The weather forecast was ominous, and had been all week. The remnants of some hurricane, blowing by the name of Bertha, were slinking across the Atlantic, scheduled to hit landfall early Sunday, reaching London later that morning. On Wednesday I'd shirked off this potential calamity, for the BBC are apt to mistake the forecast at the best of times – I often wonder why I even bother checking. Indeed, over the course of the next few days, Sunday was to be: constantly wet; a duality of sunshine and showers; fine until the later in the day, where upon it would become very wet and windy; or subject to any permutation along this theme you might be able to imagine. It was only Saturday's projection that ever really mattered, and even that was mere conjecture. But it was obvious that I needed to prepare for a saturating eventuality, although it was never going to be cold, which restricted me to a degree.
I contrived for sunshine and showers – all-encompassing weather conditions that should ensure I was appropriately dressed for at least some of the time. My torso dressed its self: a base-layer (by De Marchi), short-sleeved cycling jersey (by Etxeondo), arm-warmers (Santini), and a rain jacket (Castelli) that could be doffed and stowed in the back-pocket of my jersey.
Cycling shorts were obligatory, and any form of tight or leg warmer would be redundant anyway: if it rained hard they would soon become saturated and any warmth retaining properties would be lost.
I was more worried about the loss of traction anyway, which could have a potential effect on my choice of footwear. I considered reverting to toe-clips, removing my cleated pedals from my bike and wearing my Sidi touring shoes instead. However, the toe-clipped pedals I bought to tide me over – while I’d searched for cleats and accordant shoes – pressed down on my toes, which was tolerable over 40 miles but might not be over a 100 such measures. Further, those Sidis would not keep my feet warm or dry like my cleated pair of Mavics could, which was now the more determining factor. To be sure, I stretched a pair of toe-covers over my shoes, and to be doubly sure I applied gaffer tape over them, figuring this could be removed if and when the sun came out.
I awoke at 3.45 a.m. after four, maybe five hours’ sleep (despite hitting the hay at just gone nine – it's hard to slumber when you need to be up that early). I felt okay, actually, and there was no sign of this Bertha from out the window.
Two hours later, in the back of a cab approaching the Olympic Park, the rain was beginning to threaten, small spots of the stuff dotting the windscreen of our taxi. By the time I'd arrived, this idle precipitation had relinquished.
I had shared a cab with my neighbour, who was scheduled to start riding an hour earlier than me. That I needed to be in position to ride the LondonSurrey 100 half an hour before the start assured I had plenty of time on my hands for coffee and a bacon sandwich. And then the waiting – about an hour of it.
It remained mercifully dry for this period of lingering but became wet very soon after. It could have been worse: it was drizzle, and my rain jacket could deal with that, as could the gaffer tape wrapped around my shoes. I was more concerned at this juncture about pacing myself, yet found that I was comfortably maintaining speeds of around 20 mph without due strain or attention. My circumstances bode well.
This all changed upon reaching Hampton. I didn't want to stop at Hampton, but I needed the toilet and there were facilities there. I'd also emptied one of my water bottles already, so refilled that. Next I decided to eat another energy bar, the first of my three having been consumed out of boredom while hanging around earlier. Having done all of these things, I was just about to get back on my bike when something resembling a tropical downpour unleashed itself. Just a shower, I thought, what good timing, I'll sit it out under this here tree.
And it was just a shower. Unfortunately, the next downpour was not just a shower. I was in Molesey, barely a mile on from Hampton, and the rain that now fell upon me continued to lash down for the next three hours, pausing duplicitously every so often, but never abating.
I soon saw a crash happen in front of me – quite a nasty one wherein a toppling cyclist’s bike bounced upward into the path of another cyclist, who subsequently stacked it in a spectacular fashion. Just moments after an ambulance sped passed me to attend to someone I soon caught up with lying on the floor, unconscious and with an oxygen mask strapped to their face. The passage through Walton was a joke: water inundated every surface, the spray from my bike, and everyone else's, washed over me, and the rain harassed my face incessantly. The descent down Caenswood Hill, which I ordinarily enjoy, was treacherous, and thereafter we entered the countryside and it all became a blur. I could now see sense in the re-routing of our ride to avoid Leith and Box Hill (although on reflection I'm not sure why Box Hill had to go: its rake is so much milder than Leith's). People were attending to punctures all about me. Every person who overtook my drenched form would turn their head, offer a wry grin and make some sort of sarcastic comment about how much they were enjoying themselves.
I'd only wanted to stop the once, but found myself pausing at the next hub, again to use the toilet but also to drink a warming cup of coffee.
Somewhere after Dorking the rain eased off to an acceptable level, allowing me to up my game a little. I literally have no recollection of passing through Leatherhead, but I do recall puncturing on the approach to Esher. From there onwards it was all okay. The sun even came out as I rode up Combe Lane, persuading me it was worth the bother to stop and remove the rain jacket.
Come the finish and I still had a fair bit left in the proverbial tank: the removal of those hills, the peril of flooded roads and the poor visibility having robbed me of the opportunity and the impetus to attack this course in the way I'd intended. 5 hours and 50 minutes it took, although only 5 hours and 10 minutes of that was spent actually riding my bike. In any case, had it been dry then 4 and a half hours would not have been out of the question.
I had planned on this being a one-off but already I'm feeling a strange need to enter next year's ride; a case of unfinished business, perhaps. This is contingent on the laws of probability ruling out similar conditions, of course.