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.
Evocative as ever, i travelled with you and was sad to come to the end of the story……
Very nice. It’s funny when we return to these books, i.e. scroll through our Strava feed, we feel the ride again, lost moments return to us, the beauty, the struggle, the lunch that got us through.
thanks. i was supposed to be writing something else about audaxing for another website but all those words came out instead. i like how we remember little bits from different rides that somehow add up into an imaginary ride.