Caution: Waves


Yesterday, having resigned myself to the fact that the front shifter on my shiny new bike is not nearly as shiny as the rest of it, I decided to go for a quick burn round any way. It was raining really hard which for me has some sort of perverse appeal — but only when it’s not cold — so these cloudburst style afternoons we’ve been having recently (all summer?) are just the ticket.

Without the use of the top chain ring, I reasoned a proper hilly route was in order so I decided to set off on the climb up to Harford. There’s the odd, brief decent on the way up and I realised it was just as well I couldn’t get into top gear, on account of already not being able to see very well in the pouring rain. Any faster and I really wouldn’t be able to see what I was crashing into.

So I’m having a nice time playing with the higher ratios, feeling the benefit of the lighter frame, liking the responsiveness of the 105 derailleur (the back one of course), noticing that the brakes cope better that I expected in the wet conditions, enjoying the view, all lovely. No, not the view actually. Three hundred yards of visibility isn’t a view.

Having reached the ‘summit’ I carried on in the direction of Cornwood below, brakes at the ready. This is when things got interesting. You see, all the fields above the lane are already saturated with days of rain and now they’ve just had who knows how many thousand gallons of extra rain tipped on them. The only place left for all this water to go was down the little lane that I’m pootling along. At first it was amusing, weaving between the little rivulets. But as I descended, more and more rainwater flooded the lane.

My little burn round the lanes became interesting. The gullies at the sides are bursting, the rivulets are ganging together in a concerted effort to form a stream, it’s still pouring and there’s no way left for me to go but down. I can’t actually see the tarmac any more, since there’s about an inch of rainwater flowing down it. There is a surreal effect as the whole lane ripples and ebbs, as if the tarmac has suddenly melted and is flowing away. If I stare down at the front wheel, it’s kind of dizzying. Don’t do that then.

This was becoming the kind of interesting that you don’t need. It’s getting steeper and it’s getting deeper, and my hands ache from the braking. I pass a sign: “Road works starting here for three weeks due to flood damage”. No kidding. Now I’m worried about disappearing into a hidden crevasse. My new bike might be hurt! It’s here that I encounter my first bit of traffic climbing up the hill. It’s a digger on caterpillar tracks. I feel somewhat outclassed in the using-the-appropriate-vehicle-for-the-conditions category. My mountain bike with its tractor tyres would be oh so much more appropriate right now but I’d left it at work, and besides, it’s not shiny new.

There are small waves in this river I’m cycling down now. I can see pebbles washing along in the water. Judging by how much of the front rim I cant see, I make it just over three inches deep now. This isn’t the kind of surfing I’m accustomed to.

Ah, I reach the bottom of the hill and the humpback bridge, under which a raging torrent runs, bolstered by the lane I’ve come down. Back on dry land at last, phew. Well, not actually dry of course, but it’s not moving past me any more. This counts as dry by recent experience. There’s a car here with a couple in it, looking thoughtfully up the hill, and with amusement at the plonker coming down it. I stop to give them the benefit of my recent experience. He winds down the window and I notice him glance down to where the water is gushing over my shoe and around my ankle. He doesn’t comment. I adopt the manic smile of the soggy and relieved, and advise him that the way is passable. He’s got four wheels after all.

I look back as I cycle on to Cornwood. They’re still peering up the hill. They didn’t believe me. Fair enough, I wouldn’t if I was me. I got a laugh from the sign by the road in Cornwood. I looked back to read: “Caution. Uneven Surface”. Funny.