New. Never travelled. Perhaps your eyes traced a pixellated line on a screen the night before or perhaps you simply turned left instead of right. Ahead only virgin road unridden. The unknown.
Every turn a mystery. Eyes keen, alert for every next direction. A cartographer committing landmarks to memory, extending your mental map lest you travel this way again.
Gasp. The landscape surprises, amazes. Simple things. A twee village, a church perched on a hill, parallel trees in formation either side of the road, a big cow. Nothing of great note, not even worthy of a photograph, the scenery the sum of its parts, less a vision more a feeling.
Hills surprise, legs not quite ready for the effort. The fear of a new descent, fast but not entirely free, fingers covering brakes, insurance against overconfidence. Or a goat.
Eyes scour the road for potholes, your skill of memorising those on regular routes no longer taken for granted. Hole, swerve. Hole, bunny hop Hole, thwack. A game of inverse whack-a-mole.
The stops. But where? No regular pit stops to aim for. Where best to take a call of nature, a question you ask for ten miles too many. Cafes sparse, you chew tongue. Parched, water levels low, you check house after house for a front garden tap, prayers answered by a church cemetery, resurrected.
The moments of wonder, of beauty. Views so beautiful they should be framed, smooth and winding roads so pleasurable to ride they should be immortalised in 2,000 words, 10% of them French, accompanied by black and white photographs.
New smells, sounds and foes. The surprise attack of an invisible dog startles. Woof! You see not the fence only the sharp teeth. Woof! Perhaps this is how dogs cheer? You up the pace.
No map, no lines to follow. A crossroads. You’re not lost, you’re perfectly at home in the unknown. You must discover to find yourself. The skies guide, your position triangulated by the sun, instinct, luck.
Direction determined by whim, curiosity, the smell of food. It matters not where you are nor where you’re heading, only what you’ll discover.
…Legs creaking, belly growling. A turn in the weather. Light fading. Fear, the realisation that you are well and truly lost and a long way from home. Discovery replaced by trepidation.
Must return as quickly possible. As the crow flies preferably. You consider what normally would be no go routes. Gravel. Rocks. Fields. Rivers. No shortcut is beyond your slick 23mm tires.
You fear and curse every new hill. Only now do you notice the wind, the one previously at your back is now merciless in its attempt to destroy your legs, your mind.
Cute villages are now obstacles to navigate as quickly possibly. Idiotic one way systems send you on unnecessary detours. Every additional 0.1miles hurts more than all the miles behind you.
And then it happens. The smooth road turns to chipseal. Piles of loose gravel, nay rocks, everywhere. You pay your taxes and this is how you’re rewarded? Bah! Every turn of the wheel jars, the cycling equivalent of walking barefoot on Lego. Surely this stretch of road will end soon, you ask, mile after mile after mile.
Profanities explode from your every last breath. Birds startled from the trees. You shout at road signs, at fields, at ducks, but most of all at yourself for being so goddamn weak.
Left, right, left. You want to ride straight but these roads have not been planned they’ve been scattered from upon high and left to rest where they landed. That evil A-road you’d normally never consider, that beautiful straight and smooth road? Hoorah! The closer the cars pass the better the draft right?
Delirious, the mysterious road signs finally stop teasing and signpost the name of a village you think you know, or do you? It’s hard to say in your weary state, perhaps you’re getting confused with the place the teletubbies call home.
A familiar horizon eventually reveals itself. Still a long way to go. You kid yourself the job is done when entering the city limits, conveniently forgetting the remaining six miles and the billions of traffic lights whose sequence has been programmed to stall and frustrate you. Red, red, red.
How was the ride? Yeah, lovely route. Amazing. This the answer you’ll give a week later, once the pain has faded and the strength to hold a conversation has returned. In the meantime you grunt. A lot.
Image #2 courtesy of the still funny fake Rapha website