Author Topic: Vaya con dios


Vaya con dios
« on: October 15, 2011 »
A cowboy gets on the train in Orpington, a stop on my line. Not the Marlboro Man: he's in a cow costume. He's got udders. Gets off at Waterloo. I do too. Take my bike for a walk along the South Bank, with time to kill before the meetup at Hyde Park Corner. The lights sparkling on the dark river get me every time. Everything is beautiful, but then I look at the city with a lover's eye. A cyclist goes past singing Vaya con dios, does an endo at my feet. "Are you all right?" I ask him. "My balls," he says. He's drunk, unfortunately not enough to have lost all feeling. I hold his bike while he musters the strength to carry on. Burst out laughing further on down the way, unable to help myself. Not sure if this makes me a bad person.

Wellington Arch from Big Ben via Oxford Street may be a tourist trifecta, but it's not as the crow flies. As far as I'm concerned London is a cyclist's paradise, doubly so at night: A to B is too short. The streets are emptier. Wide open spaces, like the sky. The couriers have gone home, leaving pedicabs to do deliveries. People wait at bus stops, which always makes me vicariously impatient.

A small crowd at the Arch, bigger every minute. You can't be sure who's going to stop and join and who's just passing through. If they're on a recumbent they're definitely here for the ride. Nobody's on a 'bent at midnight unless they're on a mission. Boris Bikes seem unlikely, but ever since one was spotted on the Dun Run all bets are off.

There are forum jerseys, and the ones with big red stars that mark the livery of the committed FNRttCer. Bellies taut and Rubenesque. Powerful lights that look like they may have been bought in Soho, ribbed for pleasure. Clicky clipless shoes like a troupe of tap dancers.

I miss my name on roll call, but Simon has eyes like a hawk behind those glasses. Either that or he assigns me to a grey area. He does the safety talk / pep rally. It's a useful bonding ritual. He's good at this.

Then we're off.

London passes all too quickly, even with countless stops as the other end of the accordion catches up. Traffic waits patiently enough for the lycra hordes to pass. At least I don't hear any horns or oaths. At one point it looks as if the police might take interest. We are the 99%! If only.

Though the crowd draws me to these rides, I don't wish to cycle in the middle of it. Always end up at the front or back, preferably the front. The back is more peaceful, but I can't help racing up hills, so any term as unofficial backstop never lasts long.

Going downhill makes me nervous, feeling way too mortal. Everybody and their grandmother passes. The monster hill into Reigate eats my brake blocks.

Human signposts stand in the cold. Sometimes they volunteer, sometimes Simon volunteers them.

4am at the scout building, dilemma: wait inside where it's warm, with a plunge back into the frigid air like those polar bear swimmers? Or stay out and not subject my body to that heartbreaking reversal of fortune? The food on offer is not on my menu. I rough it for awhile, dance on my toes (not tap, I use toeclips). Do a bike census. Nice varied showing of ti, including Lynsky, Sabbath, Enigma, Van Nicholas. A couple other singlespeeds. Lots of interesting stuff to see -- much better than a bike shop, as these have all been lived on. I hope I don't appear to be looking for one to steal.

It takes a mile or two to warm up again. Sure cure for hypothermia: pedal. Another flat is reported. There have been enough tonight to start a puncture repair business. Eventually dawn breaks with its aaahhhh sunrise and oohhhh blankets of mist nuzzling the fields. We arrive at the foot of Ditchling Beacon. I go straight up, intending to do it twice. Brighton holds no allure, I'm here for the S&M.

Manage three times, the third ascent threatened by a ferocious cramp which bites one of my calves but thankfully doesn't hold on. There's no shame in walking unless you're the one doing it. Celebrate at the summit with chocolate chip cookies, which I believe Hillary ate at Everest, then point my bike down for the last time, homeward bound, into the morning.