I realise that I may never live this down, and that my reputation within the Velominati community will be damaged irreparably, but I’m out. – Anonymous AKA @936ADL
Despite the endless talk of tea and cakes, the inaugral London Cogal will be remembered for that other quintessentially English conversation point, the weather. Everything was looking fine with a week to go; my Sunday ride was a lazy afternoon roll out in summer kit without thought of woollen base layers or waterproofs.
A lot can change in a week and by the Saturday, I was beginning to wonder if I would be the only one at Admiralty Arch but I came close to a DNS myself when I managed to leave my front wheel at home. Fortunately, I left it in the garage rather than running it over and was able to make the start at 9.0V by driving into London rather than getting the train.
There may not have been as many people as originally planned waiting under for me under the arch but it was great see the familiar faces of @roadslave525 and @ChrisO as well as meet @Norm, @Teocalli and @Meursault.
“Yes but, was it fun ?” my wife asked, the day after the Cogal. That being the main thing in her eyes.
I had to say No, it wasn’t Fun. It was lots of things, but if that was fun then the definition needs updating.
That’s no reflection on the company, the route or really anything other than The Weather. It was utterly, horribly and unremittingly wet and cold for the entire day.
It turned the social and Casually Deliberate ride I imagined into the grim and relentless effort we endured, focused on the end not the journey. With my teeth in permanent lockjaw to stop shivering conversation became difficult.
It would have been a glorious ride in even moderately nice conditions. Lush green fields at the end of summer, the view of the Downs from Box Hill, chatting sociably down country lanes flanked by overhanging forests to towns like Lurgashall, Gospel Green and of course our favourites Cocking and Lickfold.
There were things about the ride which were enjoyable of course. It was good to see Chris and Roadslave525 again after KT12, and to meet Teocalli, Norm and Meursault. Personally I was pleased to do my best time up Box Hill and I felt OK in terms of riding. And I have never been so happy to see a pub in my life as a I was when we got to our destination in Havant. Beer, food and warm dry clothes were a blessed combination.
In many ways it was a Very English Cogal, after all the weather is the prime topic of conversation for all good English men and women. I would gladly do the same route again with the same group, but just on a nice day next time please.
I drew back the curtains pre dawn, and smiled at the rain. I got myself prepared with two new items of clothing, cap and half overshoes to add to my regular stuff. My ride to the station is only fifteen minutes, but I wondered how wet I would get, as I would have to take the thirty minute journey into London in those wet clothes. It wasn’t that bad, I even began to dry out. Leaving the station at Kings Cross, I turned left towards Euston, then South at Euston Square towards Charing cross. On this road a lost ambulance turned it’s sirens on about a metre away from me, waking me up a bit. I shouted some obscenities through is window. Even though he was responding to an emergency call, I didn’t see the point of adding casualties along the way. As I grabbed a coffee at Admiralty Arch, I saw the ambulance again still lost.
Five other brave souls joined me under the arch, and it was time for me to drool over some pretty cool bikes. It says a lot about the riders, that their responses were very understated to my gushing, just polite acknowledgement. We allowed some V+ time due to the poor weather, but there were no latecomers. Also no South London attendees at Tooting, I think the rain must have washed them out.
At about 25k out, and the first small hill, it became obvious to me, I was going to struggle for pace. The other guys hit the hill and didn’t change pace, I immediately fell out the back. During the lead up to the cogal there was some talk of two groups, of which, I was hoping to bring up the rear of the slower one! I average about 22 kph, so anything above that would take it’s toll on me. At the cafe up Box hill, I said to the guys, I would be happy for them to go on ahead, I had gps so it would be fine. I was becoming a bit self conscious as the guy at the back, and did not want to ruin anybody else’s ride. The guys wouldn’t hear of it, and dutifully waited for me on the hills and ChrisO rode most of them twice coming back to ‘Porte’ me back on.
It was while on a climb through Winterfold forest, that I lost the group, and my gps reported off course. I doubled back and took a right. I expected that the group would either be up ahead, or if they had gone off course, they would re-route back on course and come by me. After about another 20k or so, it became obvious we were separated. I was OK with this, as it meant I could continue at my snail pace.
On a fine day, this route through countryside and woods would have been extremely beautiful, but the relentless rain painted everything grey. Passing through very small villages, there was a distinct lack of coffee shops, so was glad to see a small post office/general store at the village of Cocking. While shivering eating a pastie, I didn’t feel the situation was amicable to embark in schoolboy humour regarding village names. I am ashamed to say, I also got off to walk on two steep climbs. On both I was unable to see the summit, and this took the fight out of me, as I was now caught in a low place, trying to generate heat but running low on energy. At a T-junction out of the woods, I saw a sign saying Havant 3 miles. My heart lifted a few beats.
It didn’t take long to negotiate Havant town to the waterfront, then The Royal Oak pub. The staff gave me a very warm welcome, but I was surprised to have arrived first. About twenty minutes later, everybody else arrived, and we settled into some warm food and Recovery Ales.
It was ride I won’t forget, meeting some great guys, chapeau to you!
PS Did I mention it was raining?
As my rain lashed train pulled into London it was clear that it was going to be a long tough day in the saddle. A quick ride on deserted city streets got me to Admiralty Arch and after brief introductions the six of us pointed our bikes in the direction of the coast and headed off.
We made slow wet progress out of London and I struggled to find any sort of rhythm. We’d only covered around 20km in well over an hour when doubts started to fill my mind. I thought that due to the weather we would never make it to Havant before dark and we’d be forced to abandon the ride somewhere along the way. For a good 10 minutes I considered how to ditch out and which train stations on the route would get me home. Luckily, these thoughts passed and my legs decided to show up as we crossed the M25 into the Surrey hills, from that point on I felt good all day.
I’d not ridden Boxhill before and it lived up the hype it receives, it’s a great climb, not too difficult but still really rewarding. After quick refreshments (but no cake) at the National Trust Cafe we were off again into the unrelenting rain. The road up to Ranmore Common was like riding through a ford, a stream of water deeper than my tyre and rim covered the road. Annoyingly, I flatted on the climb from a shard of flint washed out of the woods and it took me ages to fumble on a new tube with cold wet hands.
We pushed on to the amazing long draggy climb through Hurt Wood but here we managed to lose @mersalut completely and @teocali’s Garmin also disappeared. This meant we had no firm idea of the route for the remaining 75km. Looking back, it’s a it’s a miracle that we managed to ride in generally the right direction on some great mystery back roads. The last hour of the ride is a bit of a blur for me, we were way off track and the light was fading fast but we put our heads down and finally managed to make it to Havant.
We arrived at the pub 2 hours later than expected and I was empty, frozen, totally soaked but really happy to have completed the ride. It was a fitting way to celebrate being a Velominatus and I look forward to riding another Cogal in 2014.
Well, we joke about things and each other on the web site but the thing about the British weather is that if you tempt fate it will bite you back. I posted the entry below a little under a month before the event and yes it did turn out that the weather was too good back then (for the UK) and yes @itburns did line up a special V and 9 for us. Thank you @itburns but once is enough thanks and you don’t have to repeat it next time. I trust we put in a decent V and 9 for you.
I first realised we were going to get truly wet when, even with my winter overshoes on, my shoes were full of water before we had even got out of London. I’d previously sworn by those overshoes to keep my feet dry. Knowing it was going to be wet I’d also bought a new pair of “waterproof” gloves. They too gave up before we left London. I’m sure we will all say it was wet but I can’t think of any other time I’ve been out on a bike and seen rivers of water flowing down the roads on the hills to that extent – though the one that smelled of raw sewage was not the most welcome one to discover. Mouth firmly shut up that climb.
Despite the weather or maybe because of the weather it was a great ride nonetheless and made better by great company. One thing that stands out for me from the ride, apart from the weather, is something that is probably inherent in members of our community vs groups I have ridden with this year and that is that the whole ethos of Velominati is reflected in attention to basic skills in group riding and road use. On reflection after the ride, it seemed that as a group there was some form of innate understanding of the mechanics of riding safely as a group particularly in very testing conditions. When conditions dictated the group naturally spread giving spacing for safety and then came back together for group efficiency as conditions merited. Chapeau to all.
For the rest, I think we put up a good show up Box Hill passing streams of Sportive Riders and I loved @Norm’s comments about being blinded by all the day-glow. However, it was something of a bummer to lose my GPS a little later and despite going back up the road where it came off I could not find it. The sting behind this is that we were just heading into a region none of us knew and were relying on my GPS and the little knowledge I had of that area to get us south of the Downs. Well…we got there….eventually. Sorry guys for the extra miles but some of those roads are well worth revisiting if I ever work out where we went.
I have to admit, I was initially a little nervous: the parcours looked long and lumpy with a leg-softening loop of Box Hill; the weather forecast was apocalyptic (October in UK, duh!); and there were over 300 posts on the site organising the bloody thing, FFS – it looked like @Chris was trying to (re)stage the Florence World’s in London, and we all know how well the Brits didn’t do on that…
But then I woke up on the day, and I found myself quite excited: the parcours was long and lumpy with a leg-softening loop of Box Hill; the weather was actually, as forecast, apocalyptic; and I was looking forward to seeing @ChrisO and @Chris again, the last time being at KT12 (they have their souvenir V-Pints, I don’t… grump).
As I went through ‘pre-flight’, listening to the rain hammer down on the concrete outside, I could feel something visceral and primeval slither and awaken deep inside me and I knew it was going to be a great day…
After getting over my initial shock that only five others had turned up on The Mall (how could so few generate so many organisational posts? How to respond to such a widespread outbreak of flagrant Rule #9 violation?) I quickly realised what a high-quality gathering it was: not an EPMS in sight, all bikes meticulously maintained, prepared and well fitting (except for @Norm, who has almost as ridiculous seatpost-to-stem drop as Frank, but boy, does he make it work for him), and everyone kitted out appropriately in their Flemish best. Although @Norm’s white knee-warmers, white DeFeet overshoes and white DeFeet gloves were a brave call and he took some ribbing as they were indeed all grey after 5km, he made up for it when he came alive at 120km gone and started getting feisty as the rest of us were fading.
What to say about the ride? Everyone took their turns in the wind, despite @ChrisO stubbornly sitting up front for most of it, loving it like a dog with its head out a car window – albeit wearing his grandmothers’ tights, as they kept falling down into wrinkly creases around his knees; the riding was tight and disciplined; the talk was all bikes’n'gear’n'rides with no edge and no boasting; and a perverse part of me got real, deep satisfaction from the effort…
This day will only get bigger and more epic with the passing of time and retelling. With three punctures (one tubular, one clincher, one tubeless) we also got to road-test which is quickest to repair under comparable conditions – the conclusion: not much of a muchness between them, and everyone was totally self-sufficient as you’d usually take for granted, but are often disappointed. @Teocalli’s missus saved us with dry clothes for the train ride back to London, for which I’m almost embarrassingly grateful.
Yes, our navigation could have been better – when we lost @meursault, it was pointed out that, given he was the only one with a Garmin and a route, we were in fact the ones that were lost, not he, but the mantra of ‘Head South and/or West until you hit the water’ seemed to work just fine, which also meant we got to ride through Cocking and Lickfold (snigger) – and his heroic efforts to get to the finish by himself was the stuff of legend. We could have been faster – it seemed to take an age to clear London and the Surrey Hills, and the sun was setting by the time we reached the pub – on a another day, it would have been glorious to sit outside watching the sun set over the water, hands wrapped contemplatively around a restorative post-ride pint of bitter, laughing over recollections from the ride, but this was not to be that day.
But we could also have stayed home, and it reminded me why my favourite rule is Rule #9. It is easy to come up with many reasons not to ride, but yet, when we do choose to actually get out there, we get to experience a day like this and share it with a group of people like this. To all y’all who organised, who came, who rode, who shared this day, thank you.
We may not have ridden as far as we’d planned or gone up Box Hill twice. There may have been fewer people than expected and we may have lost one of our number along the way. We may have lost the only remaining Garmin with the route and got mildly lost. We may even have met Noah looking for a hill on which to build his new ark. We may even have gone a bit slower than planned but fuck it, much more than that a bunch of relative strangers came together to share a love of cycling, had a blast and ticked the Rule #9 box.
Much to my chagrin I forgot to raise a glass and propose a toast in @itburns’ memory as we sat down to eat but I thought of him as I had a warming single malt when I got home that night.
There’s not much else to say that hasn’t been said by the others but I’d like to thank @ChrisO and @Teocalli for finenessing my broad idea of a route into a stunning ride that got us out of the city without any real bother, avoided major roads (or would have if we’d stuck to it) and took us through. Oh yes, thanks to everyone for the tow on those last few miles into Havant. I was done.