The knock

It seemed like a good idea.

A road ridden without fuel feels like a road without end

A last minute, spur of the moment decision: the chance to squeeze a ride into a day that had previously offered no such opportunity. Carpe diem, they say, and without further ado I was pulling clothing from the wardrobe appropriate to a warm, but overcast day with more than an outside chance of rain, but likely to be little more than showers.

A quick change, and I rolled the bike from the garage, turned on the Garmin, clicked into the pedals (Volkswagen market the ‘clunk’ of their doors; LOOK should perhaps do something similar), and congratulated myself on a speedy decision. In my haste, however, I had overlooked a simple, but essential requirement: sustenance.

A bottle filled with the finest tap water was all I had to fuel my effort. I thought little of it. A quick blast around a regular loop of about 35 miles hardly necessitated any further nutritional intake, I thought. Wrong.

The first 20 miles passed without incident, despite an ongoing battle with a block headwind of a strength to slow an oil tanker. My eyes remained fixed on the recently acquired Garmin, and the numbers beamed back spoke of hard, but sustainable effort.

The 20 per cent gradient of one of the steepest hills in my locale would consume the last of my enery. A nearby descent of similar magnitude delayed the consequences of riding on nothing more than a bowl of bran and slice of toast consumed four hours previously. Tucked low, and nudging 35mph, events continued to unfold as planned.

As the momentum faded and the next climb emerged, shorter and shallower than the monster just passed, however, I pushed against the pedals and felt…nothing. Rising from the saddle, I tried again. Nothing. No power. Thighs not burning, but suddenly heavy. I returned to the saddle, downshifted, reduced my cadence, and wondered. The undulating road, by happy accident ridden from a more favourable direction, sheltered me from the worst ravages of an empty system for the next few miles. Short climbs approached almost without exception with momentum gained from preceding descents were conquered without effort.

This ‘kind’ section of the route quickly passed, bringing me, literally, to a cross roads. The longer, flatter route home, or the shorter, rolling journey? I opted for the latter, partly due to a love of climbing I find difficult to explain. There would be no rapid ascents on this ride, however, no steady rhythm. Each pedal stroke was torture, my legs heavy as lead, as if pedaling through sleep. A few metres from the top of one of the steepest climbs, a sky that had begun grey, and grown steadily darker, delivered its threat, and issued a short, but powerful downpour. Mercifully, I had remembered my rain jacket in the rush to ride and seized the excuse to stop and pull it on (no WorldTour balancing acts for me, sadly).

If riding on empty is hard, restarting after even the briefest of stops is harder. Having steeled myself for the task of grinding home, the humiliation of being passed by other riders was hard to bear at first. As the journey wore on, however, their occasional presence counted for less. Survival became the goal; the thought of food my inspiration.

Five hours later, my legs still hurt. It will be days before I ride again. I have damaged my muscles as surely as running a car with little oil will damage the engine. I will recover, and when I ride again, will do so as a mobile nutrition store, pockets bulging with bars, gels, and bananas.


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