I read this out loud to my little (18yr old) sis, Katie, never seen her laugh so much, proclaiming, if you could put “me” on a piece of paper, this would be it. I thought I had better cross-check this reaction, and read it to a couple of other close friends and family, damn, same reaction. Ah, well, it is out there now.
A desert; a vacuum; dry salt flats; blue hot blue sky, parched, no water, days on days of emptiness, stretching ahead with no boundary to define a beginning or an end. Eyes squinting to the mirage ahead in the baked ground, tantalising, drawing the weary traveller towards it. Is it? Can it be? The mirage breaks up then reappears, grows more defined and stronger against the harsh white flats, the thirsty traveller stumbles towards it. Yes, with more definition you start to see some green of trees, a spatter of heather and gorse, and around you other people emerge drawn to this same feature protruding from the landscape. Holy smoke! A hill, a closed road hill. Longstone Hill Climb. By god, a hill climb event! Hunger draws the cyclists in, the field is full, a sold out hill climb in early August, five previous national champions competing. Stacks of pen wielding two legged beings signing in to receive their holy number, allotting their time to GO!
Longstone Hill Climb - 2020 - Closed Road.
4pm on the August evening, we drive up Longstone Hill. Bouncing over the rough-ish tarmac, winding through a steeper bend, over a cattle grid, through some trees then out to the moorland. Majestic, sweeping views over the region around Buxton. Potter up the nice shallow gradient to a 90 degree bend in the road; drive around it; over some more rough tarmac, then the road rises up to the top. Past some finish line flags, and that is the first look at Longstone.
5pm - Back at the bottom of Longstone Hill. This time on my bike. Three and a half hours out from my start time of 8.30pm, I am going to do a near race pace effort. Cresting the top my lungs are gasping; my legs are burning; my practice run time is shocking.
8pm - 30minutes away from my start time. My skinsuit is donned, my number pinned on. I am on the warm-up circuit, a small road out in the moors. I am thinking that maybe doing an intense effort isn’t my cup of tea anymore. Going “hard” isn’t good enough. No, head in the game, stick to the warmup procedure – my familiar routine.
25minutes from my start time, I am stopped on the moorland road, gazing out to the beautiful remoteness. Feeling alone, just me on my road bike, I could be on any ride. The sense of insignificance washes over me. I am questioning why I would place any importance on going up a hill fast when the world is full of crazy shit. A pandemic; climate change crisis. Why bother? I feel this a lot, sure we all do maybe. Why bother?
I imagine standing on the moon looking down on to earth, watching ant size people rushing around, and one small ant pause in thought 1mile from the start of a little tarmac lump on a soil lump called Longstone.
Looking down from the moon, it is easy to see that the futility of the endeavour makes it actually entirely plausible! Why the hell not just bike the hill as hard as you can. We are so insignificant in space and time that it might as well go 100%! Ok, so I am not an ant.
But, if I looked down at a nest of ants and saw a peculiar event of an ant on a bike like contraption approaching a stone with a little slope - I would think - “go for it ant give it bloody everything, this is brilliant, why not!” I deviate. Standing at the bottom of Longstone Hill Climb “3,2,1” GO! To hell with it, I AM the ant, why not, who cares.
Don’t think about the pain, it doesn’t matter. Dig deep to the cattle grid, but not too deep, don’t blow before the top, stick to the pacing schedule, f*@king hurts, out of the saddle, steep to the grid, urgh, no, I don’t want to do this, too slow, not going fast enough, going to stop. No, cross the cattle grid, get a grip, I need to relax, enjoy the show, breathe, you are alive, you love this, enjoy it. Enjoy the hill, tap out the rhythm, this is easy, keeping going. Now, the pressure builds again, but where is the top, where is the 90 degree corner? The burning starts building in the legs, a deep fatigue setting in, not too soon cameras flash in the dying light, the mountain breeze nips at my heels reminding me of the cross-wind to come. The final corner is upon me.
Hold it. Stay seated. Wait.
The corner will give a lift from the last of the tail wind before the exposed hillside reveals the sting in the tail and a blustering cross wind. Round the corner, the finish line 100m ahead, but ramping.
I know what to do, but I don’t want to either, this is going to hurt. With the lift of speed out of the corner. 3,2,1 GO!! GO!!
Out of the saddle and sprint. ......... Sprint! f%@k I don’t have a sprint!! Ok, go, go, go, don’t stop, arghhh this hurts, bells jangle, people shout, no ahh this isn’t good, the line 1m to go, cross it. FINISH. DONE.
Later I get my time. I saved 40seconds off my practice run, and the men did it another minute faster. Course record, narrow win. Not bad for the day in the life of an ant. A milestone ticked off as I continue along the path to bigger goals, right?.