Sun high. Hot. Not a cloud. The mercury rises and rises, heatwave headline writers twitch. A month earlier snow. Three changes of gloves in three days, goodbye heavy oven gloves, hello flimsy finger-less mitts. The hottest April day in 70 years.
Beer garden or ride? Dwelling only briefly on the name ‘beer garden’, I choose the latter, no matter how tempting and frothy and icy and delicious the former.
Evening, the earth already parched. Air warm and welcoming, hot still, naked skin so recently wrapped tight beneath many a layer now sun-kissed and tingling. Arms and legs scary white, see-through, the base on which to build razor sharp tan lines. It starts now.
Structure is both the saviour and enemy of the free. It brings rules and regulations, it moderates and provides guidance. And boy do we need guidance. Total freedom is chaos. Anarchy.
Structure is the foundation upon which society is formed. A system that frees us from anarchy yet strips us of our freedom. We are not free, we are civilised. Stifled. Structure restricts. It forces square pegs into round holes. It discriminates, it bores.
Yet few flee the structure of society. We fear the unstructured. We impose rules and structure on all we encounter. Conversations, days, lives, damn, even cycling. Gone is the joy of random walks, of chance encounters, of just popping out for a ride.
Life, I decided, is more important than cycling. Blasphemy. Nay, treason. Hang him from the rafters. Lovers who’ve come to terms with their love for one another and other people.
We’re not exactly on a break, no. We’re just open to seeing other people. And you know what, I’m enjoying it. Lazy lie ins, eating what I like, not dreading the turbo. This is the life.
Age creeps up on us, say some. Not the cyclist. For every day we’re fighting it, raging against the dying light.
Life passes quickly. Like a mountain descent, we cling on, releasing the brakes for as long we dare, bracing ourselves for the next bend, for the end.
I don’t race, I ride. Yet I’m training. Many will question the word training. As if an amateur cannot train. Especially one who does not race. You are not an Olympian, you are not a pro, you are not a racer, you are not training.
Yet I am training. Despite being self-coached my amateur training is more advanced than most professionals of days gone by. I have rigid plans and structures. I have training zones and a ‘fueling strategy’ aka a balanced diet. I monitor progress and apply basic sport science, some of it half-baked, some of it not. The trouble being you never really know which is which. I take myself far too seriously and I wear a headband for christ sake, I must be training.
For what I’m training for, I cannot say. There’s no medals to point to. There’s the small number of hill climb races I enter. Or the bravado of leading out the peloton or the fear of being dropped on a club ride. There’s local hills and personal bests. Yet I’m not really training for any of these.
Hello old friend. It’s been a while. What? Yes, it’s that time of year again. I know, I know. Brrr.
Her? The mistress? That was a mere summer fling, showing off in front of others, a lightweight frolic beneath the sun.
Nothing compares to you, ever dependable winter bike, bike number 1 once and forever. You’re the one who gets me through the hard times, little reward for your endeavours but hour upon hour of steady rolling through frozen landscapes, more mud than road.
Ride, roll, spin.
Gasp. As if to live I must fight for air.
Hunched, knees unnaturally near jaw
Not the poise of one who flies.
So nails can enjoy the view.
Drink suckled from teat
Nothing odd with that.
I used to be a contender. I could have taken that KOM. I was quicker goddammit and now look at me. Pathetic.
Slow with a tailwind, the merest incline induces a series of huffing and puffing and effing and blinding. Strava automatically marks my rides as private as a sign of a respect to my former self. Inner chimp has become inner chump. Yep, I’m most definitely outta shape.
Empty legs, head and heart. The unthinkable has happened. I’ve fallen out of love with cycling. Say what now? Surely not? The urge long lost, denial initially fuelled more riding. Perhaps I’ll just blast through it, I thought, kidding nobody. This lasted for two months before THAT ride.
What is it that compels us to seek a life less ordinary. Or in this case, a cycle ride less ordinary? We humans span the range of adventure. Perhaps you find comfort in routine and the familiar? Or does a lack of change discomfort, nay disturb?
The truly adventurous do not want change. They need it. Be it a life changing move to another country, or a more prosaic and seemingly mundane adventure of trying a new toothpaste. Yes, the adventurers are your early adopters, these are the people who bought 3D TVs. Bless them.
Give an adventurer a bike, sit back and watch as they fill your Strava feed with crazy rides of stupid distances to far-flung places in silly times. Or perhaps they’ll climb Alpe d’Huez on an old school Chopper bike, or ride around the world on a heavy cycle hire bike. Ultra-Nutters.
Or so I always thought until I embarked on a bit of ultra-nutting myself.
Tan lines fading. Motivation too. Mornings cooler, darker. Days shortening. Summer fades so quickly into autumn, an annual event that somehow manages to surprise and disappoint us. Ahead, only darkness. Nine months into the year and the dear cyclist begins to think of hibernation.
The paradox of fitness peaking, body stronger than ever yet oh so tired, weary, continually on the limit. Limbs lighter, mind perhaps wiser, most importantly you’re a quicker rider. Yet probably still not satisfied. You can always be quicker.