A Day in Hell

I did a ride. My first metric century, up the Waseley hills and the Waltonberg, around the four stones of Clent, then west and south and into the back of beyond. I was with Lisa Jones, who had planned the route for Rapha’s “A Day in Hell” event, Esther Barnes, one of Lisa’s colleagues at Ecobirmingham, and Ian Wacogne, a civilian like me.

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d done a few longer rides before – seventy, eighty kilometers or so – but the hundred came with a perceptible hump to get over. I mean, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to turn into a pumpkin or suddenly ascend to a new plane of existence, but even so the third digit induced just that bit more trepidation than the first two.

I took the Trailblazer. I’d long since dropped the cushy but paper-thin Gravel King slicks, and aside from the lack of punctures, the GK semi-slicks didn’t give up much in terms of grip or comfort. The miles rolled by easily enough, even at a plump 38mm and something like 40 PSI, and they didn’t feel heavy or sluggish. The more I thought about the bike the more I realised I’d arrived at the same formula that Dawes Galaxy riders have been enjoying for decades: wide but not ludicrous tyres, canti brakes, and drop bars. What I am saying is, cyclotourists know where it’s at.

The only issue I had with the bike was on the tricky, rocky descent from the Clent Hills. The cantis that had been fine on the road didn’t have the power or the modulation for anything much rougher. The pads squealed all the way down to no great avail, and by the time I got to the bottom I had decided to replace the brakes with the Tektro mini-Vs in my parts bin.

But look, it’s a year later and I still haven’t changed the brakes. The cantis just look right on this frame, and a new set of pads will probably get them back to a mostly acceptable level. Function need not always triumph over form.

If there was one thing I’ve done badly on long rides in the past, it is the ✌️nutrition✌️. Come the last five or ten or twenty kilometers, I’ll be lumbering along with nothing in my belly, my legs or my pockets. Once, I stopped at a 24-hour Asda for an emergency Double Decker, wheeling my bike into the store and wobbling emptily to the meal deal fridge by the door. I crawled home fuelled only by nougat and crisped rice.

This time round, I did a bit of reading1 and figured out that I should eat something every twenty minutes or so and finish a 500ml bottle every thirty. I prepared, goddamit: I set alarms on my Wahoo to remind me to eat and drink on schedule, and stuffed my bar and stem bags with gels, a quartered PB&J sandwich, cereal bars, sports drink tablets, a banana, and sweets.

And then, by God, I did what my Wahoo told me. I ate and drank on schedule, even when I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. The others, who were all far more relaxed, well-adjusted sorts, regarded me with curiosity. Why u so strict? But it worked, and for the first time, I got to the end of a long ride with no real problems at all. My muscles, my bones, my brain were tired, but there was none of that bonk-specific feeling of absolute emptiness. If and when I find the time to do another ride like this, I’ll do exactly the same thing all over again.

As we rolled up to a canalside shop for an ice cream in the sun, I realised that I’ve never really allowed myself to properly enjoy long rides. They’ve been exercises in speed, or suffering, or competition. But on this ride, alongside my sensible, happy, companions, I let all that go. We stopped to take photos. We had lunch at a deli in Belbroughton. We spread out across quiet country roads and shot the shit. We enjoyed ourselves, in other words, and it was a revelation.

  1. Mostly at British Cycling and road.cc. ↩︎