It has become a tradition that my dad and I both get a ‘day pass’ for a bit of Father-Son bonding over the festive period. Dependent on the weather conditions this either means a day of winter mountaineering, or a day out on the bikes.
This year the weather was perfect for a day in the saddle, but with no snow on the hills it was always likely to be a bike day – unless it was icy. It was cold, bloody cold, but the sky was clear and there wasn’t much wind. The initial chatter had been for a trip out to tackle Gospel Pass, but with family leaving and good byes to be done it was decided we didn’t really have (or want to make) the time for the 120 mile round trip. After a quick reassessment a new plan was devised.
We headed out into the cold, crisp festive air and made our way across Gloucester towards the Forest of Dean, with Symonds Yat firmly in the cross-hairs. Symonds Yat has been on my hit list since I first spotted it flicking through the ‘100 greatest climbs’ books and dog earing the ones that could be attacked from various family hubs.
Once the Sun rose the dark inky sky burst into true azure blue. It was winter cycling conditions at its finest. I however didn’t feel at my finest. I would love to say that the early miles just rolled effortlessly by, but for some reason I just felt a bit blunted. I had hoped that I would sharpen up as the legs got going but I never felt that sparkle when you’re feeling good. The early climbs went ok, but just ok. I got to the foot of Symonds Yat knowing that it I wouldn’t be troubling the Strava leader board. Climbing the lower ramps I was comparing it to other climbs, giving it my own rating. I then turned the last corner and hit the final ramp under the bridge to the top. For the first time on the climb I felt a bit over geared, even on the 38/28, and had to tack a little to get the momentum back up. There was no ‘is this harder than…?’ now, it was just keeping the pedals going and my lungs on the inside where they should be. Once over the steepest parts, we continued to climb gradually for a while before dropping into Monmouth, but by now I was beginning to feel a bit ropey. We rolled through Monmouth, over the river and climbed up towards Trellech. Here I really suffered, it’s not steep (at about 6% average) but I just couldn’t get my groove going. We stopped off at Tintern Abbey to replenish water bottles, and grab a quick flapjack, and made our merry way to Chepstow, past the manic activity of the race course and on to the Severn cycle path.
Once back onto the English side of the river the horror show really began. As we were pushed for time we headed back to Gloucester on the A38. This was a pin your ears back and put the power down type affair, but there was nothing there, nothing. Nothing. In a chain gang of 2, I probably took my turn once in three. The Irony of getting the book ‘Lanterne Rouge’ for Christmas wasn’t lost on me. Ironically when on the front I felt a bit better for being able to dance to my own beat, but putting in the effort to get around onto the front was too much to stomach. This whole stretch of road I was (not so) secretly hoping that I was coming down with the virus type plague that had beset my household for the last few weeks, just to justify my piss poor contribution to the A38 push and fairly poor showing overall. Despite the suffering, we clattered along at a decent pace. We turned off the main drag just before Gloucester, and took quieter roads back to the house.
Once back, showered, fed and re-caffeinated I felt a mildly crap, but not fully plague bound. The next day, legs handled the stairs effortlessly, with no pain in the quadriceps. But the cold that I thought I was on the brink of being felled by, vaguely materialised. I did feel rough but nowhere near as rough as my wife and kids were, or my mum was and felt much better much quicker.
So just a bonk? Possibly, probably just don’t tell my dad.