Scuffing the edges

Riding on the edge. Not the ragged edge but the blurred edge of what I think is possible.

Travelling along ancient ways, drove roads and holloways. Ignoring the red and yellow lines on the map, following the narrow white lines left behind, the back roads and short cuts. Forgoing busy thoroughfares as if using a map from another era, reading a deeper layer of information, one buried in time, less frenetic. A list of coded instructions and matching place names with raised letters in flaking paint on wooden signposts entangled in unkempt hedgerows. Pointers fallen out of usefulness, only locals use these roads and they already know the way. Main roads are sometimes crossed; underpasses, bridges, crossroads. More often than not they are witnessed as sunlight glinting from car windows somewhere over there in the distance or a muffled noise beyond a treeline.

There’s no rush unless I want there to be. I need to be somewhere by some time, not a specific time but a window of opportunity. Names in squares on a card in my pocket match co-ordinates on a map. These points matter and don’t matter in equal measure, they are visited to collect stamps and receipts, or scribble down information from postboxes and pub signs. New places as well as those once visited, memories of varying vintage triggered by words on signposts, names signifying more than simply a place. New connections are made between here and there. These places are chosen not to be visited as such but to prove I rode between them, it’s the spaces between these places that really matter. I’m reading between the lines of the routesheet. Skirting the edges of places, the outskirts and perimeters. Scruffy bits and suburbs, 24 hour petrol stations next to industrial estates.

I ride with my shadow but the sky ahead is a charcoal smudge across the horizon. Land melds into air with no clear delineation and then I feel spots of rain, leave shadows behind for a while. The rain ceases and my shadow returns to slowly drying roads. I have a tailwind for now but I know I’ll run out of land soon and have to turn along a coast. I’ll no longer be chased by the weather but will confront it head on, hopefully a gentle play fight rather than a right good kicking.

There’s no order to start and end of days but a slow transition between light and dark, part of a larger cycle. Our star is replaced by millions of suns wheeling around the darkened sky until the horizon spins into light again. Dawn and twilight, transitory times of desaturated hues and soft focus. Three dimensional space blurs and morphs as the light dissipates, soon becoming silhouettes that dissolve into the night sky. My headlight finds a seam in the black, cleaving open the darkness. The palette changes, surrounded by black the colours in my light beam are intensified and accentuated, unreal, hyperreal.

It’s at this times that things don’t always appear to be what they are. The narrowing field of vision concentrates the view but glimpses on the edges of sight become other things, my mind fills in the gaps, plays tricks. Memories long buried creep to the surface, unexpected thoughts fill the parts of my head not concentrating on keeping me upright and moving forward. Like the lanes I follow my thoughts twist and turn away from the main thoroughfares, finding lost thoughts and buried memories, more old ways and dead ends. Things I hoped I’d forgotten or wish to forget crawl from the recesses to the front of my mind. Tiredness creeps into my being, time becomes malleable. If time is a line on a piece of paper it’s as if the sheet has been scrunched and folded like the route sheet in my pocket, but unlike that list time is disordered and non-linear, it seems to be in flux, I lose and gain and lose time in unexpected chunks. I want to stop but I carry on regardless.

I hear dawn before I see it. Birdsong fills the sky calling the light. Day slowly pulls into focus allowing my mind to do the same. My body and resolve are refreshed by the light, the ride becomes perhaps not a joy but at least feasible again. Another county border is crossed, in a way I’m back where I started but there is still a way to go. The doubts creep back, it would be so easy to just stop. It makes so much sense to stop. However I’ve got this far, I can’t stop now. There’s a handful of instructions left, only one more box to stamp.

There’s an emptiness when I finish and not just physically. That last stamp is like the last sentence, the last word, in a book I’ve got lost in. Closing the cover that world I inhabited alone is consigned to memory. A brevet card to add to the pile. Another story on the bookshelf.

Kingdom of the East Saxons

Kingdom-155019 Kingdom-193237a tour of Essex with forays over the border into Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk

biplanes over rolling Cambridgeshire fields, skylark song the aural equivalent to the shapes of the wind in the crops

outrunning thundering clouds along the northern edge of Essex

an ancient Ford Escort smelling of spliffs and knackered gaskets

rainbow fringed clouds and dark watercolour smudges across the endless horizon

the smell of a two-stroke triggers memories of riding a Vespa to the ferry at Harwich

actual white stilettos in Essex (Clacton-on-Sea, Saturday night)

losing my way and my temper in Wivenhoe

on the path along the river in the pitch black not sure who was more freaked out, me or those deer

thumping bass bins and snarling exhausts in Braintree (one in the morning)

really not sure i want to do this anymore

tea and pasta in a candlelit village hall surrounded by snoring randonneurs

i’ll just lie on the floor for five minutes

an hour later

the undersides of clouds glowing red then pink then orange as blue light creeps into the sky as the dawn chorus fades out

the Danbury mountain (copyright Alex Dowsett, i think)

staring at my feet on a petrol station forecourt

this road is starting to get tedious

audaxing is ridiculous. absolutely stupid.

i quite fancy a swim in that river

disc wheels and pointy helmets. a cheery “morning” from a hi-viz marshal

slow rolling over rolling countryside

a place name on a signpost signifies more than simply a place

the final stamp, a sausage sandwich, a pint of coke

421 kilometres

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