On Friday I set off for Brighton at midnight with nearly 50 coasters. We were in good spirits. Sure there was rain forecast but hey ho let's go.
We made very good time going through London on this ride and the roads were clear of traffic. I thought nothing of it, at no point did I think 'hmmmm I wonder if everyone's staying in in case it wees it down', at no point did I wonder why the streets were eerily clear of the usual rowdy drunkards that give us all a giggle and the occasional thrown missile. They were probably at home battening down the hatches.
The Brighton ride was my first FNRttC back in June/July so I knew a bit of the route although this one had been altered to be weather safe. The enormous hill heading out of London that seems to go on forever was one of my sharpest memories and this time I was ready for it. I shuffled Reg into a comfy low gear and pootled my way up. Last time I didn't realise I'd be on an upward trajectory for so long and grossly misjudged it, but not this time.
We headed out of London and I stayed near the middle of the pack with A2 hanging out nearer the front with some colleagues he'd roped in from work. We were, in fact, doing really well until 2.40am when it began to rain.
Ok so it had started to rain a little at about 12.40am but it had been small, light patches, in short, usual commuter fare. But this was biblical flooding of the lands, build yourself an ark because damnation is on its way rain. Going down a steep hill it felt like someone with a pea shooter full of marbles was aiming for my eyes. At one point I abandoned all hope of looking forward where I was going and just focused on the white lines to stay in the right place.
We were guided into a tunnel for five minutes' rest while punctures were repaired and we were off, sloshing into the darkness. Puddles and mini-rivers formed at our ankles and a highlight was a small fjord-like body of water that I hit without seeing it while cycling pretty much alone. I felt a bit stupid until I heard the combined squeally groan of the group behind me two minutes later.
At this point everyone was wet and cold. There were no longer divisions between those in Assos and Altura and those in Lidl gear, no one was dry. I had bought a weird-looking strip of material to cover my ears and some peanut butter Clif bars on my way home from work and my God was I grateful. I scoffed my way through my bars and praised my ear warmer repeatedly.
We reached the halfway stop and a chaotic scene was there for any bystanders. Haggard-looking bikers sat in puddles of muddy water and dejection. At this point one of the regular leaders offered to take anyone who wanted to head home to the nearest station. We only lost about three riders and I'm sure I wasn't the only person looking at their arms in disbelief as they refused to rise and be counted as someone going home.
When we left the cafe the rain had stopped but the wind and an hour's sit-down meant it was very hard to get going. At one point I was convinced that my hand and feet had been lost somewhere on the journey. We pushed on until a guy in front of me got a puncture.
I lent tyre levers and was one of three who stood by offering light. Disaster struck when an integral bit of wheel bounced off into the night, I was sent to bear the news to the front of the ride. I'd never done a 'back to front' before and it was HARD.
I passed several wayfinders and eventually got to the front only to find out they'd since found the part and were heading in. We then headed off again while I continued wheezing from the lack of stop.
As the light at the end of the tunnel got closer we all became impatient to finish. We were freezing at this point and the continued puncture stoppages were starting to niggle. The last couple of miles seemed to take forever and I wasn't the only one to spontaneously cheer when the signs for Brighton started to crop up with increasing regularity.
With the cafe in sight I was near tears of relief and I and several others insisted on sitting outside to eat breakfast as we'd fought so damn hard to get there. Never mind that two minutes in the wind rendered our tea and breakfast stone cold, I needed to believe I'd actually made it.
Not a soul cycled back as far as I'm aware and so the trains were packed with very tired cyclists. I helped four ladies from Hull negotiate the tricky Victoria one-way system and got them pointed in the right direction before heading for home, bath and bed.
I don't remember much of the journey from Paddington, the next clear memory is lying in a very hot bath enjoying the smug sensation washing over me and watching the cat sniff my shoes with a look of utter disdain.
I have, in the past, been a quitter when things got tough and, believe me, I was sorely tempted by the turn back option at the cafe but I had made it.
This morning Mr Weenie offered me a lift as it was raining... 'Ha!' I cried, 'Compared to Friday this is practically tropical, bring it on!'