is overwhelming but I’m not dehydrated, the nauseating slop of unprocessed water in my gut tracking my body movements, daring me to sip from my Camelbak again.
I lurch over the road as it steepens again, Tom Simpson without the drugs. I’d take them all right now if they’d get me to the top of this destructive road. The heat is overwhelming, drilling down into my back, reflecting off the surface that my head is getting ever closer to, licking the front wheel. I feel like I’m being boiled alive, my brain shrinking, fluid escaping. Visions of the electrolytes sat on top of my fridge taunt me, the fridge, cool air, I want to be in that fridge…
A distant rumble of thunder. Come lovely rain, my salvation from the skies. No such luck. The atmosphere like porridge, I’m riding through porridge, am I still moving? Flies buzz my face, my tormenters victorious, can’t outrun them, can’t swat them, hope they’re not biters, injury to insult.
My head comes up, the circles return. Where did this come from? My subconscious knows more than my brain. I’m nearing the top and defiance drives the body. You did me on the mid section but I owned the bottom and the top, two-one to Bailey, I’m bigger than this mountain. Satisfaction tempered by reality, that was close, too close, and I know it. The training log won’t lie, OK legs, nothing more.
I stare down the start straight, the Skull DH. A thousand vertical metres of sculpted corners and jagged bedrock, beauty and the beast. Glasses off as dense foliage and a blackening sky dull the vision. Pads on, gear selected and snap on the pedals. Treat this like a race, attack, attack, attack. This track has no respect for the tentative. I’m totally under-biked and I know it, 140mm out front and the crafted compliance of carbon hardtail out back but the Ibis Tranny never ceases to amaze, no box can hold this bike, uncategorisable. A flash and a crack, the storm is closing in fast. No longer an ally against the heat, a warning shot. My focus is absolute, totally in the groove and marvelling at the new found flow this holiday has uncovered, bossing lines that should be unattainable, tyres skimming the surface of armageddon. The first bombs start to fall, initially deflected by the shield of leaves but then breaking through fast, huge droplets, instant impact. The sky explodes with light again and the deafening rumble is right on its tail, I need to get down NOW. Fear of crashing, mangling on the rocks seems childish, this is much more primeval, go, go, go, survival instincts honed by evolution driving thirty years of biking skills.
|Staring down the start straight and the weather armageddon is about to hit|
Lactic is flooding through me, arms screaming and hands like claws death gripping the bars, right quad in agony, alternate the lead foot, a transfer of skills, practice what I preach. I never intended to do this in a one-er but priorities have been dictated by a higher force and I’ve no choice, must… get… down. The bedrock lower section is like ice, limestone slickrock and brakes are no option. Light on the front end, let it drift and slide, in the air is safest. The deep clunk of the back rim smashing hard, thirty psi and a cup of Stans, choose your equipment wisely, you never know when it may save your life. Straight line, full bore off a few small drops and under the finish barrier. I crack a smile but the danger is far from over. I’ve done my bit technically but now need lady luck to see my passage back to the safe haven of the valley.
The deluge is indescribable as I hit the road, blinded by the droplets, eyelids like windscreen wipers on the highest setting, a lost battle. Inches of rain on a flat road and I veer to avoid a car out of nowhere, lights on, horn blaring. Praying that my route choice is still taking me down. Out of the saddle and fighting hard, drawing energy from empty reserves, I’ll be glad to pay for this if it means I get to see tomorrow. Redemption comes in the form of a bridge, huddled figures and a raised hand from a biker as I skid to a halt. Cars are seeking refuge here too, nobody dares head out into this abomination.
|Glad to be under the bridge when these started smashing down!|
The hailstones begin to smash down, jagged marbles bouncing off every surface but the danger has passed and I’m a mesmerised observer, the sanctity of the bridge distancing the threat, like watching the storm in a zoo. I let out a whoop and an uncontrollable grin spreads over my face. The other cyclists under here are bone dry, I know they’ve missed out as I squeeze my saturated gloves, water flooding out, I wonder if they feel the same way. Twenty minutes pass and the oppressive blackness begins to lift as I start to shiver. The storm remains but it’s said its piece and we all know who maintains the real power, mother nature has to let off steam sometimes too.
The road is still a river as I hammer down the last section, two foot deep puddles on the cambered inside of corners stop the traffic but I plough in laughing manically. The pain subsides as I sweep through the last corners towards home, the familiar whirr of freehub finally drowning out the drumming of rain. This one will last in the memory for years to come, I feel very alive.