I think I may have mentioned this before, but some non-cyclist deemed that it would be an excellent idea to site the nearest doctor’s surgery in a village that’s perched up on the top of a steep hill. This means that I can only really visit the doctor’s when I’m in peak physical condition – which I suppose does save the NHS some money – and I have to make sure I arrive for my appointments about 10 minutes early, to allow my heart rate and blood pressure to get back down into the normal range.
There are three roads into the village, and all of them are bastards, but the most direct route is the bastardest of all, and that was the one I was plugging my way up this morning. It’s the sort of hill that starts steep and then goes round a corner and kicks up a notch more, just to break your will. It has not one but two false summits, and a number of identical looking houses along its length so you keep thinking you’re nearer the top than you are. The only way to cycle up it is to suffer away at your own pace, while doing your best impression of Thomas Voeckler valiantly defending the yellow jersey on the first real day in the mountains in the Tour de France and pulling a variety of theatrical grimaces (can anyone explain why gritting your teeth and gurning helps you cycle up a hill? Because strangely enough it does). And the absolute last thing you need when you’re doing this is someone driving along patiently behind you in their car.*
I know what you’re thinking. Bloody cyclists are never satisfied. If you squeeze past them they moan about a close pass, and if you patiently hang back waiting for the road to widen then they complain about that too. And it’s true that I’d rather not be swept off the road by some oblivious 4×4 in a hurry. But there’s a world of difference between sweeping past a cyclist regardless of pot holes and blind bends and calmly overtaking them on some straight bit of the road where there’s room to do so without leaving the imprint of your wing mirror in their backside.
Unfortunately, this driver seemed unused to our narrow roads and didn’t pass despite several pointed looks over my shoulder. And there was no way I was stopping on that hill to let them past, so we had to carry on together, me feeling obliged to at least look as if I was making an effort to go at something above walking pace. By the time they’d finally summoned up the nerve to overtake (on a nice narrow bendy bit of the road, naturally) my legs were ready to explode. I should probably apologise now to the poor people in the health centre who got to sit next to me as I cooled down from the sweaty red-faced mess I was when I arrived, not to mention the doctor… it’s hard to demonstrate the joys of cycling as a regular mode of transport when you’ve just had to wring the perspiration out of your cap.
That said, anyone looking for the real joys of cycling should have seen me on the way home. Barely turned a pedal, just glided the whole way down. Magic.
* I mean, unless it contains the team manager and spare bikes and a mechanic and you actually are Thomas Voeckler in which case it would be quite handy