We knew it was going to rain today. The forecasts a week before had been consistent all the way in: chance of rain on Thursday, definite rain on Friday, and sunny on Saturday. Like a looming exam for a student, the day of rain had come closer and closer, with no chance of escape.
And so, when we woke up early to the sound of heavy rain, it was accepted with a sense of stoic formality. We’re just going to have to do this. So after a fantastic breakfast (unless you’re not a big fan of slightly underdone scrambled eggs), we left the Clinton Arms in the rain. Not a drenching downpour, but hard enough that after the first hour, we were wet through.
Now, my first rule of cycling is “If I’m not having fun, I’m doing it wrong.” I’ve found that I can live within this through just about every situation – whether it’s gruelling hill training, or exhausting 100-mile rides, or even battling into heavy winds. The only time I find myself breaking it is when I’m riding in the rain. I hate it. Initially, it’s just an annoyance, like a hole in a dyke that can be stopped with just a finger, but it slowly works its way up until not even a whole arm in the hole can stop the leak.
There’s the moment that the sleeves get wet through, and you know it’s going to be a slog. Then there’s the point where the water spraying up from the back wheel works its way through the lycra and padding of the shorts, and your bum gets wet. Then there’s the dripping down the back of your neck when your hair gets soaked enough to overflow to the rear. And finally, your shoes’ defences are breached, and your socks are wet, and your feet are cold. Nothing matters then, except making it through the ride, arriving home, and getting dry. Most of today was like that.
To their credit, the children never complained. They were perhaps a little more vocal in expressing their annoyance at the hills (which, to be fair, were more numerous and more steep than any of us had expected), but they accepted their fate with admirable fortitude. About three hours in, Alex said to me “As soon as we arrive at the hotel, I’m going to have a nice, hot bath.” And then, in reference to his mud-spattered legs, he retorted “and by the looks of me, I’m going to need it!” I could hardly believe it – only nine years old, and he’s living rule 1 better than me.
It wasn’t all bad though – the rain eased off to a light drizzle after two hours. Just enough to maintain the status quo on the wet front, and then for a glorious forty minutes just before lunch it stopped entirely, and we had four miles of blissful hope – maybe this will last the rest of the day? But no sooner had we stepped into a wonderful little tea room in Hatherleigh than it started up again.
And so the rest of the day was a bit of a write-off. Lots of hills, half our party getting lost, brakes getting worn out from all the down hills (which tells you something about the uphills), one huge hill right near the end which was long and steep and nasty. But no one stopped to walk up it, and Alex, knowing it was right at the end, put all he had into it. I asked him near the top “Are you still alive?” and between loud steam train breathing he came back with “No! <gasp> But <gasp> I’m <gasp> going <gasp> to do it!” Even Anna had overcome her dread of the hills, and had mastered the tactic of switching to a low gear, and just keep on going. Highly commendable.
After a day like that, a Travelodge is not exactly the stopping point you want – it’s an impersonal, cookie-cutter kind of place. But there was a friendly receptionist, a warm room, hot water, and clean towels, and really, that’s about all you need in life after a long day of rule breaking.
Map of day 2’s ride
Wet, muddy backs
A tangle of bicycles outside the lunch stop in Hatherleigh
Setting out from Torrington