Another weekend in back country New Zealand. Another race out in my favourite neck of the woods, the aptly-named Forgotten Highway. It’s cold and a steady, permeating drizzle falls from a low, featureless sky that tops this part of the world like nothing so much as a giant, featureless Tupperware lid.
I huddle for longer in the hall than usual, but then again, I’ve arrived too early. I’m dressed, caffeinated, and ready for action that’s not yet ready to happen. Story of my life. I try a warmup, but instead I just get cold and wet. The first seven or eight k are slightly downhill anyway. Better to stay dry. I pin my number to my gilet; it won’t be coming off.
A huddle at the start, under a dripping lean-to that juts from an abandoned Engineer’s workshop. Chat: what the fuck are we doing this for’s, I think I’ll keep the warmers on, at least it’s not windy as well, eh? Grades start to feed out, queue on the line. I’ll stay here until the last minute.
Finally, my turn. Plenty have stayed home today – and who can blame them? – so it’s a small grade. A couple have moved up – it’s not a course for them, but we’ll keep them together if we can. Once the hills kick, that’s where this’ll split, and then it’ll be game on to the finish. Better to get warm and keep the group rolling nicely now.
Legs feel leaden, but they’re turning. Same for everyone. Same for everyone. Keep saying it, look around, know you’re right. Know you’re going well. Hills come and go, the group thins. Longer turns on the front now. I can see who’s weak and strong. I’m strong. If we’re to get the front I’ll have to pull. I do. If I’m going to take it I’ll have to keep something in the tank. History tells me that’s a greasy tightrope.
My glasses are almost impenetrable now; I’m soaked. The chill’s crept through my overshoes and my toes are going. The hands are still working, somehow. Let’s get this done. Hills are to be savoured, going up – warmth returns, and the guy who’s been sitting on is dropped and burning matches. Another down. The final hill, and I go. It doesn’t last – I’m climbing well, but not that well. We think we can see the front now, though – we’ll have more chance bringing it back if we stay together, the three of us that are left.
We get the last – well, we though it was the last, but turns out it wasn’t – a kilometer before the line. I’ve fallen off the greasy tightrope again – too much time on the front. Nothing left for the sprint. Hard ride for nothing. The finish comes and goes, no-ones hanging around. There was no-one watching, either. Within five minutes it might not have happened at all. Back to a cold, miserable Sunday; fireside reading and a roast. Sun comes out on the journey home.