Straight on at roundabout

Packing…adding insult to injury
July 20, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Rambling nonsense, Why

I’ve only ever packed on three rides.  I’ve wanted to stop and climb on a train on quite a few audaxes, but I’ve only actually given up on three.

It’s such a miserable sensation that  just thinking about it makes me shudder.

The first time was probably the worst as it didn’t involve real injury or a serious mechanical failure.

It was a 300k ride on 3 April 2004 from Steyning in Sussex and I only lasted 209k.

All day I seemed to be riding into a strong headwind and making a succession of mistakes – leaving controls on my own, promising myself that I would reach certain points by set times. And they were all compounded by starting the event tired and stressed.

Mile after mile I struggled.  I couldn’t find a gear that worked, I could never find a rhythm, I kept being passed by groups of better organised and more cheerful riders.  If I tried to jump on the back of one of these groups I was dropped within minutes because I couldn’t settle.  I was too hot, then I was too cold.  I needed to pee every 10 minutes and my neck started to hurt.

If a day on the bike can be heaven when it goes well – a day when it’s going badly becomes purgatory.

In the end I decided to get the train from near Hastings back to the start to pick up my car and hand in my card.

That train ride was utterly despondent – as soon as I sat down out of the wind I felt like a complete failure and coward.  Every aspect of my character that I regret came crowding into my mind – clearly my failure was symptomatic of the multitude of weaknesses that define my personality.

And the vagaries of weekend engineering works on the british rail system on a Saturday, give you plenty of time to brood during a dark afternoon for the soul.

Finally handing in your card at the final control is doubly depressing.  Early finishers are relaxing with a cup of tea and the rosy glow of completion.  There is nowhere on earth that wouldn’t be preferable to standing in front of the finish controller and saying as I did “some days it’s not happening” especially when your reflections of the last two hours have only underlined in your mind that on most days it’s not happening because you’re a vapid weakling who will always fail in life….

But really it’s a stupid illusion isn’t it?  209k into a headwind when you’ve started knackered is pretty good isn’t it?  And cycling isn’t a matter of life and death is it – it’s meant to be fun.

I promised myself that I’ll never let myself get that despondent again about deciding that I wasn’t enjoying myself.  However, like many of the promises I have made in life I have broken it in spirit multiple times.  I console myself that at least I haven’t actually packed again when I’ve felt that low – but that might be due to the fact that rides rarely go past railway stations just at the moment when I am most vulnerable!

In 2007 I was riding a 400K event that followed a course in a figure of eight.  After 200K you returned to the start – next to a railway station and next to my parked car.  For about an hour before we reached the 200K control I found myself riding in the dark with a chap who had never ridden a 400 before and he was suffering.

But he kept talking about how cold his hands were, about how thin his socks were and about an ache in his neck.  I promised to lend him some spare gloves at the control and offered an extra pair of socks which I had in the car.  At the control I dug out a couple of ibuprofen for him.

An older rider suggested that he should lie down in the back of the hall for 20 minutes – we had lots of time in hand – and he’d feel fine.  I left with the older rider who said as soon as we’d turned the first corner “He’ll be packing then…”

His point was that the rider had been marshalling up a range of excuses for packing – the cold hands and feet; the neck pain were just ways of mollifying his conscience.  My new friend said “everyone has to pack now and again – it’s a mistake to think there’s a shame in it when you do.”

At the end, when I had ridden my 400K my gloves and socks were waiting for me unused.  I hope the young guy wasn’t so stupid as I had been to put himself through some sort of catholic self-criticism session and was glad that he’d got around 200.  Maybe I’ll need to remind myself of that the next time I get envious of anyone else in life!


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