My thighs ache, my hands sting, I’m soaking wet, and I’m fucking cold
The warning lights are flashing and the barriers are down when we pull up to the level crossing. There is only one car waiting, a white Cortina with rust around back wheel arches. We squeeze though a narrow gap between car and verge and stop in front of the gates. Then we feel the first drops of rain.
The sky has dropped down low to the earth and the clouds are a swirl of black and grey. The wind has picked up. I notice for the first time that my legs and body are illuminated by the headlights of the car behind us.
The drops are big, large enough to splash when they hit the ground, and the concrete darkens beneath our feet. The rain gets heavier. We don’t hide in a doorway or under a tree, but stand in the open and feel our clothes grow heavier, and our skin grow chill as the wind whips water away from our faces. How often do you stand outside in a storm and just get wet?
We laugh at the rain.
There’s an abandoned station house to our right. The windows are boarded up on both levels and the brick is black and charred on one side of the building. Arson. The top level of the property overhangs slightly and we could shelter there but a chain link fence cuts off the building from the road. We’ve got our bikes anyway.
It’s isn’t cold yet but the rain is thundering down now. Earlier as we cycled around Richmond Park we had felt a few gusts of rain, a five minute drizzle that had hinted at more to come. We’d finished the circuit, a five mile route through the park, surrounded trees and deer and unbroken expanses of pasture, and stopped at Roehampton Gate cafe. When we’d left it had been full of cyclists and runners but there were fewer people here now. A group of four cyclists, one checking his tyres while the others zipped up cycling jackets. A thin Japanese boy stopped on the bench next to me and started unlacing a pair of rollerblades. Five minutes later a fat girl rolled up and sat next to him.
The barriers have been down for a while, thinking rationally probably about ten minutes, but we’re standing in the pissing rain, so it really feels like a lot longer.
My hands are numb and the rain is still coming down. We start discussing whether to turn back and cross the tracks at a point further down the park, or stay and ride out the weather. There is another cyclist on the far side of the tracks. He looks old, fifty or so, and wears a bright yellow cycling jacket. We’re just in short and t-shirts.
A couple of minutes after we talk the klaxon sounds and the barriers rise.
Cycling away from the crossing we pass along small roads overhung with trees. I put my lights on in the gloom and see the flickering front light bouncing on the mirrored road. My toes feel damp, then wet, then waterlogged as spray from the thin tyres pushes its way in to my trainers.
We’re cycling fast now, trying to warm up. Water from the front tyre is shooting out ahead of me; a plume from my rear wheel becomes a secondary rain cloud picking up water and dropping it on to my back and shorts.
The rain eases, then stops.
My friend and I separate, he to East London, me to West.
I haven’t cycled home from Richmond Park before so just after Putney Bridge I stop and get out my map. It’s sodden and moulds itself to my hands before falling apart as I try and hold it open. I peddle to a bin and throw it away.
Right, so, I kind of need to head in that direction, I point down the road, then swing my arm, and a bit in that direction.
I head North for a while, then East, and then North a bit more.
It takes me an hour and a half to get home, but by the time I’m there I’m warm, and almost completely dry.