I wake up to the unpleasant feeling of unwashed hair stuck together with my plushy bunny on the white synthetic pillow in the little cottage which I share with four sleepy fellow riders.
The rain rattles on the thin cottage roof and I know that the 180 kilometer stage I’m going to conquer today is going to be a rough one.
I tie strings on my black damp Fred Perry plimsolls and tilt down to the dining cabin where other barely awake cyclists shiver while convulsively chewing on sandwiches.
I eat a couple of eggs and a few sandwiches but deep down in my heart, I miss my traditional racing porridge (which has basically the same two ingredients as non-racing porridge but still, where the hell is the porridge?). This cold morning, the only thing that can save my mojo is sugar so I drink my morning coffee with two large pieces of fat milk chocolate bar.
Time for the grand départ. We’re stomping our feet warm(er) outside our cottages and I feel how the first cold rain drops find their way inside my rain jacket.
Even so, I’m excited and my fighting spirit is high, even though I’m not quite sure who or what I’m supposed to fight this particular day. I realize that most psychotherapists would classify me as slightly insane but I truly enjoy racing in bad weather.
And off we go!
The first miles feel alarmingly fast and non-gravelish. The riders bodies are still warm and our hearts beat fast. The hills follow each other. As do the rain showers and the chilly gusts. And then, inch by inch, we all start to freeze.
Then, the mud begins.
The main property of mud is that it’s a hell of familiarizing itself anywhere on the rider’s body.
By the time we reach the first dépôt, I am half woman half muddy animal. My hands freeze, there’s gravel inside my nostrils, my teeth sound exactly like the bottom bracket of my racer bike.
We ran out of coffee, the dépôt guys tell us.
We have a choice. We don’t have to take the longest route. There are two shorter routes available and there is a pizzeria along one of them I’ve heard.
Our choice is easy. We’re not here for some pizzas and dry towels and divine radiators and things.
We’re here to suffer. Our small group consisting of me, my pal Jonatan, a lovely Ride of Hope couple and a pair of brave others put on our merriest faces and put ourselves into the laps of the mud Gods.
Because you see, when there’s no turning back and you’re all wet, the only thing you can do is enjoy yourself in a gracefully hilarious way, sing some good songs together and start some new friendships.
We have plenty of time to study the dozens of different types of mud, soil and gravel.
We also tangent to the civilization by setting up a spontaneous dépôt at the only grocery store we pass this day during our ride. We stick close to the store’s only radiator. Guess what – it feels divine!
The rest of our ride is quite diffuse. We have to wade through a couple of brooks, we have some wheels broken, Jonatan gets stuck with his helmet between the pines but survives and rides stronger than the rest of us though he only has one functioning gear left on his bike, the mosquitoes get us, our limbs have become comfortably numb.
After nine fun and infernal hours, we’re finally back home in Håverud and it’s beer and dinner time and it’s hard to describe to others what we have experienced today. But then, everybody has the same feeling. The feeling of pure magic, preserved in the small stains of mud left hidden behind our earlobes.