Everything is different at Christmas. Town centres are transformed into disco balls, mince pies become a food group, hangovers become socially acceptable on Wednesday afternoons.
Even Strava takes on a festive hue as, for ten days, the drudging, crows-flight commutes and predictable club runs are replaced by sweeping countryside loops. A casual scroll through my feed this week offers up, amongst other enviable settings, the lowlands of Belgium, the highlands of Scotland and the (take my word for it) breathtakingly picturesque inbetweenlands of the Somerset levels.
Unlike last Christmas, when I briefly escaped to the country and treated myself to the ride of the year through the Mendip Hills, this is not one when I will be straying far from the smoke.
As much as I covet the scenery I find myself equally jealous of the quite reasonable lengths my friends are riding. Thirties, forties and fifties seem to be the order of the day. A quick spin then home to a calorific reward far outweighing that which has been expended. This is the season to indulge, not suffer.
At least it should be. But faced with the choice, as Christmas presents, between riding more, or riding less, I will almost always opt for the former. At 11am on Boxing Day, riding south into a headwind with 100k already on the clock and a good (i.e. awful awful) twenty-five from home, I feel especially acutely that, on this occasion, I may have got that one wrong.
It begins when Nic mentions he would be up at 7am on Christmas Eve for a few laps of Regent’s Park. It doesn’t feel like such a terrible idea the night before - the opportunity to get a march on the day, finish the shopping, make it home before lunch. Then when another invitation arrives, to join clubmates for a Richmond spin, I find myself accepting that as well, tacking it on to the same trip. Despite having decided to eschew Rapha’s Festive 500, by noon on day one I’m already a fifth of the way there (and my family’s gifts are wrapped in newspaper).
Even I don’t feel compelled to train on Christmas Day. As Dr Hutch’s scathingly tweets: “[it] was highly effective when you thought it was just you. Since Twitter, you just feel part of a very sad cult.”
Still, with no public transport and the price of an Uber comparable to the RRP of a Colnago C60, the only way I’m getting to dinner on the other side of the river is by bike. I deliberately choose a route through central London, expecting scenes akin to the zombie film 28 Days Later, only to find a thin layer of tourists with nowhere to go. On my ride home later that night I find Edgware Road as open and alive as ever. With nary a bus in sight, sound or smell, it’s just 2000m of sweetly scented shisha smoke: liquorice, vanilla, cardamom, pomegranate, rose. I love London.
Apart from making me cry, the brutal boxing day shlep out to the Chilterns brings up 300k for the week and I’m still not doing the Festive 500. My recovery meal at the football features half a bottle of port and a bag of chocolate coins.
On Monday I am due to visit friends in Canterbury. Waking up in the morning to beautiful blue skies the first mistake I make (that day at least) is looking to see where it is on the map. The second is judging it as not that much further into Kent than I normally ride - just the next section along Pilgrim’s Way, really - and anyway, I can come home by train. I have long romanticised the one-way, solo venture into the unknown but let me assure you, there is nothing ~ nothing ~ romantic about hugging the embankment of the A20 into Maidstone, realising you’ve misjudged the distance by a third. Two hours late for lunch, I bail out at Ashford.
I rattle off the last couple of k of the Festive 500 over the next couple of days.
On the first morning (ahem, afternoon) of 2016 I emerge from my cocoon, head and legs throbbing, resolving that this year will be one of restraint. A reminder on my phone immediately pops up: Next weekend, 150k ‘winter warmer’. I crawl back under the covers.
Happy New Year!