When the wheels fall off

Battered, blown, dropped – shelled, shat, slammed, – cooked, creamed, crushed – finished, fried f**ked! Sometimes even these little adjectives aren’t enough.

There are days so awful you want to sit down and shed a tear, or maybe you are already in tears and you are praying for a renegade missile strike, a comet crash or the sweet mercy of a bolt of heavenly electricity to rain down and simply end everything. Your vision has faded, your will is crushed and your delirium is overwhelming. In a nutshell, you, are, done!

In a normal cyclist’s life, the feeling of being mullered to a pulp is about as common as sniffing a coffee pot. It’s simple fact, be it physics or physiology. If you want to ride a bike, however leisurely, you will at some point in time push something too far or come up unquestionably short.

There are some people who simply ride for fun, well that’s great, goody but I will bet my undamaged kidney that even these rare souls will meet their doom at some point in time.

I read recently that cyclist’s don’t all actually harbour the demented need for self harm, they are not all out to be the next edgy black and white Instagram model of wide eyed pain on a frozen mountain landscape. There are some people who simply ride for fun, well that’s great, goody but I will bet my undamaged kidney that even these rare souls will meet their doom at some point in time. For I have pedalled for all my life, I have done this ‘fun’ thing and even then, I had a point in time where my world mercilessly exploded.

Whether it was reversing my tricycle into a rose bush at 5, launching off my BMX and stopping with my face at 10 or grinding to a halt in the middle of God-knows-where before the age of cell phones, quick maps or gps tracking. I have had numerous encounters with the abyss of self pity that envelopes you when it all just goes tits up. Its happened a million times since too, I didn’t plan to get thorns in my head or tarmac in my teeth and I can guarantee I would never have joined that bloody group ride had I know there were planning to despatch my 13 year old self, but this is what it is, its bike riding right?


Recently in one such moment, I came to pondering, as you do in these cavernous pits of inky introspection, ‘how did we end up back here, how am I feeling this all over again, and why did I not see this coming, why Spies why, you bloody moron’ I was fuming, I had not seen the warning signs, I had failed to prepare and worse than anything at all I didn’t seem ‘up to the challenge’. What the hell?!

My latest misadventure had hit me square between the eyes in the suitably named ‘Valley of Tears’ on one of the weather beaten escarpments that bristle across the little vortex of hurt Gran Canaria, the early year training hotspot to the clinically insane, apparently.

Brutal and beautiful, no shortage of hard climbing in Gran Caneria

It was my first visit, I had been invited to this training camp by some friends for whom riding is simply life and life is riding. Its the fabric of our friendship, bikes, racing, training. Easy. The week had barely begun and spirits were indeed high, our second solid day on the bike would challenge us but no more so than anything any one of us had done before in some shape or form.

My newest mate Emma (the resident pro triathlete) had warned us ‘its a tough ride, I would probably avoid it’, oh hush, this is what training camps are about, get with the program. Its at this point my brain had gone on strike, my ego had full control and my self preservation gauge was stuck on the ‘alls well’ setting, what a moron.

Just another day at the office

Out we trundle, a merry band of four. Barney, our pace setter, the strongest and youngest. Ben the mountain goat, agile and keen, Darren ‘Dazza’ the not so mountain goat, but steadfast, Scottish and strong and me, the block of pig iron on his race bike in full ‘mammillian’ mode, deeps, aero everything, ready to tackle anything flat and friendly basically.

We hit our first 1000m ascent, god what a breeze, we’ve effectively spat Dazza like a lump of bad coal ‘see ya laddie’, shaken Ben off in the final turn ‘ttfn homey’ and even managed to chuck a futile punch Barney’s way as we hit the summit like a comedy shadow box with someone who can easily squash you in a blink. Awesome – not sure the other two were aware I was racing but its always a race, always.

All this awesome ends abruptly with the sudden realisation that we are now atop a very windy cliff face and my fat stupid race wheels are doing what they were designed to in all the wrong directions. ‘Oh ballbags, just stay put you bastards!’ I gingerly descend like a brick on rollerskates, its embarrassing, stupid bloody wheels, hope this road goes up again.

Oh that it does, it goes so up you are gonna get a nose bleed, it goes more up that any other up you think you know how to ride, this is the very meaning of ‘up’…..little do I know at this point. We enter a rather imposing valley, sheer walls surround us as the crumbling road leads us clattering onwards and yes, ‘upwards’. There was a dam, I remember a dam. I am now the last of the four. The combination of the crappy road surface and my stupidly selected 23 sprocket is rendering me a swearing spec in the other guys peripheral vision. This is not going according to plan.

We should have just gone left! – ‘Valley of Tears’ showed us no mercy.

The beginning of the end

Piss stop! Thank heavens, a chance to reset the equilibrium and just settle into this next big ass 10km vertical monster.There is much banter. ‘ooh this looks interesting!’ I’m a jovial facade of confidence. ‘what’s the gradient like?’ Dazza grumbles ‘I don’t know Darren, I didn’t do a route recce with a protractor’ Barney snaps back, I sense tension.

No sooner have I swallowed my last gel, with an eye twitch and a gulp, has Ben effortlessly shot off up the 23% wall of horrors to the hollering of Darren’s protestations, funny how long the words ‘fuuuuck youuuuu Bennnnnn’ can reverberate around a canyon. Barney zips up the gilet and fires off, no way Ben is getting the gold on this joy ride to hell.

Darren and myself are left to mull over our fate on this bastard piece of road engineering ‘it can’t all be like this’ ‘no pal, I’m not sure I want to do it’, well I’m not going back mate, its up up and away time. We grind up the first hairpin and I’m convinced Dazza is going to turn back and leave me, red faced and shell shocked, the effort of covering the first 150m is telling. ‘This thing is fucked up’

I agree but feign positivity ‘grrrrrnnnnnnn come of Dazza…..we got this….just don’t look up’ literally the antithesis of a rock climber’s motto yet somehow I feel my life is equally in peril.

The road bends and weaves in and out of sight but its clear its our only way out, a serpentine stairway of switchbacks and vicious hairpins crushing itself upwards toward some distant heaven.

The ramps keep ramping

‘Shit the actual bed’ Darren is further up the road, on a bend looking up. ‘Sup?’ I gasp as I reach him. Oh no. The road bends and weaves in and out of sight but its clear its our only way out, a serpentine stairway of switchbacks and vicious hairpins crushing itself upwards toward some distant heaven.

‘Well…its eat an elephant time I guess’ I mumble more to myself than anyone – fuck me

We plod, crawl and moan our way forward, I’m trying not to fixate on the futility of our forward momentum, its laughably slow.

Crawling and so much swearing!

We see a van

We’re saved! Delirium seems to be setting in as I have no idea what Darren is going on about. A band of road workers are packing up for the day. ‘YA SPEAK ANY ENGLISH PAL!’ Darren they’re Spanish not deaf…as far as I can tell.

The negotiations of a lift to anywhere do not go well, Darren is at this point offering money to the laughing workers who are flat refusing to take these two cycling idiots anywhere…now is a good time to point out we are also both wearing our coaches branded kit. Shocking pink with zebra stripes, yeah look it works ok. It started to add some perspective.

Misery shared

The road goes on and on and bloody on, we have been reduced to walking, I physically can’t move the bike on these inclines through a combination of no more energy, and not enough precious teeth on that rear spocket, no more food, no water, zero energy, no more will.

Darren starts laughing ‘what the fuck is so funny?’ I fume. ‘Nothing Stuey nothing, just thinking we may need to find a cave up here to live in, if we die they’re gonna find two skeletons dressed like pink zebras hugging each other’ It’s happened, he’s lost the plot, I chuckle, oh shit, I’m losing it too.


For the next hour we cackle, moan, laugh and swear. Each corner brings hope, each view, despair. Two weird soldiers plodding along up a forgotten battle field, this day will never end, this day will never end.

‘IS THAT IT? IS THAT REALLY IT?’ Again I’m beaten to the party, Darren has seen our salvation, the wheels that had come off so spectacularly now start to roll by themselves, gingerly at first, pained pedal strokes usher them forwards, then more easily, then they are free.

As if the last two hours were just some passing daytime nightmare, suddenly and without warning we are back in civilization, our favourite coffee stop springs into view. Thank fuck. I feel like I’ve walked the earth, juggled fire and wrestled a bear, alas I have merely ‘cycled’ 10km I don’t care, I’ve conquered the impossible, again.

Two sips into a coke and our epic adventure is already starting to fade into the annals of reality, Darren is not quite willing to let it go just yet ‘Stuey, that was mega’ ‘I know mate, that was mental’ ‘If the weather had closed in I would have stopped and made a wee fire’ ‘yeah I reckon we would have had to’ ‘……and eaten you’

Awkward silence, rapturous laughter ‘nah mate you would had to catch me first!’ ‘you were walking you twat, easy pickings!’

I love these days.