Saturday 31 December 2011

North Rain Westphalia: New Year's Eve Challenge Ride

Bernd and Nick: 2/3 of the mad cyclists out in the rain on New Year's Eve

What could be better than to take advantage of the lack of snow in North Rhein Westphalia and try for one more long ride in the Bergische Land, east of Bonn? It seemed like an excellent idea at the time and my friend Nick in Neunkirchen-Seelscheid and Bernd, who accompanied me at l'Eroica, were game.

Of course, waking up to pouring rain this morning was not what I had planned but I still wanted to manage one more ride. I had rented a car and loading it up with the bike and gear (including my spare wind trainer in case we would end up doing a workout at Nick's place) I set off at 9 am. The drive along the A3 was okay as there were none of the usual traffic jams but it continued to rain.

By 10 I had arrived at Nick's but we elected to wait a bit in the hope the rain would lessen. I thought I had packed everything but as always seems to be the case in the world of hobby cyclists I had forgotten something important but luckily Nick had a spare helmet.

We decided to leave after 11 and it was still pretty cold. The first road was quite busy with traffic but I was surprised to see another cyclist out. This turned out to be Bernd on his recently-acquired Pinarello. I had my trusty Basso rain bike and Nick, who clearly needs more bikes, had brought his titanium Serotta.

At 5 kms in our first climb began at Schöneshof and in the next 5 kms we gained 200 m. I felt pretty good as the rain was not too heavy and in spite of the Basso being rather over-geared for climbing I was going well. I even stopped to take a photo of Nick and Bernd climbing up on the quiet road we were travelling.

Another steepish climb and the rain began to fall more heavily and during the subsequent long descent we all got very very wet and cold. It was at most 4C and with the windchill it felt like the last day of the year. We all looked forward to a coffee in our favourite cafe in Eitdorf, which Bernd said would be open until 2 pm today.

We reached Eitorf at 25 kms into our trip and went into the crowded cafe for some coffee. We were soaking wet and left big puddles on the floor. We had had no incidents in the ride but at this point Bernd lost his footing on the tile floor as his cleats slipped while he was sitting down and he fell over, taking two chairs with him and bringing even more attention to us. Nothing hurt but pride, we enjoyed excellent warming coffees courtesy of Nick. We also noted that our ostensibly "waterproof" socks were not in the least so.

Bravely setting out again, we found that the temperature had dropped even more and it was a wet, cold group that made a quick dash along the main road out of Eitorf. Ahead, at Km 27, was something to warm us up. The road to Höhn climbs one of my favourite hills in the Bergische Land, gaining 130 m in less than 3 kms. It is a great read, barely travelled, and I dug in hard to get to the top, followed directly by Bernd, with Nick a bit behind.

Bernd, who was suffering from a cold, soon left us at Schreckenberg to go home, and Nick and I had two more climbs to return to his place. After the first of these, a descent brought us back to Schöneshof and the bridge over the swollen Sieg River. NRW had the wettest November in history but it seems like December must be one of the wettest as it has rained most of the month. Nick said that the river had been quite low, and the tributaries completely dry, but at the bridge the river had flooded its banks.

The last climb was a marvellous quiet little road that took us back towards Neunkirchen-Seelscheid but I was getting very cold and a bit tired and had to stop for a Clif Bar. The last few kilometers back were enough for me to end the day.

I had a very welcome hot shower (although the warm water really made my frozen feet ache!) and Nick kindly revived me with some excellent tomato soup before I packed up my soaking wet gear and hosed-down Basso and got back into the Mercedes-Benz for the drive back to Düsseldorf, again in pouring rain. Along the way, I saw the odd outburst of fireworks in the darkness as people began to celebrate the end of the year and the start of 2012.

Although I cannot recall ever having willing begun a ride in pouring rain, having good friends to share the adventure with makes it possible to enjoy even the most trying conditions. It was also the first time I have ever ridden anywhere on New Year's Eve, so 51 kms and over 800 m of climbing was something of an accomplishment.

To all those reading my blog I hope you had a good year of accomplishments and wish you many more in 2012!